WERNER HERZOG – RADICAL DREAMER Director/Writer Thomas von Steinaecker
Visionary, hypnotic, mythical, radical, rapturous, ecstatic, cosmic, impossible. Those are the adjectives used by a number of big names in the film world – Nicole Kidman, Christian Bale, Chloé Zhao, Joshua Oppenheimer, Volker Schlöndorff, Wim Wenders – to describe Herzog and his work at the beginning of the documentary. German filmmaker Thomas von Steinaecker, unknown in the US and unknown to Werner Herzog when he was approached by him about making a film for his 80th birthday. Known for being difficult, willful, particular and opinionated regarding documentaries that Herzog likes to do himself – even about himself — von Steinaecker succeeded. He wrote him a letter, as suggested by Lucki, Herzog’s brother, – perhaps handwritten what he used to prefer over typed letters – and Herzog said yes. The result is an attempt to look into the phenomenon of Werner Herzog, the fascination he has with young filmmakers, especially in the US. where his career as documentary filmmaker took off with Grizzly Man (2005). Germany had not embraced his early films not even Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo and when Lessons of Darkness (1992) was slammed at the Berlin Filmfestival by audience and press Herzog took his toothbrush, he said, nothing else, and his wife and left for Los Angeles and never returned to Germany. Steinaecker took him to the small house in the Bavarian mountains where he grew up after the war and to the waterfall, the landscape of his soul, that brings tears to Herzog’s eyes. Even fans and connaisseurs will find something new in von Steinaecker’s film like the very different view German and US audiences have about Herzog and his films. His “German” voice in the Simpsons and other cartoons have given him a wide audience in the US as an ambassador for Germany humor, says Wim Wenders.
RABIYE KURNAZ VS. GEORGE W. BUSH Director Andreas Dresen, Writer Laila Stieler
German-Turkish comedian and TV presenter Meltem Kaptan stars in a docu-drama about the true story of a mother’s fight for her son’s release from Guantanamo. The David vs. Goliath story well known to movie audiences is getting a new twist. Andreas Dresen, a frequent guest to Berlin & Beyond with compelling dramas like Stopped on Track and Halbe Treppe is trying out new territory with mixed success. Presenting a deeply serious incident of recent German/US history with a comic approach is daring. Meltem Kaplan carries the story and rightly was given at the Berlinale the best actress award. She shines at home next to her husband and sons or in the Mercedes she drives around Bremen where her husband works for the car company. But once Rabiye and Docke, her human rights lawyer, leave Bremen and bring their case to the US supreme court the larger than life matriarch next to the stiff, serious Docke feels out of place. We hear that her son was badly tortured, photos of the prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib don’t mean anything to Rabiye. Andreas Dresen’s earlier films with characters disapproving the circumstances and at the same time loving life reveal an authenticity that this film does not. RABIYE KURNAZ VS. GEORGE W. BUSH has a hard time to reconcile the horrors of Guantanamo with Rabiye’s determined, naive and feisty fight against the system.
RHINEGOLD Director/Writer Fatih Akin, Book Giwar Hajabi
Fatih Akin’s adaptation of German rap star Xatar’s 2015 autobiography ’All Or Nothing’ has all the bombast of something larger than life. The energy and intensity of the film’s first 20 minutes feels like an onslaught. In the Syria of 2010, Giwar Hajabi, aka Xatar (Sakraya) is thrown into a brutal, crowded prison cell and tortured to make him reveal the whereabouts of a stash of stolen gold. The experience sparks childhood memories of his composer father Eghbal and his imprisonment at the start of the Iranian revolution in 1979. When the breathless narrative slows and settles it becomes a more involving film, anchored by a charismatic performance from Emilio Sakraya. He makes Hajabi an attractive, sympathetic, and incorrigible bad boy, revealing intelligence, charm and ambition operating beneath the two-fisted tough guy character he has chosen to assume.It is a very macho, testosterone-fuelled world with most female characters pushed to the sidelines. Once the film starts to carry the story a committed Akin steers it to the finish line as a stranger-than-fiction biopic.