Tuesday, December 7, 2010

LOSS and RABBIT A LA BERLIN (a 2010 Oscar nominee) make Film Forum debut

Thanksgiving's over, but this week's debut of two short films -- that are probably only seeing the light of (theatrical) day due to New York's singular movie house that actually continues to show, week after week, real art films  -- strikes this reviewer, at least, as a particularly good reason to give thanks (yet again) for Film Forum. The movies in question (Loss and Rabbit a la Berlin) are the kind of fare, short of length and (seemingly) small of reach, that are yet so well conceived and executed that their existence simply demands some theatrical venue.  So, FF, thank you.

TrustMovies, who often says "Never again!," after viewing one... more... film about the Jewish Holocaust, urges you nonetheless to see the Israel/German co-production LOSS, which is one of the better -- and more unusual -- movies to tackle this subject that he has viewed in a long while. Made in 2002 and only now being shown here, it runs just 30 minutes.  But what minutes they are! Israeli filmmaker Nurith Aviv has several of her German friends (as well as Hannah Arendt), simply speak to the camera about what, in their minds, has been lost due to the German treatment of the Jews before and during the Holocaust -- and most tellingly, of the effect on German life and attitudes after World War II.

Ms. Aviv begins with a quote from Freud about mourning, then lets Arendt (shown at left) speak about her experience in Germany as the war approached and her intellectual set abandoned the Jews in reaction to Hitler and his plans.  "It was as though we were surrounded by an empty space," she says.  Chilling. Telling.

Then various of her friends in Germany talk about their own post-war experiences: A physicist and teacher (Gustav Obermaier, right) mourns the almost complete loss of good science (and good scientists) in Germany post-war, together with what happened when he came to America.

Linguist Jutta Prasse (left) explains, in a beautifully worded segment of such symbolism and feeling, how the wounds in German language have healed so badly that the scar tissue now disrupts real meaning. Claus Rath speaks of the fatherland and fathers after WWI and the results of this, and actor Hanns Zischler talks about the oddly vital "ghosts" of Berlin.

Through almost all of this, we are on a train moving through Berlin, the town of Aviv's ancestors, stopping at each station, then starting up again. The interviewees seems to be on that train, a part of it, though of course they are not.  But this adds a layer of strangeness to the work, as well as giving us the sense that these words spoken and ideas put forth are not conclusive. They stop and start, just as does the train, in a process that never ends. (For me, this train is memorable as one of the best, most quiet and profound "special effects" I've seen in a movie.) The train also brings to mind, of course, the Holocaust, though this connection is never spoken. Loss is such an intelligent, insightful and thoughtful piece -- clearly a permanent addition to the most important films about Germany and the Holocaust -- that I could easily have sat through it again, immediately after the initial viewing, or kept listening and watching, were it twice the length.

Charming, funny and pointed as it is, RABBIT A LA BERLIN (directed by Bartek Konopka, photographed by Piotr Rosolowski and co-written by both men) could have been nearly as effective at half its length, as it tells the tale of what happens to some generations of rabbits, the first of which were caught literally overnight in the area between the Berlin Wall(s). (Some of us may have imagined that the wall was simply a one-piece blockade, but evidently it was built with a good deal of space, grassy and otherwise, between its provocative sections.) What happens to these bunnies is funny, sad, a little grotesque and finally a fable-like metaphor for society at large -- and not just Germany, East and/or West.

Without predators, the bunnies thrive -- and change. And yet, even in this kind of paradise on earth, unknown in the history of the species (re-read Watership Down if you've gone rusty on rabbits), some begin to burrow out of their safe haven. Why? Hmmm.... This brings up all kind of ideas about safety, evolution, challenge and growth. We even witness a kind of rabbit Holocaust -- which makes these two films oddly well-matched co-features.
Rabbit à la Berlin keeps threatening profundity but, really, it remains more of a witty and quite enjoyable fable about post-war Germany and the rise of the rabbit -- and an interesting bit of history regarding change and endurance in the "natural" world.

Both films begin their two-week run at Film Forum this Wednesday, December 8.  You can find the schedule of performances here.

The photos above, from Rabbit à la Berlin, are courtesy of Film Forum; those from Loss are courtesy of Ms. Aviv's own website. 

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