Monday, January 14, 2008

Jason goes to Berlin and Beyond--Day 4

Sorry, I've been way too busy to write. I'm 5 days and a dozen movies behind schedule. The festival's already over, and I haven't written up last Sunday yet.

However, the advantage to that is I know how the festival ended, so I can tell you that the first film Sunday, "Paula's Secret", won the audience award. It's a crowd-pleasing (obviously) comedy about a little rich girl, Paula. She has a secret (I hope I'm not going too fast for you). Her secret is that she keeps a diary where she pretends to correspond with a dashing fairy-tale prince. She's robbed on the train, and among other items her diary is stolen. Her lower-class slob classmate, Tobi (who secretly has a crush on her) offers to help her find it. And wacky hijinx ensue, including but not limited to sneaking away from her holiday summer camp, tracking down the kids who stole her diary, finding and foiling a Romanian child slave labor ring, saving the day, and falling in love. Super sweet!

Next up was the improvised movie, "So Long My Heart". Interestingly, co-direction/screenwriter Oliver Paulus admitted that it wasn't intended to be to totally improvised. His previous movie had been improvised and editing was a nightmare. So this time, he had a story arc written, with room to improvise dialog. Then another movie came out just before they started shooting that used many of the same details. So they scrapped it and went with a completely improvised film (and he had to deal with the nightmare editing process again). Anyway, the result is the melancholy bittersweet comedy/drama about a lonely man who moves to Mannheim. He takes a job as a caretaker in a nursing home (and it was actually shot in the nursing home using residents as characters), where he's the only male employee and therefore quite popular. But he's popular in one of the loneliest and most depressing places/times in life. It reminds me of the line from Donnie Darko--"Every living creature on this earth dies alone". But here he finds a ray of beauty in compassion in the last stages of life. Great acting all around, and a great look, although the improvisation does let it kind of meander. Here's Co-director and screenwriter Oliver Paulus:

Next up was a Berlin and Beyond tradition, showing the audience award winners from Kinofest Lünen. First the short "15 Minuten Wahrheit", an eco-political thriller-comedy about the loyal employees sticking it to the evil boss who's planning to fire them. It was excellent.

And then the feature film--also excellent--"Jacob's Brother". A dysfunctional family road trip comedy. Jacob (or Jakob) is the responsible older brother, who now owns and operates a fish restaurant. Lorenz is the kinda crazy wild younger brother. They haven't spoken in a long time (because Jacob got fed up and left), but now their mother is sick and Lorenz goes to find him and bring him home (so that he can be the responsible one again). Car trouble, a 16 year-old girl hitchhiker, and complete psychotic breakdowns ensue. It was hilarious.

Next up was a more serious movie. "And Along Come Tourists" takes place in the Polish town of Oœwiêcim, better known by the name of the concentration camp just outside of town--Auschwitz. It's the semi-autobiographical story of Sven, a German youth who moves there to work at the camp's youth hostel to fulfill his German civil service obligation (writer/director Robert Thalheim worked there for the same reason). There he meets and looks after Krzemiñski, a former camp inmate who started a department preserving historical artifacts--particularly restoring old suitcases. They specifically never say if Krzemiñski is Jewish or if he was in the camp for other reasons. Nor do they get into why he didn't leave. He's really a very mysterious and of course tragic character. The treatment of Krzemiñski (lately his restoration work is destroying more suitcases than it saves, but they're afraid to fire him for fear of offending him) is emblematic of the whole town. It's a town that's afraid at any moment to say or do anything that might disrespect its tragic history, but on the other hand it's a down that's desperate to get beyond its history and finally think of the future again. The disparity is shocking, but understandable, and is handled with great respect. Ultimately Sven finds his place there, but it's an uncomfortable place.

Next up was the relationship comedy "Runaway Horse", but first the short "Forest Cleaner" ("Waldmeister"). The short was not originally scheduled with this, but since co-director and star Markus Mischkowski had to catch his flight, they played it early. It's a hilarious slapstick black and white flick about two guys whose job is to pick up trash in the forest. When there's not enough trash, they have to find a way to survive. A comedy of employment and make-work programs. Hilarious. Here's a picture of Markus Mischkowski:

As I said, "Runaway Horse" is a relationship comedy. Based on a best-selling novel, it's a simple 4-person story. A middle aged married couple (Helmut and Sabine) go to a quiet lakeside resort for a holiday. There Helmut runs into an old school buddy, Klaus, a wild playboy with a much, much younger girlfriend (Hel). This disrupts Helmut's quiet holiday of bird watching, as Klaus manages to barge in on just about everything, making his holiday kinda hellish (no pun intended). To make matters worse, Sabine enjoys Klaus' company, and he seems to be just the man she wishes Helmut was. And Hel flirts openly with Helmut. And hijinx ensue. It's funny, well acted, and a crowd-pleaser. And, of course, it has the German cynicism about relationships, but with a surprisingly romantic ending.

Then I saw "Forest Cleaner" again, in the time slot where it was actually programmed. It's good enough to watch twice and enjoy both times.

And finally, the marathon weekend ended with the documentary, "Heavy Metal in the Country". Swabia (southern region of Germany) has the reputation for small quiet towns. But nestled in the Swabian town of Dunzdorf is the worldwide headquarters of Nuclear Blast records. Markus Staiger founded it, after growing up as a metal fan and selling records to his friends. It's now one of the world's most successful independent heavy metal labels. The disparity is striking, and the movie's editing plays that disparity to the maximum. And the effect is fascinating, funny, and weird. And that's all I have to say. That's the way the weekend ended, and that's the way this post will end. More to come...

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