Saturday, April 2, 2016

New German Cinema arrives in New York as KINO! 2016 hits town at the Cinema Village

A festival of new German cinema that looks special enough to make TrustMovies want to move back to New York City, this third annual edition of the KINO! fest -- KINO! 2016 -- looks very nearly as good -- diverse, entertaining and timely -- as the yearly Rendez-vous With French Cinema series from the Film Society of Lincoln Center usually is. As of now -- the festival begins this coming Thursday, April 7, and runs through the 14 -- I have viewed only two of the eleven features in  the program, but both were films I would not have wanted to miss. If I have time to cover the other two screeners sent me, I will add them to this post at a later date.

New German cinema seems to get better all the time, and we don't see nearly enough of it here in the USA. Consequently, this yearly series offers an opportunity to catch up, at least somewhat, with what Germany has on offer these days. SUMMERS DOWNSTAIRS (Im sommer wohnt er unten) written and directed by first-time full-length filmmaker, Tom Sommerlatte, is a good example of a very smart, singularly Germanic approach to the age-old feuding brothers-cum-family-reunion comedy drama. If the subject matter seems somewhat old hat, its execution proves a hell of a lot more than that.

The location is actually France, where a clearly quite successful German family has a summer house, in which one brother, Matthias, a charming ne'er-do-well played by Sebastian Fräsdorf (above, left), is vacationing with his French girlfriend (Alice Pehlivanyan, above, right) and her seven-year-old son (an excellent debut by young William Peiro, below).

These three are suddenly and unexpectedly joined by very different brother, David (Godehard Giese, below, left), and his wife Lena (Karin Hanczewski, below, right), and very soon tempers and much else are flaring out of hand. But wait: The film is full of small surprises and unexpected turns. By the end of its 98 minutes, actual change has occurred, and in believably small increments. Characters we expected to dislike intensely have become instead very flawed human beings worth consideration, even love.

The movie is a model of its kind: effective, never pushy, and beautifully written, directed and acted. Catch it if you can. It plays the festival at NYC's Cinema Village on Tuesday, April 10 at 1pm, with director Sommerlatte in attendance for a Q&A.

Few filmmakers in my lifetime have made such an immediate and semi-lasting international impression as Germany's Rainer Werner Fassbinder. If many of his films have not stood the test of time particularly well (a few certainly have), his reputation as a bad boy who made some good films has endured, and this new documentary about the man and his work will be a must-see for those of us who remember his movies and his relatively short time in the sun (he died in 1982 at age 37).

Nowhere near the rank of Welles, Hitchcock or any of the "greats," his oeuvre, I suspect, will take a permanent place somewhere closer to the echelon of, say, Woody Allen, though the two filmmakers have little in common except their secondary (but that's still pretty high-level) rank.

The excellent documentary, FASSBINDER, by writer/director Annekatrin Hendel, shown at left (from an idea by Juliane Lorenz), tries and very often succeeds at giving us a relatively intimate look into this transgressive-for-his-day artist, along with some of his interesting work.

It will help immensely if you've seen many of his films -- which I suspect will be the case for the older audience who seeks out this movie. The documentary shows us the filmmaker back in the day, along with interviews with many of those people -- actors, producers, lovers and the like -- who worked with him and were also responsible for much of his films' success.

These would include his leading ladies like Hannah Schygulla (above), Irm Hermann (below) and Margit Carstensen, and filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff, Their words and remembrances keep the film frolicking along, despite the often sad and angry life led by Herr Fassbinder, who was not, as this warts-and-all documentary shows, what anyone would call a "nice" man.

How Fassbinder treated his various lovers -- he was a homosexual who married two different women and fucked (and fucked over) a number of male companions along the way -- as well as from where the inspiration for much of his work came (the absence of central figures in the filmmaker's life is one of these) are made clear. Most interesting perhaps will be the tales told here of his earliest work -- Love Is Colder Than Death and Katzelmacher -- which are lesser known to many of us than his later films. Also of interest is his workplace style: "Praise, humiliation; humiliation, praise," as one actor puts it. His feverish pace -- 44 films for theaters and TV in some 16 years -- was achieved in part by having one project in production even as another was being filmed.

The documentary, more personal and rich than anything else I've seen about this fellow, also has a lovely beginning and ending in what looks like some kind of magically lit studio where the man and his movies might have taken shape. It is difficult to imagine that this film will not get some kind of at least limited theatrical release. Just in case, however, anyone in the New York City area should hightail it to the Cinema Village on April 8 at 6pm and/or April 9 at 2pm, where the doc's director will appear at both screenings for a Q & A.

You can find the complete roster of movies in the KINO! 2016 festival, along with a description of each, by clicking here, while the the time and location schedule can be found here. Note that the opening night film will screen at NYC's Landmark Sunshine Cinema, while the all others will be shown at the Cinema Village -- with the exception of the recently restored version of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which will screen at Manhattan's new Metrograph Cinema, and Decoder, which will screen at Goethe Institute.

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