The 2010 Munich Film Festival
By Leslie Weisman, DC Film Society Member
Photo from the Munich Film Festival website
Filmfest in Munich: Raucous cheering in the streets, impassioned discussions in cafes and Biergärten, nationalistic fervor at a pitch not seen since ... well, since the last World Cup. Yes, this year’s Filmfest München once again coincided with the World Cup finals, with Germany once again pitted against Spain (to which your reporter had long since booked a visit, unaware that she would thereby be flying from the Teutonic frying pan into the Catalan fire). With noses around the clock intently pressed to the tube across this city so justly celebrated for its gemütlichkeit, and in early summer its film festival, what was a cinephile — and perhaps more to the point, a festival chief — to do?
Not a problem. With the steady increase in attendees, festival director Andreas Ströhl told Blickpunkt: Film as fest preparations were in full swing, “we couldn’t grow much more anyway given the cinemas’ capacity,” which Filmfest audiences have challenged or surpassed each year. As it turned out, this year was no exception despite the games, with almost as many tickets sold (close to 65,000) as in 2007, the next-best year in Filmfest history. “We’re showing the most outstanding films of the year,” said Ströhl, “films that move you, take you in new directions and stay with you.” [Throughout this article, translations from the original language are this writer’s.] With over 200 films from 46 countries shown on 18 screens in a little over a week — including Olivier Assayas’s three-part, 5½-hour TV miniseries Carlos, a fascinating, nail-biting look into the life and career of the notorious international terrorist — audiences had a rich selection of German and international fare from which to choose, making keeping up with both games and films a cinematic World Cup challenge of its own.
For those who found the choice impossible to make, there was always Wim Wenders’s self-described “kamikaze style”: While shooting Until the End of the World (1991) in the Australian desert, the celebrated German director (who, according to the international wire service dpa as it celebrated his 65th birthday last month, “has won just about every film prize there is besides the Oscar”) told Blickpunkt that he and actor Rüdiger Vogler would put the pedal to the metal, racing hundreds of miles through sandy desert roads at 3:00 a.m. to see the semifinals — only to have to scramble back to the site to begin filming the same morning. “I swore to myself then and there,” says Wenders, “I would never again let myself in for such a shooting schedule.”
At the other end of the scale, according to actor/cinematographer Anatol Nitschke, was “the great, great [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder,” whose passion for Fußball was similar, but who handled it quite differently and “appeared never to have missed a game featuring the home team, even when [everybody] was out there standing right in front of the camera, ready to shoot.” This year’s Filmfest, coincidentally, would feature both a restoration of one of Fassbinder’s most personal films and a revealing documentary on its making, discussed later in this article.
Also on the restoration front, fresh from Cannes came the director’s cut of Volker Schlöndorff’s Oscar- and Palme d’Or-winning The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel, 1979/2009). Restored and re-edited to include 18 missing minutes, it would screen to a packed theater accompanied by the filmmaker and two of its stars, who would then join Filmfest programmers for a post-screening “Filmmakers Live” podium discussion down the hall, in the intimate and informal Foyer of the Gasteig cultural center.
Podium discussions are the heart of Filmfest for those who want to meet and listen to filmmakers (and talk back to them). Whether held in the Foyer or in the balconied Black Box — where, among others, acclaimed Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, co-winner of this year’s CineMerit Award (and who celebrated his 70th birthday just days before opening night), met his public in an always polite but firmly assured manner, leavened by gentle humor and self-deprecation — these singular opportunities to get up close and personal with the people who make the movie “magic” happen are irreplaceable, and unforgettable.
The U.S. was, as always, well represented in this year’s program by a diversified crop of feature films and indies from established (Steven Soderbergh, Todd Solondz, and an almost mythical “lost movie” by Martin Scorsese) and up-and-coming filmmakers, capped by the awarding of the American Indie Newcomer Prize to Detroit director David Robert Mitchell. Like the best of American indies his The Myth of the American Sleepover, wrote the jury, “casts a laconic but loving look at its teenage protagonists and their night out without using the typical clichés.”
Avoiding clichés was key for Ströhl and his programmers, who unlike in previous years took nothing from this year’s Market in Berlin and less than the usual contingent from Cannes, finding little to entice them but there strong candidates at Sundance, San Sebastián, SXSW and other festivals around the world. This outreach also had sociological and geographical implications, as evinced by the fest’s opening and closing night films, which on paper may seem unusual choices for a fest that has long prided itself on being “everybody’s film festival.” At the same time, both films demonstrated Ströhl’s and his team’s faith in Filmfest audiences — and in these films.
They also served as bookends anchoring this year’s theme: the impact, not just financial but psychological, physical and emotional, of the financial crisis on people everywhere. “People all over the world feel that they’ve been deceived by business leaders and politicians,” said Ströhl. “I think it’s no coincidence that disabled people often play a role in [today’s] films. We see them not with a ‘you-poor-thing’ sympathy, but with real empathy.”
Indeed, the opening-night film made the case for what Variety’s (and DC’s) Ed Meza called “Dogged Underdogs”: Me Too (Yo, también, Antonio Naharro and Álvaro Pastor, Spain, 2009), fresh from a raft of international awards including four Goyas (Best Actress, Best Original Song, Best New Actor and Best New Director) in Madrid and a Grand Jury Prize nomination for World Cinema – Dramatic at Sundance. (The lead actress, Lola Dueñas, also won Best Actress for her role at San Sebastián in 2009.) The story of Daniel, the first European university graduate with Down syndrome — played by Pablo Pineda, who thereby makes film history: the role, while fictionalized, is based on his life — Me Too is an eye-opening, and at times uncomfortably humbling exploration of the world of those we too often refuse to really see, or in worst cases, dismiss with disdain. We follow Daniel as he negotiates his first job (at a social services agency) and his first serious love, and find ourselves identifying with his joys and frustrations, the similarities slowly sneaking up on us until we realize that by blinding ourselves to them, we too have been handicapped. But by choice.
The film succeeds in bringing us into Daniel’s world from multiple perspectives: his, ours, that of his beautiful co-worker Laura (with whom he immediately becomes infatuated), his supportive but solicitous parents’, his supervisor’s and office mates’ (who vary between really trying and being really trying), his fellow aspiring dancers with Down (one particularly large and seemingly ungainly young woman steals the scene with an impromptu ballet of uncommon skill and grace), and of course the uncomprehending, and often outright cruel, outside world’s. The film is for the most part subtly instructive without slipping into the sentimental or the didactic. We learn that Daniel, who comes across as a full-blown, engaging personality whose emotional spectrum runs the gamut (and who can deliver a mean punch line), is not “one of the milder cases” but in fact one of the more severe. So then, how ...? His mother never regarded him as such, he tells Laura, stimulating his intellectual capacity from infancy with continual reading, eye and body contact and later, physical exercise, two-way verbal communication, and a mainstream education. “Down syndrome is not a disease,” says Pineda, “but another personal characteristic.”
Cleveland vs. Wall Street
Conversely, in the closing-night film the people — not the protagonists, but the antagonists — and the situation could be said to suffer, whether by chance or by design, from both of those. Cleveland vs. Wall Street (Cleveland Versus Wall Street: Mais mit dä Bänkler, Jean-Stéphane Bron, Switzerland/France, 2010) is a docudrama about the trial that would have happened had the tens of thousands of Cleveland homeowners who have received foreclosure notices since the subprime mortgage crisis hit full stride mid-decade — often allegedly because of predatory lending practices by banks — been able to have their say in court.
The film, and the Cleveland citizens who tell their stories in this mock trial, make real through words and images what the press reported in print at the height of the crisis. An exercise in futility, perhaps — the federal case was dismissed, Bron told us at the screening, and the state case has been bogged down in preliminary motions. Similarly, the film by its nature cannot help but get bogged down in occasional stasis and verbiage, and is without U.S. distribution so far.
That said, a couple of its people remain in the viewer’s mind, as do their stories. One is Barbara Anderson, the key organizer behind the movement, whom the director called “a mythical Antigone-like figure who dares to say ‘no’ and confronts figures larger than herself.” Another is a former drug dealer who thought he would be turning his back on the streets and going straight when he decided to use his mathematical prowess — he was a whiz at figuring percentages — and study accounting.
Equipped with a degree he became a broker, only to find himself being compensated “under the table” with a percentage of the loan amount, almost double for the infamous subprime mortgage loans at the root of the cataclysm, and seeing homeowners who were unable to pay their sky-high-interest-rate mortgages being turned out on the streets. Brokers routinely falsified the information they reported to the banks, he says, because the banks never paid attention to it: “They just wanted the money.” And the foreclosures followed.
The “mythical” powerhouse Barbara Anderson, deceptively small in size but determined and persuasive, spoke briefly at the mammoth Mathäser cinema, where the film screened in several theaters. “I hope you’ll enjoy the film,” she said. “I know you will. Because it’s a film about the things we can get trapped in,” adding pointedly: “And how get out of that trap.”
This Prison Where I Live
That of course is in the U.S., where the rule of law, as unsatisfying as it may sometimes seem, at least provides a vehicle, developed and amendable through citizen input, for resolving disputes even with the government itself. But determination and persuasiveness are of little use, even when abetted by law, in a dictatorship. This Prison Where I Live (Rex Bloomstein, Great Britain/Germany, 2010) introduces us to an extraordinary man — actually two, and if we include the director, three — whose professions would not ordinarily suggest the potential for heroism. But Bloomstein’s and German stand-up comic Michael Mittermeier’s commitment to the cause of freedom of expression, and in particular to the right of a beloved Burmese writer-producer-actor-director-comedian-irrepressible gadfly to exercise it in his homeland, is small-h heroism in support of a larger kind: the kind practiced by Zarganar, now serving a 35-year sentence in the forbidding Myitkyina Prison, nearly 1,000 miles from his family, friends, and home.
Bloomstein’s odyssey to Burma (Myanmar) began when he learned of Zarganar’s prison sentence and enlisted Mittermeier, whom he intuited as a kindred spirit (not knowing that Mittermeier was already a longtime supporter of Burmese rights) to accompany him. But the seeds were planted earlier, in 2007, when Bloomstein traveled to Burma to interview Zarganar secretly, aware of the dangers but admiring the man’s astonishing courage, humor and indefatigable resilience — a gift for deadpan political incorrectness seems to flow through his veins; there’s a place for him waiting on SNL — and sensing that he would find a use for the material.
That use became evident the following year when Zarganar, dismayed at the government’s failure to respond adequately to the devastation to people’s homes, lives and livelihoods wrought by the cyclone, coordinated and publicized his own collection efforts. This added fuel to the fire already stoked by his continual challenges to the regime over the previous two decades — in interviews, people tell Bloomstein that Zarganar was one of the key catalysts behind the people’s revolt of 1988 — and resulted in the prison sentence (initially 59 years, reduced to 35 on appeal). This Prison Where I Live, whose double meaning is both illustrated and complicated by the film itself, which shows Zarganar’s gleeful refusal to rein in his outrageous, life-sustaining humor despite the very real threats that shadowed him, takes us along on Bloomstein and Mittermeier’s journey. They filmed it at great danger to themselves, inspired by Zarganar’s courage and hoping to make a visual record that would serve as a spur to action — in the form of protests to the Burmese junta — wherever it is shown.
“What is the risk of your talking to foreign journalists like us?” the filmmakers ask him. “They may say I can’t, but it’s my right,” he responds, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “I can speak to anyone I want.” And Mittermeier echoes the Burmese comedian’s determination. “They can crush a body, but they cannot crush a spirit. They cannot crush a mind.” As Zarganar sits imprisoned behind imposing stone walls without access of any kind to the outside world, “let me,” says his German compeer, “be your loudspeaker.”
At the Filmmakers Live session, Bloomstein and Mittermeier explained the danger of Zarganar’s comedy: “His humor flows in an unbroken line from ridiculous, silly-billy stuff to the political. And they knew they had to put a stop to it.” And they did in every way possible, imprisoning not only the man, but also his legacy: “He made dozens of DVDs, they sold in the millions. And yet you cannot find a single one anywhere [to our knowledge],” the junta having destroyed them all in massive “recalls”.
Political humor and stand-up comedy must always walk a very fine line under totalitarian regimes, its practitioners just one crack away from a precipitous plunge. And yet humorists continue to grab the tiger by the tail; in one case, the simile came ethno-mythologically close to the mark: The week after the screening, the Washington Post reported on a Chinese “stand-up comic who ribs officials” and who says, much like Zarganar: “I want to make my audiences think.” Like Zarganar, he has won “a huge following.” One can only hope his boldness will not one day make his government also think — about what he is saying. Or that he will not unwittingly cross invisible or malleable lines of allowability.
While Amnesty International groups in six European nations continue their campaigns to “Free Zarganar!”, little can be known about what will cause the junta’s leaders to relent; Western pressure has had limited discernible impact, or on human rights issues there as a whole. But Zarganar’s friends, and human rights supporters everywhere, have been equally relentless, and will continue to be: most recently at Edinburgh’s Stand Up for Freedom show, at which Bloomstein and Mittermeier were slated to appear on August 19.
Western intervention was more successful in the case of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, co-recipient of this year’s CineMerit Award for “extraordinary contributions to motion pictures as an art form,” when in 1997 the French foreign minister persuaded the country’s ruling theocracy to allow his Taste of Cherry to travel to Cannes (it would tie for the Palme d’Or). But Iran is something of a special case among repressive regimes: Despite the restrictions imposed over the years on its filmmakers, whose intense love and loyalty for their homeland make it difficult or impossible for many of them to shoot elsewhere, the very public pugnacity of its leaders is never quite a match for the tenacity — and talents — of its movie makers. Contrary to apparent logic, it may even help them in that it produces, according to Columbia University Iranian studies professor Hamid Dabashi on CNN.com, “a creative barrier that filmmakers have to cross.”
Kiarostami, who celebrated his 60th birthday during the festival, has crossed it repeatedly in his 30-year career. But unlike Zarganar’s wildly popular performances, even recordings of which have been banned in Burma, since the Cannes confrontation Kiarostami’s films have generally remained under the radar in Iran. That said, the director has for years worked without the government’s formal permission, thus living in the limbo of having, as the Abendzeitung put it, “one leg in jail.”
There would be no chance of that happening with Kiarostami’s latest venture, an entirely apolitical film that wouldn’t disturb even the most sensitive of Iranian censors — well, except for the small matter of Juliette Binoche’s nude scene. The first of his works to be filmed in France (although it takes place in Tuscany), Certified Copy (Copie conforme, France/Iran/Italy, 2010) is an experimental and experiential balancing act, an emotional and intellectual tug-of-war between a British writer (acclaimed baritone William Shimell in his first film role), who’s come to promote his latest book, and a French woman (Binoche) who owns a small antique shop there. It’s also a guessing game for the viewer: Are they (a) ex-spouses who, having met unexpectedly, find their unresolved issues bubbling dangerously to the surface in a quiet public setting, or (b) complete strangers who, mistaken for husband and wife by the woman who runs the café where they’ve come to grab a bite, decide to play along and see where it takes them?
The concept of “certified copy” is set out at the start, when a docent at a museum they visit explains that one of their paintings was always believed to be an original. When officials found out years after the fact that it was actually a copy, instead of accepting the verdict with chagrin or resignation, they instead evaluated the picture objectively, decided it met all the standards of a great work of art — and certified it anyway. She is intrigued; he, unimpressed: Even an “original” painting, if it’s representational art, is a copy of something, isn’t it? As a value judgment, “original” is meaningless.
The film is unlike Kiarostami’s previous works, appearing to borrow from, and perhaps even pay conscious tribute to cinematic tropes of American films of decades past in the manner of Todd Haynes and Richard Linklater (whose Me and Orson Welles also screened here). Watching it in the glamorous, cavernous Rio Filmpalast (film palace) with its retro red velveteen seats, red walls and drapery and stylish electric wall sconces, heightened and intensified the effect. (The concept of what is real and what is not in the world of art and what it all means was perhaps most eccentrically, elliptically, at times eloquently — and for Wellesians, unforgettably — explored in Orson Welles’s 1973 documentary F for Fake.)
At an evening Filmmakers Live discussion in the Black Box, Kiarostami — wearing his trademark dark glasses, black from tip to frame to lens, and dressed in black T-shirt, jacket and jeans — responded to questions (through a translator), engaging in an earnest and amiable dialogue with his Filmfest host and a host of admirers, critics and cinephiles. Asked whether his own story was to be seen in the film’s, the director didn’t bite: “It’s not only a film about people being strangers in a strange land, but about people being strangers to each other.” Recalling his 2008 film Shirin in which Binoche, one of his favorite actresses and a dear friend who happened to be visiting him at the time, agreed to appear uncredited among the hundreds of anonymous women, Kiarostami suggested that “It’s like we took one of the characters from Shirin and expanded her story.”
What about the two leads? Did you mean to show women as being more three-dimensional than men? “It would be really dangerous to generalize,” Kiarostami cautioned. “I definitely did not mean to leave the viewer with the impression that ‘this is how men are’ or ‘this is how women are’,” but wrote the script “for and about Juliette Binoche. So I think the character is really close to her.” In a variation on that theme Shimell’s character is close to the actor not personally but in the guise of Don Alfonso in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, in which Kiarostami directed Shimell in London, and which convinced him the singer was perfect for the film role. But Kiarostami cautioned viewers “not to listen to what I’ve said after you see my films. Just take away from them what you felt and thought.” He later added that here he “wanted to leave the viewer with the impression that when the man speaks he’s talking to the female viewer, and when the woman speaks she’s talking to the men,” which is why he often shot the two looking directly into the camera.
In all of your films, there seems to be an underlying message that in all of life, there is life, and there is death. Am I right? The director paused before responding. “Let’s just say I don’t want to answer that question.” How about windows? I’ve noticed a lot of them in your films. Are open windows important to you? The director laughed. “I actually have a collection of about 80 windows, so yes.”
What does the title mean? “Well, it was explained in the film.” No, not the technical explanation. What does it mean? “That’s a good question that I can’t answer. Maybe,” he offered, “that all men are all women’s husbands, and all women are all men’s wives.” What’s the difference for you between a documentary and a feature film? “For me, any really good film that documents, that is rooted in the truth and in life, is a documentary. And if it’s not, it’s not a film I want to relate to. If you can’t believe in a film, if you can’t relate to it, it’s not a good film.” Austrian honoree Ulrich Seidl would say much the same thing in a later interview from the same podium, expressing what has come to be a view increasingly held by respected filmmakers whose oeuvres are otherwise dissimilar.
A newcomer to the world of Kiarostami (and perhaps to film as an art or discipline) expressed surprise that the film was not like other “Arab films” he had seen. Does this mean, he wondered, that you’re like us? The director answered graciously but couldn’t suppress a smile. “Perhaps the Persian tradition of storytelling is like the Western tradition.” While this pleased the questioner, another audience member took his thought and ran with it — but in the opposite direction. There is nothing Iranian in this film. Are you selling out to the Europeans? I’m African, and if I made a film, I’d want it to reflect my heritage.
Kiarostami’s response was thoughtful. If it seemed at first hearing to be somewhat roundabout, on second glance it became clear that he was responding to both this question and the previous one, and ending, as it turned out, with a dramatic announcement. “With a film,” he began, “the only thing that matters is its impact on the audience, and who made the film. I was surprised to see strong similarities between a film I made 17 years ago, Under the Olive Trees, and this one.” Binoche had sent the script for Certified Copy to her boyfriend, he continued, and “was afraid he would think she had told me all of their secrets,” so close to their actual conversations were those between the film’s lead characters. “Deep inside, looking at our deeper lives, we’re all the same. If you have a toothache, if I have a toothache, we both feel pain. If you take a photo and I take a photo, we look different, but our x-rays look the same.
“But I do understand your point and your concerns. Emotionally, on an emotional level, I do agree with you. Watching Under the Olive Trees, I felt: ‘This is my film. This is me.’ But watching in Cannes, I fell asleep three times. Maybe if I see it with Farsi subtitles,” he added, “I’ll understand it better. I do feel closer to my Iranian films. And when I’m done with this one,” he said, “I’m going back to Iran.”
A few of us sat bolt upright. Aren’t you worried about what will happen when you go back? “I keep the blinds closed in Iran. As for the film, the authorities have forbidden it from being released there” because of Binoche’s nudity. “But when the DVDs come out” — shades of Zarganar’s Burma — “everyone will have a copy.” That’s the good news. The bad? “Fifty percent of Iranian films are independent films, and they’re not shown in Iran. But that’s not only the case in Iran. Hollywood mainstream films have taken over the market everywhere, and art films have suffered for it.”
As to any challenges that may confront auds in “reading” Certified Copy — what is the true story? What is real, and what is fake? — Kiarostami refused to provide an answer, only saying that the construct of the story allows for two interpretations. He then offered a philosophical spin. “Maybe Nietzsche [who “happens to be the most translated philosopher in Iran”] says it best: If you look at a monster and see an angel, it can become an angel in your eyes.”
Looking out at the audience Kiarostami saw only angels, and not because of Nietzsche. “This is the warmest screening we’ve had since the beginning,” he told us. “Your warmth has given me encouragement to continue, and to begin a new life.”
Bertrand Tavernier and The Princess of Montpensier
Of course, starting a new life can be a two-sided proposition too, filled at once with promise and uncertainty, be it onscreen or off. The uncertainty increases when the life is neither chosen nor managed by the one who has to live it. Such is the case in veteran award-winning French director Bertrand Tavernier’s The Princess of Montpensier (La princesse de Montpensier, France, 2010), summed up by a local headline writer as “one woman, four men and five broken hearts.” A bit flip to be sure, and not a tone normally associated with 16th-century historicals.
But Tavernier’s full-blooded, richly dramatic rendering of one of the first novels ever written, by the redoubtable Madame de La Fayette (also known as the author of what is said to be the first psychological novel, “La Princesse de Clèves”), lends itself to familiarity and enthusiasm while earning respectful raves from some of cinema’s toughest critics. The story of Marie de Mézières, heiress to one of the kingdom’s greatest fortunes under the reign of Charles IX, it presents the viewer with a country in the throes of the three-decades-long French Wars of Religion, and the devastation — physical, national, emotional and spiritual — that they wreak upon her and upon the men to whom she is attached by affection or passion, or aligned by royal or familial fiat.
In a press interview Tavernier talked about what drew him to the material and how his vision for the film and the skill of his cast enabled him to craft a historical drama that feels utterly modern. The novel afforded him and his co-writer Jean Cosmos “the chance to tell a love story that would be both lyrical and expansive. When we started the adaptation, our major concern was to bring out, in the context of the period, the depth of feeling and passion in the book, in all its naked violence.” It also gave him the opportunity to work with an impressive crew of young actors, many for the first time.
“During the eight weeks of shooting, every day I felt what [British director] Michael Powell expresses so well about some actors: Words are no longer a screen behind which the writer hides. They have become a musical instrument on which the actor plays an entrancing tune.” Even more, the actors’ skill allowed him to “give free rein” to his imagination. “I never felt like I was directing the actors. I watched them. They inspired me, carried me, and thrilled me. It was dazzling.”
At the Filmmakers Live discussion, Tavernier was introduced as a longtime favorite Filmfest guest who can always be counted on for a fabulous film — although what kind of film it will be, is something that can never be counted on. And almost nothing can be counted out. His oeuvre’s incredible variety in period, style, genre, and even language make him one of the most unpredictable of predictable guests, and one of the most satisfying (he’s won more than 40 international awards over as many years). Is there a reason behind your extraordinary diversity?
“All of the films I’ve made were made because I wanted to learn — to explore new worlds, new epochs and people I didn’t know,” he told us. His social conscience also seems to be a motivating factor; five years ago his Holy Lola (2004), a film about a childless French couple who try to adopt a Cambodian orphan, won the audience award at San Sebastian. (À propos the genesis of his current film, Tavernier noted with wry satisfaction that when President Sarkozy asked, “Why do we waste time teaching the lower classes literature?” it caused half a million copies of “La Princesse de Clèves” to be sold in record time.)
His current film explores a subject that is important to him. “Extremism is grounded in ignorance,” he told us. “We see it everywhere, in religion as well as in [overly zealous] nationalism.” In The Princess, his heroine must deal with it on several sides while somehow maintaining her own humanity and decency. A hard battle, an internal one fought in the midst of external forces that seem to belie whatever hope she may hold that a better world can emerge from its ruins.
A feeling not unfamiliar to those engaged or caught up in war, whenever and wherever it may be, and certainly no stranger to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Brothers (USA, 2009) director Jim Sheridan, perhaps best known for his astonishing debut film My Left Foot: The Story of Christie Brown, and an all-star cast infuse this hard-hitting, at once emotionally draining and reaffirming American take on the award-winning 2004 Danish film Brødre with a gut-wrenching honesty that spares no one but does not pass judgment.
Brothers, which was shown in DC last year, features Tobey Maguire and Jake Gyllenhaal as two brothers: one, a decorated Marine captain and exemplary husband and father; the other, a failed bank robber whose first tour in Afghanistan shook him so badly he deserted. A classic but low-key rivalry for the love and approval of their father has always bubbled beneath the surface. But when the first brother is declared dead, it opens a window for his (supposed) widow and his brother to get to know each other better, and for the love they both hold for him to blossom into feelings they always suspected but would never acknowledge.
“Exploding from within and without,” read the headline of Abendzeitung’s one-paragraph blurb praising the subtle intensity of Maguire’s portrayal and saying that it alone makes the film worth seeing, while not slighting the powerfully affecting performances of his co-stars. “Cinema in nuances,” it concluded: Zwischentöne, whose literal translation would be “half-tones.”
Music in film
Which, taken in the musical sense, serves as a pitch-perfect Zwischenspiel (entr’acte/lead-in) for “filmtonart,” a day-long celebration of film music that served as a musical prelude to the festival. This absorbing series of seminars, screenings and dialogues interspersed with meet-and-greets, coffees, cocktails and business-card exchanges concluded with a sold-out concert in the magnificent Circus Krone saluting composer Howard Shore, whose scores for such films as the Lord of the Rings series (2001-3), The Aviator (2004), The Departed (2006), Mrs. Doubtfire (1993), Gangs of New York (2002), Ed Wood (1994) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991) rank him among cinema’s most highly regarded (and awarded) composers. As part of the celebration, Shore would receive Bavarian public radio’s first-ever lifetime achievement award. (More on Howard Shore later.)
The first panel took up the question of “The Myth of Film Music: When Words Are Not Enough ...” One of the subjects that arose during the discussion was that of“temp music,” or placeholder music usually taken from popular pieces and ideally suggesting the mood the director is looking for in a scene. The panelists, including German director Christian Petzold (Jerichow 2008, Yella 2007) generally agreed that rather than facilitate the process, such music can instead become one of the director’s biggest roadblocks. How? By subconsciously “locking in” moods or melodies that not only don’t support his concept and vision but may even run counter to them, leaving the composer little room to navigate around what comes to be seen as “the music.”
The integration of film music into the popular culture was explored in the panel, “Film Music: Tomorrow’s Classical Music?” When classical music becomes identified with a movie, such as Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra” with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), people who would never attend a classical concert and children who see the film accept it in that context, and may be more willing to explore it beyond the confines of the movie theater, the panelists agreed. Affirming the truth of this experience, Howard Shore, seated in the audience, noted that teachers would write to tell him that their students wanted to play the instruments they heard in the soundtrack of a favorite film, and that once hooked, more often than not they stayed with it.
An interesting phenomenon known as “countervalidation” was brought into the discussion. This refers to the use of music whose mood or character runs counter to that of the scene it underlies, yet still serves to support it and helps the audience understand it. (A common view, a member of the previous panel had observed, is that “film music is best when you don’t know it’s there.” If nothing else, countervalidating music can help to counter that perception.)
There was also mention of a “new organization,” the Society for the Preservation of Film Music, based in Los Angeles. (As it turns out, the organization was founded in the late 1970s, and is now known as The Film Music Society.
The conversation turned to the subject of compositional style, and Howard Shore joined in from his front-row seat. “When I write music I don’t talk in terms of ‘style’ but in terms of the vehicle — symphony, film, concerto.” In addition to his film scores, Shore is a prolific composer of symphonic music written for stage performance. Yet the lines can get blurred: On Sept. 10-11, Wolf Trap will present in HD the U.S. premiere of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King — for which Shore won 14 awards, including an Oscar, a Grammy, and a Golden Globe — with live orchestra and soloists. It will be followed by performances in London and Lucerne.
Why did he decide to put the music onstage? The idea originally came from American composer and conductor John Mauceri, founding director of the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, who told him that if he didn’t create a musical score of the soundtrack that could be played in concert, “the music will never be played.” While excellent advice, it also made Shore realize that the film score, as it was, would not work as a piece of pure music: “Film music is not really playable in concert. You have to create a different score for that purpose.” Shore was enthusiastic about the upcoming concerts. “Hearing 225 musicians play a film score with pictures of the film — it’s a hyper-realized experience” that makes the film come alive anew.
What Does an Image Sound Like?
More on Howard Shore later, with his Black Box interview and Q&A. But first, a point to ponder, and one that was presented to the next panel: “What Does an Image Sound Like?” Fittingly, this one came with both pictures and sound as four students of film composer and musicologist Enjott Schneider came onstage to screen their respective shorts.
The first, a “titanic battle between skateboard and ant,” was a remarkable piece of filmmaking that effectively used just about every trick in the film school book to form a coherent and exciting visual whole. We watch a teen nonchalantly engage his skateboard with consummate skill, navigating without a flicker of doubt or hesitation dozens of stone steps, twenty-foot breaches above fifty-foot pits, ascending and swooping down unimaginable inclines — all the while unknowingly making life hell for ... an ant. The ant simply wants to go about his ant business but is fated to come into contact with the skateboard at every one of its twists and turns, always within a hair’s breadth of imminent death under its wheels. Who will emerge victorious? Both — and, in a delicious twist, neither.
The question for the panelists and students: Is the first movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (which accompanied the initial screening) the right music for this “titanic battle”? Or did the choice come dangerously close to Micky Mousing, imitating the visual without enhancing it? To illustrate the point and underscore the importance of film music, three of Schneider’s students conducted different musical selections, each representing a tonally and emotionally different world and played by a live chamber group, as possible candidates for a more suitable score. The experience brought home with extraordinary clarity how important film music can be to an audience’s understanding of what is unfolding before their eyes.
“Music transports the emotions,” writes Stefan Wittich, the founder of filmtonart. “Its significance, for feature as well as for TV films, cannot be underestimated.” In an interview, Prof. Schneider saw the other side of the equation: If there were no film music, he was asked, what would be lost? “Frankly, the scripts and the quality of the images would get better again because there would be no more music to rely on. Today it’s the the composer who sets the emotional pace. But [Michael Haneke’s] The White Ribbon ,” he continued, “is a great example of a world-class film without music. To write music for a film that is good without it and the crutch it offers — and to be sure, only where a genuine added value, on a musical meta-level, results — that is artistic bliss.”
Montreal Symphony – Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra
Artistic bliss is not a nirvana limited to those who make music by composing it, as the millions who take joy in singing or playing an instrument will readily attest. It is also accessible to those who make music by performing it. And one of the most accessible musicians in the classical realm — not a performer perhaps in the strictest sense, but a world-class conductor — was the star of both an inspiring film and a musical/political meta-drama that played out behind the scenes even as we watched him onscreen, then listened as he engaged us warmly in the Foyer, never once suspecting that there was an invisible, inaudible counterpoint to the lighthearted badinage that seemed to draw us even closer into his world.
Montreal Symphony – Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (Montréal Symphonie – Kent Nagano et l’OSM, Bettina Erhardt, Canada/Germany, 2010) takes us behind the scenes of the symphony as it goes “beyond the walls of the concert hall.” In Quebec that means more than performing in local schools, which it does regularly and to the mutual pleasure of both kids and musicians whose faces — intense, startled, curious, contented, or glowing — are captured beautifully by the camera. It also means traveling to remote Inuit villages, where the OSM plays not just for the people but with them, at times serving as their rapt audience as native musicians play familiar music such as bluegrass and country-western on fiddles and mouth organs.
Or engage in “throat-singing,” a skill in which human palates, vocal cords and diaphragms are trained to produce sounds more often associated with birds and other animals (as well as what sounded to this ear like household appliances), their split-second rapidity producing more than a few dropped jaws in the audience. It means inviting ice hockey icon Guy Lafleur and several of his fellow Canadiens onstage, reaching out to people who ordinarily wouldn’t be caught dead in a concert hall — and to their kids who, enchanted by the musical tricks and hilariously noisome noises coming from the instruments while almost unconsciously absorbing the beauty, will now look at musicians with new eyes.
As will many a non-musician. Nagano’s dynamism is infectious, his straightforwardness and lack of pretension appealing. Asked by a boy why he himself started playing music, Nagano replies earnestly, but with what we imagine must be an internal wink: “Because my mother told me to. I was four years old.” He then tells the boy what music came to mean to him, and the joy it has brought him throughout his life.
HD really suits this film, its pinpoint precision and clarity bringing instruments and players alike into staggeringly sharp detail which, combined with the alternately sweeping and calculated camera arcs (the film was shot by three cinematographers), gives the viewer an inside look that, strange as it may sound for a film about a symphony orchestra, is nothing short of breathtaking. At its conclusion, the viewer finds himself swept up in the quiet exhilaration, the essential affirmation — another apparent internal inconsistency for a work whose negativity allegedly caused the composer to worry to a friend, “Won’t people go home and shoot themselves?”; but here, the singers and orchestra are nothing less than passionate, thrilling — of the last movement of Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde.”
But passion, exhilaration, expertise, ingenuity and popularity aren’t always a fail-safe formula for contract renewal. And indeed, for an opera director ingenuity is usually not first on the list of qualifications. For a week the local media were abuzz about the status of Nagano’s tenure as music director of the Bavarian State Opera just blocks away from the cinemas until, just three days after the fest’s end, came the announcement that he had “decided not to be available for a contract extension ... after the summer of 2013.” His agency issued a statement calling him a “prominent figure in a new wave of artistic thinking in Germany,” a fortuitous phrase given the action’s timing, making it a sort of coda to the film — and a perfect segue to one of the much anticipated highlights of the festival: the screening of the director’s cut of the multiple award-winning masterwork by the founder of the German New Wave, Volker Schöndorff: The Tim Drum (Die Blechtrommel, Germany/France, 1979-2009).
The Tin Drum: newly restored
At the single screening of this long-awaited original version of the film, restored and re-edited by Schlöndorff for its world premiere at Cannes the previous month, the director was accompanied onstage by two of its stars. David Bennent, who had performed a figurative split at the age of 11, portraying the drum-beating Oskar Mazerath at the ages of 3 and 18 and now still diminutive in size, came onstage nattily attired in a white, black-rimmed fedora, gray suit and gold shirt, chewing gum and shyly shifting his feet, as though instinctively reverting to his age at the time of the film. Mario Adorf, whose portrayal of Oskar’s (maybe) father Alfred had been edited down so as to help meet United Artists’ 2¼-hour-max condition for distribution of the film, which we would now see as it was meant to be, was gracious and debonair, his distinctive shock of sleek white hair, salt-and-pepper mustache and black eyebrows making him a study in progressive contrast.
At the Filmmakers Live discussion, where the director and his two stars sat just a few feet away, David Bennent’s thick dark hair and five-o’clock shadow formed an interesting contrast to his youthful voice, which still possesses the rawness of young Oskar’s. (It would not come as a surprise if the extended periods Oskar spends screaming at the top of his lungs — enough to shatter glass — had a permanent impact on the actor’s voice. But if memory serves, he told us he was a victim of pollen.)
The Filmmakers Live session held after screening The Tin Drum: left to right Robert Fischer, Volker Schlöndorff, David Bennent and Mario Adorf. Photo from the Munich Film Festival website
In talking about the film, Schlöndorff noted that its larger story is often overlooked because of its more arresting components, including the famous opening scene when Oskar’s grandmother is impregnated by a soldier who darts under her skirts seeking refuge from enemy soldiers. “The larger story,” he reminded us, “is the ascent, growth, descent and destruction of National Socialism.” Asked about those missing 20 minutes, Schlöndorff passed the ball to Adorf, whose scenes are now restored and whose loss he had always regretted. “It’s never beeen a secret that I was unhappy about those scenes being cut.” The scenes give more depth to Alfred’s character, he went on, and show him as a man whose earlier unquestioning support of the Nazi party takes a sharp turn when Oskar is declared unworthy of life. In a “heroic moment,” Alfred saves the child’s life at the cost of his own. “This is the film we wrote and shot and planned.”
But Schlöndorff took heart, the director told us, in Billy Wilder’s advice when he won the Palme d’Or for The Tin Drum knowing it was for an imperfect and incomplete film: “If it ain’t broke,” Wilder told him, “don’t fix it.” It was only when the lab holding the negatives of the film’s unused footage contacted him last year to inquire as to whether he wanted to continue to lease the space or dispose of the material that his curiosity was aroused. In a story of somewhat less cinematic and historical import, but nonetheless reminiscent of the 2008 discovery of the legendary “lost scenes” of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis in Buenos Aires’s film museum (the restored film was screened at the Berlinale in February and in DC this past July), Schlöndorff headed for the lab. What he found was 30,000 meters of unused footage, untouched for 30 years.
In an interview with Abendzeitung, Schlöndorff recalled his feelings upon viewing the reels. “It was like a journey through time, because [the actors] were all so young again. I see Mario Adorf and Angela Winkler [who played Oskar’s mother] all the time, we still work together, and now here they were in front of me, suddenly young again.” What effect did the old scenes have on you? “I had forgotten a lot and was utterly amazed at how good it all was. It all seemed so vivid, as though it were today — absolutely nothing antiquated about it.”
How did you select the added scenes? “Each of us has his darlings. For Günter Grass [co-author of the screenplay and author of the novel on which the film is based] it was the big scene where the Germans flee Gdansk, the Poles flee Ukraine and the survivors return from the camps and occupy the city. That’s the reason the Germans have to leave the city.” And for you? “For me it’s something literary. Little Oscar teaches himself to read and write, searches around in the bookcase for a book. He finds something on Rasputin’s orgies and Goethe’s “Elective Affinities,” and makes a single book from the two of them. Since I’m a bookworm, that was my favorite scene.”
A final question: Do we need another little troublemaker like Oskar in today’s world? Schlöndorff was unequivocal. “There are enough troublemakers in the world. But they’re all looking for [reassurance] and harmony. I don’t even know if provocation is still possible. What was scandalous at the time in the book and the film, every 10-year-old sees today on the Internet..” Which, he observed ruefully, “you can’t do much to prevent.”
Of course, there are precocious kids everywhere. Some even become filmmakers. This year’s Bayern 3 Audience Prize went to a young man who submitted his film-school graduation film and with it, won the hearts and minds of Filmfest audiences, no doubt in part because it struck so close to home, but principally, one suspects, because its youthful passion is irresistible. Mountain Blood (Bergblut, Philipp J. Pamer, Germany, 2010), a turbulent, romantic historical drama set in 19th-century Tyrol, tells of a young couple divided by war, nationalism, misunderstanding, and differences that lead to what may be an irrevocable decision.
The film takes us into the time of the Napoleonic Wars and the Tyrolean military hero Andreas Hofer (“the Braveheart of the Alps,” one Website calls him) who led a rebellion against the French conqueror’s forces and the growing movement against Tyrol’s transfer from Austria to France’s ally, Bavaria. We see it, though, from the perspective of a young soldier who goes off to fight in Hofer’s army, and that of the woman he loves.
In an interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung, Pamer — who grew up in a village at the foot of the Tyrolean mountains, and whose blond, pixieish, Hänsel and Gretel good looks make him appear younger than his 25 years — teasingly called the film “my little revenge on the Bavarians.” His youthfulness also made it a bit of a challenge at first to assert authority over his older actors, he confided to the paper.
Although even people who know Germany and Austria often think of Bavaria and Tyrol and their peoples as almost analogous — their dialects have strong similarities — Pamer was struck as he shot the film by how “completely different” the two are. “Even the humor is different,” he said, describing a situation not unknown to New Yorkers who wonder why a screamingly funny joke elicits only puzzled looks in Peoria. For Pamer, there is at least a partial solution: “To indicate that it’s a joke, I’ve gotten used to winking so the Bavarians will get it too.”
But making the film was serious business for the young director, who had to shoot several scenes in mountainous areas with mile-high drops. For the townspeople, many of whom served as extras, “it was an honor to help someone from the valley. The volunteer fire department, the mountain rescue service and hundreds of extras worked with us. People even lent us original period clothing and props.” And award-winning actors joined the cast “because they liked the script and wanted to support young directors.” All of this enabled him to shoot the film for less than $600,000.
Across the ocean another young director from the mountains was reaping awards for his debut film (Redland, Asiel Norton, USA, 2010), while critics were having a field day deconstructing (or demolishing) it. Like any novice Norton had to learn on the job, and found himself being “both director and editor’s assistant, lugging footage and worrying about A roll and B roll, having long discussions with the negative cutter, things I never knew about, and quite frankly I never would have known about if we had money.” The film was a very personal experience for Norton: Not only is it set in the forests of Northern California where he grew up, the son of hippies, in a cabin with limited electricity and a wood-burning stove, but as the script was being written, he was watching his father die from cancer, “in a pretty painful manner.”
Yet for all the apparent obstacles to becoming a director, Norton “grew up loving film” as the child of cinephiles who introduced him to Hitchcock, Capra, Welles, and later Kubrick. For his own film, Norton wants the audience “to see and experience the mystery of life communicated through the medium of film. I realize that sounds grand,” he hastened to add, “or to some people maybe pretentious, but that is what I want.”
As accustomed as one may be to reading reviews that are so different, it can be hard to believe the critics all saw the same film. With Redland the verdicts diverged so dramatically, it’s hard to believe the critics didn’t all get together (the reviews stemmed from a single screening) and write reviews that would collectively blow our minds.
Redland is either: (a) a “willfully obscure, excessively stylized exercise” that’s “[s]lavishly redolent of Malick and Sokurov in its quasi-mysticism,” a “pretentious, anti-dramatic drama” (Variety); (b) “an art film in the most literal and complimentary sense,” its “[e]very frame ... like an Impressionist painting or exquisite photograph,” a “completely immersive experience” (Cinematical); or (c) “frustrating,” a film that “doesn’t simply ask you ‘what would you do in this situation?’ ” but “puts you in the situation shown, where simple answers to stock characters’ dilemmas are difficult to come by” (eFilmCritic).
In fact, Redland is all of those. Filmmakermagazine captured its contradictions, calling it “both tough and lyrical ... as attuned to the natural world as a Terence Malick picture,” with “a muscular beauty reminiscent of early Tarkovsky or, more recently, early Carlos Reygadas.” At a post-screening Q&A, audience feedback mirrored the disparity in critical reaction. There were some angry people out there who seemed to feel as though they had been personally betrayed; equally passionate advocates who swooned over the film’s visual beauty and masterly cinematography; and practical folks who simply wanted rational explanations for the characters’ behavior.
“I wanted to create a piece of pure cinema, like Hitchcock,” Norton replied, “a visually structured dream, a poem of time and ambiguity.” But the ending — what does the ending mean? “I don’t ever want to explain what I do. You watch it. You decide.” There is no hope here. Shouldn’t there be even a tiny spark of hope? It’s very hard to go home after this movie. Norton was unsympathetic. “I think that’s great. That’s what I wanted to do. If you want to see a happy film, go see a musical comedy.” He became serious. “I never saw this as a bleak film with a hopeless ending. If you want to see it that way, that’s fine.” Then: “All life comes from death. Our culture is born from the death of another culture.”
And yet ... the film was in fact designed to move in the opposite direction. “The look of the film was very important. A work of art or a piece of film works when every element is going toward the same level. I wanted the film itself to look living, the grain to breathe and move.” And it does; the cinematography is stunning, a testament to Norton’s photography-school education before he went to film school (“The DP and I were very close. We were almost like one person”). Too, there was the serendipity of having Panavision West Coast donate a truckload of cameras, filters, special lenses — whatever he needed, in every focal length. And the advantage of shooting in a very poor area: “We could rent the whole property for $500.”
Which is fortuitous for a first-time filmmaker, but almost unheard of for a veteran. However, Martin Scorsese was never one to play by the rules and, two years after winning the Palme d’Or for Taxi Driver (1976), took his camera to a friend’s apartment with the frank intention of setting up it up and letting it roll as he and two fellow directors (Quentin Tarentino and Richard Linklater) threw out questions. Knowing Steven Prince’s loquacity and brilliance, Scorsese knew he would get something well worth recording from his polymathic, sometime-actor friend, whose portrayal of the gun-running Easy Andy in Taxi Driver had been small but indelible. As would be the DigiBeta record he now would make.
Martin Scorsese’s American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince
American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince (Martin Scorsese, USA, 1978) had become something of a lost holy grail among Scorsese admirers and acolytes, until it screened at SXSW last year and quickly proceeded to Cannes. The young woman who introduced the film at its German premiere here at the Filmmuseum apologized for its quality, but for many of us its home-video character was integral to its charm, if not its very essence.
“We’re rolling now,” shouts a young, bearded Scorsese, whose only recognizable feature (for those who didn’t grow up with him) is his voice. The camera pans to Prince, a natural raconteur whose stories flow with seasoned delivery, making “rolling” serendipitously descriptive of what we’re watching, as well as what’s happening as we watch it. His tales start out humorous, progress to hilarious and end with a quiet, heartrending account, after several attempts by Scorsese to get his friend to open up, of his last conversation with his dying father.
Prince, born into an energetic, take-no-prisoners, can-do family, regales us with tales of a mother who ran out in the middle of a raging hurricane to save a beloved tree from being uprooted by the storm (and an Army colonel father looking at the dumbfounded kids and, after a brief double-take, shouting “Get out there! Help your mother!”). And then there was Aunt Bessie, “a ball-buster of the first order” who, roughly ordered by an armed robber to hang up the phone, witheringly replied: “I’m on the phone at the moment, I’m talking to my daughter. When I’m finished with her, I’ll get to you.”
Sent home for being a homosexual upon trying to enlist in the Army after refusing to answer the infamous question, then acquiescing after being assured that no one would see his answer but military officials, Prince begins a descent into drugs (heroin was his favorite) that, as we learn in the next film, threatens to destroy whatever promise he had. But the story of this American Boy will have a uniquely American ending, revealed in Tommy Pallotta’s documentary.
American Prince (Tommy Pallotta, USA, 2009) shows us Steven 30 years later, and he has not lost his ability to deliver a line. He recalls Scorsese as an immaculate dresser, but one who was able to laugh at himself. Upon spotting the director for the first time, seated at a friend’s home in a velour chair, Prince asked, in an oh-so-not-stage voice: “ ‘Hey, Bill! Who’s the fag in the chair?’ We were instant friends,” he says.
His small but now iconic role in Taxi Driver started out even smaller, and he demanded more dialogue. “So Marty told me, ‘OK, offer to sell the guy some other stuff.’ So I named every illegal drug I’d ever used, bought, sold, seen, or heard of.” As he started seeing more of the movie business from the inside, Prince’s interests and ambitions expanded accordingly. Not satisfied with simply being in New York, New York the following year, Prince asked Scorsese if he could direct a scene with Liza Minnelli. Scorsese said yes. And he was hooked: “It was like Zeus speaking from Mount Olympus,” says Prince, still awed by the experience. “You say CUT, they stop. You say ACTION, they move.” For all of 11 minutes, he felt like a god.
And would find himself playing something like God in real life, although in a situation more intimidating than exhilarating. In what sounds like a scene from a movie — and would later find its way into Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction (1994) — Prince was at a party where a woman overdosed, went into wild convulsions, foaming at the mouth, and collapsed. Everyone panicked, then turned to Prince and (no doubt a testament to his experience, if not his skill) desperately implored him to “Do something!” And he did: with the help of a medical dictionary, a magic marker and “a needle this long,” he tells us soberly, Prince injected adrenaline into the woman’s heart and saved her life. (At least for the time being.) His exploits would also serve as fodder for Richard Linklater’s Waking Life (2001), we learn: Seeing a man attempt to steal tires from the gas station he was manning, Prince shouted at him. His warnings having no effect, Prince emerged from the station to confront the determined thief, who responded by attacking him with a knife as long as the industrial-strength adrenaline needle. (Or so it appears in Prince’s irresistible retelling, illustrated with hand gestures.) Whereupon Prince returned to the station, emerged with a gun and — we’re assuming he gave the guy sufficient warning, but at a time like that, Prince’s own adrenaline must have been pumping full-bore — shot him dead.
After such a storied life, what is Steven Prince doing now? Prince has found his true métier as ... a licensed general contractor. “There’s nothing that can’t be fixed,” he tells the camera earnestly. “If you tell the truth, and have that integrity,” it will earn people’s trust. “But you gotta have fun,” he adds with a wise half-smile. “You could get hit by that bus tomorrow.” Whether in 1979 or in 2009 (or watching him in 2010), “Steven Prince,” noted Abendzeitung, “has lost none of his unconventional charm.”
Not sure if “charm” is the operative word, and in one case, there is even increasing contention over the applicability of “unconventional.” But two of Hollywood’s modern-day godfathers — one with a film about him, the other with a film by him screening at Filmfest this year — have each seen both applied to them and to their work.
The People vs. George Lucas
The more recent of the two, Alexandre O. Philippe’s The People vs. George Lucas (USA, 2010), described by a local scribe as “a stirring love story; a sadomasochistic drama of glowing passion and bitter betrayal; a sweeping documentary,” is all that and more. A “fully participatory documentary,” it is the product of, among other things, 654 hours of footage, 14 terabytes of drive space, 126 interviews, 719 fan interviews and “countless white nights.” There are certainly no white knights in The People vs. George Lucas. There is, however, a galaxy of fans and former fans who think he’s joined the Dark Side and are not afraid to state their case, sometimes in the form of their own flicks, submitted via the film’s Website.
There are three cases against Lucas, which can be summarized briefly (although there is much more to them, meticulously laid out in the film). The first is that he sold out: that he lost his golden touch when he bought into the gold — i.e., the Star Wars commercial empire — and became a producer too. The second is that the wealth and power it brought him allowed him to do pretty much as he pleased, and what he pleased often did not please the fan base. It all started with his decision to re-edit Star Wars to make it look better. No problem there. But when he also decided to change part of the story line — so that in the brief shoot-out between Greedo and Han Solo, Greedo is the one who shoots first — a magnum number of fans went ballistic, feeling personally betrayed.
The third is that he betrayed himself, a director who once testified before Congress against the colorization of movies, calling it a “travesty” that desecrated people’s cherished memories of a film, but who now felt free to change or add completely new material to something that had become a cultural touchstone for a generation of filmgoers.
The film uses interviews, film clips and a mind-blowing array of special effects to present the case against Lucas. It considers the issue from not only a legal and an artistic perspective, but also from a psychological, philosophical and metaphysical one, leaving one feeling both exhausted and exceedingly (maybe even overly) well informed at the end. “Star Wars was George’s best film,” says Francis Ford Coppola, with whom Lucas established American Zoetrope in 1969 (and who was the inspiration for Han Solo). “He then became a producer. We were denied the films he would have made.”
Francis Ford Coppola’s Tetro
Of course producing one’s own films does not necessarily doom them, to which Coppola himself would surely attest. Tetro (USA/Italy/Spain/Argentina, 2009), in which he served as both director and producer, while not directly addressing the colorization debate, effectively employs both black-and-white and color, using the latter sparingly but all the more vibrant for its rarity. Yet the film “comes alive through magnificent black-and-white Cinemascope pictures,” wrote a local paper, images that almost exactly a year before had made Roger Ebert “hopelessly desire that more features could be made in this beautiful format.”
Written by Coppola, Tetro, according to the Website, is “his most personal film yet, arising from memories and emotions from his early life, though totally fictional.” The story melds the best of opera and melodrama with echoes of classical tragedy and homages to classic films, including Coppola’s own. Tetro is the nickname of Bennie’s brother Angelo, with whom he’s had a troubled relationship, and whom Bennie, a Navy deserter now employed as a cruise-ship waiter, has impulsively jumped ship to visit in Argentina.
Tetro, who for years has maintained a distance from the family (it was hard to keep from seeing Marlon Brando, so “Godfather”-like are his moodiness and manner and violent outbursts, as played by Vincent Gallo), is less than happy to see his little brother, and makes no effort even to be civil to him. But Bennie persists, aided by his brother’s deeply simpatico live-in girlfriend (Maribel Verdú, nominated for three Best Actress awards in the role) who has also been kept at arm’s length; and at one point, as little brothers will, sneaks a peek into Tetro’s papers, which he has been told are confidential. Bennie has a good reason, though, at least in his own mind: He wants to find out more about his family, which has always been secretive. What he finds is his brother’s unfinished play, written in semi-code as a sort of catharsis to release the (family-generated) demons within him. But Bennie the naif thinks it’s a crime to keep it hidden, finishes it, and submits it to a festival.
Of course, all hell breaks loose, and the brothers’ relationship seems irrevocably severed. And of course Bennie, being the exasperating little brother of sibling legend who pesters the elder because he thinks he wants to be like him (or wants to think his brother is, deep down, just like he is) refuses to take no for an answer. The answers he unearths may tell him more than he wants to know, and make him wish he had left well enough alone. The local paper, though it loved the cinematography, wished the same when it came to the plot: “But Coppola again and again overloads it with mirror-symbolism, literary citations, and amateurish ‘artistic’ nonsense. A pretentiousness,” it concluded, “more elderly than masterly.” Tetro has already been shown in our area.
That Evening Sun
Not that one can’t be both elderly and masterly. What is rare, is for a young director to take an elderly actor and walk off with 10 awards from nine different festivals for his very first film. That Evening Sun (USA, 2009), written and directed by the thirtyish Scott Teems, features the 84-year old Hal Holbrook in a role that had Oscar buzz, a supporting cast that included his wife, Shakespeare Theater Company favorite Dixie Carter, and a slew of well-known co-stars expressly selected for their ability to disappear so deeply into a role that the audience wouldn’t recognize them and be distracted.
Retrospective: Austrian poète maudit Ulrich Seidl
No chance of that happening, either — although for the opposite reason — with those appearing in the filthy, perverted, depraved (this is meant, need it be said, as a compliment) and unforgettable documentaries and films of the Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, honored at this year’s Filmfest München with a complete retrospective of his 30-year cinematic career. It’s not that his actors hide behind their characters; for most of them, they are their characters.
Seidl’s films intentionally blur the line between feature film and documentary. Even his multiple award-winning Dog Days (Hundstage, Austria, 2001), which he says “marked both an end and a beginning” in his filmic work, was a bit of both: “... a real feature film” with “a real script, a real story and real actors; and yet, a lot is very different. There was a script, but no written dialogue; there were actors, but more non-actors; and there was a documentary methodology.”
Who, then, is Ulrich Seidl? Is he a methodological filmmaker who uses “symmetrical, satanic composition,” as one critic called it? Or are his films “rough stuff, and not for the faint of heart,” according to another? We had a chance to round out the impressions we’d gained at screenings of his films at an early evening Filmmakers Live session in the Black Box.
Looking quite harmless onstage, a small man who seemed every bit the serious cineaste, Seidl immediately broke up the small crowd by confiding that his cinematic career didn’t start out well: “My Abschlussfilm [graduation film: The Prom, 1982] was actually an Abschiedsfilm [farewell film], because they told me it made the school look bad.” With filmmaking becoming more and more the province of the young as digital equipment becomes easier to use and less expensive, it’s the kids with computers who are often on the cutting edge. Even in the sixties 20-year-olds like Volker Schlöndorff and Werner Herzog were beginning to make a name for themselves. (And in a conversation between Fritz Lang and Jean-Luc Godard seen in Emmanuel Laurent’s Deux de la Vague, discussed below, the aging German filmmaker tells the young Frenchman that cinema “is not just the face of our century. It’s a job for young people.”)
Seidl, whose friendship with Herzog began in film school, came to filmmaking late, and to actually making films later than he would have liked. For seven long years after graduation (“the hardest time of my life”) he was unable to make any, and at last came up with the funds to do a quasi-documentary (Look 84, 1984). When he wanted to do a feature film, however, he learned the lesson burned into the weary brains of incipient filmmakers (and even some established ones) everywhere: The men with the money want control over the content. (The fact that Seidl spends several years making a film no doubt also does not endear him to financiers.)
At last he was able to make a film. And although it was a documentary, when he did, not just the world of documentary film, but the film world in general had a new name to reckon with. Good News: Of Newspaper Hawkers, Dead Dogs and Other Viennese (Good News: Von Kolporteuren, toten Hunden und anderen Wienern, 1990) won Seidl the Special Grand Jury Prize and a Golden Lion nomination at the Venice Film Festival. Werner Herzog minced no words, calling it “one of the best documentary films of all time.” Seidl has since (as has Herzog) become less certain that there is a meaningful difference between documentary and feature film. “And if there is,” he remarked at the Black Box, “I don’t want to know what it is.” Models (1999), which delves unsparingly into the lives of three aspiring Viennese models, “was financed as a feature film, but sold as a documentary,” blurring the lines even further.
The Black Box audience seemed pretty evenly divided: the curious, the serious, and the scandalized. Animal Love (Tierische Liebe, 1995), in which various Austrians show their love for their pets in unusual ways: Were those scenes staged? Did those people really do those things? “Nobody did anything they didn’t want to do, or wouldn’t have done anyway,” said Seidl. Did you get permission from the old people in the nursing home in [the Palme d’Or-nominated] Import Export (2007) to film them in such degrading, humiliating conditions? “No. That was beside the point. I wanted to show what happens to old people when they’re cast aside and left to the mercy of strangers in such places.”
One scene in Dog Days (2001) really disturbed me, it made me ill. Was the pimp an actor, or one of the “real people” in the film? “Oh, he was real.” Seidl looked pleased. “I want to shock people. I want to disturb them.” No problem there.
In an interview with Abendzeitung, Seidl expanded on the point. “What interests me is the line between joviality and the point where the laughter completely dies away and freezes in the throat.” Seidl’s films, opined the reporter, are torture, because they look straight into people’s souls — and that can be hell. But in the end, despite it all, you become sensitized. How does he know the world of losers and Philistines so well? “I’ve always felt like an outsider, always looking at life from the outside,” said Seidl. “But I’m a curious person, always seeking to meet people who come from other walks of life, other circumstances.”
Seidl is not an optimist. “We live in a time where you hear, ‘We were never as free as we are now!’ But that’s a lie. If you don’t follow the crowd, you’re a complete outsider. The alternatives for someone with little money and education are few.” Still, education isn’t the only answer, either. “The more cultivated we think we are, the farther we distance ourselves from ourselves,” said Seidl, “and ask ourselves who we are, and what impression we make on other people.”
Women in Film
Worrying about the impression one makes on others is something that traditionally has been ascribed — justifiably or not — more to women, both in the profession and out, than to men. Whatever the case, the impact of gender cannot be underestimated. At this year’s Filmfest München, women filmmakers took inspiration from Barbra Streisand’s call to arms at the Academy Awards ceremony three months earlier — “Well, the time has come!” — as she proudly announced the first Oscar for Best Director ever to be awarded to a woman and presented it to veteran filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, for her masterly direction of The Hurt Locker (2008).
“Is there an Oscar Quota?” Women in Film featured four German women in the business — a documentary filmmaker, a scriptwriter and director, an editor and director, and an associate with a film-funding organization — who purposefully took on the question and its components:
“The film business: a dream profession for women? Relationship restrictions on the job, professional challenges to mobility and irregular work hours that [go against all legal provisions] governing work hours make it especially difficult for women to reconcile their private lives with their jobs.”
“How do female professionals in the film business judge the working conditions and opportunities for employment in their profession? What strategies have they found [to address them]? “
A heated discussion ensued as the SRO crowd of directors, actors and others in the profession sat with members of the public and press to tackle the subject head-on. While several men were in attendance, only one raised his hand. It wasn’t pretty. Why is this question even being asked? After all, men also have dual responsibilities for their jobs and their children. Besides, women are extremely well represented in the film industry. The query was met with ripples of laughter from the audience and the occasional eye-roll. It was quickly acknowledged that women are indeed well represented in the industry, but in lower-paying jobs and at much lower levels of importance and responsibility.
You’ve laid out the problems quite well. Now give us some answers. How do we resolve them? Suggestions came from the panel and then from the floor. Someone offered that networking is key to professional success and advancement in the film business, and heads nodded around the room. But still ... Being an actress, a director and a mother in Germany is “damned lonely,” said one who has been all three. She then offered at least a partial solution: “We have to work in partnership with men to solve these problems. The art of film exacts a high price,” she added. “We all recognize that.”
Two in the Wave
And not just for women. That “high price” can enable or facilitate an irreversible rupture of even the closest of friendships and professional relationships for men in the business too. Two in the Wave (Deux de la Vague, Emmanuel Laurent, France, 2009; the film screened at the National Gallery of Art on August 1) ably deconstructs the fatal chill that would freeze the once warm friendship between two of the Nouvelle Vague’s founding fathers, François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard. In their case, though, it was not merely professional disagreements or jealousies (although both certainly fed into it), but political differences that would tear them forever apart.
In introducing his film to the nearly full house at the Filmmuseum, Laurent apologized for not watching it with us. “Like Truffaut, when I watch one of my films, I see only my mistakes, so I won’t join you. But I will go [upstairs to the café and] drink a beer,” he laughed. “I’ll be happy to answer your questions afterwards.”
It’s 1959. Truffaut’s The 400 Blows (the infamous, literal mistranslation of Les quatre cents coups) is a smash at Cannes. Godard writes an article noting how the backing of cultural affairs minister André Malraux — who would later become the focus of the young filmmakers’ ire for firing the much beloved head of the Cinémathèque Française, Henri Langlois, over a budget dispute — enabled the film to be screened at Cannes at all, thereby allowing it to “explode from the midst of the enemy camp, defeating them from the inside.” The two become close, their friendship first forged, then incinerated over the burning coals of the rapidly spreading protest fire sparked by Langlois’ dismissal, which will lead Truffaut, Godard, and a growing number of filmmakers to demand that the Cannes Festival be shut down. (It was, and Malraux was forced to reinstate Langlois.)
Both filmmakers were joined at the Cahiers du Cinéma hip, each having joined the magazine at the age of 21 — the film emphasizes their youth — each nurtured by Cahiers editor André Bazin (although Truffaut, who suffered from parental neglect, more personally. The story is told in many Truffaut bios, including “Truffaut: A Biography,” by Antoine de Baecque — who co-wrote the screenplay for Two in the Wave — and Serge Toubiana). The two were Young Turks, as they actually came to be known, who found mentors in Bazin and Eric Rohmer, both of whom liked the young writers’ iconoclastic approach (and that of their friends, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Rivette) and appreciated its value to the magazine.
The film’s archival materials are superb, many never before seen, certainly seldom if ever in such telling contextual sequence. Truffaut, defending his controversial Cahiers article (and here the word “groundbreaking” can be taken almost literally) “Une Certaine Tendance du Cinéma Français,” protests that he never said the current (i.e. 1950s) crop of French films were bad. Only that he — and French filmmakers — could do them better and express themselves more directly, more sincerely.
The interviews include both contemporary and contemporaneous ones with the increasingly elusive Jean-Pierre Léaud (who said he’d be at the screening, but begged off at the last minute). In one he says that he watches the film that made him famous at fifteen “again and again” and is always taken with Truffaut’s skill in directing him. The less elusive Godard also didn’t attend, being otherwise occupied with the scheduled screening of his latest film, Socialism, at the Melbourne International Film Festival. (He also may not have been thrilled with the way he comes off in the film, although given his admitted contrariety — “I hope the next film I make displeases people, since they liked the last one,” he says at one point in Two in the Wave. “Then I’ll have to make another one, in the hope that it’ll be liked” — that was probably less of an issue.)
Although Laurent is scrupulously evenhanded, Godard’s scathing and seemingly unprovoked (and arguably petty) attack on his friend’s Day for Night (La Nuit américaine, 1973) — “You say that films are like trains in the night. But what kind of train? What kind of people? Where are they going?” — which a wounded Truffaut answered, point by point, in a 20-page defense — puts the onus more or less on Godard.
But Laurent shows that their differences were not only personal and professional, but also political. Although the two friends were united in their determination to halt the Cannes Festival, Godard’s motivations were always more intellectual, and more closely aligned with the tenets of socialism and workers’ rights; Truffaut’s were more idealistic and emotional: he believed in the students’ cause (overcrowded classrooms making learning exceedingly difficult struck a chord with Truffaut, whose education had been marked by truancy and expulsions) and wanted to save his and French cinema’s friend Langlois, who he felt had been treated unfairly.
From then on their films began to reflect the differences of their respective auteurs, and Godard’s chiding of Truffaut five years later for his trains-in-the-night analogy was sharpened by his equating his friend’s films, in that same letter, with the “cinéma de papa” (daddy’s cinema) Truffaut had argued so cogently against in his famous Cahiers article. There was also the issue, minor by comparison but no doubt like a tiny pebble in the shoe, of the film Truffaut and Godard had been planning at the time Truffaut was working on The 400 Blows, to be based on the true story of a small-time crook they had read about in the papers. Godard wrote a draft screenplay, which Truffaut changed significantly (and beneficially); not willing to wait for his friend, Godard took it and ran with it, and it became “his” film: Breathless (À bout de souffle, 1960), which has since become iconic as the “quintessential” French New Wave film.
Despite their differences and bitter breakup Godard, perhaps as a way of making amends without having to admit it, would later pay a sort of homage to Truffaut by citing his old friend’s films, usually with an implicit wink, in his own. “The New Wave was a chain of brotherhood,” Godard would tell an interviewer. “It held us together. It seemed it would never break”
Laurent returned as promised, taking several questions. Was the friendship between Godard and Truffaut ever real, or was it always strictly business? Laurent responded in a roundabout way, comparing their friendship to that of people in any art, “like two painters who take each other’s style,” and reminded us of the clip in Two in the Wave from Godard’s A Woman Is a Woman (Une femme est une femme) where Jeanne Moreau mentions Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (in which she played Catherine, who fatally comes between the two friends). Godard also often used Jean-Pierre Léaud, Laurent added, who became torn between the two directors. (Seen from that perspective, one couldn’t blame Léaud if he felt ambivalent about attending the screening, even now.)
Laurent made some edifying observations about the way film changed conclusively after The 400 Blows. To begin, film for the first time was acknowledged as an art, instead of being seen as merely entertainment. Next, Truffaut’s and Godard’s (and indeed the New Wave filmmakers’) fascination with things American — with cars and films high on the list — influenced their own films, and would come full circle with the films of American masters such as Coppola and Scorsese, who have publicly embraced the New Wave and cited its influence on their films.
There’s a lot of information in your film. Where can I find it all? Laurent couldn’t suppress a smile. “Go to the Staatsbibliothek [Munich public library] — and read all the Cahiers du Cinéma in order.”
A White Night
A scene in Godard’s All the Boys Are Named Patrick (Tous les garçons s’appellent Patrick; also known as Charlotte et Véronique, 1957) strongly resembles a similar scene in Kobayashi’s 2009 film, screened as part of the fest’s International program. The Japanese film’s Parisian setting too makes it at least plausible that Kobayashi was silently saluting Godard.
The connections would grow curioser as the film screened, then again as Kobayashi took the stage at the Gasteig’s foyer. A White Night is a Japanese-French co-production, and Kobayashi knew he wanted to be a director, he told the small gathering, after being inspired by ... The 400 Blows. But back to that later. First, the film.
January 10, 2009. The narrator, a young Japanese, has returned to France and describes what we are seeing: raw and professional footage, captured by tourist and network cameras, of violent street demonstrations protesting the Israeli incursion into Gaza. Cut to a peaceful, wintry bridge: a man — the narrator — carrying red roses; a twentyish Japanese woman in a black trench coat. Each at opposite ends; both appearing thoughtful, even somber, shivering from the cold. He sees her, approaches, tries to make small talk; she rebuffs him. (Here was the nod, real or imagined, to Godard. There’s also a slo-mo race along the bridge reminiscent of Truffaut’s Jules and Jim.) He teases her gauchely: You poor thing, you’re waiting for a guy who promised he’d meet you here, and he dumped you. Not surprisingly, this does not make her laugh or smile.
It turns out he was right. For his part, he’s out of cash, and has only a Eurail pass and a plane ticket to get home. They develop an odd sort of friendship, born of the moment and intended to last not much longer, each seeking human connection but reluctant to admit it, to the other or even (and maybe especially) to themselves. Their conversation is awkward, the café in which he convinces her to seek shelter from the cold (and buy him a cup of coffee) offering what may be the stalest baguettes in Paris, which she orders against his advice. We hear her teeth try, like a determined dachshund’s, to wrest a recalcitrant chunk from the thing, which sprouts a cloud of dust as she manages at last to extract it.
While the story and characters are quirkily affecting, coming to an unexpected end, the camera seems capriciously caught between panoramic elegance and handheld this-is-real-and-you-are-there jerkiness. The music, as a reviewer for artechock film had it, goes from “ ‘Best of Elevator Music’ that must have come from a CD [Kobayashi] found under the seat of the car on his way to the cutting room” to “what had to have come from ‘Vol. 17: The Saint-Saëns Edition,’ perfect for Guantanamo interrogations ...” He continues, clearly pained but enjoying the rhetorical ride.
At the podium discussion Kobayashi told a fascinating story of how he became interested in film. It was watching The 400 Blows, he said, that made him know he wanted to direct. “I had the feeling that [Truffaut] knew what was going on in my mind and heart.” But he knew no one in the film business. So he determined to learn French and become Truffaut’s assistant. After four years, having learned enough French to go to Paris he packed his bags, lived there for a year and, without meeting the maître, returned home to write screenplays while working at other jobs. His first film was not made until he was in his early forties, but he quickly made up for lost time: After only seven years, he would be nominated for Locarno’s Golden Leopard, which he would take home four years later (for The Rebirth, 2007). But it was his nomination for the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2005 for Bashing that must have seemed almost a sweet confirmation, the closing of a circle.
In discussing his oeuvre and his methodology, Kobayashi displayed a curious incongruity similar to that seen in A White Night. His films deal with situations that drive people to extreme acts like suicide and murder, he told us, but not for the purpose of providing the audience with cheap thrills; rather, it is to show his characters’ emotional state and circumstances, the difficulties they are dealing with. For A White Night he employed the Stanislavsky system (“I’m a method director”), forcing his two leads to remain awake for unnaturally extended periods and keeping them in extreme seclusion from the outside world, reinforcing their characters’ aloneness so that it would transfer to the screen. And yet: “I want my films to make people happy.” Even if he has to make his actors miserable to achieve it.
I’m Glad that My Mother Is Alive
In much of life, and especially in French film, all things are seldom equal. And when the title of the film is I’m Glad that My Mother Is Alive (Je suis heureux que ma mère soit vivante, Claude & Nathan Miller, France, 2009) — and when the filmmakers are a father-and-son team, the father having worked closely with François Truffaut, assisting on 10 of his films — you can be sure there’s more to the title than meets the eye.
Based on a true story, I’m Glad that My Mother Is Alive takes us into the life of a boy, adopted at the age of four into a loving home, who becomes obsessed as he approaches adolescence with finding the mother who adored yet abandoned him and his baby brother without explanation eight years before. Having made his adoptive parents’ lives a living hell with his outbursts and tantrums, Thomas decides to take matters into his own hands, steals the paperwork detailing his adoption, and sweet-talks a sympathetic young social worker into revealing his mother’s address, thinking — being a child — that she will welcome him with open arms. Suffice it to say, when his dreams collide with reality, it ain’t pretty: The film ends in a courtroom.
At the podium discussion a mildly nonplused Sophie Cattani, who plays the disillusioning maman and whose theater work actively co-exists with her film career, had just gotten in from Paris: A theatre director as well as a film star, she had been directing a play with her own company, then had to contend with flight delays. Director Nathan Miller, we learned, “grew up behind the camera” — in addition to his father, who began working in film at the age of 18, his uncle is a cinematographer — and recalled watching Truffaut and papa Claude on the set, where he became fascinated with the technical side of film making.
Miller is not a fan of social-problem films, but this one was different, a story at once individual and universal. The subject, he emphasized, is not adoption, as a cursory read-through of the script might suggest, but the larger one of abandonment and society’s handling of abandoned children. There is even the element of Greek drama, with ordinary people rather than kings and queens in the lead roles. “The story could have been set 1,000 years ago,” said Miller, then added: “Or 1,000 years in the future.” Cattani noted that a key motivation in the film is silence, the inability of people to discuss uncomfortable subjects. The child feels hemmed in by an invisible wall that either makes raising the question an implicit or explicit no-no, or yields equivocation (or no answers at all) when he raises it.
Miller extolled the young actor, Vincent Rottiers, who plays Thomas at the age of 20 (and was nominated for a major French film award, the César, for his portrayal) and his ability to get it on the first take. Cattani, no novice by any stretch of the imagination but perhaps more comfortable onstage than onscreen, added that Rottiers — who at 24 is working on his 20th film — gave her invaluable tips on how to act in front of a camera.
What about the film’s non-linear structure, with the story going back and forth between time periods? The script was actually written in linear form, Miller told us, but as shooting progressed he and his father felt that the crucial period should be “bookended” by the times that came before and after. The intended effect was to be “like opening a photo album” and flipping through the pages, choosing pictures at will.
The Portuguese Nun
Which could almost describe the (at least apparent) approach of a director who was born in the U.S. and moved to France. But unlike most filmmakers — as Lang told Godard, it’s a job for young people — Eugène Green did not direct his first film until he was well into middle age. The Portuguese Nun (A Religiosa Portuguesa, Portugal/France, 2009), shot in Portuguese, French and English, presents a French actress, daughter of a Portugese mother, who has come to Lisbon to shoot a “minimalist costume romance” and becomes intrigued by a beautiful young nun she encounters at a local chapel while taking a break from her work.
This link adds invaluable technical and historical information. However, two elements are ignored by the blog that should be noted. The actress’s growing fascination and philosophical conversations with the eponymous nun, whose replies veer between the simple and the oblique — and who for whatever reason escaped the reviewer’s eye — gradually open her heart, mind and soul to possibilities she had never before considered, either out of ignorance or because she feared, consciously or otherwise, where they would lead. And the film’s English subtitles are so idiomatically on-target as to call into question the director’s purportedly unequivocal rejection of his homeland, which according to one reporter he has been known to call “Barbaria.”
The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu
Barbaria could well be the epithet applied to another European nation in the years during the dictatorship of its infamous leader, executed at the end of the eighties after a quarter-century of pernicious rule. The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu (Autobiografia lui Nicolae Ceausescu, Andrei Ujica, Romania, 2010) uses television, government and newsreel archives, photographs, and the dictator’s own home videos to tell the story of one of the 20th century’s most notorious tyrants. At an ample three hours about half the length of the festival’s longest film, Olivier Assayas’s three-part, 319-minute TV miniseries Carlos — its protagonist a man whose terror was of quite another sort — Ujica’s documentary, with its “lack of commentary, dates and explanatory statements” was called by the Süddeutsche Zeitung “in every respect the opposite” of the Assayas. (Carlos will screen on the Sundance Channel in October.
As in Laurent’s Two in the Wave, the black-and-white clips here are riveting. But the stakes are incalculably higher, and instead of interviews with animated young craftsmen at the height of their powers, we begin with an elderly man and his wife, pale and garbed in black. She sits, grotesquely still, silent, her face a death mask. He, in every way her opposite, alternates between anger and bravado, repeating in response to each question accusing him of having authorized the massacre at Timisoara and other atrocities: “I am not answering these charges except before the National Assembly.” The film then cuts to the public viewing of their coffins, then doubles back to Ceausescu’s own funeral oration for his predecessor, vowing in ringing tones to carry on in his name for the happiness of the people under socialism.
Then: Thousands of smiling children marching in uniform, shouting songs of praise. Jubilant Romanians, cheering their laughing leader as hundreds of white doves are released into the air ... or gaily milling about the streets, dressed in vibrant colors ... or smoking, drinking and chatting in darkened nightclubs, listening to Western pop songs crooned by a sultry singer (“Sometimes,” marveled Süddeutsche Zeitung, “Bucharest in the sixties comes across as a swinging city”). Yes, few could equal Ceausescu’s mastery of the propaganda machine.
But the film also contains some political surprises. In a 1960 speech, Ceausescu calls for the unification of East and West Germany and the dissolution of both NATO and the Warsaw Pact. Five years later, with equal vehemence, he would change the name of the ruling party to the Romanian Communist Party while remaining stubbornly independent of Moscow. Committed to the glorification of Romania and its history, Ceausescu is seen staging massive public re-enactments of the 14th-century Battle of Posada with a cast of thousands that would have put Eisenstein to shame.
Out of camera range the people suffered enormous economic privations and lived in fear of the Securitate, or secret police. A man of contradictions whose adoring public and benevolent smile were continually on display, he would end his reign in blood, leaving behind a “lost generation,” a legacy of orphaned children locked away in often abusive state institutions by parents in a country where contraception was banned, and whose photos and stories would wrench the hearts of viewers around the world after his fall.
At the Filmmakers Live discussion, Ujica compared Ceausescu to other 20th-century dictators, all “fundamentalist” characters who believe in an “atheistic religion” (usually one deifying themselves). Like despots from Hitler to Kim Il-Sung, he observed, Ceausescu was heavily invested in appearance — parades, celebrations, cheering crowds — which did not reflect the reality behind the scenes.
Why does the film spend such a long time on Ceausescu’s first four years of rule as it builds to the climax? Sounding like a child of the New Wave — the abiding influence of this movement on filmmakers as far apart geographically as they are in age a half-century after its founding was almost tangible — Ujica replied that he has been “strongly marked by Hollywood films, which take more time to build a story than to tell it.” And Ujica has been marked by French film even more directly. For all Ceausescu’s barbarism, he “was not in the same league as Mao,” he averred, adding: “He did no worse than Godard, who also worshiped Mao.”
“But the film shows that it’s not so easy to decide where greatness ends and ridiculousness begins,” the Romanian filmmaker was quoted as saying in the aforementioned news article, “where veracity goes out the door and mendacity comes in.”
Around a Small Mountain
It’s not the line between greatness and ridiculousness that concerns the octogenarian New Wave master filmmaker Jacques Rivette in his 43rd, and at 84 minutes, his shortest film. Rather, it is the sometimes fragile line between reality and make-believe. Or, as directed and co-scripted by Rivette with a surprisingly — because it seems to sneak up behind the viewer, striking when least expected — affective amalgam of wisdom, whimsy and wistfulness: between life and theater.
Nominated for the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival, Around a Small Mountain (36 Vues du Pic Saint Loup, France 2009), which screened at the Avalon last month, features a Rivette favorite, British-born actress Jane Birkin as the daughter of the founder and owner of a small circus who has just died. Having left the circus fifteen years before under mysterious circumstances, she has reluctantly returned to it at the call of one of her two daughters, performers as well. “Leaving was my punishment [then],” she remarks. “Now my punishment is [in] coming back.”
At the post-screening Q&A, award-winning screenwriter and longtime Rivette collaborator Pascal Bonitzer explained that the Pic Saint Loup of the title is a mountain range that has long fascinated Rivette: Each time he went there during the shooting of La belle noiseuse he found himself taking a different route. And each time the mountains looked a little different to him, depending on which route he took. (“Not to me,” Bonitzer confessed.) As Rivette contemplated this curiosity, the series of woodblock prints, “Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji,” by the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, came to mind, and by some alignment of the creative faculties, some time later he came up with the idea for the film. And while Rivette “is no [Federico] Fellini” and has “no need for the circus,” for this film, he felt a circus setting with “just a few clowns” would be just the ticket, as it would recall the theater world so often seen in his films. (In an ironic coincidence, the circus scenes were shot at Cinecittà, the studio most closely associated with Fellini.)
Another consideration was Rivette’s wish to work again with Jane Birkin, whom he had not directed since La belle noiseuse almost 20 years before, and Italian actor Sergio Castellitto. Castellitto plays a handsome tourist whose chance encounter with Birkin’s character leads to his joining the circus as an emergency, last-minute fill-in in a silly routine that seems an affectionate salute to the commedia dell’arte.
Describing the director’s approach to the film, which in its relatively (and for Rivette, remarkably) brief 84 minutes manages to make good use of a half-dozen styles, Bonitzer reminded us that bricolage, or do-it-yourself, has always been a favorite concept of Rivette’s. The classic clown routines are “like mini-playlets,” he said, potentially capable of being plucked from the narrative and placed on a stage. And: “There are no pre-existing scenarios” with Rivette; it’s all put together during the shoot. Asked why this film is so much shorter than the director’s usual fare, Bonitzer said that there were originally several stories involving other characters that fell by the wayside.
Rivette wrote the screenplay pretty much by himself, Bonitzer added, despite the other names on the screen. It was a two-step process, consisting of months-long discussions on what he was looking for, followed by the actual writing of the screenplay. And the format? Despite the fragility of nitrate film, that’s what Rivette is comfortable with, Bonitzer said, and couldn’t conceive of doing it digitally. A director of the old school, he feels that his place is at the cutting table, analog all the way. “If this is an undeniable divertissement by a great director,” writes Scott Foundas in the Village Voice, “it carries with it a sense of farewell, as Rivette, through his onscreen surrogates, takes a bow and bids us adieu.”
As does the doctor in the multiple-award-winning Canadian film, The Legacy (La Donation, Bernard Émond, 2010). The third in Émond’s “faith, hope, and charity” trilogy (preceded by The Necessities of Life [Ce qu’il faut pour vivre] 2008 and Summit Circle [Contre toute espérance; a true translation would be “Against all hope” 2007]), The Legacy opens with an elderly practitioner dictating an advertisement for his replacement while he takes what he tells his secretary will be just a few weeks off. His eyes and mouth, and those of his longtime right-hand woman, speak volumes: their sadness, resignation and profound understanding are eloquent reminders of the power of the visual that made masters of such disparate artists as Chaplin and Dreyer. The silent tranquility of his office-home is palpable as the camera lingers on the faces just long enough; then, on the scene.
The film continues as an episodic, Marcus Welby-style day-in-the-life-of the doctor but without a scintilla of soap, documentarian in its brutal honesty yet always respectful of its characters, never slipping into insensitivity or stooping to exploitation. It changes focus when his replacement, an emergency-room physician from Montréal, finds herself attempting to temporarily fill the shoes of this beloved small-town healer of mind and body, who knew not only his patients’ every inch of innards and skin, but those of their parents and children.
The focus sharpens when the elderly physician dies, and Dr. Dion must decide whether her growing attachment to her patients and the town will enable or even impel her to give up her higher paying, high-stress hospital position — and sacrifice cherished and already scarce time with her family — for a job as a village GP. The breathtakingly panoramic shots of Ontario’s Abitibi Canyon, the camera panning across a seemingly endless blue sky streaked with feathery cirrus clouds over richly variegated but sparsely populated expanses of volcanic rock and red earth and a deeply forested landscape (the film is shot in 1.85:1), present the viewer with, depending on one’s point of view, either a strong reason for, or an equally strong one against, a lone woman making it her home.
Of course, home is where the heart is. And when you drive a moving van, helping people leave their homes or move into new ones, things — including hearts — can get broken. In Nicolás Pereda’s Perpetuum Mobile (Mexico/Canada/France, 2009), which screened at Cannes and won a Jury Prize at last year’s San Sebastian International Film Festival, the title is a wry, self-contradictory commentary on the characters: The “movers” are slackers par excellence who half-heartedly establish a moving company, mainly to get their now nagging, now indulgent mothers off their backs. Accordingly, rather than perpetual motion what we see is perpetual stasis and lethargy — shades of Jim Jarmusch and Richard Linklater — except on those rare occasions when they’re hired. And then the poor schlubs are run hither and yon by customers (not to mention girlfriends) who can’t make up their minds and mothers who demand a little help with the rent, or at least with the housework.
The film has some priceless scenes: Gabino’s girlfriend, who keeps complaining that she never sees him, finally gets him to spend some time with her. And? The two of them slouch at opposite ends of a loveseat: wordless, motionless, expressionless. The scene lasts so long, his eyes so exquisitely dull and hangdog, his mouth agape, it’s hard to decide whether to get your back up, or crack up. It’s not that the gal’s incapable of expressing her feelings. In fact, she can be wildly affectionate, once she gets her hands on ... their little black terrier, with whom she spends as much time as she spent sitting with Gabino. Perpetuum Mobile was seen last spring in the "Hola Mexico" series and can be seen this month at the National Gallery of Art.
Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s I Only Want You to Love Me
Ah, love. We find it in the strangest places. German wunderkind filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder, who died in 1982 at age 37 having completed in just 14 years an astonishing 45 feature and TV films, 37 screenplays and 14 plays and collaborating on dozens more, found it — as Truffaut before him — at the movies: “The cinema was the family life I never had at home.” In the television film I Only Want You to Love Me (Ich will doch nur, dass ihr mich liebt, West Germany, 1975-6), shown here for the first time in its newly restored version, the protagonist Peter is unable to find it at all, and in desperation decides to end it all — by killing someone else.
Called “undoubtedly one of the most personal works of its author,” this singular work in the Fassbinder canon is explored in Robert Fischer’s Of Love and Constraints: Speculations on Fassbinder’s “I Only Want You to Love Me” (Von der Liebe und den Zwängen: Mutmassungen über Fassbinders “Ich will doch nur, dass ihr mich liebt,” Germany, 2010), featuring interviews with the film’s stars, cinematographer (Fassbinder’s longtime cameraman Michael Ballhaus), sound man and producer, along with noted film and Fassbinder experts. “Even if [his] film is based on recorded conversations with a convicted murderer,” writes Fischer, “there is hardly another character in his work with whom the director so strongly identified as here, with the young construction worker Peter.”
The film was a very emotional piece for Fassbinder — “It begins with an Oedipus complex and ends with a patricide,” notes one — and he felt strongly about it. On the technical side, he liked 16mm for the flexibility it allowed him, says Ballhaus (the restoration was done in HDCam). And although he loved to experiment and was “the fastest filmmaker I know,” observes Elke Aberle, who played Peter’s wife, he was a meticulous craftsman.
Sometimes, though, he had help. Fassbinder, says Ballhaus, liked to find unusual settings, and sought out conditions that would not normally be thought to offer ideal locations: rain, wind, deserted areas, noisy places. Told that someone had remarked on the astonishing precision with which he placed a character on a subway platform so that a train window framed him as it came to a stop, Ballhaus says with a chuckle that the trains stop at specifically marked places along the platform, so it wasn’t all that hard to do.
Fassbinder felt a strong connection with the character of Peter, who finds that his attempts to please his mother, to show his love for her (picking flowers from the garden to make her a bouquet), are instead met with anger and severe punishment, and perhaps worst of all rejection, observes Ballhaus. For Fassbinder, notes another, love always led not to heaven, but to hell.
For the forty-four (credited) characters of Pawel Borowski’s Zero (Poland, 2009), which has been compared to both Paul Haggis’s Oscar-winning Crash (USA, 2004) and the Oscar-nominated Trainspotting (Danny Boyle, Scotland, 1996), love rarely enters the picture. And when it does the hell it leads to becomes part of a chain extending far beyond them — a chain that will circle around to link them in unforeseen, and occasionally deadly ways. “[This film’s] beginning is an end and its end is a beginning,” writes Borowski, who is also a commercial artist and a maker of commercials. Zero, nominated for Filmfest DC’s Capital Focus Award, is deliberately elliptical, its stories intriguingly, and at turns whimsically, humorously, tragically, and fatally — if not fatalistically — interconnected.
The film “rests upon the principle of how the camera follows the last person speaking,” continued the director in his commentary for Filmfest’s catalog. “As if it wanted to discover the fate of all the characters we meet along the way. But we only see fragments of their lives — only the fragments the camera allows us to see. The camera, in its relentless march forward, will pick out some of the characters we’ve already met as it continues to show another fragment in this story taking place over 24 hours.
“The good to which the characters give rise causes either further good or the reverse — evil. In this way evil causes either further evil or good. Nothing will be as it seems ... It is a film about love although no such word is spoken in the film. It is a film about that which exists beyond the film frame and beyond cinema.”
Salute to Howard Shore
Prescient words, and a perfect prelude to the final scene: Filmfest München’s salute to one of cinema’s most celebrated composers, whose music not only exists beyond the film frame, but will be heard at Wolf Trap, conducted by the composer himself, in less than two weeks.
Already the recipient of three Academy Awards (for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, 2001-3), four Grammys and three Golden Globes, Howard Shore came to Munich to receive the first award ever given by Bavaria’s public radio station, Bayerischer Rundfunk, for lifetime achievement in film music (see Music in film above). In recognition of this singular honor, Filmfest München screened two other films with which Shore has become identified, Ed Wood (Tim Burton, USA, 1994) and The Silence of the Lambs (Jonathan Demme, USA, 1991) and offered festgoers a wide-ranging Black Box interview in which Shore reflected on his career, his life, and the philosophy and principles that have guided him throughout.
Shore is Canadian, and has scored almost every one of the films of his compatriot, horror meister David Cronenberg; their association has been compared to that of Bernard Herrmann and Alfred Hitchcock. He is also a favorite of Martin Scorsese, for whom he has scored The Departed (2006), The Aviator (2004), and Gangs of New York (2002).
Given his Canadian roots, how did he become known as a Hollywood composer? Shore noted that he has composed music for films from all over the world, but many have been funded by Hollywood, so the appellation stuck. Shore was adamant that “Hollywood films” not be seen as a pejorative: “Hollywood also produces ‘art films,’ not just blockbusters.” For his own work, Shore particularly likes “the sound of the orchestra, the sound of the rooms in Hollywood,” where everything is larger than life.
For Big (Penny Marshall, USA 1988) he wanted to use the Fox Studios in L.A. for that “big Hollywood sound,” along with his own projectors and equipment. The combination was just what he wanted: “As soon as you played a note on that podium, it sounded like 20th Century Fox.” But by the time it was time for Aviator, Hollywood studios didn’t have that sound anymore. The studios that did have it were ... in Antwerp. So Shore took his equipment to Belgium, where he found the “more Euro-based sound” — recalling that Hollywood’s greatest composers of the thirties and forties were, by and large, European immigrants — in an old converted cinema.
In a similar turn of events, although he wanted to record the music for Ed Wood at Fox Studios in Hollywood, the sound stages had suffered severe damage during a recent earthquake. Fortunately he found what he needed at Shepperton Studios in England: a sound that closely approximated what Wood would have found at the time.
Shore began writing music as a child, he told us, and because he had no access to strings, focused on brass. By the late 1950s and early ‘60s he was “splicing and looping things,” but had no access to recording studios. David Cronenberg was a somewhat older kid in his neighborhood (17 to Shore’s 14) who drove a motorbike; the fact that he wore leather suits and made 8mm and 16mm films only enhanced his mystique. By 16, Shore had seen some of Cronenberg’s and Kenneth Anger’s works at the local cinema, and began thinking seriously about film.
It didn’t take long for the young Shore to turn thought into action. He and Cronenberg “learned from each other. We grew up making movies together.” Their first Hollywood feature The Fly (1986) was unusual for its use of symphonic, “even opera quality”sound in a sci-fi film. At the start of his career, Shore noted, there were no music supervisors or editors; they came along in the mid-‘80s. So he learned as he worked, and creativity plus dedication would eventually equal expertise, and at last, mastery.
And Shore has remained true to his roots: Even in the digital age, he does everything “on the page,” hand-writing every note, recording most of the scores with live musicians. Shore expressed some frustration that the music he writes for a film is never heard in its entirety but added: “You need to balance all the disciplines of the film. The sum will be greater than the parts.”
What about a Hollywood film like Lord of the Rings? Shore started conceptually — and musically — at a place that might not seem a natural fit for a tale set in ancient times, choosing “a mid-19th-century language.” To those who know Richard Wagner’s epic The Ring of the Nibelung, written between 1848 and 1874, whose connection to the Tolkien, written more than 60 years later, the author would never concede — “Both rings were round,” he was quoted as saying, “and there the resemblance ceased” — but whose similarities in both story and setting are undeniable, the use of music from that period was actually a perfect fit.
But was the music maybe ... too dark? “I can only react to what is on the screen, the emotions it evokes,” said Shore. “I’m reacting ... to what it is, the colors,” trying “to put them into a language that people can hear.” The work is “a step-by-step, very linear process.” And when it’s done, Shore insists on conducting it himself to retain “as much control as possible.”
Recalling Mrs. Doubtfire (Chris Columbus, 1993) Shore at first thought it was not his type of film — it is indeed unique in his film canon — but liked the story and thought he could do “something different.” (The score has been singled out for praise by several reviewers impressed and surprised by its heartwarming lightness: in short, for its dissimilarity to the scores and films for which Shore has become famous.)
What do you tell aspiring young film composers? “Find your director to work with,” replied Shore without missing a beat, someone who will let you “create your own music” that is at the same time “on the same wavelength” with the film: “It’s a balancing act.” Directors vary in their level of involvement; Scorsese is a “very active collaborator” in the scoring of his films, and one whose knowledge as a film historian is invaluable.
Asked which other film composers he admires, Shore immediately named Tôru Takemitsu — perhaps best known to U.S. audiences for his ASCAP Award-winning score for Philip Kaufman’s Rising Sun (1993) — singling out his “use of silence and minimal sound.” Which might seem on its face an inherently contradictory reason for admiring a musical score, but instead offers a window into Shore’s musical sophistication and cinematic savvy. (Nino Rota, of The Godfather films among many others, and Georges Delerue, celebrated collaborator of too many filmmakers to name with 347 credits on IMDb, also rank high on Shore’s list.)
Shore himself has refused to score many films because he “didn’t feel a connection,” a sine qua non for writing a successful score. Once he does, the writing seems to flow with remarkable facility: Until Lord of the Rings, Shore told us, he never did mock-ups for the director or the producer. Instead he would sit down at the piano as the film ran and play what he had in mind: “It had a live feel to it. Which is ideal for films, because they’re living, breathing, moving things.” When the director works with you as you see the film, Shore continued, “it’s kind of like storyboarding” — he sees things, and asks for music to illustrate them. As a result of this intense sort of collaboration, composing for films “is a very visual art to me now”: everything “is done in my head.”
Is there any director with whom you’ve never worked but would really like to? “Guillermo del Toro [perhaps best known for Pan’s Labyrinth 2006] really interests me. I hope to work with him someday.”
One last question: If you could choose one great film from the past that you would like to have written music for, which would it be? For once, Howard Shore had no answer. When your skills and talents run the gamut from Samwise Gamgee to Euphegenia Doubtfire to classic symphony, and the future is filled with scores of and for films yet to come while the present’s still celebrating your illustrious past (don’t forget: he’s coming to Wolf Trap September 10–11), there may be no room for “what if”s, but only: “What’s next?”
Photo from the Munich Film Festival website
For Filmfest München, asking “what’s next” is like imagining what will happen to Sam after he tells his family he’s back, goes in and closes the door. That Germany’s most relaxing, most film-lover-, filmmaker-friendly film festival will be back, we know. What we don’t know is what dynamic combination of everything film will greet us, in person and on screen, when it opens its doors along the strollable, watchable, cinema-filled “Isar Mile.”
Hope to see you there next year!
We Need to Hear From YOU
We are always looking for film-related material for the Storyboard. Our enthusiastic and well-traveled members have written about their trips to the Cannes Film Festival, London Film Festival, Venice Film Festival, Telluride Film Festival, Toronto Film Festival, Austin Film Festival, Edinburgh Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival, the Palm Springs Film Festival, the Reykjavik Film Festival, the Munich Film Festival, and the Locarno Film Festival. We also heard about what it's like being an extra in the movies. Have you gone to an interesting film festival? Have a favorite place to see movies that we aren't covering in the Calendar of Events? Seen a movie that blew you away? Read a film-related book? Gone to a film seminar? Interviewed a director? Taken notes at a Q&A? Read an article about something that didn't make our local news media? Send your contributions to Storyboard and share your stories with the membership. And we sincerely thank all our contributors for this issue of Storyboard.
Calendar of Events
FILMS For Home Viewing (Mikhail Zheleznikov, 2009) “An ordinary Soviet school, the Olympic Bear, the death of Brezhnev, Perestroika, long-awaited adulthood. The trees outside my window were once so small, and now I can hardly see anything through them.” Using a collection of school pictures, news footage, and 8mm home movies, Zheleznikov takes stock of growing up in the USSR. This poetic documentary has won a number of awards.
American Film Institute Silver Theater
The AFI's Latin American Film Festival runs from September 21 through October 13. Now in its 21st year, this festival features films from Latin America and includes films from Spain and Portugal. More than 30 films will be seen including award winners, international film festival favorites and debuts by promising new directors. See the AFI web site for a complete list of titles. Highlights include The Milk of Sorrow, Peru's Oscar pick, Southern District from Bolivia, winner of Best Director and Best Screenplay at Sundance and Walter Salles' newest film Linha de Passe.
Silverdocs presents "An Evening with Robert Drew," and a screening of his JFK trilogy Primary (1960), Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment (1963) and Faces of November (1964). Filmmaker Robert Drew with will present and will lead a discussion following the films.
In Letter to Elia, Martin Scorsese talks about the life and films of director Elia Kazan and its effect on his own life.
"Charlie Chaplin Classics" is a retrospective of several Chaplin feature films, all new 35mm prints! Films remaining in September include A Woman of Paris, A King in New York, Modern Times, The Kid, Gold Rush, and Monsieur Verdoux.
"Totally Awesome IV: More Films of the 80s" is a summer retrospective of 80s films running from July to early September. You can still see Desperately Seeking Susan, The Neverending Story, The Lost Boys and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.
Celebrate Akira Kurosawa's centennial year with a retrospective of films. Part II runs from July through early September. Just two films remain in September: The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail and Rhapsody in August.
"The Films of Francois Truffaut, Part II" continuing from July ends this month with just two final films: The Woman Next Door and Confidentially Yours.
Freer Gallery of Art
"Paris, Asia" is September's theme. On September 10 at 7:00pm is Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsiao-Hsien, 2007); on September 12 at 2:00pm is Night and Day (Hong Sang-Soo, 2008) both Paris-set films by Asian directors. On September 17 at 7:00pm is Late Spring (Yasujiro Ozu, 1949) and on September 19 at 2:00pm is 35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis, 2008), a Paris-set reinterpretation of Ozu's Late Spring.
To accompany the exhibit "Gods of Angkor" is a short series exploring Cambodian pop culture. On September 24 at 7:00pm is Sleepwalking through the Mekon (John Pirozzi, 2007) about Khmer rock band Dengue Fever's tour of Cambodia. Zac Holtzman and Senon Williams of Dengue Fever will be present for discussion. On September 26 at 2:00pm is "The Golden Age of Cambodian Cinema," a talk by Cambodian film specialist Davy Chou who will show rare clips from the 1960s and 1970s and discuss the history of Cambodian cinema.
National Gallery of Art
To accompany the Gallery's exhibit of drawings by Edvard Munch is a four-part series of films by Norwegian director Edith Carlmar: "Of Love and Loss." On September 4 at 2:00pm is Death is a Caress (1949); on September 11 at 2:00pm is The Wayward Girl (1959); on September 18 at 2:00pm is A Young Woman Missing (1953) preceded by a short film; and on September 25 at 2:00pm is Damage Shot (1951).
"GenMex: A New Generation of Cine Mexicano" looks at the work of eight Mexican filmmakers. On September 4 at 4:00pm is Perpetuum Mobile (Nicolas Pereda, 2009); on September 5 at 4:30pm is Norteado (Rigoberto Perezcano, 2009); on September 11 at 4:30pm is El Calambre (Matias Meyer, 2009); on September 12 at 4:30pm is El General (2008) with director Natalia Almada in person; on September 18 at 4:00pm is Alamar (Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio, 2010); on September 19 at 4:30pm is Lake Tahoe (Fernando Eimbcke, 2008); and on September 25 at 4:00pm is Presumed Guilty (Roberto Hernandez and Geoffrey Smith, 2008).
Art films in September include and updated version of the 1993 The Life and Times of Allen Ginsberg with an introduction by filmmaker Jerry Aronson on September 3 at 1:00pm and September 6 at 1:00pm and 3:30pm. On September 3 at 3:00pm is Charlie Haden-Rambling Boy (Reto Caduff, 2009); on September 5 at 2:00pm is Sounds and Silence (Peter Guyer and Norbert Wiedmer, 2009); on September 10 at 3:00pm is Return to Goree (Pierre-Yves Borgeaud).
"New Masters of European Cinema" presents Unspoken (2008) with director Fien Troch in person to lead a post-screening discussion on September 26 at 4:30pm.
National Museum of the American Indian
2501 Migrants: A Journey (Yolanda Cruz, 2009) is an hour-long documentary on Oaxacan artist Alejandro Santiago, and is shown daily September 15-October 15 at 12:30pm and 3:30pm.
Museum of American History
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the start of the Mexican Revolution is a day of films related to the revolution. On September 24 at 11:00am is Viva Villa (Jack Conway and Howard Hawks, 1934) with Wallace Beery as Pancho Villa; on September 24 at 1:00pm is The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969); and on September 24 at 3:00pm is Viva Zapata (Elia Kazan, 1952) with Marlon Brando as Emiliano Zapata.
Smithsonian American Art Museum
To accompany the Norman Rockwell exhibit two films are shown in September. On September 16 at 6:30pm is Empire of the Sun (Steven Spielberg, 1987) and on September 30 at 6:30pm is American Graffiti (George Lucas, 1974).
Washington Jewish Community Center
On September 27 at 7:00pm is Race to Nowhere (2010), a documentary about schools and the demanding pressures put on students. Filmmaker Vicki Abeles will be present for discussion.
A DVD release party for Yoo-Hoo Mrs. Goldberg is on September 14 at 8:00pm. Some bonus feature material from the DVD will be shown.
"Afro-Germans in Film" is a new series running from September 13-October 25. On September 13 at 6:30pm is Leroy (Armin Volkers, 2007); on September 20 at 6:30pm is Valley of the Innocent (Branwen Okpako, 2003); and on September 27 at 6:30pm is Toxi (Robert Stemmle, 1952). All will be introduced by professors of German at area universities.
National Geographic Society
The All Roads Film Project takes place September 28-October 3; its mission is to showcase film and photography from indigenous and underrepresented minority cultures around the globe. On September 28 at 7:00pm is Reel Injun (Neil Diamond, Catherine Bainbridge and Jeremiah Hayes, 2009) from Canada, a humorous look at 50 years of Hollywood's film stereotypes of American Indians. On September 29 at 7:00pm is For the Next 7 Generations (Carole Hart, 2009), a documentary about 13 indiginous grandmothers who formed an alliance to share their ways of peacemaking and wisdom. On September 29 at noon is Stolen Land (Margarita Martínez Escallon and Miguel Salazar, 2009) from Colombia shown with two short films: Kunjo (Terrie Samundra, 2010) from India, Savage (Lisa Elizabeth Jackson, 2009) from Canada. On September 30 at noon is I Am Happy (Soraya Umewaka, 2010) from Brazil shown with the short film Unreserved: The Work of Louis Gong (Tracy Rector, 2009). On September 30 at 7:00pm is Desert Flower (Sherry Horman, 2010) based on the best-selling novel by Waris Dirie of Somalia shown with the short film Oyan (Carlos Pérez Roja, 2009) from Iran. The festival continues in October: On October 1 at noon is And the River Flows On (Carlos Pérez Rojas, 2010), a documentary about a dam in Mexico shown with the short film The Farm (Romaine Moreton, 2008) from Australia). On October 1 at 7:00pm is Boy (Taika Waititi, 2009) from New Zealand, winner of numerous awards. On October 1 at 9:00pm is The Search (Pema Tseden, 2009) from Tibet. On October 2 at noon is cbqm (Dennis AZllen, 2009) from Canada shown with the short film Shining Spirit: The Musical Journey of Jamyang Yeshi. On October 2 at 4:30pm is Dear Lemon Lima (Suzi Yoonessi, 2009). On October 2 at 7:00pm is Samson & Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009) from Australia which was on the short list for Foreign Language Oscar. On October 3 at 1:00pm is Up Heartbreak Hill (Erica Sharf, 2010) shown with the short film Lifeless. On October 3 at 3:30pm is We Live By the River (Karin Williams, 2009) from Canada, shown with three short films The Forgotten Place, Tribal Journeys of the Pacific Northwest, and The Cave. On October 3 at 6:00pm is Shooting with Mursi (Ben Young and Olisarali Olibui, 2008) about the Mursi tribe living a traditional lifestyle in a remote area of Ethiopia, shown with three short films Stones, A'ynan and Cry Rock.
On September 8 at 7:00pm is My Father's Guests (Anne Le Ny, 2010), about a retired doctor who marries an illegal immigrant and its effect on his grown children.
Embassy of Russia
Four Russian filmmakers--Tatiana Kevorkova, Konstantin Smirov, Inna Volkova and Mikhail Zheleznikov--will have a special screening of their work at the Embassy of the Russian Federation (2650 Wisconsin Avenue, NW) on September 13 at 6:00pm. A conversation with the filmmakers will follow the screening. The opportunity to see this program of four short films is free and open to the public, but an RSVP is required to attend.
The films, all shown with English subtitles, are:
Spring (Tatiana Kevorkova, 2009) Polina is coming home from a date at the crack of dawn, trying not to wake up her mother as she sneaks into their tiny apartment. But she’s in for a surprise that will bring the entire family closer. An upbeat story about love, breaking stereotypes, and water trucks.
Kolyan (Konstantin Smirnov, 2010) Kolyan has a minimum-wage job and a sick mother, and every day is a struggle. Under the circumstances, falling under the sway of nationalism is all too easy, especially when you share this outlet of aggression with your friends, and it pays in cash. But sooner or later the political crosses over into the personal, and Kolyan realizes the impact of his actions only when it’s too late.
Seagulls (Irina Volkova, 2010) Two young newlyweds embark on a strange honeymoon. He has his head in the clouds, she’s got both feet firmly planted on the ground, and they’re already bickering. Their life is ordinary, their means limited, and the future holds little promise. But dreams can come true, just like in the movies. All it takes is a flight of the imagination.
To accompany the exhibit "Discovering the Civil War" is the film Alvarez Kelly (Edward Dmytryk, 1966), starring William Holden and based on a historical incident, on September 11 at noon.
For the 4th Annual Charles Guggenheim Tribute Program on September 30 at 7:00pm is a documentary From King to Congress about Andrew Young's campaign and election to the US Congress in 1972. The film was produced by Charles Guggenheim; special guests Diane Rehm and Andrew Young will be present for post-screening discussion. Another film produced by the Charles Guggenheim Center is For the Love of Liberty: The Story of America's Black Patriots (Frank Martin) on September 15 at 7:00pm. A panel discussion including the film's writer and director will follow the screening.
On September 8 at noon is a lecture "Frame Savers! Motion Picture Film Preservation at the National Archives" by Archives staff on the preservation of motion picture records.
In celebration of the 223rd anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution is the PBS docudrama Dolley Madison on September 17 at 2:30pm.
The Avalon's new series of Greek films on the first Wednesday of each month has become very popular. On September 1 at 8:00pm is Guinness (Alexis Kardaras, 2009), a comedy-action adventure.
For this month's "Czech Lions" series is the comedy Champions (Marek Najbrt, 2004) on September 8 at 8:00pm, winner of several Czech Lions awards and the FIPRESCI Prize.
The "French Cinematheque" film for September is Father of My Children (Mia Hansen-Love, 2009) on September 15 at 8:00pm, winner of Un Certain Regard prize at Cannes in 2009.
Italian Cultural Institute
On September 8 at 7:00pm is Luca Verdone's documentary Sergio Leone, about Leone's achievements and contributions to international cinema. RSVP required, see website.
Anacostia Community Museum
On September 4 at 10:30am is The Language You Cry In (Angel Serrano and Alvaro Toepke, 1998) is a documentary about the Gullah people of present-day Georgia and their link to 18th century Sierra Leone.
On September 19 at 2:00pm is Chávez Ravine, (Jordan Mechner, 2005), a short documentary about how a Mexican-American community in Los Angeles was displaced to make way for Dodger Stadium.
On September 10 and 11 at 7:30pm is The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, 2003) in HD with a live orchestra and soloists. Howard Shore won 14 awards for his original score, including an Oscar, a Grammy and a Golden Globe. See more about Howard Shore.
IMAX in 3-D: Bugs! and Cirque du Soleil’s Journey of Man
On September 16 at 7:00pm see two IMAX films: Bugs! (2003) and Journey of Man (2000). Representatives of Cirque du Soleil will answer questions.
Atlas Performing Arts
On September 2 at 8:00pm is Steel Magnolias (1989); on September 4 at 5:00pm is The Wiz (1978); and on September 4 at 8:00pm is Roman Holiday (1953).
The 21st Annual Latin American Film Festival
The AFI's Latin American Film Festival runs from September 21 through October 13. Now in its 21st year, this festival features films from Latin America and includes films from Spain and Portugal. More than 30 films will be seen including award winners, international film festival favorites and debuts by promising new directors. See the AFI web site for a complete list of titles. Highlights include The Milk of Sorrow, Peru's Oscar pick, Southern District from Bolivia, winner of Best Director and Best Screenplay at Sundance and Walter Salles' newest film Linha de Passe.
DC Shorts Film Festival
The DC Shorts Film Festival is back for a 7th year September 9-16. Nearly 100 films from 11 countries will be shown, all short (i.e. 20 minutes or less). Check out the website for information on tickets, passes, parties, seminars and more.
U Street Movie Series
Music is the theme of this outdoor film series. Films are shown at sunset at the Harrison Recreation Center, 1330 V Street, NW. On September 14 is Soul Power (Jeffrey Levy-Hinte, 2008).
Rosslyn Outdoor Film Festival
"I [Heart] the 90's" is the theme of this year's Rosslyn Outdoor Film Festival, running from late May through early September. The films are shown Fridays at dusk in Gateway Park at Lee Highway near Key Bridge. Bring blankets. On September 3 is Billy Madison (Tamra Davis, 1995). See the website for more information.
The 5th Annual Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention
This year's convention takes place September 23-25 at the Marriott Hotel, Hunt Valley, Maryland. Spend the weekend with classic movie and TV stars, old-time radio, old-time TV shows and movies. Some topics of the panels and presentations include "The History of the Lone Ranger," "The Screen Career of Harry Langdon," "I'll Take My Buster Keaton Rare, Please," and "Restoring Motion Pictures from Archival Prints." The movie room runs 24 hours a day and a number of rare films are scheduled. See the website for more information.
The Manhattan Short Film Festival
In September over 100,000 people in more than 200 cities across six continents will gather in cinemas, museums and cafes to view the 10 finalists of the Manhattan Short Film Festival and vote for their favorite short film.
The Kentlands Film Society in Gaithersburg is sponsoring the Manhattan Short Film Festival locally at Kentlands Stadium 10 Theater, 629 Center Point Way, Gaithersburg, MD 20878 on Sunday, September 26 at 7:00 PM. Tickets at the door are $7.00. The program lasts for approximately two hours. This is the only venue currently planned in the DC metro area or in Maryland.
This year’s 10 finalists come from Australia, Canada, Croatia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Poland, and the United Kingdom. They range in time from 4 to 15 minutes.
See the website for more information.
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