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Urban Feel: The Berlin Film Festival
Says Goodbye to the Old West
on its Way to a New Home
Posted 12 February 1999
Scheduled to reassume the mantle of German capital in the fall of
this year, Berlin has been undergoing increasingly accelerated changes since the tumbling
of the wall a decade ago. This transformation is best seen on a grand scale on the
Potsdamer Platz, just adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate; Berlins busiest pre-war
square, it was bisected when the city was divided into east and west in 1961 but will now
house not only the government, but the 50th edition of the venerated Berlin
International Film Festival, scheduled for February of 2000.
For its 49th and final event in the former round-the-clock heart of the old
West Berlin, nestled between the Zoo train station (of recent U2 fame) and the sprawling
zoo itself, the Berlinale staff, which oversees the seven separate and distinct sections
of the festival, has announced a program that at once celebrates contemporary European
cinema and continues the wooing of high-profile Hollywood product that began in earnest
only a few years ago. Within the Competition, Panorama, Forum of New Cinema, Market,
Retrospective, Childrens Film Festival and New German Films sections, selections
stick closely to these themes without excluding quality films from around the world. How
many movies are shown in Berlin? The generally acknowledged second-largest film festival
in the world (behind Cannes) no longer even hazards an official guess, although estimates
vary between 600 and 700 titles unspooling in dozens of theaters and screening rooms
throughout the city.
Acknowledging a bias towards German films in general and Berlin/Brandenburg production
in particular, a local-themed title has been selected for opening night: first-time
director Max Farberbocks Aimee and Jaguar tells the real-life story of the
title women, lovers in Berlin during World War II. Other new German films in the
Competition include Potsdam-based director Andreas Dresens Nightshapes, the
new movie from Beyond Silence director Caroline Link (Punktchen and Anton,
an updating of the classic German childrens book by Erich Kastner), Wim
Wenders new documentary on musician Ry Cooder and his new Cuban band Buena Vista
The French are represented in the Competition by two grand masters of the cinema,
Bertrand Tavernier (It All Starts Here) and Claude Chabrol (The Color of Lies),
as well as young French filmmaker Thomas Vincents immigrant-themed feature Karnaval.
Other European films vying for the Berlin Bear awards include Oscar-winning Spanish
director Fernando Truebas The Girl of Your Dreams (set in late 1930s Berlin),
fellow countryman Manuel Gomez Pereiras Between Your Legs, and Portuguese
filmmaker Manuela Viegas debut work Gloria (not to be confused with the
recent Sharon Stone remake of John Cassavetes 1980 drama).
From Denmark comes Soren Kragh-Jacobsens Mifunes Last Chant, a new
film from the Lars Von Trier and Thomas Vinterberg (The Celebration) collective
Dogma 95. The Swiss are represented by Francis Reussers War in the Highlands,
while a rare high-profile Turkish film, Yesmin Ustaoglus Journey to the
Sun, will have its premiere.
Moving east, Russia is represented by The Family, which was co-directed
by Rustam Ibragimbekov and Ramiz Hassanoglu, and Aleksandr Rogoschkins new movie Checkpoint.
Kazakhstan offers Serik Aprymovs Aksuat, Poland has entered Jan Jakub
Kolskis semi-autobiographical The History of Cinema in Popielawach, Romania
presents Gabor Tompas Chinese Defense and even Bulgaria is back in the
act with Ivan Nitchevs After the End of the World. The British film Simon
Magus, directed by first-time helmer Ben Hopkins, features Sir Ian Holm, Embeth
Davidtz and Rutger Hauer in an Eastern European village setting. Nikita Mikhalkovs
new Julia Ormond-starrer The Barber of Siberia was strongly rumored to be in the
Competition program but doesnt appear on the festivals official website roster
Asia will be well represented, beginning with established Hong Kong filmmaker Ann
Huis Ordinary Heroes and continuing with Naked Law from Yoshimitsu
Morita (director of The Family Game). Other Competition entries include Israeli
actor Jonathan Sagalls Urban Feel, the Canadian films eXistenZ from
David Cronenberg and Lea Pools Set Me Free.
And then, of course, theres Hollywood. In addition to Robert Altmans
Sundance opening night feature Cookies Fortune and Tony Buis Three
Seasons (the grand prize winner there), English-language movies vying for awards
include Terrence Malicks The Thin Red Line, John Maddens Shakespeare
in Love, Willard Carrolls Playing By Heart and Stephen Frears The
Hi-Lo Country. Hotly-anticipated world premieres include Alan Rudolphs
adaptation of Kurt Vonneguts Breakfast of Champions (starring Bruce Willis and Nick
Nolte) and Joel Schumachers Eight Millimeter (with Nicholas Cage). Appearing
out of competition are Carl Franklins One True Thing and Robert
Rodriguez The Faculty. Again, there is a last-minute no-show, Robert
Iscoves Shes All That.
These newer films will be supplemented by two out of competition screenings in tribute
to this years retrospective honorees, Shirley MacLaine and Otto Preminger. The
former is scheduled to appear at a public screening of Hal Ashbys Being There,
while the latters rarely-seen 70mm print of Porgy and Bess will unspool at
what is presumed to be the final Berlin festival Competition screening at the venerable
Zoo Palast theater.
The International Jury of the Competition entries, chaired by Spanish actress Angela
Molina, includes Dutch actor Jeroen Krabbe (The Fugitive), Malaysian-born Hong Kong
action star Michelle Yeoh (Jackie Chans Police Story II, the Bond entry Tomorrow
Never Dies), British set designer Ken Adam (who created the war room in Stanley
Kubricks Dr. Strangelove), German director Katja von Garnier (Bandits)
and four other international figures with connections to film.
Announcing a major theme that cuts across each of the principal sections, the festival
will present "Documents Against Forgetting," an assemblage of films
"dedicated to the Holocaust, racism and discrimination." Non-competing
Competition entries that fit under this heading include James Molls The Last Days,
the Steven Spielberg-produced documentary from his Shoah Foundation about five Hungarian
Jews before, during and after World War II (both Spielberg and Moll are scheduled to
attend). Composed of recently-rediscovered video shot by Leo Hurwitz at the 1961 trial of
Adolf Eichmann, the Hebrew- and German-language The Specialist paints a chilling
portrait of Hitlers efficiency expert and the man responsible for the logistics of
the Holocaust (the material was assembled and edited by Eyal Sivan, a French-based Israeli
Panorama titles to watch for include Little Voice and Still Crazy (both
in U.S. release), Mike Figgis new film The Loss of Sexual Innocence, the
documentary Nina Hagen: Punk & Glory and actor Tim Roths directorial
debut, The War Zone.
Forum entries of note include Bennett Millers The Cruise, Michael
Almereydas The Trance, Fruit Chans The Longest Summer and the
world premiere of Aki Kaurismakis Juha -- which is rumored to be a silent
Gary Winicks The Tic Code, featuring Gregory Hines, is the American
standout of the Childrens Festival sidebar.
The current strength of the domestic cinema is represented in Heinz Badewitz New
German Cinema program, which this year features Tom Tykwers Run, Lola, Run
(screened at Sundance and to be released by Sony Classics later this year), Doris
Dorries magnificent Am I Beautiful?, Jan Schuttes Fat World and
Dani Levys The Giraffe.
The 49th Berlin International Film Festival runs from February 10 to the 22nd,
and you can find periodic updates on Nitrate Online throughout the fortnight as well as a
roundup of festival awards and film reviews to be posted towards the end of the month.
Both an end and a beginning, the 1999 Berlin festival promises both joy and tears -- as
well as an accurate barometer of world filmmaking now.
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