Friday, December 19, 2008

Berlin & Beyond 2009 Line-up

The 14th edition of Berlin & Beyond (B&B) , the Bay Area's annual week-long festival of new films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland, will take place at the Castro Theater from January 15 to 21. I walked into Tuesday morning's press conference hoping to find three particular films in the line-up – Christian Petzold's Jerichow, Götz Spielmann's Revanche and Uli Edel's The Baader Meinhof Complex. I'm happy to say that two of my three wishes came true.

The one that didn't,
The Baader Meinhof Complex, seemed like such an obvious choice for this year's B&B. It's Germany's 2008 Oscar submission and was just nominated for a Golden Globe as Best Foreign Language Film. Festival Director Ingrid Eggers explained that B&B tried hard to secure the film, but regrettably couldn't make it happen. The movie depicts the 1960s/1970s German terrorist group RAF (Red Army Faction), and Eggers assures us it will arrive in the Bay Area later this year.

Nonetheless, there's a lot of great stuff in this year's line-up. Director Christian Petzold makes his fifth B&B appearance with Jerichow, which garnered great reviews at this year's Venice Film Festival. The film stars Petzold regulars Nina Hoss and Benno Fürmann, and shares a plot with The Postman Always Rings Twice. Revanche is Austria's Oscar entry for this year's Best Foreign Language Film, and tells the tale of a Ukrainian prostitute, her boyfriend and the aftermath of a bank robbery gone horribly wrong. Friends who saw it at Toronto came back raving. Speaking of Oscar submissions, Switzerland's 2008 entry The Friend, will also screen at B&B. The film's director Micha Lewinsky, has also won the festival's MK Award for Best First Feature, which carries a $5,000 cash prize.

The big name at this year's B&B is Wim Wenders, who will receive the Award for Lifetime Achievement in Directing. Wenders will appear at the Castro Theater in conversation with German film scholar Gerd Gemünden, following the U.S. premiere of his latest film Palermo Shooting. The version that will screen at B&B is about 20 minutes shorter than the original Cannes edit, which received possibly the worst reviews of any film in this year's competition. We were shown this new version after the B&B press conference, and I'll be writing about it later. As part of its tribute to Wenders, the festival will also show a new 35mm print of the director's 1976 New German Cinema classic, Kings of the Road, as well as a new documentary, One Who Sets Forth: Wim Wenders' Early Years

The festival's Opening Night feature is Cherry Blossoms, Doris Dorrie's latest film – and her sixth to appear at
B&B. It's a bit of an odd choice considering it just screened at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October. The Closing Night feature is the stylized quasi-musical rom-com Melodies of Spring.

Five other narrative features have caught my attention. Cloud 9 caused quite a (positive) stir when it screened in Cannes' Un Certain Regard, and was frequently referenced as the "old people having sex" movie. The Wave recreates a classroom experiment in autocracy and fascism that took place in a 1967 Palo Alto high school. Ron Jones, the local teacher on whose social experiment the film is based, will appear at the screening. Evet, I Do! is a comedy about four couples in pre-wedding turmoil, whose common link is the same bridal shop clearance sale. It appears this may be the only B&B narrative feature of LGBT interest. The setting for The Invention of Curried Sausage is Hamburg near the end of WWII. Based on a well-known novel, the film stars the always superb Barbara Sukowa and recounts a May-December romance. Finally, Come In and Burn Out concerns three young people caught in the hamster-wheel existence of call-center work.

One of the highlights this year is sure to be a special presentation titled Hollywood Speaks German. When sound film arrived in Hollywood, so did the problem of how to export films abroad. During the silent era, movies were simply given new intertitles to overcome language barriers. In the early sound era, however, dubbing was still an insurmountable technological challenge, so films were shot in several languages. This program features clips from 14 German-language Hollywood films from 1930-31 (including Anna Christie and The Lauren & Hardy Murder Case) and will be followed by a Q&A with film historian Russell Merritt. Conversely, this year's B&B Film Classic screening will be Josef von Sternberg's 1930 Marlene Dietrich/Emil Jennings-starring The Blue Angel – only it'll be the rare, German-made English-language version.

There are several documentary features in the festival, and the one I'm most excited about is Football Under Cover. The film documents a 2006 Teheran women-only soccer match (both on the field and in the stands) between Iran's national women's team and a local Berlin team. Football Under Cover won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary and the Audience Award at this year's Berlin Film Festival. I'm also intrigued by La Paloma – Longing Worldwide, which examines the immensely popular song (even Elvis sang it in Blue Hawaii) that was composed in the Basque country in the 1860s. Director Sigrid Faltin travels the world and discovers that although the melody remains the same, the lyrics have been continually adapted to suit nationality and culture. Lastly, Bird's Nest looks at Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron, who designed the Beijing Olympic stadium. The film also screened at this year's SF DocFest, where I reviewed it for The Evening Class.

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