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Belafonte in Berlin --and a Wiff of Madonna ...

by Alex Deleon

In a flash Day 5 (of ten) has already arrived and the fest is already half over, although it seems like it just began. Like it or not what really makes a  festival like Berlin second only to Cannes --besides the 400 or so films from around the world shown --is the St***ar power it generates, and festival director Dieter Kosslick makes no bones about this. He goes all out to invite as many big name stars as possible and even claims that the worst nightmare of his ten year posting as festival director was one year when the stars of a film canceled out one after another leaving him to rep the film standing alone on the red carpet.
The big one of Day two was "Margin Call", a Wall Street crisis  of 2008 film starring Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, and Demi Moore.  Both Kevin and Jeremy put in Red Carpet appearances (Irons with a rather shaggy leather jacket and boots look), but the local papers lamented the non-appearance of actress Demi Moore, who is a favorite here from past appearances -- but pulled a no-show this time with nary a note of apology for her absence.   
  
Saturday was a slow day, the main comp film being "Almanya --willkommen in Deutschland", another entry in the growing inventory of films about the large Turkish community in Germany and their problems of adjustment, but a big day in legendary star arrivaldom --none other other than that man of Calypso Ultrafame, Harry Belafonte, now pushing 84. 

Mr. Belafonte
is here to represent a full-length (RT 94min.) laudatory documentary on his life and career, "Sing Your Song" directed by  Susanne Rostock and coproduced by Harry's daughter, Gina Belafonte. Both Gina and director Rostock were on hand, flanking Mr. Belafonte  at the conference table, at a surprisingly sparsely attended press conference for such a legendary figure of the entertainment world.  It was undoubtedly the late hour on a Saturday evening that accounted for the limited journalistic turnout, but those who were there were treated to a long highly articulate historical disquisition on the man's more than half a century of activity as a world famous singer, an actor in a number of Hollywood films (notably "Carmen Jones", Preminger, 1954) but, above all, as a political activist who, among many other achievements, broke the color line at once all white Las Vegas, when he was the first man of color to jump into a vegas swimming pool and attract a bevy of fawning white admirers.  
With a totally shaved head and a face much different from the supremely handsome young man of the mid-fifties, Belafonte was barely recognizable but the silky soft voice and sharp mind was still there.  Seeing Harry Belafonte up there in person looking and talking like an ancient guru I could not help feeling that this was a moment of true Berlinale history.
Belafonte also appears briefly in another documentary revealed here in the Panorama section, "The Black Power Mixtape",  directed by Goran Hugo Olsson of Sweden. with the "original caste", notably Stokely Carmicheal, Eldridge Cleaver, and Angela Davis in her fabulous Afro hairdo.  This film composed mostly of footage shot in the sixties by Swedish foto teams, says the director, provides a view on how the Black Power movement was seen at the time through Swedish eyes -- in many ways extremely hostile to the American establishment in those Viet Nam days. This doc is one of the hot numbers of the week with multiple extra screenings to accommodate a love-to-hate-America curious German public.

On Sunday German star director Wim Wenders, once a leading light of the New German cinema but now practically a senior citizen at 65 with flowing gray locks, checked in with his latest work, "Pina", a 3D documentary (in a section of "Homages") on the career of one of the leading German modern dance Divas, Pina Bausch, who died last year at age 68 -- with "Black Swan" in Oscar contention  this looks like a good year for La Danse.  Werner Herzog, now 68 and the other German New Wave leader of the latter last century, is here to show his "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"  a 3-D documentary on the earliest known pictorial creations ever made by mankind, (perhaps Neanderthals) on the stone walls inside the all but inaccessible Chauvet Caves of Southern France.  But why 3-D?  -- Says Herzog, the enhanced dimensionality was necessary to capture the true grit of these extremely early prehistoric wall paintings. Two three Ds for the price of one --  none in fact --if you have a press pass at this year's Berlinale.

The big competition pic on Monday was "Corialanus" -- the Shakespeare play adopted to a modern setting, directed by and starring Ralph Fiennes who is in town to promote his directorial debut along with co-star Vanessa Redgrave, a British acting legend in her own right, still trucking splendidly at 74.  This is basically a fiery high shootout modern war film with Elizabethan dialogue. Fiennes (Proper pronunciation "Fines" as in Traffic fines) -- stated that if Shakespeare were alive today he would surely be writing screenplays, because his plays are "so cinematic" and his dialogues so contemporary. I personally found the Shakespeare update interesting as an experiment, but not interesting enough as a movie to endure standing up to it in an overpacked sardinelike SRO screening at the Friedrichstadt Palace -- so I bounded  outward after about half an hour and a couple of good scenes with Vanessa. After all, one can always read the book ...

One of the real surprises of the week so far has been a will-of-the-wisp one night stand and quick fadeout by lady Madonna, 52 year old pop diva, who is now trying to establish a filmmaking career on the side. She was last here three years ago with a film she directed called "Filth and Wisdom" which was so inept "it wasn't even bad" -- and immediately disappeared. Her new work entitled "W.E." is a  romantic drama focusing on the affair between King Edward VIII and American divorcée Wallis Simpson, the English monarch who gave up his throne "for the love of a woman" in 1936. Edward abdicated on 11 December 1936 so that he could marry the American divorcee Wallis Simpson, who became known as The Duchess of Windsor. The Duke and Duchess of Windsor then became extremely high profile and slightly outrageous international celebrities all during WW II and for years thereafter. Interestingly, the duke's younger brother who then became King George VI, father of the present queen of England, is the subject of another high profile film in this years festival, "The King's Speech" -- which is also a strong Oscar contender this year in multiple Best categories.
Madonna says she has been working on this film for three years and, considering her own multi-marital experiences, she may come up with a winner this time around. The pic was shown in an unfinished version here at a sneak preview for only 200 invited guests and then La Madonna vanished into thin air  -- still generating much German newsprint in all the papers the following day, even with an all but invisible Berlin visitation. Niot that is what you gotta call "Star Power"! 

Alex deleon

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Berlin 2019: The dailies from the Berlin Film Festival brought to you by our team of festival ambassadors. Vanessa McMahon, Alex Deleon, Laurie Gordon, Lindsay Bellinger and Bruno Chatelin...
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