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GoetheInstitute

10/02/2007

Breathless 3

See all our Berlinale film reviews at a glance.

Jeff Garlin: "This Filthy World" (Panorama)

Sometimes it's quite easy to make a good film. At times, all you really need is a performer who delivers a marvellous text, entertaining his audience for 86 minutes with jokes in exquisitely poor taste. In "This Filthy World," the performer is none other than John Waters, notorious film director and transgressor of taboos, and the artfulness of filmmaker Jeff Garlin consists principally in doing as little as possible. Little more, in any event, than shifting the camera occasionally, and occasionally interspersing images of the audience, and otherwise displaying John Waters, who - with his faecal wit und killingly funny black humour - is revealed as a high-calibre stand-up comedian. The show is packaged as an autobiographical tour through this artist's creations, beginning with his first naive but entirely resolute attempts to epater la bourgeoisie, from the breakthrough "Pink Flamingos" (yes, Divine really did eat excrement, and didn't find it bad at all), all the way to his latest film "A Dirty Shame," a comedy about sex addicts, which (after a few well-behaved films) got Waters in serious trouble again with the censors. (Not to mention drawing the following commentary from his own mother: "Maybe I'll get lucky and die before it hits the cinemas.")

John Waters leaves nothing out. Not a single film, not a single filthy punch-line, not a single piece of shit. Everything finds its place. And the dramaturgy works. Things tend to sag a bit toward the middle, not unlike his filmography itself, but then come to an exquisite final spurt. One is offered the opportunity to laugh about sniffed ashes, gay men who see themselves as "bears", a talking asshole, Mary eating the infant Jesus, Baltimore’s crazy middle-class, and about John Waters' own child-molester's face. The director speaks nonchalantly about the limits of taste as he himself would draw them, and informs us exhaustively about the tastelessness that lies behind them. (Fat, naked men on bicycles in diapers with hard-ons. Oh well, we all have our idiosyncratic reactions.)

For years now, Waters has been labouring away at his programme, which is dangerous to children in the very best sense - at universities above all, where it fits in well. (On the theme of protecting young people: "Anyone old enough to know that something like 'Naked Lunch' exists is old enough to read it.") Jeff Garlin, who himself works as a comic actor, mainly in the superb TV series "Curb your Enthusiasm," had a great inspiration when he decided to aim his digital camera at performer John Waters during a New York appearance. And Panorama had a good idea when they decided to take on this project. John Waters fans will be delighted, as will anyone else who is willing to be.

Ekkehard Knörer
"This Filthy World." Director: Jeff Garlin. With John Waters. USA, 2006, 86 minutes. (Panorama)



Hong Sangsoo: "Woman on the Beach" (Panorama)


The final shot is of a woman on a beach. Her car gets stuck, two men help her, they want no thanks for their efforts. A conclusion that is not without irony, for the film's narrative also begins with two men, and between them, the very the same woman.

We begin in an apartment, as one man pressures the other. The man applying pressure is an (apparently not entirely unknown) film director. The man on the receiving end is a friend an author of screenplays. Kim, the director, wants to travel with the author to a seaside resort in order to write the screenplay for his latest film. In the end, Jung-rae agrees, but brings a friend along, a girl named Moon-sook. Kim's producer calls him on the phone to warn him of a sandstorm on the coast. The threesome, Kim, Jung-rae and Moon-sook, drive off, only to find the resort abandoned, probably because of bad weather. The sandstorm never arrives.

And now the very same thing happens that always happens in Hong Sang-soo's films: there is heavy drinking, conflicts arise. Via drinking and drunkenness, his protagonists, especially the men, lose control of themselves – or: show their true faces. The viewer, meanwhile, is offered no hint about how things really stand. Despite the film's crystal-clear surface, everything remains opaque. Actions and words suffer from the sense of exhaustion so typical of Hong. Nothing that is said really counts. When Kim insults the restaurant owner, Jung-rae confronts him with an ultimatum. Kim must apologize, otherwise Jung-rae will drive back to Seoul. Kim does not apologize. The ultimatum is flaunted, yet nothing happens. In the next shot, the three are sitting in a different restaurant, already drunk, and getting drunker.

In "Woman on the Beach", words are not binding. Statements are tossed out, only to be dissipated by the wind, scattered along the sand. Later, we find Moon-sook and Kim alone on the beach. She has told him that she prefers Jung-rae, who is, however, just a friend, not a lover. Both call out "I love you" into the sea. First she, then he, then both together. Is an echo audible? In any event, we hear the roaring of the waves and the wind in the microphone. These words mean little enough. In Hong's films, people speak in order to wound, or just to say something, words that simply fade away. And people speak in order to lie. But it would be wrong to assume that Hong distrusts language. For it is precisely through speech that the wretchedness of his characters is endowed with expression. Words are not binding, because the men do not want to commit themselves, and cannot. Being narcissists, they fail to grasp even the concept of commitment.

In place of commitment enters obsession, the perfect narcissistic substitute. An absurd commitment to an image. Kim finds unendurable the notion that the woman he wants something from has slept with other men. Moon-sook relates how she has slept with German men in Germany. Kim, who has spent the night with another woman, lies down next to Moon-sook, complaining that he finds the image of her in bed with a German man unendurable. Kim weeps, ostensibly because of what she's doing to him. Two days or so later, things come to a head. Kim remains at the resort, Jung-rae and Moon-sook are back in Seoul. Kim has sought out another woman, whom he informs that she resembles Moon-sook (which is utterly false). He spends the night with her in bed. Moon-sook, whom he tells via telephone that she is beautiful, returns to the resort. (Jung-rae has by now completely disappeared from the picture.) Kim paints a diagram for Moon-sook which explicates his obsession with a false image. He must, as he explains to her, replace his false obsession with an appropriate fantasy. Dot, dot, triangle, stroke. Theory replaces deed. And indeed, theory produces nothing more than additional lies.

Playfully, but no more gently than in his previous works, Hong Sang-soo sets in motion the endless circling of love and injury. At times, music plays, commenting on the action. The most striking formal resource is no longer, as in his last film "Tale of Cinema", the violent, racing, zoom which breaks up the image. In its place now comes a different zoom style, slower, steadier, more circumspect, a zoom that works to reframe the shot, sliding in and pausing there. At times, it is used to push a third protagonist out of the image, at times this reframing has less drastic consequences. Possibly, it is to be understood not semantically, but instead essentially gesturally. As a gesture, this zoom provides new images as points of stability. Or perhaps of rest as well. For between these points of rest we encounter a certain indecisiveness, a slippage of images and stories. A dog is left behind. A path in a forest. A fall onto a knee. A strained muscle, which no one needs. In the end, Kim will have written his screenplay. In the end, Moon-sook, the woman on the beach, will be alone, without Kim. I don't like repeats, she informs him by telephone. If there are any redemptive words in this film, it is these.

Ekkehard Knörer

Haebyuneui Yoein - "Woman On The Beach" Director: Hong Sangsoo. With Kim Seung-woo, Ko Hyun-joung, Kim Tae-woo, Song Sun-mi and others. South Korea, 2006, 127 mins (Panorama)



"Lady Chatterley" by
Pascale Ferran (Panorama)

Clear strokes, shots and repeats of shots create a situation at the start. Constance's husband returns from the war. He is crippled and impotent. And his paralysis, his impotence literally paralyses and weakens Constance as well. This is the opening situation, many words are not necessary. The images, the faces, the montage say it all. Pascale Ferran has not filmed D.H. Lawrence's "Lady Chatterley", she has turned the story that the novel narrates into a film that self-assuredly separates itself from its origins and its original medium. Ferran has not managed to purge all the pull towards symbolism, the overbearing meaningfulness of the original material, but she counters this with utterly unpretentious images such as the following: Contance has a nightmare, she awakes. Cut. In the morning her sister comes to visit, Constance is lying feebly in bed. Cut. She goes to the doctor, who advises her to regain her strength or he won't be able to guarantee anything. Cut. Constance leaves the house and its oppressive atmosphere. She walks through the vast grounds, more woods than gardens, the camera shows us, with unobtrusive shots, plants, branches, bush: nature. Which means nature and stands for "nature" and vitality, in the book as in the film, but in the film it's just there, set free from its narrative connection by close-ups. Still symbolic but the symbolism is floating, light, almost transformed by its mere presence.

And among all this nature is a hut and behind the hut stands the gamekeeper Parkin, stripped to the waist, washing himself. Parkin is a man of nature. It is the way that Pascale Ferran transforms what in Lawrence's book can be unbearable symbolic burdens into almost naturalistic shots that makes this film so successful. We see Constance and her desire and her timidity. She steals herself away only to return moments later. This is shown as if it were all a matter of course. And everything can be read in Martina Hands' face, without the slightest effort. Hands is an actress who finds nuances, not expressions, which perfectly embody the growing interest of her character in herself and the world. And that's so important and so satisfying because "Lady Chatterley" is all about exactly that: embodiment. But not in a way that the bodies have to carry meaning, but just that here are bodies and things. And there is freedom when they come into contact. The scene of greatest freedom, of greatest happiness, comes long after the bodies of Constance and Parkin have found each other: a race in the pouring rain, a hunt, which also gives itself up to the camera (Godard cameraman Julian Hirsch), scampering, running, unobtrusively; naked people, or, more precisely, bodies freed from all clothes and feelings of guilt in boots and shoes. A race that ends in the mud, the body of a man, the body of a woman. Later in the hut Parkin decorates the body of his lover with flowers.

This sounds silly, but it isn't. The film truly earns every risky image because it is patient, and because it makes the effort to look closely and because nothing could be further from its intention than to exploit naked bodies. Its about nothing more and nothing less than the liberation to the innocence of lust. This doesn't happen in an instant. And it can't be expected to endure. The camera first follows what the hands are doing, and the bodies which at first are decent and clothed during sex. Nakedness, the real closeness of bodies, the obvious curiosity about the bodies of others, these are the result of an approach that demands time. "Lady Chatterley", the first film by Pascale Ferran in twelve years takes the time it needs and gives it to us and to its couple, who find a love that at the end of the dream is at least given a hope of enduring.

Ekkehard Knörer

"Lady Chatterley". Directed by Pascale Ferran. With Marina Hands, Jean-Louis Coulloc'h, Hippolyte Girardot among others. France/Belgium 2006, 168 mins (Panorama)


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