By David Hudson
January 2, 2005 - 1:55 PM PST
February 13, 14 and the Bears.
So Gegen die Wand (Head On) wins the Golden Bear. The International Jury, headed up by Frances McDormand, has also awarded Silver Bears to El Abrazo Partido (Lost Embrace; this is the Jury Grand Prix, sort of a second-placer) and to Kim Ki-Duk for his direction of Samaria (Samaritan Girl). The Silver Bear for Best Actress is a tie: Catalina Sandino Moreno for Maria, llena eres de gracia (Maria Full of Grace) and Charlize Theron for Monster. Silver Bears also go to Daniel Hendler for Embrace, the entire ensemble of Om Jag Vänder Mig Om (Daybreak) and Banda Osiris for Best Film Music for Primo Amore (First Love).
Photos are taken, first of the jury, seen here, and then of most of the actors and directors who come to Berlin, which are then signed and hung in the Berlinale Palast.
There was quite a bit of talk about Ken Loach's Ae Fond Kiss when it screened yesterday, talk suggesting that it would be a strong contender for an award, maybe even the award. Sorry to see this critics' favorite leave the festival empty-handed. But it's interesting that, for all the films this year that have dealt with immigrants and their journeys, two of the most talked up films, the actual Golden Bear winner and Loach's film, focus on the second generation, the children of immigrants who've set up lives in their adopted countries. In the case of Ae Fond Kiss, it's the tightly knit Pakistani community in Glasgow we learn about; how hard they've worked to establish roots in a city that doesn't want them and about how conservative Muslim traditions are carried on - including arranged marriages, the crux of the plot. Casim, played by first-timer Atta Yaqub, falls for the piano teacher at his younger sister's school, a spritely Irish blonde played by Eva Birthistle.
Ken Loach was thronged after his press conference.
The plot is conventional but Paul Laverty's screenplay is smart, engaging and informative all at once and Loach sticks right with that story, telling it straight and strong. Casim's parents, of course, object absolutely to this affair and have already arranged to have his future wife flown in from Pakistan. If Casim doesn't break things off with Roisin, his family will break with him. It's not an uncommon dilemma, no, but again, it's all in how the stakes are raised and the screws are turned tighter and tighter; you'll have a scene, for example, in which the lovers realize how truly miserable they'd be without each other followed by another in which we learn that the family of the man Casim's older sister was to marry has called off that wedding because they consider Casim's family shamed. Roisin isn't in quite as tight a fix, but there is a subplot focusing on a bigoted priest forcing her out of the Catholic school where she teaches (since she's "living in sin") which peaks in an amazing face-off between the two.
Both Laverty and Loach were as admirably outspoken at the press conference as you'd expect them to be. Laverty explained that the seed of the story was planted by his time in the US at around the time of 9/11 when Muslims were being demonized and he heard American leaders say things on television like, "God is not neutral in this conflict." Loach politely asked permission to take a few minutes to talk about the plight of the Kurdish Ay family in Glasgow, who have been held in detention over a year in Scotland before being shipped of to Germany where they're expected to be deported to Turkey where, as Kurds, they can expect less than a warm welcome. No one objected and we all listened as he calmly denounced the racist immigration policies of the UK and Germany as racist. Hear, hear.
Eric Rohmer is now 83 and unfortunately in such poor health at the moment he couldn't come to Berlin as originally planned. It was amazing to me to overhear, as the press streamed out of its screening of Triple Agent, comments like, "But that was mostly just people talking." Who are some of these people newspapers, radio stations and so on are hiring to review movies for them? After two dozen films in over 40 years, more than a few of them very much on the map, Rohmer has, you know, something of a reputation and you'd think a film critic would have even a vague idea as to what might be expected from an Eric Rohmer film.
Anyway. Yes, Fiodor, a former general in the White Russian Army, and Arsinoé, his wife, a Greek and a painter, do quite a lot of talking in Triple Agent. As we listen in, there isn't quite as much for the eyes to be doing in the meantime as there is in, say, The Lady and the Duke (except for the costumes which his producer, Francoise Etchegary, assures us are painstakingly authentic and very costly). But what Fiodor and Arsinoé are talking about is pretty intriguing stuff. It's 1936, we're in Paris among exiles and Fiodor is a spy, openly so (and rather immodestly, too, though in a charming sort of way). What we, along with his wife and everyone else, can't figure is who he's spying for - ultimately, that is, since he naturally has the Whites, the Soviets and even the Nazis believing at various stages that he's working for them. The film has been dubbed a "thriller," but I think that, considering contemporary expectations, that's a relatively misleading term; a mind-tingler, maybe, and a mildly entertaining one, too. Agent isn't one of Rohmer's strongest films, but I certainly enjoyed it.
Like Daybreak, Sylvia Chang's 20 : 30 : 40 follows three separate stories that overlap only in a few brief moments. But 20 is far lighter fare, packing a few warm laughs here and there in its meandering tales of three women in Taipei aged 20, 30 and 40. Thoroughly enjoyable stuff and about as pleasurable a snapshot of life in the city as you could wish for, but not a whole lot more.
The last screening of the Competiton was just thing for an early Saturday morning. 25 degrés en hiver (25 Degrees in Winter) probably scored more laughs than any other film in the running. Belgian director Stéphane Vuillet actually starts things off on a heavy note with the early dawn deportation (and here we are again) of illegal immigrants. But the van is jumped by a group calling themselves the Anti-Deportation League and Sophie, a Ukrainian played by Lithuanian actress Ingeborga Dapkunaite, is one of two women who makes the getaway (the others are caught and presumably shipped off after all).
Credits, and then we meet the lively center of the film, Miguel, wonderfully played by Jacques Gamblin. He's got a daughter, Laura, and this young child actress is amazing - and beautiful as well; Vuillet can't resist allowing his camera to gaze at her at length during musical bridges between sequences. She received a considerable amount of acting coaching from Carmen Maura, who plays Miguel's mother. A series of delightful coincidences throws these four together in a yellow van that goes toodling around Brussels in a frantic series of errands, all intended to patch up one leak or another in each of their lives. Great fun.
So that was the Berlinale this year, or at least the main program. The first overall reflective assessments are all over the papers this morning and most agree that the 2004 edition turned out to be a fine one after all, though certainly not outstanding. A bumpy start, followed by welcome surprises - though again, no stunners. As I scan the final polls in Screen International and two similar collections of ratings-by-points charts in the local papers, it looks like the critical favorites are, in no particular order (I'm not going to pull out my calculator), Intimate Strangers, Lost Embrace, Monster, Before Sunset (everyone got ticked off at the Americans after three consecutive days of Cold Mountain, Something's Gotta Give and The Missing, but look at that), Ae Fond Kiss, Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow, and of course, the fresh winner of the Golden Bear, Head-On. Director Fatih Akin said he was rattlingly nervous about how his parents would receive the film. This'll help.
February 16: Wrapping the Berlinale.
The last echoes of the Berlinale resonate throughout all the German papers today; a lot of it is inside baseball stuff, and I'll spare you, but the excellent Perlentaucher, the indispensible feuilleton digest, has come across one bit in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung I just have to pass on.
When Fatih Akin bounced up on stage to collect his Golden Bear, jury prez Frances McDormand is said to have leaned over and whispered to him, "Your film is really rock 'n' roll." In a piece that's not online, FAZ critic Michael Althen comments:
Whoever's experienced the wonderful actress in Laurel Canyon will know that this sentence from her mouth is just about as valuable as the award itself. After all, when was the last time a German film won such praise? Rock 'n' roll is everything German cinema usually isn't: strong, energetic, forceful, loud, with rhythm in its blood. Akin can definitely nail that sentence over his bed post.
If you're interested in learning a bit more about Akin and his film, Deutsche Welle Eleonora Volodina has a short chat in English with him.
And finally, indieWIRE. They've been all over the Berlinale this year as well and, as the 54th edition wraps, Eugene Hernandez gathers festival director Dieter Kosslick's thoughts on the future and reviews the awards. I'm only just now catching up with the terrific reviews and news...
March 14: Postscript: Head On
Ever since Fatih Akin's Gegen die Wand (Head On) won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale in February, the film's been in the news. Good news and bad news. The good news is that this weekend it became the first German film to open simultaneously in theaters in both Germany and Turkey. Briefly, GdW is an unlikely yet lively and enthralling love story involving two Germans of Turkish descent.
Reinhard Hesse has a solid piece in openDemocracy [no longer available to non-subscribers] on the potential political and cultural impact of the film on one of the major questions facing Europe at present - particularly since it now seems that Al-Qaeda may very well have been responsible for the horrific bombings in Madrid last week and the strongest ties possible with a strategically placed predominantly Islamic democracy seems like an awfully darn good idea: Should the European Union take in Turkey as a member? Hesse rephrases that question:
Can there still be a serious argument over Turkey's eventual admission to the European Union when that country has, for all practical purposes, already arrived at the heart of Germany? Could it be that, at least for Turkish-born Germans who speak Hamburg slang far more fluently than any Anatolian idiom, life in Istanbul provides more freedom and liberality than struggling for your place in life in a German city? Will German recovery, once again, come from the margins, at least in cinema?
In my own neighborhood here in Berlin, Turkish Germans, German Turks, whatever, represent nearly 20 percent of the neighbors. About a block away, there's a huge billboard for the newly opened Ikea nearby - in Turkish, rather than in German. The number of Turkish papers rival that of German papers at the kiosks and so on and so on. Part of the thrill of GdW - besides the pace, performances and plot which combine to make what Hesse calls "a wild, rough, refreshing windstorm" - is seeing this reality up on the screen.
So that's the good news. The bad news comes courtesy of Germany's down-n-dirty yet thriving tabloid, Bild. Two days after the Golden Bear came the splashy headline: "Film-Diva in Wahrheit Porno-Star." Yes, it turns out that Sibel Kekilli had acted in nine porn flicks before taking a quiet job in Hamburg's city hall and then restarting her career when Akin cast her in GdW. But the reaction to this "revelation," as Volker Gunske outlines in a terrific column in tip (in German), was probably anything but what the tabloid had in mind. At first things were going Bild's way: Kekilli's father, who had moved to Germany from Turkey in the 70s was shocked and furious and immediately disowned his daughter - eventually, on Turkish television as well. This is the sort of blood Bild was hoping to draw.
But not only did Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick just as immediately voice his full support of Kekilli - and though I'd already really liked the guy, he flew up several notches on my list that day; love the phrase he used, too, literally translated as, "We stand behind her like a number one" - and hire Germany's top media lawyer to be on standby should she need one, but, as Gunske writes, "The outpouring of fury and disgust... simply never came about. Instead, all sympathies flew to the young woman who'd found herself in Bild's crosshairs."
Fans of German cinema may know that Bild itself was a star of sorts in Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta's 1975 film The Lost Honor of Katrina Blum, based on the novel by Heinrich Böll. Jürgen Fauth writes in his review:
The cynicism of the film's epilogue, when newspapermen with blood on their hands sanctimoniously rattle on about the freedom of the press seems farcical until you remember that Fox News advertises "fair and balanced reporting" with the same straight face, that the New York Post recently portrayed international diplomats with rodents' heads, and that Germany's BILD-Zeitung is still the best-selling paper in the country.
Gunske wraps his own column with this key question: "Do Kai Dieckmann's parents know that he's the editor of Bild?"
back to past articles >>>
Preview, Daybreak, Intimate Strangers.
Witnesses, Country of My Skull, The Missing.
Beautiful Country, Hands, Embrace, Primo, Next Life.
Nightsongs, Head On, Sunset, Maria, Final, Samaria, Weeping.
Kiss, Triple Agent, 20:30:40, 25 Degrees, Bears and Postscript.
back to past articles
lives and writes in Berlin.
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