The Hamburg Film Festival’s opening ceremony landed exactly on my friend Sylvia’s birthday. I was dying to see the great French diva, Catherine Deneuve, who was receiving the Douglas Sirk Award. So what could I do? I had to buy two tickets. As usual the evening started out in a hectic way, especially when we were trying to coordinate two different subway schedules; the restaurant we chose went out of business and the one next door already had a line going out the door. The dishes we ordered were sold out, so salad and wine had to hit the spot.
As we raced over to the red carpet, I was relieved that the stars and their entourage had not yet arrived. I was prepared and ready for action with camera in hand, notebook and pen. What else could possibly go wrong? I found the perfect spot to take photos but was quickly reminded that we needed to find good seats and this evening was about the birthday girl. As I followed my girlfriend in, my shoulders slumped because I realized that I had done it to myself again: mixing apples with oranges, and I would have to accept that I wouldn’t get a great photo of Catherine Deneuve live on the red carpet. The man took our tickets and pointed the way down the stairs to cinema 6. I was stunned. What? We are not sitting in the main cinema?
So there we were, all dressed up and sitting in our prime seats waiting and watching the live-screen. Soon the screen began to move but the terribly shy camera-man in charge of our viewing only caught glimpses of spectators and journalists. We actually got a few shots of David Bennent’s ear and the back of Catherine Deneuve’s hair. The man just couldn’t seem to get it right. We definitely got some great shots of a few photographers positioning themselves as the great diva made her way up the red carpet. After a while the members of the audience began to throw out humorous jokes and we all ended up laughing in spite of ourselves. Then came a long line of speeches which had also their mistakes blearing out at us over the live-screen once again. With each speech we laughed harder. The only person who managed to pull it all together and get it right was Albert Wiederspiel himself. I found it interesting to note that back in 1979 Catherine Deneuve presented the Golden Palm to director Volker Schlöndorff for The Tin Drum which starred David Bennent and now Bennent was presenting the Douglas Sirk award to Deneuve.
What is the Douglas Sirk Award?
The Douglas Sirk Award was created in 1995 and is given to a personality who has made an outstanding achievement in film culture and film industry. The award is accredited to director Hans Detlef Sierck who was born in Hamburg to Danish parents. He first did theater and in 1937 he and his Jewish wife fled to Hollywood, where he earned a reputation with Melodramas series. Some of the participants who have received this award are Fatih Akin, Clint Eastwood, Gerald Depardieu, Tilda Swinton, and Atom Egoyan who also attended this year’s festival with his newest film Remember.
And this year it was Catherine Deneuve who walked elegantly across the stage to receive her award. She made her debut with the film The Twilight Girls at age fourteen and has made so far at least 88 films and, since she is still working, who knows how far she will go. Besides talent she has had unbelievable luck to work with several great directors such as Roman Polanski with the film Repulsion, Luis Bunuel’s Belle De Jour and Tristana, and Francois Truffaut’s The Last Metro. Films that I have seen more recently were, for example, Regis Wargnier’s Indochine, Francois Ozon’s Eight Women, Tony Scott’s The Hunger and Dancer in the Dark from Lars von Trier. It is not a surprise that she has won numerous awards, but I was amazed to read that she has never won an Oscar. Perhaps Hollywood is waiting for her to get really old and then she will get the honorary Oscar, who knows?
But tonight in the comedy The Brand-New Testament (Le tout Nouveau Testament) by Jaco Van Dormael we had the opportunity to see Catherine Deneuve throw her husband out while at the same time she falls deeply in love with a gorilla. This film has been selected as the Belgian entry for the next Academy Awards. The film starts off with a religious-shock experience where we find out that God is not living in heaven but in the city of Brussels. We also learn that he is not a benevolent God but one who is sadistically cruel both emotionally and physically. He lives with his weak wife and his daughter Ea who, day after day, watch how God abuses mankind by manipulating events in his computer room. Ea grows tired of being abused and decides to enter the restricted computer room to make some changes. Her brother Jesus gives her advice how to change the course of the world and tells her she needs to find six additional disciples who will help her achieve her goal. As the audience watched Ea’s plan take form, we laughed even more than we had during the ceremony which took place beforehand. The film is seen through the eyes of Ea and we immediately can sympathize with her since in essence she is trying to save us. It is funny because in the film we think of God more as the devil and not the God that we all grew up with. Director Van Dormael plays with our sense of values to the point that we are led into a fantasy world which seems to be better than the real world that we currently live in.
This year’s theme, Refugees, could not be more appropriate as we watch people in overloaded boats screaming for help as they head toward the European coast lines. Seeing these horrific scenes makes us believe that there is a sadistic God out there manipulating mankind to do unreasonable acts of insanity in order to better their lives. Clearly our world is changing, not only demographically, but culturally as well as emotionally. But maybe we all should take Ea as our disciple and mentor and then brave the dangers by giving a helping hand to those in need. The winter is coming and the days will be cold here in Hamburg. We have nothing to lose but much to gain by making new friends. At least that is what I need to learn from Eaand from the message in The Brand-New Testament. So, Happy Birthday Sylvia! And to Catherine Deneuve: I hope we meet one day in person, but until then my hand is reaching out to help all those who want a new friend.