BERLIN 2001: Bye-Bye Berlin
by Brandon Judell
Golden Bear winner Patrice
(indieWIRE/ 02.20.01) -- It's hard to imagine a festival that generates more garbage than the Berlinale. I mean press releases, leaflets, programs, pamphlets, catalogues, ads, and magazines. According to a wobbly scale in the apartment I'm staying at, I have already thrown out 22 pounds of glossy movie miscellania, and I have another 32 to sort through. And that's not counting my complimentary Merceds-Benz knapsack or my Mercedes-Benz press kit
But trash aside, the Berlinale in its new digs was a fascinating excursion into the world of modern cinema. Hundreds of festival heads, buyers, and critics ran from the glossy empty frights of Hannibal's gourmet treats to the heartfelt emotions of a 50-year-old disturbed man in love with a guava tree in "Mua Oi" ("The Season of Guavas"), a touching Vietnamese drama from director Nhat Minh Dang. From the Sun King's visually mesmerizing prancing in Gerard Corbiau's "Le Roi Danse" to Barbara Hammer's less than involving documentary on a Japanese communal filmmaking collective "Devotion," to Daniel Minahan's reality-programming slaughter spoof "Series 7" -- from morning to night, you really didn't know where to turn if you really loved film. And as bonus, you had the directors, actors, cinematographers, producers and at times editors responsible for your varied emotions to embrace or stone.
Among the ones you wanted to embrace was Mike Nichols' adaptation of the wrenching off-Broadway hit, "Wit." Emma Thompson is brilliant as a hard-nosed professor of John Donne who suddenly finds herself alone dying from cervical cancer. HBO subscribers will get to weep in America; while cinema-goers will get to cry in other parts of the world.
Among the main competition features, mainstream films like "Traffic," "Chocolat," "Quills," and "Finding Forrester" were safe bets for the outgoing festival programmer. These features promised stars or star directors would show up in Berlin and garner lots of press for this celebrity hungry city. Many hope that the new incoming Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick will take a chance on more challenging U.S. indie fare.
Patrice Chereau's Golden Bear winner "Intimacy" was a step in the right direction. Emotionally raw, this tale of lovers who weren't sure whether they wanted more than just sex from each other is unforgettable. Whether it's entertaining depends on whether your library includes the works of Henry Miller or Danielle Steele.
Alan Berliner, whose "The Sweetest Sound," an often hilarious and self-indulgent documentary about going through life with a name so many other people share, was one of the last films shown at the Berlinale and the audience adored it. (The centerpiece has 13 men named Alan Berliner in various spellings sitting around a table having dinner.) He was still beaming twenty minutes after the applause ended. "I love this festival," he noted. "In my case personally, showing a film about my name in my namesake city is a big thing obviously."
Filmmaker Magazine's Steve Gallagher, producer of "Staten Island Sex Cult," was on the jury which awarded the Manfred-Salzgeber Award to Catherine Breillat's "A Ma Soeur" ("Fat Girl") and he had some sentiments about this year's Berlin Festival: "For the most part, the films were quite good, but I have to agree with the perception of a lot of people here that the worst thing about films today is the challenge filmmakers face in the marketplace, which has become increasingly more difficult. There's less hope for serious art films to find a home, and based on the reaction of the press corps to the films here in competition, it's almost hopeless.
"The press seemed to really embrace the light comedies. And at the press conferences, the light films had huge responses, and the films that were more difficult or more challenging and provocative were either booed or ignored," concluded Gallagher. "But Berlin still remains a place where these films are shown and that's hopeful."
But no one was more rightfully hopeful than Sandi Dubowski, whose "Trembling Before G-d" had just received a special mention from the International Federation of Film Societies. Later that night he was to win a gay Teddy Award for Best Documentary. To make sure he'd win, he wore his father's lucky, but slightly goofy fake fur coat. "I feel like I am wearing the appropriate jacket because it looks like it's been plucked from the rear ends of a thousand teddy bears."
There were a number of other superb gay-themed movies: "Hedwig and the Angry Inch," "The Iron Ladies," and Sue Maluwa-Bruce's brave short from Zimbabwe, "Forbidden Fruit," come to mind.
Then there was Bruce Weber's "Chop Suey," with its frantic camera work, which is a visual treat if you haven't eaten in a few days, and Maximilian Moll's "The Dark Side Of Daren." The latter is a 68-minute look at Moll's relationship with an attractive, utterly boring coke addict. You see Darren shaving his chest and cutting flowers throughout. This one gives banality a bad name.
The German filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim who just finished a documentary on the women in Fassbinder's movies and is completing a comedy about the homeless called "Cows Get Fucked by the Fog," might have put it best about the 51st Berlinale: "I'm an old, fat, gay man and I have seen so many festivals. But this one was the most beautiful, so now I can die."