Friday, March 24, 2017

KINO!2017's festival of new German cinema opens at Landmark Sunshine, New York City

After last year's very worthwhile German film festival in New York City, TrustMovies thought he ought to take a look at what this year's event offers. Sure enough, of the quartet of films he was able to screen, all four are worth seeing, while one of them is an absolute knockout: remarkably intelligent and timely, as well as hugely entertaining. That would be THE VERDICT (known simply as Terror as its original German title), a fictional account of a trial involving a German military pilot who shot down a hijacked passenger plane headed for a stadium full of people. This has not happened yet in any Western country but it certainly could, and the movie, which takes place entirely in the law court, is a absolute humdinger, so riveting you'll hang on every word -- from a few minutes in, all the way to the gripping double ending.

The writing here -- adapted from the play by Ferdinand von Schirach via the film's director Lars Kraume (The People vs Fritz Bauer) and Oliver Berben -- is so exemplary that I should think it will soon be taught in film classes internationally. Closely reasoned yet full of wit, surprise and reality, the screenplay takes a fictional event and makes it so encompassing and real that you're hooked like the fish that, once has bitten, can ever free itself. You can and must take the side of everyone involved here -- from the pilot (Florian David Fitz, above), who was doing his duty as best he saw it... the prosecuting attorney (played by one of Germany greatest actresses, Martina Gedeck, above) to the various judges and other witnesses on hand. The subject is so up-to-the-minute and the handling of it by the writers so clear-eyed and encompassing that everything from immigration and the Muslim religion to the taking of lives, justified or not, will be rolling around your brain, trying desperately to sort themselves out.

The film is even-handed but never simplistic, and as you await the decision of the court you will perhaps still be wavering a bit. Once that decision is reached, stick around: There is another one coming -- and not simply because audiences on either side will be satisfied, but rather so that we can understand the reasoning that went into each decision. This film could also very handily be taught in law schools, I think. See it.

Ms Gedeck stars in another good film this year, too, a drama called ORIGINAL BLISS (Gleißendes Glück) that tracks the current life of a woman who's having a hell of a time sleeping at night. We enter her world slowly and piecemeal but well enough to determine that she is deeply problemed. The more we learn, the deeper those problems go, and we also learn that they involve her handsome husband (Johannes Krisch, below), at the same time as they introduce her (and us) to a new man in her life (played by Ulrich Tukur, on poster, above).

Herr Tukur plays one of those self-help gurus who initially seems like a smart and even helpful guy, but -- whoa! -- he has some problems, too. Well, don't we all? As directed and co-written by Sven Taddicken, the film is never uninteresting, and Ms Gedeck is, as ever, remarkable. (Catch her in The Wall, if you haven't already.) The actress pretty much carries the movie, though Tukur is excellent, too, as always. It's an odd tale told here, with characters so off-the-beaten-path that some audiences may not care to follow them. But if you're given to themes of desire and dysfunction, by all means check out Original Bliss. It's original -- and then some.

For folk like me who had never heard of the German painter, Paula Modersohn-Becker, the new movie about her starring Carla Juri (so scarily memorable in Wetlands) will probably entice. Beautifully filmed and gorgeously in "period," PAULA is directed by Christian Schwochow and co-written by Stefan Kolditz and Stephan Suschke. It covers the time of Paula's life from art student through her ill-fated marriage to a man with "fear" problems (oddly well-founded, as it turns out) to a few years of creating paintings that would eventually be seen as both important and even ground-breaking for women in art.

Ms Juri turns Paula into a generally delightful and high-spirited young woman whose way around male chauvinism (personified especially by her art instructor, above) is to ignore it -- or plow right through it. She's convincing, all right, but I wonder if things were ever as easy as this character seems to make them, back in the day. Her poor lover-turned-husband is no match for Paula, though she seems to have loved him and stood by him (in her own fashion), and her story, if a little too telescoped and occasionally too typically artist-bio-pic-ish, is still an interesting one. I'm happy to have made Paula's  filmic acquaintance, and I suspect that you may be, too.

The final film of the four I viewed is a documentary entitled POWER TO CHANGE: THE ENERGY REVOLUTION, and it holds up Germany as a kind of model European country in terms of renewable energy and the decentralization of energy systems. This is a genuinely fascinating film, alternately energizing in the possibilities it shows us and also depressing, as we see that Germany, too, is prey to lobbyists and money and so many of the same things that plague us here in the USA.

Though the movie begins with a fellow, above, who wants to create a form of pelleting made from waste materials (he manages it but then discovers that his machine isn't working so well, after all), the film soon gives way to an Iranian-born German citizen and entrepreneur (below, right) who initially pooh-poohs the idea of smaller, individually created "energy savers" only to come around to this view over time. His journey (and ours) is filled with specifics, statistics and some pretty fascinating stuff, among this a long-term unemployed man who finds a wonderful new career in helping others save energy.

Even after viewing this fine film, I do wonder how important the individual can be when the state refuses to do what is clearly right and necessary. Well, we can continue to push and hope for the best (or, given the USA's current Trump regime, at least not the worst). Germany has it better in so many ways, it would seem. Good luck to them.

This showcase for new German cinema hits New York City next Friday, March 31,and runs through Thursday, April 6, at the Landmark Sunshine Cinema. In addition to these four films, there are many more worth a look. You can view the entire schedule by clicking here

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