Monday, April 16, 2007

Festival of German Films 1

[Edit: link added to later post - Festival of German Films 2]

The Goethe-Institut Australia Festival of German Films opens this Thursday in Melbourne* at Palace Cinemas (Como and Brighton Bay) and runs until Sunday 29 April. In addition to the screening of eighteen films (including two unannounced 'surprise' titles), Melbourne special events include a Q&A with Valerie director Birgit Möller and others, and discussions with director Dietmar Post after each screening of the music documentary Monks - The Transatlantic Feedback.

At a preview screening of Reign Over Me, I had the pleasure of meeting at Peter Krausz, who co-presents a one-hour film program on community radio 3CR (Saturdays 11am - 12pm) and is the chairman of the Australian Film Critics Association. Peter contributed to the curation of the festival and is also co-hosting the festival blog.

* The festival is also screening in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth. Check the festival's website for details.

Wut (Can - His World Has Its Own Rules, Züli Aladag, 2006)
Director Züli Aladag was born in Turkey, but moved as a child to Germany. Wut is a confronting look at some of the social issues faced by migrants, their children and the host country – issues that are relevant across the western world, including Australia.

Can (pronounced something like Jahn) played by Oktay Özdemir, is the son of modest but honourable Turkish immigrants who live in multi-rise government housing. He hangs out with a gang – all apparently children of immigrants – selling drugs, stealing and extorting from others.

Co-student Felix is intimidated by Can and his gang, but negotiates co-existence as best he can, though usually inadequately. Felix’s father becomes involved when Felix arrives home barefoot one day – without his expensive new trainers.

Özdemir is completely convincing in his role and had me sitting on the edge of my seat for all of the hour and a half of the film. He gradually insinuates himself into the life of Felix and his parents, instilling terror into the family (and at least this member of the audience).

The film is ambitious in attempting to not just depict a thriller narrative, but also to tackle the issues that exist behind real social ills. Prejudice, social disadvantage, family tradition and honour, contemporary liberalism and Germany’s coming to terms with its unresolved Nazi guilt complex are all dealt with and various degrees of success.

Can is an angry young man, hence the original title Wut, which means rage. For me the most poignant moment occurs when Can stands at his loungeroom cabinet holding various family photos. It’s virtually a carbon copy of a similar moment when he looked on at Felix’s family photos. Despite different backgrounds and different current circumstances, the two families are more alike than they may realise.

For me, the film started off with great promise, and works best as gritty social drama. The strength of the narrative peters as the film evolves into a more conventional thriller. Then much of the realism becomes diluted and the narrative seems contrived. The film was made for television, and this shows in the second half. Yet somehow it remains gripping to the end.

Wer früher stirbt, ist länger tot (Grave Decisions, Marcus H. Rosenmüller, 2006)
Hopefully a local distributor will pick this up, as it is quite a charming and feel-good story suitable for families/children. Sebastian learns at age 11 that his mother died while giving birth to him, and takes on guilt for her death. Both dramatic and comedic, the festival calls it a black comedy.

The film follows Sebastians exploits, including various purgatory imaginings and match-making for his father. It’s not something that I find of much interest to adult audiences, though some will find it enjoyable for a light evening’s entertainment.


Maya said...

Paul, you've certainly made me aware of Melbourne's impressive film culture. You're fortunate to have the films and the films are fortunate to have you writing about them.

San Francisco has a comparable film festival--"Berlin & Beyond"--which I reported on earlier this year. (You remind me as well that I still have a couple of interviews to transcribe from that festival.) Did you watch Valerie? I'd be interested to hear your reaction. I liked it better than I thought though it was fundamentally depressing.

Paul Martin said...

Michael, from what I can tell, Melbourne has the best cinema programming in Australia, largely because in addition to a number of arthouse cinemas, we also have ACMI (which hosts a number of festivals and regular non-commercial screenings).

So far this year we have had the Latin American FF, La Mirada - Jewels of Spanish Cinema, French FF, Melbourne Queer FF, FoGF about to start followed shortly thereafter by the Spanish FF and then MIFF, which is allegedly the largest film festival in the Southern Hemisphere. And there's others coming up during the year, but I don't have them in my film diary yet.

The Festival of German Films is opening tomorrow night with Four Minutes; the short reviews above were from a preview screening, so I haven't seen Valerie yet. If you found it depressing, it might be my kind of cinema ;)

I was a bit surprised when I started my blog last October that there's very little dedicated film blogging in Melbourne or Australia (other than a couple in my links like Last Night With Riviera, Melbourne Cinematheque and Esoteric Rabbit). I think it will pick up over time, though, as people latch onto the idea.

Marty said...

I liked Valerie much more than Four Minutes and Grave Decisions which were both horrendous.

Paul Martin said...

Oh dear! I'm planning to see Four Minutes tomorrow night, and Valerie is screening in Melbourne only on Monday and Tuesday evenings, neither of which I can attend. Such is life, as me mate Ned Kelly would have said (it's an Australian thing).

But I do think Grave Decisions would be a good flick for say 5-14 year olds, even though I didn't like it. And how come you've already seen at least those three, Marty?

marty said...

I have seen the film on promo screener copies. Not the best way to see it but at least I save my money if thye film is trite. If the film is great, I will pay and see it on the big screen again.