A Day in the Times of Corona

Good morning sunshine, a fine day is in the air. With a cup of hot tea a short walk through the community garden to the chickens. They can’t wait for food and company. Audrey, always stylish in black with a white box hat, controls the flock.


Enkelin Tessa loves Ruby and, of course, we stay 6ft apart. Oma with mask and gloves and wipes.  On the way back we pick some greens – kale, mache, beets – from my piece of the garden for lunch and dinner.

After catching up with nothing but depressing news a bit of brain exercise – the MINI  crossword puzzle. Then a late morning walk to my favorite place, the water reservoir with splendid views of the wetland projects at Hamilton. I made  5,437 steps, not quite enough, but beautiful steps.

My afternoon activities: reading and napping, practicing 5 easy pieces on the piano – always Bach – writing in my favorite place, the kitchen – and cooking dinner.

A spectacular sunset by the playground that was taped off limits. But life goes on while we are all sheltered in place. Nieta Ella (she goes to a Spanish school) turned 7 – a small party without Oma. Daughter Milena got married – no party. But spring has been painting it’s own colorful party and I’m happy to witness it in good health.


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EFFIGY – Poison and the City


On April 21, 1831, the last public execution in Bremen took place on the Domhof in front of a huge crowd of 35,000 curious citizens. Gesche Gottfried, 46 years old, was beheaded for having poisoned 15 people close to her over a stretch of 15 years, including her children, parents, brother, husbands, lovers, neighbors and friends. A stone with a cross, in the pavement of the Domplatz, memorializes the spot of her beheading and legend has it that people still spit on it. Gesche Gottfried confessed to have fed her victims Mäusebutter, pig fat mixed with arsenic, easily available over the counter to kill mice. Why did she do it? A question that she never answered during her three years behind bars; a question that has puzzled those who knew her, as well as psychologists, historians, writers, and filmmakers who again and again have tried to make sense of her gruesome murders. Germany’s first female serial killer who had risen to a status reserved mostly for men, was also known as the “Angel of Bremen” because she took good care of her victims. She sat at their bedsides like a loving nurse, mother or daughter while they were in pain and dying. Was she looking for love? Fassbinder wrote “Bremer Freiheit” about Gesche Gottfried, a play turned into a TV drama. Did she, an intelligent, attractive and seductive women, simply live at the wrong time, as Fassbinder implied? Was killing the people around her, Gesche’s  tormented path to freedom? Secretly she had learned French and to play the piano, how many other secrets did she have? At 21 her father forced her to marry a well-to-do impotent alcoholic …her first victim.

At the 1998 Berlin & Beyond Film Festival GESCHES GIFT, a first feature by Walburg von Waldenfels was on the program. A powerful psychological thriller trying to get into the head of the serial killer. EFFIGY – POISON AND THE CITY (an underwhelming title), also Udo Flor’s debut feature, takes a different approach. Flor has added a second woman protagonist, a young law student who arrives in Bremen in 1828 from the University of Göttingen and narrates the events (in English). Cato Böhmer’s dream is to become a lawyer. However, she is barely accepted in Bremen as the apprentice to Senator Droste, who is in charge of the Gottfried case. Böhmer soon convinces the senator with her acumen and understanding that she is the right person for the case. A hint of attraction between the two women – both fighting a system that is set against them – touches those central scenes played convincingly by Suzan Anbeh (Gesche) and Elisa Theimann (Cato). Gesche, unpredictable, flirtatious and caring, opens up to Cato and eventually confesses to the murders. Unfortunately, much of the film is slow and quiet which seems to suck the suspense out of the story. Too many distracting side-plots with long-winded conversations  dominate the action which does not end with the execution, alas, but with red rain from the Sahara falling on Bremen. Closing the frame story, Cato Böhmer comes back from studying in the United States and tells us that she did not give up on the very male dominated world of law.

The film will be shown at the SF INDIE FEST on January 31, 7.15 pm and February 4, 9.15 pm at the Roxie.

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HOW TO BUILD YOUR DREAM HOUSE on a Small Lot in a Historic District of San Francisco.

The lot is 25 ft wide in a historic district. The existing one family home (yellow, 2200 sqft) can not be erased – so what do you do to build a comfortable home with 7000 square feet living space? That’s what we need for two people, minimum, really. But on this lot you can’t go up, not right or left you can only dig deep. So add 2 underground levels with elevator from garage to the highest roof deck, (there is a 2nd one, of course) turn the garden into concrete  (inside / outside living adds more space)  with a little bit of green here and there for the eyes; add big glass boxes to the existing structure and bingo: there is the dream house. Will show you the result when it is done in 5 years from now and up for sale. See the yellow vests on the photo? They are not digging for gold, or bones or other archeological finds, no, just to prepare for the walls that need to be there to support the dream house. Lots of jackhammering to get rid of the rocks that prevented the houses from collapsing in the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes. Those rocks have to go. Luxury is coming with glass and steel and concrete where nature dominated the scene. Nature is overrated. Only the old lady next door does not agree. She likes flowers and plants (see those photos of flowers and blossoms around her cottage – like everywhere on Face Book – boring). Why did they build that cottage in the first place? Would be so much easier to triple the size of the yellow house without that stupid cottage next door and that woman who spends too much time at home. She got a set of beautiful headsets from us, the best, even 2, one for visitors. She writes, she says, and the noise is excruciating. Hmm, not with the headset. We also put up a high dark-green dust curtain next to her lemon tree and rose bush (see photo). They will not survive, she says, her roof deck is already covered with yellow dust and she has been coughing since the digging started. She is exaggerating.  Anyhow, this is all we can do and we are doing the right thing. Helping to bring badly needed luxury living to this vibrant neighborhood. That’s why all the building commissions and the appeals board gave us the green light and told her when she appealed the permits: Wake up lady, this is San Francisco. If you don’t like it, move someplace else. Yes, move and we will happily buy your house.

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Peter Handke & Deutschstunde

When Austrian writer Peter Handke was recently honored with the Nobel Prize for literature, it caused quite an uproar. His political views, not his writing immediately became the center of attention by journalist and fellow writers. During the Yugoslav war of the 1990s, Handke, who has Slovene roots on his maternal side, developed a strongly pro-Serbian stance, resulting in his 1996 book A Journey to the Rivers: Justice for Serbia, in which he painted Serbia as the true victim of the conflict. In 2006, he spoke at the funeral of the Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milošević, declaring: “I don’t know the truth. But I look. I listen. I feel. I remember. This is why I am here today, close to Yugoslavia, close to Serbia, close to Slobodan Milošević.” Speaking to Austrian media after the Nobel Prize was announced Handke said: “I’m standing at my garden gate and there are 50 journalists – and not from a single person who comes to me do I hear that they have read any of my works or know what I have written,” And he concluded that he will never speak to the media again.

The Nobel committee has made a troubling choice. I love some of Handke’s earlier works, his plays and scripts turned into unforgettable films by Wim Wenders. Kindergeschichte (1981) tells the father’s story of raising his young daughter after a divorce, Der kurze Brief zum langen Abschied (1972, the road story of a young man traveling across the United States in search of his estranged wife (reminiscent of Wim Wenders’s Alice in the Cities (1974)) Wunschloses Unglück (1972), a semi-autobiographical story about his mother who took her own life. No doubt Handke is a great writer although his later works did not make it into my top ten list. Does he deserve the Nobel Prize? That highest recognition should be given to writers who we admire whole-heartedly for their writings and if outrageous political views overshadow the writing the Nobel Prize is not the right choice. No.

The recently released film Deutschstunde  is another troubling choice. Why make another film based on Siegfried Lenz’s novel Deutschstunde (1968) that focuses on an overly authoritarian father who blindly follows orders given by the Nazis and forces family and friends to do the same. Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon did all that with much more depth, horror, insight and beauty. The trouble with Deutschstunde is that filmmaker Christian Schwochow and his mother who wrote the script decided to stick to the novel which portrays the painter Emil Nolde as a Nazi victim. Extensive research on his life and work documented in a recent exhibition in Berlin has revealed that Nolde was not just a member of the Party but also an outspoken anti-semite, who tried to cozy up to the authorities which was not always successful – some of his paintings ended up at the degenerate art exhibition in Munich. But still Nolde made more money with his art than other German painters before, during and after the war. The film shows us a slice of Nazi drama in a small village by the north sea around Nolde’s home. Beautiful cinematography of seascapes are the backdrop for stylized images of discipline, submission, terror, confusion and pain. The images don’t go beyond that, they don’t dig into the past, the present or the future. Like Nolde’s beautiful paintings they remain on the surface. Christian Schwochow is a talented filmmaker and I had really hoped for a different Deutschstunde.


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Der Vorname/How About Adolf is a remake of the French film Le Prénom from 2012, a huge success in France but at that time not in Germany. However the new film by Sönke Wortmann (Das Wunder von Bern, Der bewegte Mann) adjusted to the present political and social trends and wrapped into a feel-good narration became an audience favorite in Germany as well. A dinner party in the family – host Stefan, a  know-it-all professor of literature lectures everybody incessantly about everything, from the dangers of eating pizza to Goethe’s thoughts about names. How can his wife stand him? We will have to wait to the end of the film when she has the last word – not her smart-ass husband  –  wrapping up an evening that almost ended in a family feud.  Her brother, a school drop-out turned wealthy realtor, is expecting his first child, a son, they intend to name Adolf. That gets the ball rolling. How can you name your child Adolf? The family is shocked. Fast moving, aggressive talk turns into personal attacks unravelling long-held prejudices and grudges. To keep the dramatic arc from collapsing, new things have to be thrown into the discussion – flash-backs spike up the story, family secrets are revealed and when things seem to fall apart the hostess/narrator attaches a feel good happy ending to the story. Compared to the French film of 2012, Wortmann has focused on the comedy aspects mellowing down the political, social implications. But a smart screenplay with unexpected twists and turns, fine performances and fast-paced dialogues make up for the short comings. (In German with English subtitles)

The Tobacconist/Der Trafikant is based on the bestselling novel by Robert Seethaler who is acting in this film that takes us to 1937 Vienna. 17-year-old Franz is sent by his mother from the idyllic countryside to the big city to apprentice for a tobacconist, her former lover who is Jewish and has fought in the Great War where he lost a leg but keeps the door of the smoke shop open for all and any customer. One of them is Sigmund Freud – Bruno Ganz in one of his last performances shines as a grandfather-like advisor for Franz on all things sexual. A coming of age story in difficult times that exposes Franz to so many hardships from coming to terms with his sexual awakening and meeting the father of it all, Sigmund Freud, to antisemitic atrocities at his workplace and falling in love with a young  prostitude. Unable to digest it all in the course of just a year Franz seems to move from one plot point to the next without showing how much it touches and changes him. The friendship with Freud shifts the focus from the tobacconist at the center of the  political turmoil of antisemitic attacks to Franz’s teenage preoccupation with sex and does not really allow him to develop emotionally any of the inner and outer upheavals shown in the film. Vienna in the late nineteen thirties has been beautifully reconstructed and that alone is worth seeing The Tobacconist. (In German with English subtitles)

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THE AUSTRIAN TOUCH at Frameline 43

THE GROUND BENEATH MY FEET /Der Boden unter den Füßen, DIR Marie Kreutzer

When we talk about “Austrian Cinema” the famous names of Pre- and Post-War2  are often incorrectly thought of as German, for example Maximilian Schell, Romy Schneider, Hedy Lamar, Oskar Werner, Curd Jürgens, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Arnold Schwarzenegger (always Austrian),  Christoph Waltz, and directors like Billy Wilder, Fritz Lang, G.W. Pabst, Josef von Sternberg, Otto Preminger and Fred Zinnemann.  Most of them pursued careers in Germany and in the United States. The 1950s brought Austria the largest film production boom in its history. Heimatfilm was the focus. Without national subsidies neorealist or New Wave schools that had revitalized other European cinemas during this era had not yet developed. By the late 1960s the commercial Austrian film industry had collapsed. Austrian television became the medium for entertainment film. The short films of the radical Viennese Actionism movement rejected narrative structure completely, and Austria’s alpine landscape, as well some of its directors and actors, were used for West German comedy productions.

Not until the late 1980s, when national subsidies had arrived, did a new generation of Austrian filmmakers establish themselves at home and in the first decade of the 21st century, Austrian cinema found its long-delayed New Wave and gained international critical success. Michael Haneke, Barbara Albert, Ulrich Seidl, and Michael Glawogger among others, entered the international circuit with disturbing often shocking films like Funny Games, Dog Days, Megacities, Free Radicals. Compared to their German counterparts they dissected society in much harsher, darker, more sarcastic or cynical ways. That trend has continued until today.

Marie Kreutzer’s film, Der Boden unter den Füssen, seems to prove the point. It’s like “Toni Erdmann” without the comic relief, to sum up my immediate reaction. Lola (Valerie Pachner), an attractive workaholic with a business career on the fast track to success, manages her personal life with the same ruthless efficiency she uses to optimize profit margins. She keeps her relationship with her boss Elise a secret, as well as the existence of her older sister Conny, who has a long history of mental illness. When she learns that Conny has attempted suicide, Lola’s life seems to unravel and the secrets threaten to explode into the open. As in “Toni Erdmann”, a driven young woman tries to make it in the glitzy business world but family interference shakes up the ground under her feet. Kreutzer’s film is a dark, twisted psycho-thriller with many secrets and characters bordering on clichés. But fine performances and good camera work should keep your eyes glued to the screen. The film premiered in the competition of the 2019 Berlinale.


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The Wealth Train Is Steamrolling My Neighborhood

A rehearing request to the San Francisco Board of Appeals may be granted only to prevent manifest injustice. A month ago I did request a rehearing – my last chance, I thought, to present a case of severe injustice to the commissioners. An architectural drawing (above) shows the vast difference in scale between my cottage (yellow) and the planned construction next to it (purple). The outrageous size of the new home in the Liberty Hill historic district of the Mission struck all who saw the drawing – all except for the 4 members of the Appeals Board present at the hearing – Rick Swig, Daryl Honda, Ann Lazarus, and Rachael Tanner. They never asked the developer to downsize. They did not grant me a few months of construction delay to provide peace and quiet for the guests, who had booked my small airbnb place long ago. I had asked for a sound barrier to protect me from the torturing noise of deep excavation set to start any time and run for 8+ months. I did not get that either. Without addressing any of my requests at all one board member opined that  no manifest injustice had been done and the others agreed. End of discussion. Monster homes are welcomed by the city, no matter where, even on small lots and next to my unique historic cottage, the oldest home on the block.  A 2300 square foot home will be turned into 7000 square feet of luxury living, with 2 roof decks taking away the last bit of privacy from the neighbors, and a basement unit without access to daylight on top of the deep garage. The City has blessed it all adding more tax revenue to this already superrich city but taking forever away the charm, comfort and quality of life from this neighborhood. When I presented my case to the historic preservation commission I was told “Wake up, this is San Francisco!” If I don’t like it, I should go someplace else. My new neighbor, however, was never told to wake up and build his dream house someplace else. He will live there, so he swore. Welcome, Justin Mc Baine!

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BERLIN & BEYOND March 2019

If you can see only one film at this year’s Berlin & Beyond Filmfestival (March 8-14) then  choose GUNDERMANN. Veteran filmmaker Andreas Dresen, a frequent guest at the festival  (HALBE TREPPE, SOMMER VORM BALKON, DIE POLIZISTIN, WOLKE 9, HALT AUF FREIER STRECKE) worked for 12 years on GUNDERMANN, longer than on any of the films he has made since 1990. Why? “Der singende Baggerfahrer aus der Lausitz” – the East German singer, poet and excavator driver whose songs gave a voice to the coal miners, was a convinced communist but also hardheaded critic, a Stasi collaborator but also its victim. Gerhard Gundermann makes for a good story, the film foundations in Germany agreed, but who the hell knows Gundermann? Nobody in the West, except Bob Dylan and Joan Baez who had him as opening act for a concert in 1994. Dresen did not give up.  After all, he countered, who the hell knows Toni Erdmann? At the premiere in Potsdam in November 2018 Dresen shared the stage with his star Alexander Scheer to present his favorite Gundi song: Alle, die gehen wollen, sollen gehen können/ Alle, die bleiben wollen, sollen bleiben können/ Alle, die kommen wollen, sollen kommen können. I had never heard of Gundermann. The film opened the door to a captivating singer and beautiful songs and to a chapter of the past seen here through a different lens, different from all the recent GDR films I have seen. Here the focus is on Gundermann in the seventies and nineties – the fall of the wall is not mentioned implying that Gundermann’s life had not really changed when the wall disappeared. He kept driving the excavator, he kept singing songs about the coal miners, about love, life and death. He wore the same clothes, the same super thin pony tail, only the frame of his glasses had changed,  He had married Conny, the love of his life, who at times shared the stage with him. The big difference however, was that the Stasi was gone in the nineties. The only thing left were huge stacks of Stasi files – of the victims and of the perpetrators. A thick file on Gundermann turned up documenting in detail his collaboration with the Stasi, the people he spied on, what he reported mostly trivial, intimate stuff. No files of him as a victim of the system ever showed up although he fought  the authorities, questioned the goals of the leadership, threw quotes of Marx and Engels at them, defended communism in its pure form. Dresen recreated Gundermann’s life truthfully, even swapping apartments between ex-husband and new lover happened the way it is shown on screen, says Conny who now lives in Prenzlauer Berg. Dresen grew up in the GDR and when he visited Berlin & Beyond with CLOUD 9 THE LIVES OF OTHERS had won an Oscar for best foreign film. He did not like the film. It did not show what really happened in the GDR, he said. It was a view from the West across the border, how the West Germans and the people in Hollywood imagined what was going on behind the wall. GUNDERMANN seems to be Dresen’s “Gegendarstellung”, his response: a nuanced, intimate portrait of a “Bürger der DDR” full of contradictions, honesty, compassion, anger, openness, quirkiness, wit and sensitivity – all of it powerfully performed by Alexander Scheer. Gundermann had to live in a world he did not fit in but loved. He died in 1998 at the age of 43.

And if you have time for a second film I recommend 3 DAYS IN QUIBERON about Romy Schneider, who also died at 43. In 1981 a year before her tragic death she agreed to pose and talk about her life with journalists of Der Stern, at a spa hotel in Quiberon, Britanny. Filmmaker Emily Atef (DAS FREMDE IN MIR, MOLLY’S WAY) chose black and white to recreate the interview and the photographs starring Marie Bäumer whose uncanny resemblance with Schneider and convincing  performance anchor this portrait of a tortured actress. Schneider’s tremendous popularity never made it across the ocean, not as Sissi, the pure, sweet Austrian princess who made her a major screen celebrity at 17, and not later when she tried to break away from that role moving to France, where she chose ever more challenging roles and where affairs, marriages, and divorces, made her major fodder for the tabloids. Even those less familiar with Schneider as an outstanding actress will sympathetically respond to this portrayal of a troubled woman on the cusp of further tragedies (her teenage son was accidentally killed later that year, and she died of a heart attack not long after). The family of  Schneider has attacked the film  which they claim paints her as an alcoholic. Her daughter, who was 4 when Schneider died, insisted her mother went to the spa every year simply to recover and lose weight. Yet  Atef’s fictionalized recreations – not always truthful – create a portrait of Schneider’s inner struggles, self-doubts, evanescent moods and magnetic personality that she might have liked.

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Zum 2. Mal auf dem Jakobsweg in Frankreich – von Aumont-Aubrac, wo wir letztes Jahr aufgehörten, bis nach Figeac. Acht Tage strammes Wanders, was dieses Mal Spuren an Knien und Füssen hinterlassen hat. Beäugt von Kühen mit Hörnern (die Aubrac Gegend ist bekannt für gutes Rindfleisch, was offensichtlich von glücklichen Kühen stammt, denen man nicht nur ihre Hörner gelassen hat, sondern auch ihre Kälber und die Gesellschaft von mächtigen  Bullen) und bestaunt von verdutzten Eseln, wenn sie mit Kniefällen begrüßt wurden, ging der Weg an uralten Kirchen und Klöstern vorbei, die nicht nur als spirituelle Wegweiser dienten, sondern auch als Schlafstätten oft neben dem Glockenturm, der mit Rücksicht auf die Wanderer abends ab 10Uhr schwieg. Morgens Nebel über den Wiesen noch schöner als in San Francisco, und nachmittags Sonne, so heiss, daß man den Schnee herbeisehnte, der die Landschaft fünf Monate im Jahr bedeckt. Nach fast 200km am Ziel – nicht in Santiago de Compostela, aber in Figeac, unserem Ziel, noch zwei Monate von Compostela entfernt.


Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. Ein beeindruckendes Gebäude, wie ein riesiges Schiff aufs Wasser der Elbe  gebaut von den Architekten des hiesigen de Young Museums. Aus Backstein der Rumpf, wie die Speicherhallen nebenan, und obendrauf die Takellage, geschwungen wie große Segel (erinnert an Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall in LA) . Das Schiff scheint jedem Wetter zu trutzen – nichts kann es zum Kentern bringen. Unterwassermotive ziehen sich durch den langen tunnelartigen Eingang, der die Besucher hochsaugt auf eine Plattform mit Blick über die Hafenstadt. Von dort kann man ohne eine Konzertkarte nicht in die Säle oder die Restaurants gelangen. Entgegen allen Warnungen war es nicht schwer, einige Monate vorher über die offizielle Webseite gute Karten zu – für amerikanische Verhältnisse – geringem Preis zu bekommen. Unser Konzert war im grossen Saal, in dem sich Meer- und Wasser fortsetzten.  Der Fußboden aus hellem sandfarbendem Holz, an den Wänden Muschelmotive, die Sitze hart gepolstert rund um die Bühne und hoch hinauf, wie in vielen neuen Konzerthallen. Auf dem Programm stand das Ensemble Resonanz. Ein junger Mann, nicht der Dirigent, gab eine ungewöhnliche Einführung ins Programm, das der Stimme gewidmet war. Nicht nur der Gesangstimme, sondern auch der politischen Stimme, die, wie er betonte, wichtiger denn je ist, zu erheben und zu artikulieren. Das Publikum klatschte begeistert. Den Abend eröffnete eine Solostimme mit allem, was eine Stimme an Tönen hervorbringen kann. Die Solistin war irgendwo oben in den Rängen platziert, für viele nicht sichtbar aber gut hörbar, glasklar vom Pianissimo zum Forte. Stravinsky’s Apollon musagête unterstrich die messerscharfe, klare Akustik der Halle. Zum Schluß Mozarts’s Jupiter Symphonie zu der ich mir einen wärmeren Ton gewünscht hätte, der die einzelnen Instrumente mehr verschmelzt als seziert. Dennoch ein wunderbares Erlebnis. Ich bin ganz gespannt auf eine große Symphonie mit großer Besetzung im großen Saal der Elphi.


Bis Ende September war Sommer in Berlin mit richtig heissen Tagen dabei, an denen ich mich ins Kino verzog, wo es allerdings auch nicht immer AC gab. Wie die Berliner nur den heissen Sommer überlebt haben? Meine kleine Wohnung im 5. Stock fühlte sich wie im Treibhaus aus, Ventilatoren waren längst ausverkauft. Leider hab ich um einen Tag WERK OHNE AUTOR, den neuen Film von Donnersmarck, verpasst, aber er kommt hier sicher auch bald ins Kino. Mein Augenmerk war auf MACKIE MESSER – Brechts 3Groschenfilm gerichtet, der aufrollt, was schief ging, als die Oper Anfang der dreißiger Jahre zum Film werden sollte. Wie zu erwarten, wollte Brecht nicht nach der Pfeife der Produzenten tanzen und die Verhandlungen als Beispiel kapitalistischer Ausnutzung anprangern. Das hat er erreicht. Lars Eidinger spielt Brecht überzeugend in Ledermantel mit Zigarre und klugen Zitaten, die alle aus Brechts Mund stammen. Kurt Weill, Lotte Lenya, Helene Weigel scharen sich um den Meister, der unbeirrbar seinen Weg geht. Immer wieder faszinieren die Lieder, die auch für diejenigen, die sie zum xten Mal hören nichts an Qualität verloren haben – wenn nur Max Raabe nicht eingeladen worden wäre, Mackie Messer zu singen. Sein weiches Gesicht, in dem nur die Lippen dramatisch verzogen werden, um dem Text eine schräge Note zu geben, scheinen das Beißende aus den Liedern zu nehmen. Zum Glück schließt  alles mit Brechts kratzender Stimme, er liest “An die Nachgeborenen”. Ein langer Film, der am Schneidetisch hätte gestrafft werden können um den Fokus nicht zu verlieren. Am Ende ist man froh, dass alles vorbei ist, aber man ist auch froh, den Film gesehen zu haben, ein Kapitel in der Geschichte der Dreigroschenoper, das zugleich ein bedeutendes Kapitel in der deutschen Geschichte ist. BALLON basiert auf der bekannten Ballonflucht von zwei Familien aus der DDR in den späten siebziger Jahren. Die spannende, unglaubliche Geschichte wurde von Disney vor 30 Jahren verfilmt und konnte erst jetzt, nach Ablauf der Rechte, als deutscher Film auf die Leinwand kommen. Man kennt den Ausgang und dennoch sind die letzten Szenen so überwältigend, daß man in Tränen ausbricht.—- Zum Schluß ein paar lobende Bemerkungen zu ALLES IST GUT, ein Debutfilm von Eva Trobisch, der auf vielen Festivals gelaufen und Preise bekommen hat. Eine #MeToo Geschichte über auferzwungenem Sex nach einer durchfeierten Nacht. Die Konsequenzen sind weitreichend, obwohl die junge Frau, der alles widerfahren ist (sehr einfühlsam gespielt von Aenne Schwarz) so tut, als ob alles gut ist. Aber nichts ist gut, was dieser bemerkenswerte Film deutlich zeigt.


Nach über 50 Jahren hab ichs endlich zu einem kleinen Klassentreffen geschafft. Nur eine Handvoll der 20 Abiturientinnen unserer Klasse sind erschienen und davon hab ich nicht mal die Hälfte wiedererkannt. Ja, wir sind älter geworden. Gibt es wohl noch Gemeinsames außer der Schule, die wir alle besucht haben, dachte ich beim Hinfahren. Worüber kann man sich nach so vielen Jahren wohl unterhalten? Es war einfach: über Reisen, Kultur und Politik wurde gesprochen, über Familie, Krankheit und Todesfälle. Alle sind jetzt Rentner, viele nach einer Lehrerkarriere. Und nun werden Enkel gehütet, man reist, töpfert, Christina schreibt auf Plattdeutsch – “Wüer” ist bei Amazon.de erhältlich (was heisst nur wüer?). Andere malen – nicht Picasso verdächtig (die Hühner mit 13 gemalt, hab ich gerade in Perpignan entdeckt), aber den Zenith des Schaffens kann man auch noch im hohen Alter erreichen, sagen die Forscher. Auf jeden Fall sind aus meinen Mitschülern hervorragende Kuchenbäcker geworden: Apfel- und Zwetschenkuchen, Windbeutel mit viel Schlagsahne schmeckten so lecker als käme es aus der Küche meiner Mutter.

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The City Without Jews, an Austrian silent film from 1924 that predicts the rise of nazism, has, after 90 years, been saved from decay. In 1991 a fading copy of the film was found in the Netherland’s Filmmuseum and then, thanks to a chance discovery of original footage in a Parisian flea market in 2015, the Austrian Film Archive was able to painstakingly restore the film which had its premiere in Vienna in March 2018 .

Based on a dystopian novel by bestselling Jewish writer and journalist Hugo Bettauer, Die Stadt ohne Juden (“The City Without Jews”) became his most controversial and successful book translated into many languages and made into a movie like several of his other books, notably Die freudlose Gasse/The Joyless Street directed by G.W. Pabst. Die Stadt ohne Juden, a satire about the acutely topical subject of anti-semitism, not only shows the economic circumstances that led to a flaring up of political antisemitism but also plays very prophetically, using stereotypes and caricatures, through the consequences of a rapid exodus of the Jewish population of Vienna. It is the end of the first world war, inflation is soaring and the inhabitants of a German-speaking city are starting to turn on each other. Politicians are quick to find a scapegoat: “The people,” the chancellor announces, “demand the expulsion of all Jews.”  But sentiment changes when, without Jews, theaters go bankrupt and department stores, hotels and resorts suffer from lack of customers. The economy declines to such an extent that the parliament votes to invite the Jews back.

The premiere took place on 25 July 1924 in Vienna. Bettauer and H.K. Breslauer, the director, fell out entirely, and Bettauer later refused to acknowledge any connection between the film and his book. Technically inferior prints were often manually cut and shortened by the cinema owners themselves and Breslauer’s cut ends by revealing the entire dramatic action as a dream thereby changing the message of the book drastically. “This surprising turn of the plot,” says one reviewer, “deviating totally from the literary original, cannot merely be regarded as a simple dramatic exigency, but as a prime example of the Austrian soul’s ability to repress.” Breslauer’s changes tried to reduce political controversy but the auditoriums were often full, not only in Austria but also in Berlin (premiere 1926) and New York (premiere 1928). National Socialists often sabotaged the screenings; in Linz the film was banned altogether. Bettauer was attacked as the “Red Poet” and “corruptor of youth” calling in Austria for “lynch justice against all polluter of our people”. In March 1925 he was assassinated in Vienna by a Nazi Party member who was convicted of murder but released from jail shortly thereafter. Breslauer’s career as filmmaker ended with Die Stadt ohne Juden. He joined the Nazi Party in 1940 and died impoverished in 1965 in Salzburg.

The newly restored film ends in the spirit of Hugo Bettauer’s book. Without the Jews to blame, the Nazi party collapses; the expulsion law is repealed, and the Jews are welcomed back by the mayor of Vienna.

Thanks to Jerry Garchik, who had urged the SF film community to take a look at this important film long before the recent restoration began, it is now part of BLESS MY HOMELAND FOREVER: AUSTRIA’S SORDID PAST at the 38th SAN FRANCISCO JEWISH FILM FESTIVAL


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61st SF International Fim Festival

More than 150 films were screened at this year’s SF International Film Festival in 8 theaters throughout the city without a central location where audience and filmmakers would always find each other. Traveling from one place to the next by bus or train or bike was doable but better would be a place with several screens (in addition to Castro and Roxie and Victoria) functioning as home of the festival. I saw a dozen or so films, most of them small foreign productions that might not find a distributor in the US. Of course my eyes were on the German-language films but I found only one THOSE WHO ARE FINE /Dene wos guet geit in Swiss German. The film premiered last summer in Locarno, the biggest festival in Switzerland known for embracing arthouse/low budget films like THOSE WHO ARE FINE. At the center of the film is a young woman working by day as telemarketer for a scam operation and in her spare time she cheats old ladies out of their savings. Police in riot gear mill around doing spot checks here and there. Soulless office interiors, modernist architecture, generic plazas are the backdrop for conversations that focus on numbers, passwords and wifi codes. The filmmaker portrays his country as a grey, cold, utterly alienating place that, according to annual surveys, is among the happiest in the world. The Swiss are not a happy people, according to my travels in that beautiful country, but they are content with what they have and protect it vigorously by being  diligent, law abiding, correct, and close-minded. From that point of view the filmmaker’s approach is very Swiss, tightly structured following his own strict laws in developing and shooting the disconnected story lines. The only Austrian film in the program titled Star (announced only with the symbol) is an assemblage of film scenes with night sky and stars. No dialogue except for the snippets that go with the scenes. Perhaps inspired by THE CLOCK, a twelve-hour- masterpiece tightly composed around the moving hands of the clock the stars in this film are not structured by anything. Nothing is holding the 99 minutes together, the film could as well have ended after 20 or so minutes without having lost any impact.  RAVENS (see still in 1st row on the left) a first feature from Sweden by Jens Assur. It depicts a taciturn family on an isolated farm which triggered memories of my own upbringing on a farm in North-Germany with  a taciturn father. On the Swedish farm milk was served for supper – as in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s “My Struggle” that could have inspired this film – but my father drank beer for supper. And my farm life was a bit more joyful – my father did not pressure his three girls (no boy, alas) to take over the farm. The elder boy in RAVENS, however, knew what his severe father expected of him – to continue in his footsteps, a burden that the teenager tries to shake but his father loaded more and more heavy  weights on his shoulders until the son seemed to surrender – or did he? Intense, slow, dark, quiet  (except for some unnecessary, imposing music at the end) a beautifully rendered story of coming of age the hard way. Much more light hearted and vivacious  is TIGRE, a first feature from Argentina that also depicts a family of several generations about to lose their beloved house in the jungle. The matriarch is a colorful older woman who is able to let go of what she loves most in a dramatic finale. Holding on to the past was also a Leitmotif in THE WHITE GIRL, a film from HongKong. A beautiful old mansion in a fishing village on the outskirts of the city is about to fall into the hands of real estate developers. But that is only one of the many storylines that are neither developed nor well acted in this pretentious film that has one thing going for it: amazing cinematography by Christopher Doyle. I’m following my photo gallery above. Iceland is next with CARCASSE an experimental film that felt like a documentary until I realized that the scenes are staged. I just visited the island in February (see on my blog a bit further down) when it was cold and snowing as in this film. Deserted landscapes not even sheep just a few horses when I was there. We passed by an airplane wreck in the middle of nowhere, like in CARCASSE, only then surrounded by lots of tourists. There are no tourist in this film where wide snowy planes of the north-eastern part of Iceland are the backdrop or the main player for a dilapidated steel tower, a car cut in half and pulled by a dog, a  peat house from the distant past and strange activities involving women and dead animals. A stilted meditation in black and white on nature, mankind, animals and industrial waste. Another hybrid between narrative and documentary DJON AFRICA shot mostly in Cape Verde turned out to be tightly scripted according to the filmmaker whose comments diminished some of the magic that I felt while watching the film. In search for his father he has never known Miguel leaves Lisbon for Cape Verde where he encounters a rich melange of faces culminating in an old farmwoman who lives with her goats in the middle of nowhere. Beautiful landscapes and intoxicating music for a roadmovie that did not need a detailed script with a cheeky ending: in real life the protagonist had found his father but in the film he ended up becoming a father. Finally a few comments about films that will be or are already released in the US. GODARD, MON AMOUR recalls the turbulent events of May 68 when Godard was already a famous, controversial filmmaker. “La Chinoise”, his contribution to the maoist turn of French youth culture starred the 19 year old woman he fell in love with and married in 68 (the film is based on her memoir). She gladly takes the role of his muse and erotic ideal as she finds his grumpiness charming and his intelligence sexy. Louis Garrel, a formidable actor, plays Godard expertly with a slight lisp, big glasses that keep breaking as a running joke, with monologues about marxism and the end of filmmaking under capitalism (Cannes was cancelled in 1968), he is jealous, possessive, domineering even melodramatic when his wife is ready to leave him. A biopic of Godard with satirical touches more suitable for SNL than for a cultural hero who is searching for answers to the political urgency of the time. If  you don’t know much about Godard and France 68 you will know less when the film is over, says the review of the NYT. Not true. Director Michel Hazanavicius does not dig deep into this crucial year of Godard’s life but touches upon the changes and challenges that arouse from the political upheavals. Seen through the eyes of the young wife the director, known for his Oscar winning crowd pleaser “The Artist” has turned her short marriage into another light affair that Godard would hate, if he ever saw it. But be assured, he won’t. SEARCHING picked up by Sony Classics at Sundance is a film told entirely through computer screens. All characters communicate with each other via phone or email, never in person, and to accelerate the plot TV commentators take over occasionally.  A gimmick that works for a while but then needs a boost, like a thriller story, to carry the viewer through 101 minutes. A father is looking for his 16 year old daughter who disappeared suddenly. Lots of twists and very unexpected turns will keep young audiences, thrilled by this innovative approach to filmmaking, glued to the screen. Not me, the concept became forced and too gimmicky although charismatic John Cho (the father) tried hard to make it seem  convincing. Communication via screen is at the center of THE CLEANERS, by German filmmakers Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck. They traveled to Manila and in search for the workers  who clean social media, especially Facebook and Youtube of images that are morally, sexually and politically incendiary. Done through outsourcing by Filipinos who are not allowed to identify themselves or their work places, the job is grueling. 25000 horrific images per day have to be either deleted or restored. Many suffer from PTSD, get paid minimum wage and no benefits. Did Mark Zuckerberg see the film? It was sent to him before the premiere in Sundance with a request for comment that was supposed to be read at the screening. But FB did not sent a reply. Is our addiction to the screen and to the thrill that comes from violent images beyond repair? Can the genie be pushed back into the bottle or will our children and grandchildren will live with the damage being done daily? In the Q & A following the screening those and other questions were raised but no one dared to predict the future.

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The five Oscar nominated foreign films are by veteran directors who dig deep into the social and political faultlines of their country but what they find at home feels eerily familiar anywhere. The films are depressing, shocking, touching, fascinating and certainly worth seeing, all of them.  Let me start with the bleakest one: LOVELESS from Russia. Following in the footsteps of LEVIATHAN (2014) director Andrey Zvyagintsev takes another scathing look at present day Russia, focusing on the separation of a married couple and their 12-year-old son. (The unloved son is a recurring theme in his films, most gripping in THE RETURN of 2003). In LOVELESS the unwanted and unloved son becomes an unwitting witness of his belligerent parents quarreling over the question where to dump him – perhaps at the equally disdainful grandmother – when they sell the home and move in with their lovers. The son runs away and for the second half of the film the camera follows a group of volunteers searching for the boy while the parents keep bitching at each other. In a Hollywood film parents faced with their missing child would at least try to unite while searching for the kid – not in this film. The volunteers comb through cold, grey apartment blocks, a dilapidated mansion, where his classmates would hide, snowy woods, hospitals and morgues with the mother in tow while the father has to take care of his demanding very pregnant next wife. They find beaten up, disfigured kids but not the son. A harsh, chilling portrait of a fractured relationship in a fractured society. Very different from Asghar Farhadi’s A SEPARATION, the complex, painful and fascinating Iranian drama where both parents fight for custody of their girl. The film won the Oscar in 2012. LOVELESS is not as complex and fascinating, it is relentlessly depressing and not my Oscar choice.

THE INSULT from Lebanon by Ziad Doueiri starts with a minor dispute that escalates into an explosive court case with national political implications. The story pits a contentious Lebanese Christian auto mechanic with a traumatic past against an older Palestinian Muslim suffering from the ever present insults against his people. Both sides get an impassioned defense in court, very level-headed perhaps to encourage the viewer to dig deeper into the problems of present day Lebanon. An intense drama with emotions flying too high in the first half of the film and solutions offered in the second half that seem too easily to digest.

ON BODY AND SOUL, the beguiling second film by Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi that won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale in 2017 (Her debut feature MY 20th CENTURY won the Palme d’Or in Cannes, 1989), is a love story of two misfits, Endre and Maria. It unfolds both, in a dream-like magical inner world, captured by stunning fairy tale images of deer in snowy woods gently rubbing their heads, and the brute outer world of a slaughterhouse where heads are cut off. The dueling elements embodied in the title as well as in the  juxtaposition of dream and reality, life and death, silence and sound, mental and physical world, are woven into the story without untangling all of its implications, perhaps because the soul is hard to capture on film beyond poetic, dream-like images. The film follows the slow burning attraction between Maria and Endre, two lonely workers both handicapped – physically and mentally – who cannot connect in the real world of the abattoir only in their dreams. Over the course of almost two hours the journey of the lovers looses some of its bizarre eccentricity that in the first half is marked by hilarious side plots with a company psychiatrist analyzing the workers sex life.  The story ends on a light note, Maria and Endre have finally connected in the real world and have stopped  dreaming. And as if to remind the audience to stop dreaming as well the closing credits say, “Some animals were harmed during filming, but none of them for the sake of this film.” How will Americans react to that? Shocked, disgusted or amused – like me – by the tongue and cheek Hungarian humor? The film won’t get the Oscar but it is one of my favorites.

THE SQUARE from Sweden by Ruben Östlund, won the Palme d’Or in Cannes, 2017, a festival known for bestowing his highest prize on uncomfortable, challenging, provocative, unforgettable films and THE SQUARE fits all those categories. The film pierces through  every aspect of the art world, from museums and the cultural elite who fund them, to sex, money, taste, to immigrants exploited as artistic targets and the curators and advertising people who are always searching for ideas that will shake up the audience. The plot is full of shocking surprises, weird turns, incredible funny twists that can not be explained but must be seen – it kept me glued to the screen. Östlund’s previous film FORCE MAJEUR (2014), an astute and intense story,  seems easily to digest compared to THE SQUARE where sincerity, credibility, compassion and humanity have vanished and been replaced by hypocrisy, selfishness, vanity and exploitation. A devastating critique of the 21st century metropolis that has been compared to Michael Haneke’s cold exacting eye and Lars van Trier’s sadism – but Ruben Östlund adds humor and that makes the two and a half hours more tolerable. How often have Cannes and the Academy agreed on the same film? Michael Haneke’s WHITE RIBBON comes to mind – a stark portrait of a group of religious fanatics in North Germany around World War I. THE SQUARE however, is no historical drama, it is shock therapy for the Angelenos thus hardly to be the 1. choice for the academy but it is my Oscar winner.

A FANTASTIC WOMAN from Chile is Sebastián Lelio’s second film about a  strong woman (GLORIA, 2013) who fights for her own dignity, her respect and the right to be different. The film begins with a glimpse into the love life of a happy couple, Marina and Orlando who is about double her age. He suddenly dies and then her trouble begins. We find out that he has left wife and family for Marina, a trans woman whose mourning for her lost love is hindered at every turn by his family, by the institutions she has to deal with in order to assert her right as his companion and lover. A straight-forward story that focuses on the compassionate performance of Daniela Vega, herself a transgender woman whose portrait of Marina is at once defiant and noble, heartbreaking and somber. Now and then Lelio branches out into noir mysteries, reverie and surrealism and in those moments we catch glimpses of Marina’s mystery – we see her strain against a storm to the sound of baroque music, and in another imaginary scene at the crematorium a red-lit embrace of Orlando like engulfed by fire. How did she meet him? How did his family react when they first found out about the affair? I wish the film had started with the beginning and not with the end of the love story but, I believe, that the transgender topic and Daniela Vega’s powerful performance will assure the Oscar.

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