BERLIN 2001: Berlin Begins with a Bustle; Faires, "Farinelli" and Soderbergh
by Brandon Judell
(indieWIRE/02.12.01) -- Initially inclement weather did not hamper the beginning of the 51 Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin, but it did cause Lufthansa a major headache as most of its passengers did make their connecting flights while their luggage did not. Consequently hordes of unshaven, creased, and sweat-stain-blotched journalists crammed into the Press Center at Marlene Dietrich Platz on March 7th to pick up their credentials at a cost of 50 Marks. Festival catalogues: 15 Marks. As many bottles of Evian water you desired: free. Life has its perks.
For those of you who did not attend the Berlinale last year, its current digs will take you aback. In the newly renovated Potsdamer Platz with its modern swaggering architecture, gigantic shopping malls, McDonalds and many works in progress, it is almost like a Disney World for celluloid. Each section of the Festival, whether the main competition, the Panorama, the children's films or the Market, has its own office, and sometimes two in separate locations. But once you grab the logic or the illogic of it all, it becomes second nature to you (almost).
On the first full day of screenings, February 8, there were 46 public plus 20 Market screenings, and this was a slow day. Among those competing for viewers were Steven Soderbergh's "Traffic"; Jean-Jacques Annaud's "Enemy at the Gates"; Fritz Lang's "Western Union" (1940); and Derek Jarman's "Caravaggio" (1986). Then there was Olli Saarela's "Bad Luck Love," Finland's supposedly highly entertaining stab at a cult film about drug-taking, murderous youth striving for redemption in a world gone numb.
The gay crowd, if you were looking for them, was present at the first viewing of Ferzan Ozpetak's competition offering, "Le Fate Ignoranti" (Blind Fairies). This Italian-German production focuses on an AIDS nurse whose husband is killed by not one but two automobiles as he crosses the street while fiddling with his cellular phone. Not unexpectedly, she gets depressed until she learns he was cheating on her with a homosexual. Imagine an Almodovar film without the sarcasm or whimsy. Not bad.
Much more resplendent, even with out drag queens, is "Le Roi Danse" ("The King is Dancing"). Directed by Gerard Corbiau, who is best known here for "Farinelli," here's another lavish costumer complete with lust that's served up both as repressed and on the table. Fourteen-year-old Louis XIV is not allowed to rule, but he can frolic all he wants. But to frolic well, one needs music so the young bisexual Italian composer Jean-Baptiste Lully becomes the court composer and his friend. Their relationship however changes when Louis begins to rule and actually believes he is a god. A startling fine tale of ambition, political intrigue, and expensive fabrics.
But more fun than sitting through good films is attending press conferences where the press is looking for scandalous sound bites or mundane trivia, while the talent tries to promote themselves quickly, and depart the bull sessions unscathed.
At the very first conference, which was for the Festival's opening effort, "Enemy at the Gates," Jude Law, Bob Hoskins, Rachel Weisz and director Annaud held court. After the photographers finally sat down after being reprimanded for five minutes for not doing so, Annaud admitted to some questioner: "Russian cinema did influence me a lot when I was a film student. I went to a film school where the history of cinema teacher was a famous communist and a man who had a great passion for the entities of the early period," he said.
Then another reporter asked Jude Law if filming the battle scenes made him feel like a real soldier. The new millennium's matinee idol responded, "It was an experience I would never forget. It was thrilling to be part of 800, 900 people with all the explosions and the gunfire going off. It was also incredibly harrowing. It underlined my belief that war doesn't really work, does it?"
At the press conference the next day, Steven Soderbergh pondered his film's subject matter, "There seems to be a huge silence in the public debate in the United States about the drug problem, and I thought there was a film to be made about it. The conventional wisdom in the United States is that political films or issue-oriented films are not commercial, so if it weren't for Andreas Klein and USA Films, which is one of the few independent companies left in the US, I wouldn't be here," he commented. "You know part of my whole career plan is to pretend it is 1974, and you can make movies for adults and they will show up. We'll see how long that lasts."
The outgoing executive director of the Berlinale, Moritz de Hadeln, who'd been let go after 22 years at the helm, feels the fest will last a while, labeling his final program essay "I'm optimistic." He notes: "I remain open to all that the future has in store for us. Cinema has not yet lost any of its power, but it will only survive if directors have the required freedom. Unfortunately, the number of real producers is dwindling, replaced more and more by financiers who only think along the lines: I have invested so much and must therefore recoup so much. That is the sum of their total interest.
"Globalization brings with it the creation of an increasing number of multinational companies," continues Hadeln, "a development which, naturally, has a highly restrictive influence on alternative forms of cinema production and exhibition. If we don't watch out, this will lead off to a leveling off in taste, which could be fatal for filmmakers. But filmmakers are, thank heavens, not prepared to give up the fight. And as long as they fight for their artistic freedom, there is hope. For this reason, in spite of all the dangers cinema is now facing, I am optimistic about its future."