At the Berlin & Beyond film festival in the beautiful Castro Theatre, my old stomping ground. Friday night’s program in a packed house started with plenty of long speeches followed by a short live performance of a Wagner song to introduce LUDWIG II, the centerpiece piece film. Good to be reminded that without Ludwig Bayreuth, which was not mentioned in the film, might never have been built. Veteran director Peter Sehr, who died of brain tumor shortly after the release of this film, focused on Ludwig, the pacifist, who hated politics and loved art, music and, of course, Wagner. The 2.5 hrs long film felt long, although it was fascinating to watch Sabin Tambrea’s dexterous portrayal of young Ludwig. No time was wasted with the construction of the castles, all stages of mad Ludwig’s life up to his mysterious death in Starnberger See at the side of his physician were included. Still, something was missing, or less might have been more, as the Dubini brothers demonstrated in their Ludwig 1881, shown at B&B 97. Perhaps Visconti and Syberberg are simply hard acts to follow.
SHORES OF HOPE /Wir wollten aufs Meer, by Toke Constantin Hebbeln (his wonderful debut film NEVERMORE was shown at B&B 2007), tells the story of friendship and betrayal among shipyard workers in East Germany. Stasi surveillance, torture in State prisons, good inmates, bad guards and even worse Stasi officers, love and lies, all that felt like it could have been a film about the Holocaust. Ever since The Life of Others hit the screen films about life in East Germany often became interchangeable with Holocaust films. SHORES OF HOPE is one of them. I much preferred watching the German TV series WEISSENSEE about the same topic with a more sensitive and clever story. A very different and more compelling way to approach the subject is shown in WEST by Christian Schwochow (his debut film NOVEMBER CHILD was screened at B&B 09). After having lost the man she loved and the father of her child, Nelly tries to escape from the past and start a new life in the West which turns out to be much more difficult than expected. Not only is she confronted with the usual humiliations but with the suspicion to be a spy and accusations that turn everybody around her, even the man she loved, into a suspect. Is there no escape from the past? Powerful, touching, with great performances, especially by Jördis Triebel (Nelly) who some might remember from EMMAS GLÜCK.
MEASURING THE WORLD concluded my B&B weekend. I love the book by Daniel Kehlmann and was warned that the film does not hold up to it. I agree but it was not a waste of time. Kehlmann, the screenwriter, was not able to translate the insightful, historically rich and often hilarious interaction between Gauss and Alexander von Humboldt onto screen. Two scientists, albeit geniuses, do not make for a compelling film. Nature becomes the third major player in this 3D film, which reminded me of THE WALL, another difficult translation from book to film that worked well because the breath taking Alps featured as companion and counterpoint for the lonely woman. Here it is uncharted territory in Latin America around the turn of the 18th century that keeps the story alive.
I would have liked to see the amazing cinematography of MORE THAN HONEY on the big screen of the Castro – it was shown at the Goethe-Institut. The Q&A with Christian Schwochow after WEST could have been longer (there were many more questions and plenty of time), but I remember how difficult it is to please everybody.