Saturday, January 17, 2009

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--day 2

Aka, First Feature Friday. Both the movies I saw were debut features from their directors, starting with the festival's award winner for best first feature, Micha Lewinsky's The Friend. Incidentally, this is the first time a Swiss German film has won this award, and this is also Switzerland's entry for best foreign language film at the Oscars. So good luck to them. It's the story of Emil, an awkward, shy student in Zurich. He has a crush on Larissa, a singer at a club he frequents. He's never had the courage to say anything more than "hi" to her, and she's never acknowledged his existence. So it's strange and thrilling when she approaches him and asks him to pretend to be her boyfriend. Seems she told her parents she had a boyfriend and that they were very happy, so just go along with it. But when he first calls her home, he gets her sister who delivers some bad news--Larissa's dead. He shows up anyway and plays the role he's been dreaming of forever. He's quickly accepted by the family and finds a new sense of confidence, becoming less of a wallflower and more of a man. Man enough to catch the eye of Larissa's sister Nora, who was always jealous of being in her shadow. As more information comes out--like that her death was a suicide, not an accident--it becomes an awkward, dysfunctional comedy-drama. It's a story of losing something you never really had and finding something in yourself that you had all along.

Next up was Brigitte Maria Bertele's A Hero's Welcome. Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) is talked about quite a lot in America, but to hear Bertele, it's not talked of much in Germany. So she made a drama about David, an Afghan war vet returning home. He's learned the swagger and easy camaraderie of a soldier, and so he can fake his way through his return and the congratulations he gets for his medal. But it's clear that there are problems, starting with how he can't look his little brother (who idolizes him) in the eye. Then he can't make love to his girlfriend, he wets the bed, his temper blows up at the slightest provocation. Clearly he's troubled, but he refuses to see the army psychiatrist (a common element of PTSD is denying you have a problem). Eventually he warms up to his brother Benni, but only to semi-torture him--playing far too rough in soccer practice, making him kill his sick pet bunny, even giving him a gun and telling him (Benni) to shoot him (David). It's all on the pretense of teaching him to not be afraid, but it clearly shows the cycle of passing the trauma on--and passing it on to the weakest person around you. It's a powerful story with some fearless acting and no easy answers.


And one final note, for my longtime readers. Both filmmakers were there and had very interesting question and answer sessions afterwards. Longtime readers will know I've always tried to get a photo of the filmmakers with my low-quality camera phone, and I've posted them on this blog. Well, I've finally decided that they always look so bad I'm not even going to try anymore. I did it the first few times as an experiment, then kept it up for 2 years because I thought it'd be unfair to the filmmakers if I showed some but not all. Well, after 2 years I'm callign the experiment a failure. It's a year of minor changes to this blog.
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