REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2008

My Winnipeg

The Electric Sheep team look back at the heroes and villains of 2008.

THE GOOD

Waltz With Bashir/Persepolis
It seems somehow unfair to try and choose between Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir in deciding the best film of the year. Both superbly animated, autobiographical features, they are totally unique, powerful and refreshing in their own ways. Persepolis uses stunning black and white animation to tell Satrapi’s often humorous story about growing up a rebel after the 1979 revolution in Iran, while Waltz with Bashir is a very personal and brave attempt by Folman to come to terms with his role in the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre. Both are emotionally gripping, riveting films that are also terrifically stylish, making them an absolute pleasure to watch. SARAH CRONIN

My Winnipeg
Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg is among his finest work to date, combining documentary footage, theories on psycho-geography and the director’s typical left-field sexual anecdotes to lurid and devastating effect. Maddin has conjured a Canadian Brigadoon that is both lost to the developer’s wreaking ball and to reminiscences of itinerant residents who have long since moved on. My Winnipeg is a beguiling and loving homage to both the news footage and the director’s own home movies of the town itself and an unmissable, metatextual fever dream about places we’ve all loved and lost. ALEX FITCH

Savage Grace
Fifteen years after his critically acclaimed debut feature Swoon, Tom Kalin’s follow-up is another stunning, audacious and dazzlingly well realised exploration of the relation between sex and power, based on a disturbing real-life crime. Shot in deep, lush colours, and with a wonderfully versatile Julianne Moore in the central role, Savage Grace recounts the glittering rise and tragic fall of the aspiring American socialite Barbara Daly. Kalin brings a coolly compassionate spirit to this haunting tale of love and madness while excellent performances throughout lend the film an extra edge of enigmatic power and unsettling perversity. Undeniably graceful, gorgeously photographed but also brutally sharp. PAMELA JAHN

The Orphanage
Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Orphanage marks a powerful escape from the clutches of the ‘torture-porn’ franchises devouring the horror genre in recent years. The simplicity of a look, of the sound of footsteps, a long hallway disappearing into darkness, the sound of children whispering… suddenly the subconscious mind is given some credibility again. The Orphanage is almost entirely preoccupied with the topography of the mind and is extremely successful at evoking the (often frightening) symbolism of the past, of childhood, of memories best left undisturbed. There may have been better films in 2008, but The Orphanage got to me deepest. SIOUXZI MERNAGH

Man on Wire
James Marsh’s Man on Wire shocked and amazed me above anything else I’ve seen in years. It tells the story of French tightrope walker Philippe Petit, who with the help of a small and fearless team, broke into the World Trade Centre in 1974. Taking with him an arsenal of equipment, he staged a feat of iconic proportions by walking between the two towers. If the heist-like nature of the narrative isn’t compelling enough, the emotional bond between the key players seen through modern-day talking heads and archived footage secures the film’s place as one of the most engaging documentaries of recent years. JAMES MERCHANT

Lust, Caution
Ang Lee’s haunting Lust, Caution examines the explicit affair between naí¯ve spy Tang Wei and government official Tony Leung against the backdrop of wartime China. Leung’s performance is a master-class in self-loathing, revealing a supposed embodiment of evil to be a world-weary company man who is aware of the shortcomings of the political power to which he has sold his soul. Lee presents a multi-layered recreation of 1940s Shanghai wherein even a mah-jong game is an exercise in alliance and betrayal. Skilfully adapted from an Eileen Chang short story, Lust, Caution is as suspenseful as it is emotionally complex. JOHN BERRA

Far North
With Michelle Yeoh magnificent in the central role, Asif Kapadia’s follow-up to his acclaimed debut feature The Warrior is another stunning epic folk tale, set amid the savage beauty of the Arctic Circle, in an environment where life is a constant, violent fight for survival. VIRGINIE Sí‰LAVY

THE BAD

Captain Eager and the Mark of Voth
When making a nostalgic film about lost possibilities and childhood heroes on a limited budget, you sometimes end up with a work of genius like My Winnipeg and sometimes you get ill-conceived and tedious claptrap like Captain Eager. Inspired by the classic British comic book character Dan Dare and 1930s adventure serials such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, this is a film that tries to be an innovative, funny and affectionate homage to the past but fails on almost every level, while criminally wasting two of this country’s finest comic talents – Mark Heap and Tasmin Grieg. ALEX FITCH

Awake
Awake is a ridiculous thriller that strives for novelty by exaggerating, or exploiting, a medical statistic concerning the number of people who wake up during open heart surgery. When a bland junior business tycoon, portrayed by jobbing Jedi Hayden Christiansen, becomes conscious during a life or death operation, he discovers that he is the victim of a conspiracy masterminded by his new wife and his surgeon. However, his physical paralysis means that Christiansen spends much of the film relaxing on his back while his voice-over attempts to take care of the acting. Not to be viewed without anaesthetic. JOHN BERRA

Angel
Franí§ois Ozon’s first English-language feature, a foolish adaptation of Elizabeth Taylor’s unduly neglected novel Angel (1957), may be his most love-it-or-hate-it film to date. It is a strained, disastrous mixture of camp spoof and lurid melodrama, a would-be satire of Hollywood dramas of the Douglas Sirk variety that completely misses the mark. PAMELA JAHN

My Blueberry Nights
While not necessarily the absolute worst film to come out this year, Wong Kar Wai’s My Blueberry Nights was certainly the most disappointing. The director’s first foray into Hollywood resulted in a film inferior in every way to his Hong Kong-based work, while the most egregious offence was the misguided casting that saw the inexperienced singer Norah Jones and the mediocre Jude Law take on the two leads. The story itself is a mere confection, with Jones waitressing her way across America after she’s jilted by her boyfriend. Thankfully, Wong Kar Wai quickly restored his reputation by re-realising his 1994 film Ashes of Time, a beautiful, elegiac picture that helped dull the painful memory of My Blueberry Nights. SARAH CRONIN

THE UGLY

RocknRolla
Arch-chav Guy Ritchie’s pathetic films are littered with embarrassing caricatures: mockney wide boys, smart-arse gangsters, Fagin-esque thieves and air-head tarts. This ridiculously contrived, self-consciously ‘cool’ macho wankathon was utterly boring, adolescent and stupid. But what’s most reprehensible about it is its glamorisation of the most disgusting elements of male, thuggish society: greed, misogyny, egotism, immorality, narcissism and random violence. JAMES DC

27 Dresses

This film is a triumph of formula, a mastery of the Machine:

1. Distill the identity of the ‘modern woman’ into one crisp, shiny, easily opened package.

2. Extract money from the ‘modern woman’ by marketing a tried and tested ‘always a bridesmaid, never a bride (unless you’re younger and blonder)’ movie to her.

3. Stew the ‘modern woman’ in saccharine juices until her brain is pink and pliable.

4. Await congratulations from film investors.

Unfortunately, 27 Dresses grossed $160 million worldwide, with around 75% of the audience being female (boxofficeguru.com). And this from a female director… SIOUXZI MERNAGH

PHILIP WINTER’S VERY OWN ROUND-UP OF 2008

Unlike most of the other pundits writing this end of year review, I haven’t been to the cinema. 2008 was a grand year for cinema-phobia as far as I’m concerned. Despite my love of the art form I have never been a regular cinema-goer. My preferred time to go to a screening is mid-week, mid-afternoon, with no companions apart from my fellow strangers. Sadly, work and life have thwarted my indulgence in that proclivity, as has the fact that there has been very little fodder on offer that I have wanted to squander my cash on. I haven’t even attended press screenings. Indeed, most of my cinematic consumption has come via conduits such as DVDs and the Web. However, (here’s the me, me, me bit) I have been proactive in producing cinematic events. All of them low-key, thoroughly amateur and jolly good fun in a kind of botched together from Sellotape and twigs way. In the summer, I started an occasional evening entitled Philip Winter’s Lucky Dip (this title permitted me to decide what I wanted to screen the night before). At these events, I screened an eclectic range of films – local history documentaries, British transport films, instructional videos, Super 8 non-sequitur, YouTube chaff. Experimentalists like William English, Oliver Mezger, Fari Bradley, David Leister and Toby Clarkson presented 16mm and video works live, and as master of ceremonies I talked nonsense in between. The screenings took place in a room above a pub adjacent to the pub’s Thai kitchen, which provided a constant background din. Audiences weren’t huge but we all had fun, albeit of the shoddy variety, and best of all, it was free. I am glad I haven’t visited a cinema in 12 months.

INTERVIEW WITH ANDRES VEIEL

Black Box Germany

Format: Cinema

The 11th Festival of German Films

28 November-4 December 2008

Goethe-Institut, Curzon Soho (London)

Focus on Andres Veiel, 24-30 November

Black Box Germany screens on 30 November, 1pm, Curzon Soho (London)

More info on the Festival of German Films website

In this year’s Festival of German Films, the special focus section, organised by the Goethe-Institut, is dedicated to documentary filmmaker Andres Veiel, who is best known in the UK for his award-winning film Black Box Germany, a disturbing juxtaposition of the biographies of a member of the Red Army Faction (RAF) and one of their presumed victims. Andres Veiel will be in London on November 30 to attend the screening of Black Box Germany and will be taking questions from the audience afterwards. Pamela Jahn had the chance to speak with the director beforehand and asked him about this divisive work, as well as his new feature film project, in which he returns to the subject of the Baader-Meinhof gang.

Pamela Jahn: You made Black Box Germany at the end of the 90s, over 20 years after the German Autumn. What attracted you to this subject matter at that time?

Andres Veiel: First of all, it is connected to my personal history. I was born in Stuttgart, the place where the trials against Andreas Baader, Gudrun Ensslin and Ulrike Meinhof, the leading members of the Red Army Faction (RAF), took place in the mid-70s. I was still a teenager at that time, but my friends and I went to Stammheim to see the trials, and it impressed me a lot. In the beginning I even felt some sort of naí¯ve admiration for Baader-Meinhof and what they did, because, at least, they did something. At that point, I was somewhat at the fringe. On the one hand, I was still growing up in a very conservative suburb of Stuttgart, but on the other hand, suddenly there was this drift, a drift towards a radical political movement, and attending the Baader-Meinhof trials meant for us to defect to the other side, even to partly identify with the terrorists. Of course, I realised very quickly that the RAF was not a possibility at all for me and for most of my friends. But it had a big influence on me in this coming-of-age period between 15 and 17, and over the years, I always felt there was a lack of discussion of the issue, especially after the German reunification. I still had a lot of questions then: Why would anyone become a terrorist? What makes somebody go underground? This was something I felt had not been dealt with sufficiently. So I started researching what would eventually become Black Box Germany.

PJ: What interested you in particular in the story of Wolfgang Grams?

AV: My interest was triggered by something I realised when I was working on The Survivors, the film I made before Black Box Germany, which was about three school fellows of mine who had committed suicide. One of them, Thilo, went to Stammheim with me in 1975 to see the trials, but unlike mine, his sympathies towards the Baader-Meinhof gang remained quite strong for a while. So the question came up again: what kind of impact, what kind of influence makes people go underground? Especially in the 80s. If you look at the story of Wolfgang Grams in comparison to the first generation of the RAF, what is striking is that he makes that decision 15 years later. He went underground in 1985, when there was no longer any support for the RAF from left-wing young people in Germany. The third generation of the RAF was still active, but they were very isolated. And when Birgit Hogefeld, Grams’s girlfriend, was tried in the mid-90s, I became very curious as to what it was that made them go underground. But to explore that, I had to look deeper into their lives.

PJ: Why did you decide to look not only at Grams’s development as an RAF member, but also at the life of Alfred Herrhausen, one of the victims of the gang?

AV: I thought it was impossible for me to talk about the RAF without allowing space for their victims too. The films that had been made on this subject until then either dealt with the victims or the perpetrators, but never with both sides at once. But for me this was a necessity, since I wanted to understand what kind of fight the RAF was leading and who they were fighting. So I decided to focus on Alfred Herrhausen, the chairman of Deutsche Bank, who in a way served as a symbol of the ‘other side’ for the RAF, which is why he was murdered.

PJ:To a certain extent the film seems to provide parallels between the two characters rather than simply confronting two opposite perspectives. Was such a relationship intended?

AV:No, not at all. In the beginning, there was a protagonist and an antagonist for me, but step by step, during my research work, I felt there was some sort of affinity, that they had something in common, which you could call the German idealism, a need to change the world, to create a new image of another world and to fight for these ideas. And although they were active on completely different levels – of course you cannot compare the RAF with the Deutsche Bank – it is fascinating to see what remains of this idealism at these opposite ends, and to find some similarities in the way they acted within these different structures. For example, both of them were very isolated in their groups, because they didn’t fight for people who could support them. Herrhausen was isolated at the board of Deutsche Bank after he had made his proposal of debt relief for Third World countries. Grams couldn’t convince many of his friends to go underground. Grams and Herrhausen just went their own ways. And because of this, both of them died a very lonely death. A lot of people had turned their back on Herrhausen because he surged ahead too fast and because he didn’t want to affiliate himself with anything. Even his wife didn’t understand him, in a way. On the other hand, if you think about what happened in Bad Kleinen [when the police tried to arrest Grams and his girlfriend], Birgit Hogefeld got arrested but Grams ran away and got shot, or shot himself, that’s still not clear. But, again, he made a different decision. For him, it was impossible to get arrested and to stay in prison for the rest of his life; he preferred to die.

PJ:The topic you’re dealing with remains highly controversial in Germany even now, which explains why Birgit Hogefeld didn’t want to be in the film. But Traudl Herrhausen, the wife of the murdered banker, also refused to participate to start with …

AV:Yes, that’s right, and it took me quite a long time to gain her trust. I think I met her 15 to 20 times before we started shooting. We talked for hours, but she still had a huge amount of distrust of me and of the project. For example, very early on I told her that I went to see Birgit Hogefeld in prison. At first she was silent and shocked and then she asked me: ‘What did you see?’ And of course what she wanted to know was, ‘did you look the killer of my husband in the eyes?’ But this was something I could not answer, because I didn’t know, and I still don’t know the facts of what really happened on November 30, 1989. So it was very delicate to approach both sides. All in all, it took me five years to make the film and it was a very slow and long process to build up her trust in me, but at the same time I knew it would not have been possible to make the film without her.

PJ:Where you ever tempted to try solving the mysteries that remain around the Herrhausen assassination and the deaths of Baader, Meinhof and Ensslin in Stammheim prison?

AV:My main interest was not to show who was involved in what. To what extent Grams was in charge of the Herrhausen killing or involved in the planning process was never the question for me. He was a member of the gang, so he took at least some responsibility for the death of Herrhausen. As for the deaths of Baader, Meinhof and Ensslin, when it happened in 1977, I was in shock. I remember the situation very well. We were listening to the radio and when the news came on about their suicides, there was like a rift in the classroom. At that point, I was sure they had been killed, I couldn’t believe the suicide version. But later on, mainly through my own research work, I learned that it was a mistake, that they did commit suicide. Sometimes you are seduced by the idea of something, and in this particular case it took me years to realise it, but eventually I had to admit that I was wrong.

PJ:Bearing in mind your personal background and your own extensive research on the RAF, how do you see Uli Edel’s film on the same subject, The Baader-Meinhof Complex?

AV:First, I should tell you that I am currently working on a screenplay for my first feature film and it’ll be dealing with the same protagonists again but in the 60s. I am making this film because I still have a lot of questions. The Baader-Meinhof Complex tries to illustrate the facts, to illustrate the book by Stefan Aust, but the problem is that the director has no attitude towards his protagonists or his story. He merely reconstructs the facts without deeper questions. I can see The Baader-Meinhof Complex as an isolated phenomenon, but at the same time it shows the necessity to make another film about the RAF. So I’ll make one.

PJ: Why have you decided to make it as a feature film, rather than as a documentary?

AV:I spoke with so many people who said they didn’t want to talk in front of the camera. It’s still a taboo issue, and I thought it would be too difficult to convince the people I want to have in the film to participate in a documentary. So, I’ll write a screenplay and make it as a fiction film, but it will be based on long and thorough research, just like any of my documentaries, and I will stay close to the convincing and irritating facts that I gained from that research.

PJ:You mentioned The Survivors earlier, which is your most personal film so far. When you make a film, are you sometimes scared of finding out the truth about things you don’t want to know?

AV:Making The Survivors was a great challenge for me, even more challenging than Black Box Germany in the way that I had to deal with some disturbing facts about my friends, who were dead and therefore could no longer justify themselves. But in a way, every film is like a journey for me. The more I find out, the less I seem to know. So to some extent you can call all my films a black box. The deeper I delve into a subject or a biography, the bigger the black box becomes.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Black Box Germany screens on 30 November 2008 at the Curzon Soho (London). The Survivors screens on 26 November at the Goethe-Institut (London). Andres Veiel will attend screenings of The Kick and Addicted to Acting on 29 November and Black Box Germany on 30 November. For more details, visit the Festival of German Films website.

BEST OF THE 52nd LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

Hunger

52nd LONDON FILM FESTIVAL

15-30 October 2008

The Electric Sheep team round up their favourite films of this year’s London Film Festival.

Hunger

A gripping, powerful and hauntingly beautiful film, Hunger is artist Steve McQueen’s slow-paced dramatisation of the last months in the life of Irish Republican Bobby Sands, who starved himself to death in 1981 in protest against the British government’s refusal to treat convicted IRA members as political prisoners. Despite an arguably impressive display of physical violence, there are moments when stunning shots of artistic beauty lend the film a grim poetic atmosphere. The result is a mesmerising choreography that demands utter commitment from the actors (an extraordinary central performance from Michael Fassbender), and it is also an inventive bursting forth of McQueen the filmmaker. PAMELA JAHN

Waltz with Bashir

Ari Folman’s brilliant animated documentary about the 1982 Lebanon war was one of the best films at the LFF. This is a brave and powerful movie, both stylistically and in its treatment of Folman’s involvement in one of the most controversial episodes in Israel’s history, the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. The animation beautifully conveys the depth and intensity of Folman’s story as he meets with fellow friends, soldiers and journalists in his attempt to counter the collective amnesia suffered by witnesses of the event. This is an astonishing, unmissable piece of filmmaking with one of the most harrowing and moving endings seen in years. SARAH CRONIN

United Red Army

Koji Wakamatsu’s latest film is by far the most complex, stunning and utterly demanding film I’ve seen in the course of this year’s festival circuit. In 190 visually and conceptually engrossing minutes, United Red Army traces the history of the Japanese militant left from its origins in 1960 to its escalation in the early 1970s. Basing his film on comprehensive research as well as his own memories and connections to some members of the Red Army faction when it was still active, Wakamatsu not merely reveals the gruelling events that took place at the time, he once again pushes the boundaries of filmmaking in almost every take, taking the story from docu-style drama to claustrophobic chamber piece into breathtaking action thriller in the final act. What remains is a profound and painful dissection of ideology itself, rendered with an impressive clarity that is rarely seen on the big screen. PAMELA JAHN

Afterschool

I found myself utterly stunned by Antonio Campos’s feature debut Afterschool. A class video project in an upscale American prep school accidentally captures a tragedy, and we follow the reactions of the school, its pupils, and particularly of the boy, Robert (Ezra Miller), who shot the incident, an alienated and unpopular student who becomes a source of anxiety for the institution. If, as is usually the case, high school/college movies are intended as portraits of America in microcosm, then this is the most bilious, vicious picture of that nation I’ve encountered in years. It’s a tough watch from the outset, with an unsettling montage of internet clips giving way to the face of Robert as he wanks away to some unpleasant porn, and never stops being unnerving thereafter. The dark nature of the story is emphasised by visually inventive, oddly framed photography throughout; imitating both the lopsided compositions of amateur cameramen and the disaffected gaze of a sociopath, it builds its own woozy unhealthy atmosphere, a world viewed through the wrong head. It’s creepy and smart and it may just screw with your head for days. MARK STAFFORD

Home

A happily eccentric middle-class family live in the ideal, open surroundings of the French countryside, right on the edge of a long unused motorway. However, when the motorway is suddenly opened to swarms of traffic, their lives become intolerable as the noise, pollution and danger invades their lives. As the disruption to their normal routine eats away at their freedoms, they descend into semi-primordial behavioural patterns and bizarre somnambulant rituals. Beautifully filmed, with a superb, believable cast (Isabelle Huppert is outstanding), Home explores the deep ramifications of urbanisation and the impact of rampant capitalism upon the human psyche. On one level it’s a witty, modern-day environmental parable, and on another it’s a surreal descent into the subconscious fears and desires of the id. Birthed from the same otherworldly penumbra as classics like Weekend, Themroc and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, Home is a unique and strange masterpiece where Kafka meets Ballard on the arid tarmac of the Motorway. JAMES DC

Hansel and Gretel

A South Korean grown-up reworking of the familiar children’s story, Yim Phil-sung’s Hansel and Gretel is a dark, surreal fairy tale weaving themes of lost innocence, dysfunctional families, revenge, trust and love. When a young man driving along a country road crashes his car, he is taken to a ravishing house in the middle of the forest by a strange, ethereal young girl. He is looked after by her family but when he tries to go back to his car the next day, and the following days too, he finds he cannot leave the forest. Forced to remain with the three children and faced with a series of bizarre occurrences, he gradually disentangles the web of mystery that surrounds the children to discover the truth about their identity. The enchanted house and forest are beautifully depicted, the children are suitably ambivalent and the film’s atmosphere is perfectly balanced between sinister and magical. A real treat. VIRGINIE Sí‰LAVY

Il Divo

Winner of the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Il Divo sees director Paolo Sorrentino apply his trademark formal beauty to the life of one of Italy’s most notorious politicians. Seven-time Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti was tried on several occasions for murder, corruption and Mafia involvement, but defended himself successfully each time. The characters accused along with Andreotti are many and difficult to distinguish – expect a re-edit before the theatrical release – but rather than try to establish the facts, Sorrentino chooses instead to focus on the aegis of ambiguity that Andreotti forges for himself. In this character study he could have no better co-conspirator than his The Consequences of Love star Tony Servillo, who is hypnotic as Andreotti. ALEXANDER PASHBY

Momma’s Man

On paper, Momma’s Man doesn’t necessarily hold that much appeal: a thirty-something man visits his parents at their New York loft and finds himself incapable of returning home to his wife and baby in Los Angeles. But director Azazel Jacobs’ film is much more than a sum of its parts. Jacobs cast his own remarkable parents (influential experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs and artist Flo Jacobs) and shot the movie in the same Manhattan apartment where they’ve lived for the last 40 years. Matt Boren puts in a great performance as their son, who’s desperate to be a little kid again. The location itself is terrific, packed with the eccentric ephemera collected over a lifetime, and while the film’s laid-back pace demands some patience, this funny and poignant film has that indefinable something that marks out the most memorable films. SARAH CRONIN

Beautiful Losers

Pulled from this year’s EIFF line-up at the very last minute, Beautiful Losers was a welcome addition to the small number of worthwhile documentaries included in the LFF programme. In an unashamedly nostalgic but extremely likeable fashion, co-director Aaron Rose looks back in affection at his own achievement, New York’s Alleged Gallery, and the loose-knit group of American artists who became involved in the creative movement that grew around the small storefront space in the early 90s. It features artists such as Barry McGee, Chris Johanson, Ed and Deanna Templeton, Jo Jackson, Margaret Kilgallen, Mike Mills amongst others, with Harmony Korine being no doubt the most weirdly charming contributor. PAMELA JAHN

Not Quite Hollywood

Not Quite Hollywood is music promo director Mark Hartley’s affectionate no-holds-barred-pedal-to-the-metal salute to Ozploitation cinema, charting its rise in the late 60s, fall in the late 80s, and recent resurgence with the likes of Wolf Creek. It rounds up an impressive roll call of talking heads from the scene, who, in true Aussie style, are refreshingly blunt about their experiences and each other, and intercuts them with a generous helping of clips from the films. It’s great fun: Hartley seems to be terrified of boring his audience and packs out his 102 minutes with insane stunts, montages of naked Sheilas, automotive carnage and explosions, and countless outrageous stories, all edited to a zippy sprint. The archive footage of Dennis Hopper scrambling for his life from his burning stunt double would justify your time and money on its own. It’s divided into three sections, sex, horror and action, and the movies can also usefully be divided into three types: familiar late night /video library classics (The Long Weekend, Patrick, Turkey Shoot, Road Games, and of course Mad Max ); films that you can safely avoid (Oz sex comedies of the 70s look just as toe-curlingly Christ-awful as British sex comedies of the 70s, which is some kind of achievement); and, and here is where NQH really scores, the numerous neglected, lost and largely forgotten films which the film makes you desperately want to see. As well as having a high population density of insane stuntmen the country was also clearly never lacking in spectacular outback scenery or 70mm lenses to shoot it with, and from the clips included here alone, the likes of Fair Game and Dead End Drive-In all look glorious. If I must quibble, I’d say that the pacy style of the film excludes any real discussion of the social context, aesthetics or especially the grisly sexual politics of ozploitation cinema; which is sorely needed, especially when the inevitable Quentin Tarantino keeps popping up enthusing about one woman-bashing scene after another. Hartley’s default setting is breathless, shameless celebration over analysis, and NQH often seems to actively avoid deciding whether the films are actually any damn good or not (Though I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Howling 3: The Marsupials sucks koala cock). Apparently, the director has launched his own line of ozploitation DVDs so any viewers wishing to familiarise themselves with some authentic Australian sleaze will soon be able to judge for themselves. Happy hunting. MARK STAFFORD

THE WAVE: INTERVIEW WITH DENNIS GANSEL

The Wave

Format: Cinema

Release date: 19 September 2008

Venues: Cineworld Fulham Rd, Odeon Covent Garden, Ritzy, Picturehouse Greenwich (London) and key cities

Distributor: Momentum

Director:Dennis Gansel

Writers: Dennis Gansel, Peter Thorwarth

Based on: the novel by Todd Strasser

Original title: Die Welle

Cast: Jí¼rgen Vogel, Frederick Lau, Max Riemelt, Jennifer Ulrich

Germany 2008

101 mins

In April 1967 in Palo Alto, California, a history teacher by the name of Ron Jones attempted to introduce his high school pupils to the realities of fascism by encouraging them to form a kind of classroom Hitler Youth. The experiment had disturbing results and unsurprisingly perhaps, it has inspired a novel, a theatre play and a short film. Now it has been given the full feature film treatment in Dennis Gansel’s The Wave.

Relocated to present-day Germany, Gansel’s slick, fictionalised account of the event revolves around young, hip and spirited social science teacher Rainer Wenger (an utterly mesmerising Jí¼rgen Vogel) who starts the experiment as part of a project about ‘autocracy’. What begins as an ambitious assignment, based on some basic rules and principles, develops within a few days into a genuine movement called ‘The Wave’ that soon grips the whole school, and ultimately culminates in a painful and devastating realisation as the violent final act unfolds.

The Wave had its UK premiere at the 2008 Edinburgh International Film Festival, where PAMELA JAHN talked to director Dennis Gansel to find out more about the dangers of playing dictator.

Pamela Jahn: Ron Jones’s experiment was meant to demonstrate the nature of dictatorship and fascism. What was your intention in reviving the story and in relocating it to Germany?

Dennis Gansel: I took the original event as a starting point, but Ron Jones’s experiment took place 40 years ago and things have changed a lot since then. My intention was to make a contemporary film with a very realistic approach that raises the question of whether what happened back then in California could actually happen again today in Central Europe and, in particular, in Germany. Most people in Germany know the story, because the novel is read in school. If you go to a German high school today, you’ll hear the kids say, ‘Third Reich, Nazis…not again!’ Since we seem to know our history so well, most people feel that we are immune to any form of totalitarianism, which I think is totally wrong and just a form of self-deception. I think that the group psychology that underlies such dictatorships is still very much alive. All it needs really is a charismatic leader with some strong ideas. No matter how much you know, or how cautious you are, that still doesn’t guarantee immunity from falling for a great team spirit or a seductive movement like The Wave.

PJ: How dangerous is it then to play dictator in school or in any other kind of environment?

DG: I think it’s incredibly dangerous. You just don’t play around with people like this, not in school or anywhere else. As an educational concept the experiment was a big mistake.

PJ: The film ends tragically, and violently, neither of which coincides with the true story nor with the novel. Why did you change the ending?

DG: I felt that The Wave was something that young people would think of as very cool, especially when I found out that the kids used the Wave greeting while we were filming. I felt strongly responsible as a German filmmaker to make a clear point by showing that if you play around with fascism, things may turn out badly. Therefore, I changed the ending with the clear intention of shocking the audience.

[…]

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Read the rest of the interview in our autumn print issue. The theme is cruel games, from the politics of blood sport in Death Race to sadistic power play in Korean thriller A Bloody Aria and Stanley Kubrick’s career-long fascination with game-playing. Plus: interview with comic book master Charles Burns about the stunning animated film Fear(s) of the Dark and preview of the Raindance Festival. And don’t miss our fantastic London Film Festival comic strip, which surely is worth the price of the issue alone!

THE MACGUFFIN LIBRARY

Urn_MacGuffin

Wouldn’t it be nice… Wishful thinking in art and design

Somerset House, London

Sept 17-Dec 7 2008

The MacGuffin Library

Sept 17-Oct 5 2008

More details on the Somerset House website

The work of artists Noam Toran and Onkar Kular spans multiple disciplines and mediums, from film to installation, often using conceptual product design to engage with a broad range of social and cultural issues. For their most recent collaboration, an installation shown as part of the Somerset House exhibition Wouldn’t it be nice…, they propose the foundation of a library of MacGuffins. The MacGuffin is a term that Alfred Hitchcock used to describe a cinematic plot device, usually (but not necessarily) an object, for instance, stolen jewels or secret documents, a pretext that motivates the characters and moves the story forward. Over the course of the exhibition, Toran and Kular aim to design and produce up to 20 of their own MacGuffins after writing a series of film synopses around these objects. Turning the gallery space into a working ‘laboratory’, the artists will manufacture the objects on site using a rapid prototyping machine.

Pamela Jahn met Noam Toran and Onkar Kular at the RCA last week to find out more about the MacGuffin library project.

Pamela Jahn: What exactly is a MacGuffin for you?

Noam Toram: It’s a plot device, it’s the thing that is of vital importance to the characters within the film, that allows them to move through space. But it’s essentially something that is replaceable. So, as Hitchcock said, in spy movies it’s almost always the microfilm, in crime movies it’s the diamonds…

Onkar Kular:However, we want to build upon the Hitchcockian terminology. We are not going to stick to it as a rigid framework. We are trying to expand upon that and play with the idea of the MacGuffin, even subvert it. So, Hitchcock was our starting point, but while working on the project we found that it was much more interesting if we took the idea of the MacGuffin forward.

PJ: What was the starting point of the project?

NT: We’ve got a long-standing interest in film; we produce film and we also work with designed objects that exist within film. Often in my work, I foreground objects as protagonists in a narrative that I then film. While researching we came across the MacGuffin, and we realised that there was this object typology, which was something of a certain size that was easily hide-able or steal-able, and that, in cinema, the object that everybody desires needs to have a certain scale or a certain tangibility. There are numerous films that subvert that to great effect, or use it as a symbol of something else on a psychological level. This allowed us a space to play with and to come up with a series of our own objects and synopses. Although we are not making the film we are hopefully producing a space between the object and the synopsis where an audience can create the film themselves, and where they can think of what we are intending to present cinematically.

PJ: It seems quite a brave venture given that the nature of the MacGuffin is that it is irrelevant, or as Hitchcock says, ‘it can be anything or nothing at all’…

NT: That’s right, and that’s exactly where we find the challenge. We started to look at dramatising historical events; for example, if you shot a film about Christopher Columbus you could argue that ‘America’ is the MacGuffin. But then, how does one represent America? Because it’s not just the continent, it’s perhaps also the idea of America for an individual. Is there something physical, even if it’s totally abstract, that we could design that would represent that thought? It’s a struggle, but this is also what makes it very interesting. So, in some cases we are playing with scale, whereby some of the objects become representations of things that are architectural or even continental in scale.

PJ: What sort of objects does the library consist of?

NT: Some of the objects are ‘mundane’ objects; they are pre-existing objects and we are providing them with this sort of value and importance through the narrative. Other objects have been designed specifically for the purpose: we have created them and worked with engineers and sculptors to get them made just the way we want.

OK: For example, there is a videotape. People may think that videotapes are used as MacGuffins in a number of other films, but we are actually writing a new film plot based on the idea of the tape…

PJ:How are the MacGuffins presented in the exhibition?

OK: Each object will be presented with a 100-150-word film synopsis. We are hoping that the two elements will provide enough of a framework for people to interpret or have their own vision of what this film could be about.

NT: It’s the beginnings of a library, but that library is one that is based on a process of producing a piece of work. And we’ve found that this medium, the object and the synopsis together, is the basis for conversations that we have between ourselves about art themes and other interests that we have, for example, alternative histories, unorthodox fantasies, the way cinema influences reality and vice versa. To some extent, we hope that audiences will also add their own ideas to that, and that the library will become an open source.

PJ: Where do you take your ideas from to develop the film plots and objects?

NT: We are shameless in that way… literature and cinema are our main sources of course; we are taking some films and using them as the basis for a story that happens afterwards. So, not so much a sequel but, say, in a new film a character is influenced by a character taken from an existing film. Part of the pleasure is to get people to say, ‘oh, I know that film, that’s Peeping Tom‘ or ‘that’s Strangers on a Train‘, based on the information that they have been given. So there are clues. However, the themes are not necessarily immediately cinematic; the stories are based on our interests, and then we write them to make them feel like films, including the action, characters, conflicts – the things that make up cinema.

PJ: So, there are no remakes of films?

OK: Oh, yeah, there is one. Among the 20 objects we felt that it would be nice to recreate one existing MacGuffin and see how the audience might read that, or if they would recognise the original film because of the object and synopsis given.

PJ: And the remake-MacGuffin is…

NT: It’s the lighter… it’s the homage-MacGuffin to Hitchcock.

PJ: Do you follow a set of rules to create the objects or the stories?

NT: Yes, there is a certain structure in the way we create the stories and objects, but we are happy to go beyond those rules and go wherever our creativity takes us. We are already limited by scale, we are limited by the material, and we are limited by a definition of the MacGuffin, which a lot of people are happy to argue about. We use these rules as the basis of the project in order to express the themes that we find interesting, and to create a space that allows us to engage with the audience.

PJ: Are you planning to make the MacGuffin library available for filmmakers, scriptwriters or producers once the exhibition is finished?

OK: I suppose there is a chance that could happen…I would feel flattered if someone wanted to make a film out of one of the MacGuffins, absolutely.

NT: Mmmh, maybe we should copyright everything… Some of the MacGuffins are based on films that we wanted to do, one in particular, that I wanted to do. Getting the budget to produce this film is currently totally unfeasible, so actually getting it out there in this manifestation is great.

PJ:What is your favourite MacGuffin at present?

NT:It’s hard to say, I think I like some of the objects more than others and I think some of the synopses are better or more interesting than others. I like this piece very much (points at a bunch of twisted cables) because…

OK:…because it is your story (laughs)

NT:(laughs) …because even physically, the object itself isn’t so rigid, and there is a lot that can be interpreted through this, as to what it is, what its function is; potentially it could be a very unpleasant function; and that space where the audience will perhaps come up with their own sick ideas or fantasies is a nice one.

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Jesus Christ Saviour: Interview with Peter Geyer

Klaus Kinski
Jesus Christ Saviour

Format: Cinema

Seen at Edinburgh Film Festival 2008

Director: Peter Geyer

Cast: Klaus Kinski

Original title: Jesus Christus Erlöser

Germany 2008

84 mins

At the height of his career, Klaus Kinski was Germany’s favourite fiend. On November 20, 1971, the iconic actor took to the stage of Berlin’s Deutschlandhalle to perform a very personal reinterpretation of the New Testament, a theatrical monologue about ‘a man who would rather be massacred than continue to live and fester’. Only moments after Kinski entered the spotlight to begin his recitation hecklers in the sold-out auditorium started hurling insults, deliberately provoking Kinski into a rage until he stormed off. However, he returned to the stage time and again and eventually what was meant as the prelude to a planned world tour turned into spectacular tumult and chaos.

Scenes from this evening were very briefly featured in Werner Herzog’s Kinski film My Best Fiend. But now his biographer and estate administrator Peter Geyer has made a full-length documentary out of the previously unseen 16mm footage. Jesus Christ Saviour offers a scrupulously precise reconstruction of Kinski’s legendary defiant stage performance, and the hostile audience’s reaction.

Pamela Jahn talked to director Peter Geyer at the 2008 Edinburgh International Film Festival where the film had its UK premiere.

Pamela Jahn: Your film documents Kinski’s attempt to engage an audience of thousands with a recitation of over 30 typewritten pages reclaiming the story of Jesus. What made Kinski do that?

Peter Geyer: Back in 1961, Kinski announced in an interview in Der Spiegel (the largest German weekly magazine at that time), that he would put the New Testament on stage. Most people probably don’t know that Kinski started as an actor by doing recitations on stage in the late 1950s with verses and ballads by Villon, Rimbaud etc – So, basically, Kinski spoke himself to fame. During 1959-62 he performed and released 32 audio-books. The event was long planned, but soon after he had achieved the cover story in Der Spiegel he moved on to film where financial prospects were better.

But he obviously cherished the idea. Was he to a certain degree obsessed with Jesus?

I am not sure if the obsession increased with the years, but whatever he did, he was always totally passionate and fanatical about it. For example, if you watch Aguirre you get the feeling that he was exceptionally obsessed with that role, but the truth is that he actually didn’t want to shoot Aguirre in the first place. Initially, he came back to Germany to go on tour with Jesus Christ. But after what happened in Berlin, the tour got cancelled, and Kinski needed a new job. He was more obsessed with money than with anything else.

So, it was all about money…

Of course. Kinski sold his soul for money, which explains why his film career is so lousy. By the end of the 1960s, the Italian film industry was in deep financial crisis, and Kinski – who starred in a vast number of those low-budget Spaghetti Westerns – got in trouble because of that, too. His very clever strategy to receive incredibly high fees for only very few days of actual shooting wouldn’t work any longer. Plus, the producers had had enough of Kinski’s extravagances. Right then he got this very attractive offer from a famous German concert impresario: For the enormous fee of one million Deutschmarks, Kinski would perform in 100 venues all over the world, reciting his version of the New Testament live on stage. The initial plan was to start the tour in Germany and then take it to Europe and America. So, Berlin was meant to be only the beginning of a word tour that never happened.

Kinski didn’t even get a chance to start his monologue properly, almost immediately people start interrupting him, and it seems that the audience was out for blood from the beginning… Why would they pay for someone they didn’t want to see?

It’s true that the atmosphere was very tense from the beginning. Many people came to provoke Kinski, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that all of them were just thirsting for confrontation. I think it was only a small number of real hecklers, which makes it even worse, because the rest of the audience didn’t manage to kick out the few assholes and get to see the show. None of them dared raise their voice against the few Kinski opponents in the auditorium and after a while the aggressive tone took over the entire hall. Of course, Kinski misbehaved too, and so it all ended in great chaos.

Didn’t he enjoy provoking people?

If you look closely at his performance in the film, you see that Kinski never deliberately provoked an argument. He didn’t seek confrontation, but he also couldn’t take any form of criticism. He was too insecure for that. So in order to be able to cope with it and avoid getting hurt, he trained himself to be quick at repartee. But all the shouting and screaming on top of that just scared people, they didn’t know how to deal with him.

What sort of reputation preceded Kinski in Germany at that time?

It was something of an open secret that Kinski lived in luxury in his villa in Italy. He was a rich international film star. But I don’t think that his flamboyant life style or his eccentric, egomaniac persona was the problem. In many ways, Kinski often was ahead of his time, in his work but also because he was the first person who used tabloids for his own purposes. In 1971, however, he simply looked like a self-proclaimed believer, an epigone.

Your film is simply a raw and meticulous reconstruction of the infamous event. Why did you decide to offer no further comments or explanation?

My intention was to make his work accessible, and to be truthful about Kinski. The most interesting thing is to just see him performing life on stage, there’s no need for further explanation or attempted whitewashing. I am used to facing the aggression of Kinski fans because they hate me for clarifying lies that he made up in his book (All I Need Is Love). But it’s not my intention to turn Kinski into a super-human or create a new legend.

Did you ever search for any of the people who attended that evening?

No, never. Having said that, I actually never had to look for them, they came to me. I’ve met a lot of people who said that they were in the audience that night. But whenever it comes to Kinski, it seems that people’s memories become very vague. I call this the Werner Herzog syndrome, which is that, whenever it is about Kinski, you have to come up with a great story simply to make Kinski larger than life. People who say they encountered Kinksi but who were actually not really close to him, always try to turn his pretty boring private life into something bigger, more exciting. I’ve got the recorded material anyway, material that is not manipulated, so why should I ask someone else?

How do you think people look at the material today?

It depends on the generation. When I took over Kinski’s estate, Kinski was ‘dead’; the time for people like him is over. Today, the younger generation understands that he was actually the last non-conformist figure in the German entertainment industry. Someone who really said, ‘No – I am against your system’, but who didn’t hurt anyone. Which makes him an ideal badge to wear for people trying to be different – it’s the same with Kinski as it is with Che Guevara.

Did Kinski ever think about making a film out of the footage himself?

No. His third wife, Monhoi, told me that she had asked him once about the footage and why he didn’t want to edit it and show it again. Kinski answered, ‘They would only nail me to the cross again. You can do that when I am dead, but as long as I am alive, they would think that I am a bad loser.’

Interview by Pamela Jahn

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2008

Let the Right One In

Still from Let the Right One In

Edinburgh International Film Festival

18-29 June 2008

EIFF website

Separated from the major annual Edinburgh Festival pandemonium for the first time ever, this year’s 62nd film festival wished to establish a fresher, stronger, edgier identity, exploring the nooks and crannies of new movie-making and bringing unusual treasures to its enthusiastic local and international audience. Unfortunately though, this was not a year of major cinematic breakthroughs and in spite of the promising programme notes, too many of the films turned out to be mediocre.

Without doubt, the pick of the festival was Swedish director Tomas Alfredsson’s excellent Let the Right One In (L Ã¥t den rätte komma in), an intelligent, well-paced vampire movie, which deservedly won the top award for best narrative feature at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Impressively handling familiar material and giving it a fresh spin, it has the gruesome feel and bizarre beauty of an eccentric horror fantasy, but also delivers plenty of emotionally charged drama and wry humour. Andersson slowly charts the blossoming friendship between troubled 12-year-old Oskar and vampire girl Eli through a series of poignant and near-surreal attempts at bonding that are in turn gentle and disturbing. Superb cinematography and mesmerising performances by the two adolescent lead actors (K Ã¥re Hedebrant and Lina Leandersson) make it a film to treasure.

Another Nordic find was Ole Bornedal’s Just Another Love Story, a grippingly complex and stylish contemporary noir thriller from Denmark, in which a police photographer finds himself emotionally entangled with a comatose young woman injured in a car accident that also involved himself and his family. Developing into an obscene, twisted romance, the story remains powerful and well-calibrated throughout, turning into a shocking, nerve-racking riddle played out with a brutal relish for the grotesque in the final part.

One of the festival’s most enjoyable films was the truly unsettling sci-fi narrative Sleep Dealer by young Mexican director Alex Rivera. Following in the giant steps of The Matrix or Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, this striking and hugely inventive debut feature playfully addresses the idea of humans retreating from objective reality by means of computer software that connects to their conscious minds through metallic ports inserted into their bodies. In Rivera’s futuristic fantasy, however, people use the new technology not so much to experience virtual thrills as to earn their living by controlling robots performing manual work in the US. The riveting story is served well by consistently excellent performances and is visually remarkably polished. Rivera makes a virtue of his low budget by transforming financial restraint into an aesthetic choice and this assured debut feature reveals that he is a talent to watch.

This year’s programme was dominated by realism, psychology and low-budget intelligence, which was particularly noticeable in the selection of British films. However, the excitement about new British cinema was dampened down by the bleakness and austerity that characterised most of the films. Duane Hopkins’s eagerly awaited debut feature Better Things was a lyrical yet painfully grim tale of drug abuse, sexual confusion and the cruel realities of growing up in the Cotswolds. Other critics were seduced by Helen, Christine Molloy’s slow-burning drama in which a missing girl’s persona starts to influence the girl who agrees to take part in a police investigation to help find her. Despite an astonishing performance by young Annie Townsend in the lead, the film is maybe too deliberately cryptic for its own good and not quite the revelation so many were hoping for. After all this misery, Shane Meadows’s Somers Town proved to be the most enjoyable and compelling British feature, managing to be gently melancholic, toughly funny and irresistibly charming in equal parts.

In terms of quality and innovation, the foreign-language films clearly dominated the programme and The Wave proved that German cinema is still going strong. Dennis Gansel’s smart, slick and powerful film is an adaptation of the real-life teaching experiment that originally took place in a Californian High School in 1967. What begins as a clever educational game that aims at probing the social order and reveal the roots of fascism escalates into tragedy, culminating in painful disillusionment and frightening violence in the grim last act.

The festival proved most convincing in its section of distinctive and often small-scale documentaries, the more personal films often proving to be the most accomplished and satisfying ones. The best British documentary, though not officially included in the section, was James Marsh’s Man on Wire, which recounts Philippe Petit’s staggering attempt to walk a tightrope between New York’s Twin Towers in 1974. There were also fascinating portraits of unique, eccentric men, such as Matt Wolf’s affectionate tribute Wild Combination: A Portrait of Arthur Russell, and Erik Nelson’s Dreams with Sharp Teeth, which offers a glimpse into the incredible mind of American cult writer Harlan Ellison. Other treasures to be found in this section included Jesus Christ Saviour, which already stood out at this year’s Berlinale in February.

Significantly, it was the excellent Shirley Clarke retrospective that ensured there was always something worth seeing. It provided the rare opportunity to watch Clarke’s magnificently stark The Cool World on a cinema screen, while also presenting the memorable and rarely-screened documentary Rome Burns (Rome Brûle – Portrait de Shirley Clarke), a collection of delightfully unpretentious interviews with Clarke shot in January 1968. Seeing the fascinating filmmaker nonchalantly talking about her work to date while Jacques Rivette and Yoko Ono hang out on a futon in the corner might have been the closest Edinburgh came to an event.

Pamela Jahn

For more Edinburgh Festival coverage see: See also EIFF 08: Under the Radar, Interview with Olly Blackburn, Jay Taylor and Rob Boulter (Donkey Punch) and Standard Operating Procedure.

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2008

Asyl

Berlinale

8-16 February 2008

This year, the true beauties of the Berlinale film festival remained on the margins: in the final days of the cine-marathon, a cinema far away from the buzzing festival centre presented a late-matinee screening of Wakamatsu Koji’s stunning exploitation classic Ecstasy of the Angels (Teshi no kokotsu), a visually stunning head-on collision of explicit violence, political revolt and soft-core porn. Part of a mini-tribute to Wakamatsu’s work – whose latest film United Red Army premiered this year in the International Forum section – this early feature tells the story of a left-wing terrorist faction planning an all-out attack on Tokyo. Despite all the kinky sex and ferocious brutality, Wakamatsu’s main concern is to explore the sacrifice and self-destruction that the revolutionary process requires from the young radicals, and to observe how they ultimately turn against each other instead of combining their forces to fight the odious system.

United Red Army, which I’d seen only a few days before, then almost felt like a remake of Ecstasy, which he made in 1972. In his new film, Wakamatsu sets out to reveal the full history of the militant student movement that rocked Japan during the 1960s in a challenging three-hour docu-fiction drama, staged as a chamber play in the group’s mountain hide-out. Perhaps the most remarkable characteristic of both films is an oddly engaging energy and a genuinely disturbing quality, which was absent from most of the works presented in the three main festival sections. That said, leaving the blatantly commercial and rather underwhelming films in the Official Competition aside, there were some welcome surprises in the other two main sections – Forum and Panorama.

Only vaguely related to the festival overall music focus was the wonderfully refreshing Russian feature Mermaid (Rusalka) by Anna Melykian. A freely adapted, near-surreal version of Antonin Dvorák’s eponymous opera, the film follows the bizarre life of an idealistic girl from childhood to maturity. While the tone is at times perplexingly downbeat, the film radiates a wonderful, bitter-sweet and light-hearted spirit that opened this year’s Panorama with a ray of light. Two fairly impressive documentaries offered musical experiences of different sorts: Steven Sebring’s rewarding Patti Smith: Dream of Life and the way more off-centre Heavy Metal In Baghdad, a touching portrait of an Iraq heavy metal band after the fall of Saddam Hussein, whose members struggle with the impossibility of living peacefully as long-haired head-bangers in a war-torn country.

Moving into low-budget, queer territory, the weirdest and undoubtedly most indigestible film was Bruce LaBruce’s latest provocation Otto; or Up with Dead People, which follows a depressed gay zombie through the streets and dark rooms of Berlin. Screened in London as part of this year’s Lesbian & Gay Film Festival, the film mixes horror, hard-core porn, silent film and documentary into a mercilessly sensationalist shocker. Queer activist Rosa von Praunheim’s new documentary Dead Gay Men and Living Lesbians (Tote Schwule – Lebende Lesben) was disappointingly dilute, and didn’t live up to its promising title. Quite different from Olaf de Fleur Johannesson’s debut The Amazing Truth About Queen Raquela, which sounded like a semi-improvised fairy tale about a Filipino ‘lady boy’ who meets her sleazy porn chatroom boss for a hanky-panky weekend in Paris, but turned out to be a charming first feature, once the faux documentary style had established a vivid, convincing world.

Although there was no readily identifiable new trend at this year’s festival, a loose group of films by Asian women directors all refreshingly focused on quotidian inconsequence. Kumazaka Izuru’s wonderful life-affirming feature Asyl (Asyl – Park and Love Hotel) – which deservedly won the Best First Feature Award – centres on the bizarre life of a middle-aged woman who runs an unusual love hotel in Tokyo, with a beautiful little park on its rooftop which is open to the public. Deliberately sullen and rather dark in tone, the film paints a complex portrait of the landlady and of three other women who rent rooms at the hotel, carefully revealing how their defiant spirit collides with false pretences and loneliness.

Equally remarkable for its acute attention to detail, Naoko Ogigami’s Glasses (Megane) was primarily a wonderfully detoxifying treat. Set on a nearly untouched island, the film takes time to explore the almost excessively relaxed insular mentality, and Ogigami skilfully handles the slow pace by filling her script with just the right amount of deadpan humour and ineffable sensuous delight. Both films share a heartfelt desire to step back from big themes and melodrama to look for new ways to uncover meaning in the transitional ebb and flow of everyday lives. Likewise, two multi-character features from Taiwan, Zero Chou’s Drifting Flowers (Piao Lang Qing Chun) and Singing Chen’s God Man Dog, presented elegant, episodical views of everyday life and love steeped in social realism and artistically shaped in a poetic narrative.

Among the vast quantity of new titles, these were the films that afforded the greatest pleasures. A few glorious works from the archives provided extra thrills: Peter Geyer’s Jesus Christ Savior (Jesus Christus Erlí¶ser) is the long-lost filmed record of an incredible theatrical monologue by Klaus Kinski, held in 1971, which turned into an aggressive altercation with the hostile audience. Elsewhere, Charles Burnett’s re-released 1983 My Brother’s Wedding authoritatively demonstrated what truly independent filmmaking really looks like. Cut down by Burnett himself to 81 impressively rich, deftly choreographed and toughly funny minutes, it was a wonderful, startling discovery that alone would have made the trip to Berlin worthwhile.

Pamela Jahn

A Deviant View of Cinema – Features, Essays & Interviews