Previewed by GREG KING.
SOUL KITCHEN. The opening night film is Soul Kitchen, a new comedy from Fatih Akin. The film tells the story of Zinos (German-Greek actor Adam Bousdoukos), who opens a restaurant in a former warehouse in Hamburg. He upsets the regular clientele by introducing new cuisine, but the restaurant eventually becomes successful. His brother Illias (Moritz Bleibtreu), a prisoner on a day release program, wants to become involved in helping run the restaurant. Unlike a lot of other films that feature cooking and food as the central motif, there is a lot more to Soul Kitchen than merely a succession of mouth-watering concoctions. The film is crammed with lots of subplots, incidents and characters. Soul Kitchen is also an exploration of family and friendship, and is rather lightweight fare compared with Akin’s other intense dramas like Head On and The Edge Of Heaven.
THE WOLVES OF BERLIN was originally made as a three part mini-series for German television, but it is being screened in its entirety here as a four and a half hour event. The film follows six young people who form a friendship in the rubble of Berlin after the World War Two. The film follows their lives throughout the next fifty years of German history. It includes the building of the Berlin wall and the impact it had on everyday life, and it also looks at the eventual destruction of the wall and reunification and the subsequent problems of adjusting to the new found freedoms. Director Freidmann Fromm incorporates actual grainy archival footage into the drama, which gives a real sense of time and place. This is a turbulent epic story that has elements of melodrama, and is reminiscent of sagas like Heimat and Berlin Alexanderplatz.
THE WHITE RIBBON. One of the highlights is the screening of Michael Haneke’s award winning film The White Ribbon, which won the Palm D’Or at Cannes last year. The film is set in a devoutly Protestant village in rural Germany in the years immediately before World War I. The village is controlled by the Baron, who believes that he runs the place with a benevolent hand, but somehow he is losing control. It becomes clear that this village of the damned is overrun by malice, greed, envy, selfishness, and a thirst for revenge. A series of nasty accidents throws the village into chaos, and the townsfolk are driven by a deep sense of paranoia and, suspicion. The town’s pastor rules his family with an iron fist and enforces discipline, but there is an air of rebelliousness amongst his children that will have dire consequences. In the end this lifestyle will be forever destroyed by the aftermath of World War I. Events unfold from the perspective of the idealistic and new young teacher (Christian Friedel), who also acts as the film’s narrator. The titular white ribbon is supposed to symbolise a young girl’s innocence, purity and lack of sin, but it is something of a deeply ironic title given the events of the film. Haneke’s direction is restrained and very measured, and the overt violence is kept to a minimum. The film is imbued with an understated air of menace and growing air of dread that has become one of Haneke’s hallmarks. The film has been shot in luminous black and white by cinematographer Christian Berger, which somehow makes the uneasy mood more ominous.
WHISKY WITH VODKA. This is an offbeat and gentle comedy about the politics and backstage, behind the scenes chaos of making a movie. Whisky With Vodka explores familiar territory that has been explored numerous times before. Henry Hubchen plays Otto, an aging, narcissistic, insecure and alcoholic actor who is making what may well be his last movie because of his reputation for on set shenanigans and unreliability. The film’s director Martin (Sylvester Groth) grows increasingly exasperated by his star’s antics and improvisations that continually ruin each take. The producers of the film don’t trust Otto either, and have hired a younger understudy to shoot alternate scenes as a backup. The rivalry between the two as they try to upstage one another adds to some of the subtle pleasures of this diverting little film. There’s also plenty of bedhopping, and the off screen antics of the actors parallel that of Tango For Three, the fictitious movie they are making. This is the second collaboration between prolific German director Andreas Dresen (Summer In Berlin, etc) and writer Wolfgang Kohlhasse. Dresen aims for a jaunty mood here, but his direction is a little laboured at times. We’ve seen this kind of back-handed slap in the face for the film industry before, and while it is reminiscent of the classic Day For Night, Whisky With Vodka adds little that is particularly new or original to the subgenre
The Festival of German Films screens at the Como and Kino cinemas in Melbourne from April 22 – May 2. Check newspapers or the website www.goethe.de/australia for screening details.