The Local View ? Neighbourhood Cinemas and Alternative Film Projects

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GoetheInstitute

11/02/2007

Breathless 4

See all our Berlinale film reviews at a glance.

Uninterested in reality: Rudolphe Marconi's "Lagerfeld Confidentiel" (Panorama)

I could barely watch. These atrocious suits with their silver chains and belts, these rings, at least four per finger, most of them resting on the first two fingers. That walk. It's all so incredibly affected.

And then, after all I was impressed. Karl Lagerfeld is the most unsentimental person imaginable. He once said he is uninterested in reality. Yet by the end of the film you get the impression that it was precisely his sense of reality that got him where he is today. You see him at work, taking photographs, drawing, discussing collections, trying on clothes. Once he stretches out a thick black wool sleeve testing out how it looks hanging down past the hands. Only fingertips in red leather gloves peek out like small sausages. "It looks like a dog with a boner," he murmurs.

Then he sits around somewhere in an armchair and tells stories. He describes himself as a privileged lucky devil. He grew up in a wealthy household; his early acknowledged homosexuality (the giggling director can't even pronounce the word) posed no problem to his parents. Today he is a couturier for Chanel and can do anything and everything he wants to do. "All this without a degree or training!" Lagerfeld has no issues with status, privilege or luck. No regrets, no guilty conscience, no justifications. He is simply happy that everything turned out so well. Those who find such an attitude frivolous can sit back and relax. The film is so grainy; the colours are grey, that even the most splendid villas exude an atmosphere of row houses in Bad Bramstedt.

Lagerfeld does not dream of bygone days. He certainly does not think about photos of his young mother when he designs a dress. He lives in the here and now. One time he tries on a golden bomber jacket in a store that he is just about 50 years to old for. "Would you walk down the street with me in this?" he asks his companion. In the next scene we see him wearing this very jacket sitting in a chic Parisian club. Once he said, "If you live in an ivory tower – and I won't name any names – you'll see the result." Berlinale viewers can also see it. On the 14th, 16th and 18th, Panorama screens Olivier Meyrou's Film "Celebration", a documentary about Yves Saint Laurent's last two years in the fashion industry.

Anja Seeliger

"Lagerfeld Confidentiel". Directed by Rodolphe Marconi. France, 2006, 88 mins (Panorama Documente)



A self-executed slow death sentence: Robert de Niro: The Good Shepherd (Competition)

Anyone who maintains that espionage is an exciting and sensible career should watch Robert de Niro's epic on the founding of the CIA. No one would have imagined the first years of the world's most powerful secret service could be so unglamorous. This is mainly due to the character Edward Wilson played by Matt Damon, who utters about the same amount of words as Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Terminator". Wilson prefers to keep quiet and contemplate. This makes him an excellent secret service strategist, as his Russian adversary already assures him in post-war Berlin of 1945. Yet this also turns him into an emotional block of ice chiselled by the cold war, under which first his wife and then his son perishes.

This film is about loyalty. Already at the famous Yale student union "Skulls and Bones", where the future leaders of the country meet, they toast first to fraternity and then to God. Shortly prior to the US entry into World War II, Wilson is recruited to the Office of Strategic Services, because he is correctly assessed as an ardent patriot and a naive idealist. It becomes apparent as the story unfolds - through dirty revolutions in Latin American countries to the failed landing in the bay of Pigs - that when in doubt, the fatherland always comes first for Wilson.

The cool, calculating chess player Wilson, and only Robert de Niro really cares about his development, attempts to remain consistent, only to be checkmated by the inconsistent world. He wants to protect his son is eventually forced to betray him, as well as his country, for which he has sacrificed everything. He cheated on his wife long ago. Calmly and with endless patience de Niro unfurls his Entwicklungsroman about a poetry student who becomes a Special Operations director. This is no overnight process but a slow death sentence that drags over decades and is is finally exectuted not in the name of the US, but of "the company". Robert de Niro celebrates Wilson's dehumanisation with a certain amount of practiced opulence, with the support of a bevy of illustrious actors.

None of the supporting roles are given enough space to leave any impression: neither Wilson's colleagues, nor the traitors, nor his opponents, nor even the mother of his son played by Angelina Jolie. Women are meaningless two-dimensional objects in this film. Men play chess the world over, and anything that falls in their path becomes a pawn in the game.

Matt Damon plays Wilson with such restraint that it soon gets painful. Wilson is as stiff as his collar and even the most major setbacks merely cause a another wrinkle in his always lightly furrowed brow. Wilson's austere and inhumane approach is ultimately his downfall. And the film barely survives these 167 minutes of gravitas and devotion. How can someone as shrewd as Wilson, who is modest, and not even addicted to drugs or sex, how can someone like him truly believe in something for decades on end, something that was proved to be a construct when his mentor and literature professor was liquidated for vague security concerns in the first year?

Wilson swallows everything his whole life long. Usually people like this flip out at some point. Yet Wilson does not explode. And neither, sadly, does the film. Now we have a vivid picture of the CIA is the hands of unbelievably ice-cold boring bureaucrats in denial. But the film is bureaucratic too. And even if the CIA story is of epic proportions, it could have still been told in half the time.

Christoph Mayerl

"The Good Shepherd". Director: Robert de Niro. Starring Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, Alec Guiness, Alec Baldwin, Tammy Blanchard, Martina Gedeck. USA, 2006. 167 minutes (Competition)



Making money with Money: Stefan Ruzowitzky's "The Counterfeiters" (Competition)

This film's story is quickly told. Salomon Sorowitsch, a Jew from Odessa, manages a thriving counterfeit money workshop in Berlin in the 1930's. He is actually an artist, but as he once says, "You can't earn money with art, so I prefer to make money with money." Sally gets caught and is sent to Mauthausen concentration camp. There he survives, only because the Obersturmbannführers want a portrait of themselves and their familes over the dining room table. In 1944 Sorowitsch is transferred to Sachsenhausen, where the man who originally arrested him greets him. Commissar Herzog, now an SS bigwig, wants to put Sally's talents at the Comissioner's disposal in order to manufacture counterfeit money: pounds and dollars.

This film is based on a true story. "Operation Bernhard" was a Nazi plan to wreck the British and US markets by inundating them with counterfeit money. The concentration camp prisoners were stuck in a dilemma of either abetting them and securing a relatively good life, or risking their own lives by sabotaging the affair. They did both. Sally Sorowitsch puts it this way in the film: "I don't want to do the Nazis the favour of making me feel ashamed of my own survival."

For the most part Stefan Ruzowitzky created a gripping film. His trump card is lead actor Karl Markovics, whose face looks unequivocally shaped by the 1930's. You never see Markovics act. He is simply there. Yet in the closing minutes Ruzowitzky spoils everything. Mauthausen is liberated and we see what we would rather not see: actors trying to portray emaciated concentration camp victims. That this works to some extent only renders the whole thing more obscene.

Anja Seeliger

"The Counterfeiters". Directed by Stefan Ruzowitzky. Starring Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Devid Striesow, Martin Brambach. Germany/ Austria, 2006, 99 mins (Competition)



She lights up, flies and yodels: Park Chan-wook's "I'm a Cyborg, but that's OK." (Competition)

Young-goon, is a young alien girl. She has a small oval face, a pouting upper lip, and an expression straight out of "The Fifth Element". In the film's opening scene she sits with other girls in a white room at long white tables. The girls are all wearing red clothes and headscarves and tinkering with some sort of devices. Only Young-goon follows the directions a soft voice that orders her from a loudspeaker to cut open her arms and to stick a cable in her veins. When she puts the plug in the socket, her toes light up: red, green, blue and yellow. Then she passes out.

Lim Soo-jung, who plays Young-goon, was a model before she became an actress. I don't know how she comes across to Korean or Chinese audiences, but to Europeans even without the props she looks like a beautiful cyborg. The sole make-up effects that enhance this are her dyed blond eyebrows and the fake teeth she sometimes wears. It's her favourite grandmother's set of teeth, who thought she was a mouse and ate radishes all day, until the family finally had enough and her put away in an lunatic asylum. But they forgot her dentures.

Young-goon is not a Cyborg, she's schizophrenic. However, it takes a while before the viewer grasps this. The first half hour, confused, you ask yourself if you have landed in a Korean pop-fairytale, a science fiction film or a surreal crime thriller.

Park Chan-wook became famous with his political thriller "JSA - Joint Security Area" and the ultra brutal revenge trilogy "Old Boy", "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance". There are no corpses in this film. Instead there is a scene where Young-goon violently rubs together two felt shoes, causing her bed to float in the air, where she is then hit by a ladybird and propelled by her boyfriend's powerful yodelling through the bars of the hospital window and up into the sky.

At the press conference, the director explained that the leitmotiv of this film is the question that cyborg Young-goon repeatedly asks other machines in the hospital – vending machines and lamps alike – what is the meaning of my existence?

It is of course terribly corny to say that love is the only salvation. Yet that Park Chan-wook has made a film in which he so naively and candidly asks the question of all questions instead of applying all western and eastern cultural distancing methods available to him, is outrageously courageous. Just think of all the philosophical junk that poor David Carradine in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill" has to rattle on about.

The film was not a sweeping success in Korea. Not even his own son liked it much, Park-Chan-wook mentioned at the press conference. I liked it, even if it took me several hours to come to this realization. But now I know, tonight I will dream of wonderful colours, of a machine in an invisible body that is powered by a jewellery box containing an image of a loved and hated mother, and of a charming and beautiful couple that in real life sacrificed three months of their time to learn how to yodel.

Anja Seeliger

"Sai bo gu ji man gwen chan a" - "I'm a Cyborg, but that's OK". Directed by Park Chan-wook. Starring Lim Soo-jung, Jung Ji-hoon. SRepublic of Korea, 2006, 105 mins (Competition)


See all our Berlinale film reviews at a glance.

Links:
Competition and Panorama
International forum of new cinema
Retrospective

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