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 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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First stop the Blue Lagoon at 8am to recover from the 12+ hour flight with fuel stop in Edmonton, Canada. Pitch dark, the worst rain storm I can remember and driving in no man’s land. In pouring  rain the water of the blue lagoon must have cooled off compared to five years ago when I visited in the summer and it was a magical experience. This time it was too cold, the entrance fee steep ($80 per person towels not included) and too many visitors. What happened to Iceland? Even in the winter so many tourists from all over the western and eastern world. Too many for the Icelanders to take care of so they opened their doors to guest workers, mainly from Poland. Young, friendly people who speak fluent English, get paid much better than in Poland and can stay as long as they want.

Next stop: Reykjavik. Our airbnb was as expensive as what I rent out in SF, only smaller. The food was more expensive and eating out much more. But we visited the happiest people in the world – it was worth it. The city has about 150,000 inhabitants, the whole island about double of that. There are many more sheep and puffins but they are only around in the summer. We visited the Harpa, an amazing cultural center with small mirrors as walls, created by Olafur Eliasson; the Hallgrímskirkja, straight grey lines inside and out pointing into grey heavens; walked up and down the main shopping street and even bought an Icelandic sweater in the Red Cross’ second hand shop ($80) where all the natives looked for bargains. A fabulous dinner at the “Fish Market” by the harbor, worth the price.

Our road trip south took us to the well known tourist spots – the Strokkur geyser that unexpectedly spits hot water high up in the air, in the winter you can only see steam rising to the ahs and ohs of the many tourists ready for the photo op. The breath taking Gullfoss waterfall nearby broke its path through snow and ice. Like the Niagara Falls, said my daughter, an amazing  natural wonder. In Vik at the southern coast we stayed at an airbnb by the church. It was Sunday, terrible weather but that did not prevent the villagers to walk up the steep hill in wind and rain without umbrellas. The church was warm and with a room to change into Sunday clothes. We took the car and drove east on highway 1, hoping to get a glimpse of the mossy landscape – backdrop for some of Cindy Sherman’s self-portraits – of icebergs and glaciers. But just the moss appeared through the mist. Our reward at night, a dinner at the best restaurant in Vik (perhaps the only one) that had delicious Skyr – cheesecake – so light and smooth, worth to return just for that. Snow was in the forecast and we canceled the place we had booked near Höfn. Driving on snowy roads is no fun. Milena living in LA did a great job but we agreed that it is better to walk in the snow – and that’s what we did in Hveragerdi, our last stop before getting back to Reykjavik. A sleepy, small village outside of Selfoss, with greenhouses everywhere lit up like Christmas decoration, hot springs, hiking trails and pools, great to visit again when the snow is gone.

Iceland’s attraction is NATURE:  glaciers, volcanos, waterfalls, geysers, green hills and black cliffs with puffins and sheep, and to experience that to the fullest it’s better to visit the island in the summer. In winter the light is very special and Milena, my daughter, filmmaker and photographer who took most of these photos, was ecstatic about the light, although we didn’t even see the northern light. And if you go in the winter make sure to book only places with 24-hour cancelation policy, severe weather can surprise you suddenly.


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The 22nd BERLIN & BEYOND opens with WILLKOMMEN BEI DEN HARTMANNS, a “Familienkomödie” by Simon Verhoeven, son of Senta Berger who plays Frau Hartmann, and Michael Verhoeven, well known to B&B audiences and co-producer of the film. Since Western Europe opened its doors to refugees from Africa and Asia countless films have dealt with the hardship of the migrants, among my favorites are FIRE AT SEA, an outstanding documentary from Italy and the light-hearted, quirky film from Finland, THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE. Verhoeven’s film, hugely successful in Germany, is about a wealthy family in Munich that takes in a refugee from Nigeria for therapeutic effects. Frau Hartmann needs company after her children have left home to pursue questionable careers and her doctor husband, searching for eternal youth, doesn’t want to retire. Enter Diallo who first shakes things up not only in the family but around the neighborhood, and eventually brings the Hartmann’s back together.  A feel-good comedy with predictable plot lines and characters that fit the comedy mold played by Germany’s best, beloved Senta Berger and Heiner Lauterbach, Elyas M’Barek, the star of Fak ju Göte, and Florian David Fitz, special guest at B&B a few years ago.

Jan Zabeil’s DREI ZINNEN / Three Peaks follows the path of his 2011 film, DER FLUSS WAR EINST EIN MANN /The River used to be a Man, also featuring Alexander Fehling in a great performance of losing himself in the marshland of Botswana. Here it is the dolomites where a drama between mother, son, and boyfriend unfolds with nature stepping in as major player. Long shots of foggy, snowy mountains that seem to swallow up our protagonists create a stunning poetic landscape that stayed with me – in contrast to the story that had an adverse effect on me, a divorced mother of two.  Lea (Bérénice Bejot) wants Tristan, her 7-year-old son (Adrian Montgomery), to bond with her boyfriend Aaron (Alexander Fehling), the ideal father who is strong, courageous, loving, caring, handsome, talented, but the boy should not get too close to him, since there is a father she left 2 years ago. He still cares, calling constantly, and he should not be replaced, says the mother. Hinged on this contrived plot line of love and guilt the little boy is carrying a burden that seems too hard for him to , albeit in three languages. In the end Zabeil moves into melodramatic territory that only Fehling knows how to cope with. Grade:

Egon Schiele died in 1918 at the age of 28 three days after his 6 months pregnant wife. The closing night film depicts his art and life seen through the lens of Schiele’s last few days, when tormented by the fever of the Spanish flu that killed 20,000 000 throughout Europe, cared for by his beloved sister and still sketching his wife on the deathbed (omitted in this film). The work Schiele is most known for depicts the body of women, his sister, models, lovers, his wife, in naked, erotic, pornographic, twisted, disturbing poses. He was arrested for seducing a 13 year-old girl but after 3 weeks in prison and many of his drawings destroyed by the police, the charges were dropped but he was found guilty of exhibiting erotic drawings in places accessible to children and one of the art pieces was burned by the judge in front of Schiele’s eyes. Dieter Berner, known for acting on stage and in films, including Michael Haneke’s, directed DEATH AND THE MAIDEN, the short life of a passionate, obsessive artist played by Noah Saavedra, a new face from Austria, in a seductive, beautiful performance. The young Schiele can’t live without paper and pencil and not without Wally, his long-time model and love of his life who left him when he decided to marry one of the sisters from a well-to-do family. He had hoped to survive active service in WWI with his wife’s support and still continue a relationship with Wally, but his life took a tragic turn. Wally never saw him again. The film’s title refers to one of Schiele’s most disturbing paintings showing a woman – Wally – in the throes of death. I wish this image had been shown longer on screen.

JOSEPH BEUYS by veteran German documentarian Andres Veiel is definitely worth seeing, especially since the focus is not so much on Beuys’ art but on his political activities as an agitator. Composed by an array of collages that stir up his fraught life the viewer will hardly find time to take a deep breath and put the puzzle of all the images together – but that’s Joseph Beuys.

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WINNERS AND LOSERS at the Golden Globes

IN THE FADE / Aus dem Nichts,  the great German director Fatih Akin’s less great film just won the Golden Globe Award. (It will open on January 12 in San Francisco.) Wondering if I might have missed something at the first viewing I watched it again and felt  that Diane Kruger’s performance had not lost any of its power but the story, especially the last act, had became more problematic.  Akin builds the plot around the NSU murder- trial in Munich where a number of young terrorists belonging to that extreme-right group and were acquitted of murder. The film starts with a bomb explosion in Berlin and then follows Katja, the woman who lost her husband and young son in the attack by neo-Nazis. During the trial in act two we find out more about the young couple that planted the bomb, but the focus remains on the victim, her anger when she is confronted with the perpetrators, her outrage when she hears the acquittal. The judge made the right decision, said a lawyer friend, there was not enough prove beyond a reasonable doubt. In the third act we follow Katja to Greece where she confronts the perpetrators and their accomplices and decides to build and explode the same kind of bomb that killed her husband and son. Is this a thriller with a jolt of political relevance? Or a psychogram of a terrorist victim?  The credits show numbers of murders committed by the neo-Nazis and the NSU and I wish Akin had given more political  context,  more political weight to the attack, the loss, and trial. When justice is taken into the victim’s own hands the plot derails into little more than suspense that keeps the audience glued to the screen for another fifteen minutes or so without reaching a convincing conclusion. The ending reminded me of THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI, nothing but a revenge story with Francis McDormand dominating the screen just like Diane Kruger, and not better. It won several Golden Globes – very disappointing.

The winner of the evening was Oprah Winfrey with her inspirational speech about changing the world to a better place where significant woman – many of whom sitting in the audience, she said – and some pretty phenomenal men fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say again “me too.”  The rousing address received an immediate sobering response from Nathalie Portman who announced the five nominees for Best Director and added loud and clear – they are all male.

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BERLIN BABYLON – Weltpremiere in Berlin

Donnerstag, der 28. September 2017, 18.30h,  Berliner Ensemble. Alles, was Rang und Namen in Film und Fernsehen – besonders Fernsehen – in Deutschland hat, war versammelt und ich hatte das Glück dabei zu sein, dank Ingo, meinem ehemaligen Praktikanten nun erfolgreicher Regisseur für ARD und ZDF. Die Weltpremiere des größten Serienprojektes, das es im deutschen Fernsehen je gegeben hat – so die Ankündigung – wurde in dem Theater, wo Brechts Dreigroschenoper die Premiere vor fast 100 Jahren erlebte, gefeiert, denn offensichtlich gibt es Gemeinsamkeiten: beide spielen im Berlin der wilden 20er Jahre, in beiden geht es um Verbrechen, Armut und Revolte, um Gier, Drogen, Sex und Politik. So sind die 20er Jahre in der Hauptstadt der Sünde immer beschrieben worden, in Fassbinders Berlin Alexanderplatz, in Cabaret, in der Trilogie über Anita Berber, Magnus Hirschfeld und Hanussen am Goethe-Institut, San Francisco, was ich in den frühen 90er Jahren unter Ulrich Sacker mit inszenieren konnte, und vielem anderen. Haben die Regisseure und Drehbuchautoren Tom Tykwer und seine zwei Kollegen Achim von Borries und Henk Handloegten in Babylon Berlin das Thema neu gestaltet oder anders beleuchtet? Ich war gespannt. Gereon Rath, die zentrale Figur aus den Buchvorlagen von Volker Kutscher, ist Kommissar in Köln, der nach Berlin geholt wird, um einen Fall bei der Sittenpolizei zu lösen, in den auf der Kölner Seite sogar Konrad Adenauer verstrickt  sei, sagt Polizeischef Benda, gespielt von Willy Brandts Sohn Matthias – ein netter Touch. Rath selber hochgradig drogenabhängig tasted sich in den ersten zwei Stunden der langen Serie ins Berliner Milieu vor, das in allen Schattierungen gekonnt, spannend, kontrastreich, von großen Schauspieltalenten auf hohem Produktionsniveau vorgeführt wird. Geld steckt dahinter, das kann man sehen und geniessen, wenn man polierte Bilder, perfekte Inszenierungen, große Dramatik und glitzernde Unterhaltung mag. Ich hätte lieber ein paar Schrotkörner im Brot gehabt, an denen man sich die Zähne zerbeissen kann, statt Feinkost von Dreisterne-Chefs serviert zu bekommen. Dennoch, ich möchte gern wissen, wie es weitergeht und was wohl auf dem Pornofilm zu sehen ist, nach dem alle suchen, und wie Adenauer darin verstrickt sein könnte. Erstmal wird die Serie auf Sky, einem Privatsender, gezeigt, dann auch auf ARD und, so wurde von Produzenten und Geldgebern versichert, die Superserie wird in der ganzen Welt zu sehen sein – dann sicher auch in San Francisco. Darauf freu ich mich.

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