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Posts Tagged ‘Berlinale’

Kino Zoo Palast, Berlin

Posted by keith1942 on March 28, 2019

online photograph – berlin-gaycities-com

This cinema is sited between the Zoologischer Garten Berlin, the Berlin Zoologischer Garten Station and close to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church at the top of the Kurfürstendamm. There is an U-Bahn station opposite, the S-Bahn serves the nearby Garten and a number of the excellent Berlin bus services pass by.

One of the main venues for the Berlinale, during the rest of the year this multi-screen runs as a mainly mainstream venue. It was built in 1957 and then it was distinctive in having two auditorium. The opening in 1957 was graced by Liselotte Pulver. One of her memorable performances seen outside Germany was as Elizabeth Kruse Graeber in A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1957) and she had a standout sequence in One, Two, Three (1961) as secretary Fräulein Ingeborg, entertaining East German officials whilst James Cagney’s C.R. MacNamara demonstrated the superiority of Machiavellian capitalism.

The cinema was extensively rebuilt in 2010 as part of a larger project in the area. The redesign was careful to prese4ve many of the features of the original and the impressive façade was restored as were parts of the entrance and the existing auditorium.

Now the cinema offers five auditorium and it includes the facility for both digital and ‘reel’ film. The exterior is eye catching with coloured lights playing over the façade. The night I went some celebrities appeared to be leaving after a screening and the small plaza outside was packed with onlookers.

Room 1 is the main auditorium and seats 780 people. It has 70mm projection, [installed in 2018], 4K digital projection with 3D and Atmos sound. The screen is 21 metres by 8.8 metres, There is wood panelling with red velvet.

the oval ceiling with light vaults, which looks like a starry sky through dot lights. With new LED lighting, you can set a wide variety of lighting moods in the hall. This opportunity is exhausted in the great new pre-show before every film, which is likely to be unique in Germany so far. Not only are there three curtains (a red, a yellow and a cloud curtain) but also a fourth curtain of water spraying from the ceiling!”

The manager I spoke to stated that they now have five 70mm screenings a year. These all seem to be, like the general programme, mainstream releases. Recently they have had The Hateful Eight and Dunkirk. They have not screened Roma [4K digital] so far; it seems it is not considered mainstream, but the Oscars may change that.

Room 2 was the original auditorium for 70mm and it also has 2K digital projection with 3D and Dolby 7.1.. The screen is 14.8 by 6.2 metres and the auditorium seats 270. The reel projector here [and in room 1] is a Philips DP75 which can also screen from 35mm prints. This was the auditorium I visited and it has a similar décor to room 1 but predominantly pink. The semi-circular auditorium has good seating and viewing. The proscenium has rich tapestries and has proper masking.

This auditorium, along with rooms 3 and 4 has it own entrance lounge. Room 3 seats 150 with 2K digital and Dolby 7.1,with a 11.8 by 5.8 metre screen. Room 4 seats 160 with 2K digital and 3D with Dolby 7.1 and a 14 by 5.9 screen. Room 5, tucked away at the back, seats 150 with 2k digital and Dolby 7.1 sound with a screen 12.1 by 5.1 metres.

There is a smalls screening area in the ‘blubkino’ bar and there are two other facilities offering coffees etc. and some meals. I thought this a really attractive venue. The cinemas were comfortable, the projection [[digital] and sound was fine and the presentation well done.

Cineastes should definitely put this venue on their list to visit and enjoy in Berlin.

I saw a Chinese film, Ye (The Night, 2014), part of the Panorama 40 programme. This was ‘cinema with a long-term memory’, celebrating 40 years at the Berlinale of the Panorama section. Dedicated to ‘convention-busting’ films, 2019 was revisiting of some of the titles from the earlier years.

The Night dealt with the ‘Lives of male and female prostitutes in China’ and was written, directed and stared Hao Zhou. This was a student film shot mainly on location in colour and black and white. The three main protagonists were played by Hao Zhou, Xiao Xiao Liu, Jin Kang Li. They are variously a male prostitute, a female prostitute and a tyro. The setting for the various sequences in the film is always a lit stairway in a red light area. Zhou character is a narcissistic pro and the other two circle round him like moths round a flame. The film is well done and has particular edgy camerawork. The sound track uses Chinese songs whose lyrics comment on the characters. But the constant revisiting of the same location and variation on a ménage a trois becomes repetitive. I found the 95 minutes over indulgent and the final resolution predictable.

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Die Bleierne Zeit (The German Sisters, Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1981)

Posted by keith1942 on March 16, 2019

This was another title in the Berlinale retrospective and the audience were fortunate in that the director, Margarethe von Trotta, was there to introduce her film. She first talked about the title of the film which was variously translated and changed during its international release; (there seem to be at least six variants). The German title is a quotation from a famous poem;

Trūb ists heut, es schlummern die Gäng’ und die Gassen und fast will

Mir es scheinen, es sei, als in der bleiernen Zeit

(Gloomy it is today, sleepy are the pathways and lanes and it seems as almost, we are, in the leaden times.) (Friedrich Hölderlin) (Translation Jane Buekett).

The last three words provide the title and a metaphor for the 1950s, a crucial decade for the story and the characters; and for von Trotta herself.

Von Trotta went on to recount how in 1977 she was with fellow film-makers who were working on a portmanteau film addressing in various ways the actions and the current trial of the Red Army Faction [often called the Baader-Meinhof Gang]; Germany in Autumn (Deutschland im Herbst, 1978). Von Trotta was not actually filming and she had a number of long conversations with Christina Ensslin, the sister of a member of RAF Gudrun Ensslin. This inspired her to start work on a screenplay, later this film, which studied the lives and relationships of two sisters. Von Trotta also remarked that the story was influenced by the Sophocles play Antigone, where Antigone is a rebel whilst her sister Iamene is more dutiful. However, in this story, the roles change as the narrative develops.

“The younger, Marianne, has joined the ‘armed resistance’ in West Germany and disappeared into the political underground. Juliane is an editor at a feminist magazine and is judgemental of her sister’s radicalism.” (Retrospective Brochure).

But the film develops far more complexity than is suggested in these bald sentences. Marianne is another brilliant and convincing performance from von Trotta’s regular collaborator Barbara Sukowa. Juliane, an equally good performance, though a more restrained character, is played by Jutta Lampe. We also meet their partners though the male characters pale alongside these powerful women. The exception is Jan, Marianne’s son by a failed marriage.

Early in the film we get a sense of the radically different lives and relationships of the sisters. There is a brief glimpse of the ‘armed resistance’ training with Palestinian fighters in North Africa. The film moves into it most intense mode when Marianne is captured and imprisoned. Juliane visits her regularly and we witness the emotional and sometimes overcharge relationship. We also see, in flashbacks, the earlier life of the two women, including a very strict religious upbringing in the 1950s. The ‘leaden’ 1950s and its silences on German history were a frequent target of attack for the New German Cinema.

It is in the latter stages that Jan becomes an important character. It is also the stage where Juliane has to confront her sister’s death and her suspicions, (widely shared at the time with regard to the deaths of RAF members) of her secret murder by the West German State.

This is an undoubted classic of the New German Cinema. It won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The central performances are memorable, but the film is carefully constructed as well. There is fine cinematography from Franz Rath. This covers the modern apartment and more traditional family house which contrast with the grim and stark prison interiors. And exteriors range from a wintry wood to sun-baked Africa and then to the forbidding walls of the prisons. The settings and costumes, by Georg von Kieserite and Minka Hasse respectively, are excellent. The sound is fine and at times very atmospheric. And all of this is edited into a complex tapestry between past and present by Dagmar Hirtz. The now veteran composer Nicolas Economou, (recently working with Koreeda Hirokazu) produces an effective score, at times minimal, occasionally more forceful.

The film has been restored and was screened from a DCP. It seemed from memory a reasonable transfer and it was a pleasure to see this again in a cinema after a wait of many years.

It is one of the films directed by Margarethe von Trotta in the Independent Cinema Office retrospective programme. This is titled ‘The Personal is Political’. This is partly accurate as von Trotta, as in other films, is concerned to bring out how personal relationships feed into political issues. But it is also true that in this film, as in most of her other films, the political both determines and limits the personal. This indeed is where the film leaves us with a stark and complex scene that speaks volumes about the sisters and the future of Juliane and Jan.

The film runs 106 minutes in colour and with English sub-titles. The latter on this digital version are reasonable but in the traditional white-on-background; so occasionally, in lighter scenes, you have to focus carefully. A small challenge to what is, for me, probably the finest film made by Margarethe von Trotta. And she has turned out a number of really fine film including Rosa Luxembourg (1986, featuring Barbara Sukowa].

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Ung Flukt (The Wayward Girl, Norway 1959)

Posted by keith1942 on March 7, 2019

This was a title in the Berlinale Classics programme. It fitted in to a theme that was central to the Retrospective and to the Film Festival overall, women’s film-making. This was the tenth feature directed by Edith Carlman. Edith Carlman was a dancer and actress who moved into cinema. In 1949, she and her husband Otto Carlman, set up a film production company, Carlman Film A/S. This title was her final film;

“The illegitimating daughter of a single working mother 17-year-old Gerd (Liv Ullman, aged 20 in her first leading role) has fallen into delinquency. After she spends a brief stint in police custody, Gerd’s boyfriend, a student, ( Anders – Atle Merton), disobeys his parents and take her away to the country to protect her from bad influences.” (Retrospective Brochure).

The film opens with a two-shot of Anders and Gerd in a car travelling along a wooded road. We then watch two flashbacks, one first by Anders and then one by Gird. This fills in the background to the young couple’s journey. Anders parents seem middle class and clearly disapprove of his girlfriend Gerd; the mother has particular worries, the father is slightly more tolerant. Anders himself worries about Gerd and one night follows her when she is out and is arrested by police near the docks. In Gerd’s flashback we learn that she has been promiscuous and that on this occasion she has been with two older men on a moored ship. When Gerd is released Anders takes his father’s car, [without permission] and drives with Gerd into the country. He is aiming for an old partly ruined cabin in wooded hills which he has found on country outings with his father.

Anders is experienced in country walking and properly equipped; Gerd is inexperienced and dressed inappropriately, heeled shoes for one. Anders does not seem to have given any thought to this. The couple park the car and hike up into the hills. This is some way and they have to sleep out in the open. Next day they arrive at the old cabin. It is some state of disrepair as is a nearby barn, but the couple soon make themselves at home. Now there is one of those rural idylls found in Scandinavian cinema. They walk in the open, enjoy the sunshine and nude bathing. Whilst not explicit it seems clear that the couple are sleeping together and having sex.

Anders has bought limited supplies. After a few days they illicitly dig up potatoes from a field lower in the woods. This minor offence is followed by a major one when they kill a sheep from the flock grazing in the open.

This is followed by the arrival of an older man Bendik (Rolf Søder), a hunter carrying a rifle. Bendik seems almost to have been called forth by the crime of killing a sheep. He is experienced in wood craft, skinning the freshly killed sheep. He is also uninhibited by any moral code, involving the young couple into a break-in in a store at the village lower down. He is also taken with Gerd, who seems to reciprocate. These various dramatic strands including Anders jealousy, the investigation of the theft and the concerns of the parents back in Oslo come together in a climax.

The plot includes a number of conventional elements. As a ‘youth exploitation’ film it offers pop music, sex, and generational conflict. But it has unusual sexual frankness, and as the Brochure notes,

“Unlike American [USA) teen films about juvenile delinquents, Edith Calmar’s tenth feature is sympathetic to the plight of an adolescent who is as vivacious as she is fragile.”

In fact the film is generally sympathetic to all the conflicted characters. The parents emerge as more caring, even Anders’ mother, than they appear at first glance. Bendik, who is actually a wanted criminal, is less exploitative and more helpful that he first seems. Even the authorities are not completely judgemental on the couple.

The disruption of the youth idyll by the arrival of an older and more knowledgeable man is also conventional. But the film’s sympathetic treatment ensures that the plot does not just follow a predictable course, though the film does manage a positive resolution to the drama.

The film involves contrasts between the city and the countryside. The city is fairly conventional in the representation. The home of Anders and his parents is conventionally and comfortably middle class. Gerd’s home is the opposite, lacking in comfort and any sense of stability. Gerd has a bunk bed in an alcove rather than her own room. Her bed is overlooked by a number of pin-ups. These include Louis Jourdan and [more notable] Brigitte Bardot. The scenes at the dock are darker and the sequence where Gerd dances for two men in a cabin has a definite transgressive quality.

Contrast is also created between present and past. The flashbacks, starting right at the opening of the film, are very important. We learn first about Anders and only later about Gerd’s backstory. And it is much later in the film that flashbacks fill our the viewpoint of the parents and in Gerd’s case of a sympathetic social worker.

The film is very effective. The cinematography by Sverre Bergli emphasises this contrast and, as in common in Scandinavian films, provides excellent location filming with a strong sense of nature.

“escape into a utopia of a Scandinavian summer”.

The film editing is fairly conventional for the period but the criss-cross between present and past works extremely well. The settings, both of locations and in a studio, are convincing. The film uses a fairly typical sound track, including at some points actual popular music.

The director, Edith Calmar, controls this in a effective manner. We had an introduction before the film and the point was made that her early films tended to be ‘dark realist dramas’. There followed a series of social comedies but this film returned to the social problem context. Whilst the film is predominantly conventional and generic the touches of sympathy and characterisations give it a distinctive feel.

The cast serve the story well. Atle Merton as Anders and Rolf Søder as Bendik are completely convincing. Liv Ullman’s Gerd is the central character. In her first leading role she catches the wilful but often spontaneous misbehaviour with conviction. The visual treatment of her character at time mirrors the representation found in Bardot’s films; which presumably is deliberate. The Brochure quotes one critic who was less enamoured with this approach;

“Her face is lively and expressive, and she has sex. It is quite superfluous for Edith Calmar to put so much emphasis on her breasts and thighs. She has more subtle and significant means at her disposal.” (Leif Borthen in an Oslo Daily ‘Verdens Gang’.)

The film was scripted by Otto Calmar and adapted from a novel by Nils Johan Rud, ‘Ettersøkte er 18 år’ (1958); literally ‘Wanted is 18 Years’; the film’s alternative title is ‘Young Escape’. Rud wrote novels, short stories and children’s books and also edited a magazine. The novel presumably picked up on the new ‘youth culture’ and social apprehensions around this. It is interesting to wonder if the novel had the same sympathetic treatment.

The film was restored by the National Library of Norway, Oslo in 2018. The main source was the original negative scanned at 4k into a 4K DCP, with the soundtrack digitally restored. So we had a good quality screening to enjoy. This is the first film directed by Edith Calmar that I have seen. I look forward to seeing more, especially the early films.

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Kino International, Berlin

Posted by keith1942 on March 1, 2019

This prestige cinema is sited seven minutes from Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. It was at one time the premier cinema of the Deutsche Demokratische Republik. In 1958 one of the pioneer urban planning and construction projects was started along the Karl – Marx – Allee. The International was a part of a number of buildings placed around the Schillingstraße U-Bahn station. The cinema opened in 1963 as the prime site of DEFA [Deutsche Film-Aktiengesellschaft]. The occasion presented the screening of Optimistic Tragedy (Optimisticheskaya tragediya, USSR 1963). This film was set during the 1917 revolution and its lead character was a female commissar; a handy choice given that DEFA already had more female directors than the industry in the Bundesrepublik Deutschland.

As a prestige project the International was graced with special care and style on both its exterior and interior. As well as an impressive glass frontage the building had a series of sculptures specially designed to illustrate scenes from ‘everyday socialist life’.

Entry to the cinema is through a ground floor vestibule with stairs leading to spacious and stylish lounges and bars. The entrance to the auditorium is through large and high wood panelled doors. The actual auditorium, which seats 551, has a gentle incline down to the proscenium. There is a large central block of seats and separate blocks on the left and right. The large screen, 17 metres by 9.2 metres, is behind two sets of drapes. Standard blue and when these part they reveal pail-studded white curtains; I assume the latter are the originals.

The projection box at the rear of the auditorium has 35mm, 70mm and 4K digital projection with Dolby Digital sound. Unfortunately there were not any 70mm screenings during my stay. A friend told me that the favoured seat of one-time leader Erik Honecker has a little plaque. In a crowded auditorium I was unable to check.

It is a splendid venue in which to watch a film. On this occasion we had a new release in the Berlinale Out of Competition, The Operative (Germany, Israel, USA, ). This title did not match its setting but the production values were good so I did get sense of the quality of the digital projection and sound system.

This is a recommended call on any trip to Berlin. There is the Schillingstraße or the Alexanderplatz, both on the excellent U-Bahn and the latter also enjoys the city bus services. I am sure the great prophet would be happy to have his street graced by this temple to an art form that hopefully will survive until the point at which socialism replaces capitalism.

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Women filmmakers at the 2019 Berlinale

Posted by keith1942 on February 6, 2019

The Berlinale, Berlin’s International Film Festival, opens this coming Thursday, February 7th. The Festival is a vast terrain with a wide selection of contemporary films from all over world cinema. The key films are often landmark titles and the Festival Awards are rightly prized trophies. But the Festival also offers opportunities to visit fascinating aspects of cinema history. The Retrospectives, organised by the Deutsche Kinematic, are singular filmic events. Last year we enjoyed a return to Weimar Cinema in an impressive and rewarding programme. And the presentations, of film in both celluloid and digital formats, were also really well done. And the silent titles enjoyed live and skilful musical accompaniments.

This year the Retrospective moves forward three decades to celebrate the contributions of women film-makers to German cinema.

“The Retrospective of the 69th Berlin International Film Festival takes as its subject women film-makers between 1968 and 1999. The programme encompasses 26 narrative and documentary features from the former East and West Germany, as well as German films after re-unification in 1990. In addition, the Retrospective will show some 20 shorter films on their own, or as lead-ins to the features. What the film-makers and their protagonists have in common is an interest in exploring their own environment, and the search for their own cinematic idiom.

In West Germany, this development was embedded in the 1968 student movement, and closely linked to the new women’s movement and the New German Cinema wave. In East Germany, by contrast, all films were made within the state-controlled studio system. That studio, DEFA, gave a few women a chance to direct as early as the 1950s, however they were mainly assigned to children’s films. Towards the end of the 1960s, everyday life in the socialist country became the focus of East Germany’s women directors. “

The length of the period covered means that this is likely to be a series of snapshots. One of the best known directors, Margarethe von Trotta, has only a single title, The German Sisters / Die bleierne Zeit (1981). This I though a welcome presentations, a film that I have not seen for a considerable period [though it currently has a limited release in Britain courtesy of the ICO) but which I remember finding powerful and stimulating.

Other well known film-makers are also featured.

“Helma Sanders-Brahms – Her early films engage critically with the themes of labour, migration, and the situation of women in West Germany. Under the Pavement Lies the Strand / Unter dem Pflaster ist der Strand (1975, Federal Republic of Germany / Bundesrepublik Deutschland) was a central film for the German women’s movement and for the student movement, as well as for the director’s own emergence as an explicitly feminist film-maker.” (Wikipedia)

But, for me, the bulk of the titles, are unknown and promise to offer an exciting exploration of German film. There has always been a limited selection of German films circulating in Britain, but in recent years hardly any cross over the channel or the territories barriers.

There will be films from four women film-makers working in the German Democratic Republic / Deutsche Demokratische Republik. I have seen only a small proportion of the films produced in the GDR. And I cannot recollect seeing a film directed by a woman. So this will fill an unfortunate gap in my film knowledge.

And there are other titles from the FGR or contemporary Germany. From the FGR in 1984,

The Image of Dorian Gray in the Yellow Press / Dorian Gray im Spiegel der Boulevardpresse.

Our organization will create a human being whom we can shape and manipulate according to our needs. Dorian Gray: young, rich and handsome. We will make him, seduce him and break him.

Director and writer: Ulrike Ottinge.” (Details on IMDB).

As well as the features and documentaries there are a number of short film, more also from the GDR. And there is animation work. So it promises to be great cinematic week.

Added to this are the regular Berlinale Classics. There are six titles, five of which I welcome seeing again and one, for me, completely new; Ung flukt (The Wayward Girl), dir: Edith Carlmar, Norway 1959. They are all digital restorations. Certainly the digital versions I saw last year were all of good quality. Moreover, several of these are in 4K versions, a quality rarely seen in Britain.

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Tokyo Twilight (Tokyo Boshoku, 1957)

Posted by keith1942 on March 20, 2018

This title, directed by Ozu Yasujiro, was screened in this year’s Berlinale Classics. The film is in Ozu’s standard academy ratio and black and white. This was the premiere of a restored version screened from a 4K DCP. It is in a number of ways typical of late Ozu; the regular low angle camera; the deep focus and staging; the focus on props within the frame; the insertion of what are called ‘pillow shots’, brief sequences that are not obviously part of the developing plot; and the ‘lounge music’ which sounds non-Japanese in this most Japanese of directors.

But the plot was unusual for Ozu, involving marital discord, an extra-marital affair (safely in the past) and a troubled young woman who is pregnant and has to consider abortion. Yet this plot is made partly typical with Ryu Chishu as a single-parent father Sugiyama Shukichi and a manager in a bank with Hara Setsuko as Numata Takako, the dutiful daughter, though again, unusually, she is married and has a baby daughter. Takako has returned home to seek refuge from her husband Numata Yasuo (Shin Kinzo) who drinks and is frequently violent. Akiko (Arima Imeko) is the youngest daughter. She is described as ‘wild’ by other characters. During the film she spends much time seeking out her current boyfriend, Kenji (Taura Masami); and a regular haunt is a mah-jongg parlour, where people play and gamble. It is Akiko’s plight and the reappearance of her long-lost mother, Soma Kikuko (Yamada Isuzu), that provides the dramatic focus of the narrative.

The Brochure offered:

“This largely-unknown work is considered Ozu’s darkest post-war film . . . ”

Wim Wenders gave an introduction to the film; his comments were given in German but I noticed that he used the term ‘noir’ at one point. And shadows and low-key lighting feature in many scenes.

One theme in the film is late 1950s Japanese youth, seen here as breaking with the mores of the older generation. This is a thematic that is found in the films of Oshima Nagisa but it is unusual for Ozu. The use of low-class and unseemly settings would be more typical of Naruse Mikio, but this version is replete with the resignation that typifies Ozu. It seems that Ozu and his long-time collaborator Noda Kogo were responding to the new youth films then appearing in Japan. But the story is atypical of their work and is fairly melodramatic. Apparently it was the least successful of Ozu’s title in this period. The central plight of Akiko is some way from the situations that suit Ozu’s reflective style.

In terms of values the film is dominated by Shukichi. The final scene focuses on him and Takako. At this point she has decided to return to her husband with their daughter, prompted by the fate of Akiko and stressing that a child needs ‘both parents’. Kikuko meanwhile has left Tokyo and we see her on the departing train vainly hoping that Takako will come to see her off. Together these scenes put the blame on the mother as indeed does Takako at one point. But since we only hear brief details of the marital breakdown and not from her point of view I found this problematic. Shukichi’s treatment of Akiko is cold and distant and it would seem likely that this is also a factor. Akiko appears to be trapped in a home that espouses traditional values, in opposition to the young values that she holds. I think Naruse would have offered a more sympathetic treatment of the mother and a stronger grasp of the lower class milieu.

Ozu works here with regular collaborators including the joint script-writer Noda Kogo. Atsuta Yoharu provides the cinematography which is finely done. The film is as absorbing as Ozu’s other late films. However, I did think that the structure was not quite as finely tuned. There is a scene in the mah-jongg parlour where the players discuss Akiko. The scene is clearly designed to inform the audience of aspects of her situation that are hinted at rather than made explicit. However, by this stage these seemed to me fairly obvious and I found the scene redundant: an unusual feeling in a film by Ozu.

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