Saturday, 28 April 2012

German Film Awards 2012

Last night, the German Film Academy held their annual award ceremony at Berlin's Friedrichstadt Palace. 

Here is the list of winners: 

I I I Best Feature Film - Gold HALT AUF FREIER STRECKE (Stopped On Track), producers: Peter Rommel – Rommel Film – directed by: Andreas Dresen 

I I I Best Feature Film - Silver BARBARA, producers: Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Michael Weber – Schramm Film Koerner & Weber – directed by: Christian Petzold 

I I I Best Feature Film - Bronze KRIEGERIN (Combat Girls), producers: Eva-Marie Martens, René Frotscher – Mafilm Martens Filmund Fernsehproduktion – directed by: David Wnendt 

I I I Best Documentary GERHARD RICHTER PAINTING, producers: Thomas Kufus – zero one film – directed by: Corinna Belz 

I I I Best Screenplay David Wnendt KRIEGERIN (Combat Girls

I I I Best Director Andreas Dresen HALT AUF FREIER STRECKE (Stopped On Track
I I I Best Actress Alina Levshin KRIEGERIN (Combat Girls

I I I Best Actor Milan Peschel HALT AUF FREIER STRECKE (Stopped On Track

I I I Best Supporting Actress Dagmar Manzel DIE UNSICHTBARE (The Invisible
I I I Best Supporting Actor Otto Mellies HALT AUF FREIER STRECKE (Stopped On Track
I I I Best Cinematography Anna J. Foerster ANONYMOUS 
I I I Best Editing Peter R. Adam ANONYMOUS 
I I I Best Production Design Sebastian Krawinkel ANONYMOUS 
I I I Best Costume Design Lisy Christl ANONYMOUS 
I I I Best Make-Up Björn Rehbein, Heike Merker ANONYMOUS 
I I I Best Score Lorenz Dangel HELL 
I I I Best Sound Editing Hubert Bartholomae, Manfred Banach ANONYMOUS 
I I I Honorary Award Michael Ballhaus 
I I I Bernd Eichinger Award Michael Bully Herbig

Alina Levshin, receiving the Lola Award last night for her portrayal of a Neo-Nazi in Combat Girls 

Andreas Dresen, Alina Levshin, and Milan Peschel last night at Berlin's Friedrichstadt Palace

Thursday, 26 April 2012

My Week With Marilyn, Simon Curtis, UK/ US 2011

My Week With Marilyn is a vain effort, I'm afraid; a film that would have been better left unfilmed. It's not that it's a particularly bad film, no, it simply isn't one that benefits anyone, neither the viewer, nor the participants, nor its subject, one of (film-)history's greatest legends, and one of the most talked about, photographed, and fatally misunderstood women of all time.

My Week With Marilyn is based on the book by Colin Clark, who collaborated with Monroe on her UK adventure, The Prince and the Showgirl back in 1957. As always with personal accounts such as memoirs and autobiographies, they have to be taken with a pinch of salt, especially when they've been written decades after the fact. Again, this doesn't automatically make them bad reading material. After all, there are many reasons why one may choose to read a book, any book, biographies and memoirs included, and factual accuracy is but one of them. The same, by the way, goes for movies, too. A movie which is based on a particular event in history may be enjoyed for all sorts of reasons other than its historical accuracy. After all, cinematography, dialogue, acting, costumes, and so on, contribute a great deal to the finished product.

However, I'm afraid to say that My Week With Marilyn has little to offer in that respect as the film's production values are average at best. Moreover, its title already bears so much promise and anticipation - my week with Marilyn - that really, that is what the viewer expects. But there's not much there, either. At least for those who are remotely familiar with the life of the famous lady in question as her life, moves, antics, ups and downs, and so on, are probably better documented than that of any other movie star. Put differently, whether the budding love story between Monroe and Clark happened such as it is portrayed in the movie is something I don't know, of course. Nevertheless, the way it is portrayed is uninspired, though, to be fair, I'm not sure if given its subject-matter, there would have been a better, more adequate, way to tackle it.

Michelle Williams has the thankless task of portraying the most famous woman in motion picture history, one whose image, looks, and so on, have become part of our collective memory. But besides the sheer impossibility of doing justice to the person in question - as well as to our image of her - impersonating Monroe is a particularly tricky undertaking for she had what some claim amounted to a love affair between herself and the camera. Directors who worked with Monroe spoke of a 'frightened girl, terrified to go in front of the camera', 'a relatively plain beauty', 'a good actress, and a much better comedienne' - never mind that she was much underrated, and more often than not, typecast as the dumb blonde - in other words, nothing about Monroe was all that different from other actresses, let alone hinted at the phenomenon that she'd go on to outshine any of her colleagues, past and present.

Yet, in the transformation from celluloid to screen something happened. A transformation in Monroe. Suddenly there was magic. She radiated, illuminated, the screen. She had presence -  in a way that is extremely rare, even among the greatest of actresses. Thus, for any actress attempting to live up to that is a challenge, to say the least, and even one as talented as Williams must have known what she's up against.

This is exemplified at the film's beginning, though I'm sure  inadvertently so, when we witness Colin watching a contemporary screening of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. At first, we only hear music of what we instantly recognise to be the first bars of Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend. Colin seems mesmerised, and so are we, until the camera pans from Colin's face to the screen  and we realise that he's in fact watching Williams playing Monroe rather than Monroe herself. My jaw dropped instantly, and I cannot believe the director didn't know that this was the effect this scene was going to provoke in any viewer who's ever seen Monroe on screen - which means practically everybody - especially in that particular scene! Why Curtis didn't simply keep the camera on Colin's mesmerised face in a long take close-up, capturing his emotions while watching Monroe, leaving the rest up to the viewer's imagination, is anybody's guess. This clumsiness by the director is one of the gravest flaws in the film for looking at Williams doing Monroe's signature number it remains unfathomable to the viewer why Colin  should be mesmerised. But this obviously is precisely what this scene was supposed to establish, for the whole premise of My Week With Marilyn hinges on Colin's infatuation with Marilyn, on his being caught in the rapture of her magic. Alas, what we see is bereft of any magic whatsoever. And if we're unable to believe him, relate to him - the whole film falls apart.

Though Miss Williams undeniably is one of the best actresses of her generation - live up to Monroe she doesn't. Can't.

Having not read Clark's book, I'm of course unable to judge it. The film, though, is neither good nor is it particularly bad. It simply is one that is forgotten the minute you leave the theatre. And that is about the worst thing you can say about any film.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Martha Marcy May Marlene, Sean Durkin, US 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene is an off-beat psychological thriller revolving around a young woman, Martha, who, at the beginning of the film, we see fleeing from what looks like some Arcadian commune up in the Catskill Mountains.

She gets picked up by what we learn is her sister, Lucy, who is much older than Martha. Through their mutual conversations, we learn that both sisters share a difficult past, culminating in the death of their mother and with Lucy being older, she is riddled by feelings of guilt for not having looked after Martha the way she feels she should have.

This may be the reason why Martha was such easy prey for the Arcadian commune which, as it is revealed through Martha's dreams and nightmares that simultaneously serve as flashbacks for the viewer, is not Arcadian at all, but rather a cult not dissimilar to the Manson Family.

It was, however, during her stay with the cult that Martha was given the name Marcy May, for its leader, Patrick, thought that this is how she looks, a Marcy May. Though initially Martha feels quite at home in the group and has an easy time settling in, incidents of pointless, random, violence instigated by Patrick, put her off, eventually causing her to flee.

Yet, the group has nevertheless left its mark on Martha for apart from being haunted by nightmares, she also has considerable trouble adjusting to the life as led by Lucy and her husband, two upwardly mobile, moneyed, New Yorkers with a sprawling weekend getaway in Connecticut, which is were the better part of the film is set.

Haunted, revolted by her life with the cult, yet at the same time strangely drawn to it, one day Martha calls the group without disclosing her identity. The phone is answered with Marlene Lewis, and it is through a later flashback that it becomes clear that this is the codename used by all women from the cult in order to protect their identity.

As Martha acts increasingly strange, if not to say, violent, towards her sister and her husband, they decide to seek professional help. Surprisingly, Martha agrees. However, as they're driving off the next day to the institution Lucy and her husband selected, it seems that a car is following them. And with Martha continuously looking back, it is suggested that it may be Patrick or another cult member who's tailing them. If so, their intentions are equally up in the open. Whether they may just abduct Martha or whether they may kill Lucy and her husband just as cold bloodedly the way we saw them killing a random man earlier in the film, is up to the viewer to decide or imagine. With its slow, subtle, build-up, the film as a whole is rather disturbing, reaching its climax, as it were, in this unsettling ending.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, psycho thriller, which is why it's one of the better ones I've seen in recent years. Durkin understands the mechanisms of what scares us to a 't'. The answer is as simple as it is ingenious: that, which we don't know. It's the old fear of the unknown. Film and real life are very much alike in that respect.

Consequently, Durkin sends us home guessing about certain twists and turns in his film - to say noting of its ending! It is precisely because he's left so many questions unanswered, and the fact that we have to piece parts of the film together in our minds that we're left with a feeling of unease and trepidation.

And what more can you expect from a psychological thriller?

Monday, 9 April 2012

Et si on vivait tous ensemble?, Stephane Robelin, France 2011

Et si on vivait tous ensmble? is a light, entertaining comedy about the pitfalls of getting old, much along the lines of Bette Davis' adage that old age ain't no place for sissies.

A bunch of elderly people - friends, who've known each other for decades - decide that it would be best for all concerned if they lived together. What follows is that after the pitfalls of getting old (and sick - Alzheimer' Cancer, etc.), we're now privy to the pitfalls of being old and living in a house-share. Robelin's film is not so much a revelation or a hilarious comedy as it is a film which besides attracting an audience above the age 20 (a rarity in today's film production!), addresses a topic which has never received a great deal of attention from film makers - getting old - probably because it's something none of wants to dwell on for too long, secretly hoping probably, that by ignoring the topic it'll go away or at least, spare us. Thing is, it won't, and the best thing - besides assembling such a stellar cast of actors! - that can be said about Robelin's film is that it does confront us with this admittedly uncomfortable question. And yet the example in the film clearly demonstrates that there are indeed alternatives to spending one's last remaining years whithering away alone and forsaken in a nursing home ... and who ever set foot - or volunteered - in nursing home knows, that ending there is indeed something that must be avoided at all cost. After facing the fact that living alone is no longer an option, but nor is checking into a nursing home, Chaplin, Fonda & Co. opt for a very viable, not to mention much more humane, alternative which, hopefully, will be widely replicated across the world in the years to come.

About the stellar cast. I've always been an admirer of both Chaplin and Fonda, and not just because they're both great actresses and great and gracious personalities. Moreover, they are prime examples of what's referred to as ageing gracefully. There are no faces distorted by Botox here, nor any other facial or otherwise physical alteration that suggests plastic surgery. Both actresses have their share of wrinkles - but they look all the better and all the more real for it! It enables them not only to still get roles, but to play roles that are worthy of their talent - and age.

I just wish, some of those faded Hollywood Divas who've since turned into veritable freaks would have taken their cue from Fonda and Chaplin before they had their faces and bodies tinkered with, butchered and mutilated beyond recognition!

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Take Shelter, Jeff Nichols, US 2011

Told in a nutshell, Take Shelter is the story of the end of the world according to the film's male lead, Curtis LaForche, played by Michael Shannon. As such, it is very much a film whose narrative neatly fits into our time, so much riddled by angst as a result of universal economic instability and an increasing number of environmental disasters.

Curtis has been having nightmares that are more like premonitions. These nightmares are cleverly woven into the narrative, leaving the viewer guessing at first, if what's happening on screen is, in fact, real, or just the result of Curtis' imagination. A man of few words, Curtis is very reluctant to share his visions with anyone for fear of not being taken seriously. It is only when as a consequence of his nightmares he starts acting more and more peculiar that he decides to seek professional help.

But none of the shrinks and counsellors he consults see Curtis' nightmares as anything but just that - nightmares - unable, or unwilling, to read anything into them, let alone visions of a looming Apocalypse. Things go from bad to worse, but it is primarily Curtis' little world that by and by begins to fall apart rather than the world as a whole. Which is why we, the viewers, too, are also at a loss right up to the film's end, whether it is really Curtis who's gone off the rails or if indeed the world as a whole is heading towards disaster.

What makes Nichols' film outstanding and lifts it more than just a few notches above similar such apocalyptic visions are the pacing and, even more remarkably, the fact that Nichols succeeds in creating suspense by relying almost entirely on his story, his actors, and the cinematography. In other words, this ain't a disaster movie of the usual kind, which abound in special effects, death and destruction. There is literally none of that in Take Shelter.

That, however, is precisely what makes Nichols' particularly disturbing, because it's almost too real for comfort.