08/02/2007

Breathless 2

See all our Berlinale film reviews at a glance.

A poor "Casablanca" clone: Steven Soderbergh: "The Good German" (Competion)

It's not often that there are whistles in the auditorium. And less often are they so deserved. A good German maybe, but definitely not a good film. Pitched as a romantic thriller set in postwar Berlin 1945 and filmed used the camera technology of the time. In Soderbergh's hands this has turned into a poor "Casablanca" clone (complete with farewell scene in Berlin's Tempelhof airport), filmed no doubt in the contemporary conviction that Nazis and war and Berlin always go down a treat. Which they don't. This story about a war correspondent called Jake, who's in Berlin hoping to meet up with his pre-war love, Lena, but who's being hunted by the secret police, is as bland as malt coffee. Naturally there are a few secrets that are revealed over the course of what is almost two hours, but only the Russians and the Americans are eager to find them out; the audience has long since lost interest.

No one would contest that the black market, secret agents, and rocket scientists have potential. But what is the point of this uninspired look into the past, a story about the problems of doing the right thing in a bad situation which has been told so much better long before Soderbergh, before the war, yes, even before the Nazis? The film is supposed to look old, yet George Clooney and Tobey Maguire look like newborns. Fresh off their Learjets, on a direct flight from LA international 2007 to Berlin 1945. The only member of the cast who looks the part is Cate Blanchett, after what must have been hours in a Marlene Dietrich lookalike workshop. But nothing can save this lame duck, not even the attempt to sweeten the critics by making the hero a journalist. Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney, do us a favour and come back to the 21st century. Or think twice before you come back to Berlin, whether that's in 1945 or 2007.

Christoph Mayerl

"The Good German": Regie: Steven Soderbergh. Mit George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire und anderen. USA 2006, 108 Minuten



Sympathy, yes. But not in bucket loads: Olivier Dahan's "La vie en rose" (Competition)


Edith Piaf is a national sanctum in France and Olivier Dahan is the sort of guy who could be counted on to show his respect by taking a huge hammer and knocking off the layers of ornamental plasterwork which have accumulated over the years. Edith Piaf, as we discover, never ceased to be the scabby-kneed kid from the gutter, even as a dying diva, who like a miserable and defenceless brat tyrannised everyone around her. The film circles around these two poles. There is no time for a life in the middle - for growing up - in this film. Dahan shows Piaf as a street singer, who runs away from her absent mother and her drunk of a dad. And it is father figures who adopt her and turn her into a star. Edith Piaf had to be steered, had to be shepherded, at the end by an entire entourage of carer-assistant-managers. She never seems to feel at home in the world of glamour into which she is gradually singing her way, and she only ever seems truly happy when performing late at night for the drunks in a brasserie and when she falls in love with Marcel Cerdan, the boxer, who prefers to eat raw meat sandwiches to French roasts in fancy restaurants.

Dahan had to do something with Piaf's enchanting songs and all her voice above all, he had to find images for something that is actually best enjoyed with closed eyes. He had to sidestep the general consensus that yes, Piaf does actually sing beautifully. Dahan's way out is confrontation. We see illness, suffering, physical pain, poverty, we seen smeared make-up, trembling hands, spilled champagne, bloody morphine injections. Piaf is not beautiful, she's sickly from the start, and even her voice sounds more piercing than enchanting in everyday life. And then there are the songs, thirty or so of them, which are scattered throughout the film, sometimes in the form of a grand performance. The film thrives on this tension between sound and image, and it also thrives of course on Marion Cotillard, who seems to be more Edith Piaf than she was herself. Cotillard's Piaf is an imp, who is always a stranger in her surroundings and who constantly pokes fun at her flunkies and fans and their adoration that she needs as desperately as her daily injection. She destroys all traces of festivity with her tragic jokes, interrupts stilted upper-class ambiance with her outrageous dirty laugh and tries to put a spanner in the works wherever she can. She doesn't manage it often. She has to sing and she has to perform. Cotillard's face says it all without words: when relaxed it is the face of classical beauty. When it moves, we are back in the brasserie in Paris, with the losers, from where she wrenches her mentor to train her for her huge career. Every time she moves, Piaf puts her foot in it and offends. She never gives up trying, but her attempts get ever fewer. She does not like this life of hers, and she doesn't know what else to do except sing.

Sympathy we certainly have for her. But not in bucket loads. And this is not because Edith always tries to keep Piaf at an arm's length. Of course it's not long before she can escape no more, and at night on her deathbed, her blue eyes no more than black puddles, everything that was once separate mixes together. Sound and image, Edith and Piaf, misery and deity. A moving but not saccharine film which one should certainly see on the big screen, and if possible, with a glass of very dry red wine.

Christoph Mayerl

"La vie en rose": Directed by Olivier Dahan. With Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Gerard Depardieu and othere. France, UK, Czech Republi, 2006, 140 mins (Competition)


See all our Berlinale film reviews at a glance.

Links:
Competition and Panorama
International forum of new cinema
Retrospective

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles.
signandsight.com - let's talk european.

 
More articles

Life in a bubble

Wednesday 21 March, 2012

TeaserPicAwarded a Silver Bear at this year's Berlinale, Christian Petzold's new film "Barbara" is a GDR drama set in the early 1980s. Colourful and romantic beyond any nostalgia for the East, it relates the situation of female doctor caught in the circumstances of having applied for an exit visa. For Petzold, the film is not only a highly personal story of a woman in conflict but a film about what was lost - especially for women - with the fall of the Wall in 1989.
read more

Workers of the world, be entertained!

Monday 13 February, 2012

TeaserPicThis year's Berlinale Retrospective "The Red Dream Factory" rediscovers the legendary German-Russian Mezhrabpom-Film (1922-1936). It tells of incredible film successes, ideological misunderstandings and astonishing blindness. By Oksana Bulgakova
read more

Thailand has woken up

Thursday 27 May, 2010

Apitchatpong Weerasethakul, the Thai film maker who has just won the Palme d'Or in Cannes, talks to Cristina Nord about the political situation in his country and his films.
read more

Talking to the lord of pain

Tuesday 16 February, 2010

The director Werner Herzog is the president of the jury at this, the 60th Berlinale. Katja Nicodemus met him in Los Angeles to discuss burning Lilliputians, how it feels like to be unsuccessfully shot at, and the life of a lone Bavarian wolf in Hollywood.
read more

Playing Lars

Wednesday 16 September, 2009

Charlotte Gainsbourg spent two months in Germany, either blood-spattered in a dark forest or sealed off in a sterile hotel. She talks to Martina Meister about discovering her limits during the filming of "Antichrist" by Danish director Lars von Trier.
read more

Israel's enemies take no prisoners

Tuesday 7 July, 2009

TeaserPicThe Israeli Defence Forces should be judged by different standards than those used for other armies, says Claude Lanzmann. Fifteen years after the release of "Tsahal", his controversial film about the first Jewish army, the French director talks to Max Dax about the logic of war, the value of Jewish lives and Sharon as shepherd.
read more

Marx: the quest, the way, the destination

Tuesday 20 January, 2009

TeaserPicTaking off where Sergei Eisenstein left off, Alexander Kluge has made a nine-and-a-half hour film about Karl Marx and the fairytale of "Kapital". And it's not a minute too long. By Helmut Merker
read more

Cloud 9 at 70 plus

Thursday 11 September, 2008

Emotional chaos in the elderly and the best aesthetic for folds and wrinkles. Birgit Glombitza talks to Andreas Dresen about geriatric love and sex, and his new film "Wolke 9".

read more

And isn't it baronic

Wednesday 16 April, 2008

Billed as the inspirational story of one of the greatest legends of all times, "The Red Baron" is flying, driving and healing Germany at dizzy cinematic heights. There are just not enough superlatives to do this film justice. By Ekkehard Knörer.
read more

The mild bunch

Monday 18 February, 2008

Only one truly original auteur filmmaker made it into this year's Berlinale Competition. With "Night and Day" Korean director Hong Sangsoo proved himself to be one of the great free-thinking talents of contemporary cinema. This aside, emaciated wishy-washy realism prevailed. By Ekkehard Knörer
read more

Berlinale box

Thursday 14 February, 2008

With the Berlin film festival well underway we pick out some of the highlights. Jose Padilha's "Tropa de Elite" might have all the components of an Egoshooter film but it's far off. Hongkong star Johnnie To's "Sparrow" is a bringer of unadulterated joy. Isabel Coixet's "Elegy" stars a couple of aging Roth rabbits. And P.T. Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" should be enjoyed on an empty stomach.
read more

Bordering on miraculous

Friday 8 February, 2008

A frighteningly intense Daniel Day Lewis, musical accompaniment from Martin Scorsese, Madonna and Patti Smith, home-made filmic fumblings from a music video genius, a mere smidgen of German material and plenty of Far Eastern promise. After the Berlinale Film Festival hit rock bottom last year, it seems a sharp upwards turn is on the cards for 2008.
read more

All eyes on the December children

Wednesday 5 December, 2007

Romania might have only 35 cinemas but it is having a profound effect on the world of film. Christian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days" won the Palme d'Or at Cannes earlier this year and the European Film Prize in Berlin on Saturday. By Jan Schulz-Ojala
read more

Floundering Dutch man

Monday 15 October, 2007

A theme running through this year's Netherlands Film Festival is that of men running after deliverance, preferably in the form of young women. There's plenty of tongue in cheek but no changing the facts: the new man, like the old, needs a muse. By Jann Ruyters
read more

Love and two coffins

Monday 8 October, 2007

German-Turkish director Fatih Akin's "The Edge of Heaven" won the best screen play award at Cannes. Now showing in German cinemas, it is a light, bright film about death, an optimistic requiem full of little utopias. By Katja Nicodemus


read more