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The 72nd Berlin International Film Festival will take place from February 10 to 17, 2022 under the motto "It all (re)starts here".
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VALENTINES Day in Berlin – Last day of the 2009 Berlinale

Ten days have gone by like a flash and I'm sitting here in the press room on Saturday afternoon, Valentine's Day, mulling over the dull flicks I slept through, the one or two that kept me awake, and the handful that I really wanted to see but never got around to. ("John Rabe", Sean Penn's "Milk", a Persian film called "Barbareye Elly", the latest Wajda, and a few others). Of the half dozen competition films I did get to, not one was a real winner, and most were so lame you can only wonder how they ever got picked to run in the all important competition for the coveted Golden Bear grand prize in the first place. Some were half-baked independent films that looked like they wouldn't even get a booking at Sundance. Of course maybe one of the ones I didn't see was Gold Bear-worthy, but most journalists here seem to agree that this has been one of the most disappointing competition years in ...years.  It was also a pretty so-so year in the glamour department, as far as attracting the kind of hot stars that have the red carpet gawkers hanging on the ropes for hours on end, just waiting to get a glimpse of a favorite deity or snag a scrawl on the back of a napkin. The big star was Kate Winslet on day number two but it was sort of downhill from there on with a fading fiftyish Michelle Pfeiffer and a matronly family oriented Demi Moore providing the main gloss backed up by a still somewhat winsome Renée Zellweger.
Somebody here in the press room is circulating a complaint slip soliciting signatures from all those who agree that the venues for films are so spaced out all over town that it's almost impossible to get around to most of the important films you need to write about, if that happens to be what you're here to do. And can't this situation be remedied? (yeah-yeah).  On principle I never sign anything, but this time I happened to agree and the Goeorgian gal with the paper was so nice that I appended by John Hancock (in fact, that's actually the name I used) ...


  
Renée Zellweger at the press conference for “My One and Only” looked a lot better in person than she did in the film. At right, Yours Truly, at the U-Bahn station near the festival, on Valentine’s day morning.

Renée Zellweger in the Berlinale Palast before the premiere of Richard Loncraine's My One And Only.


English director Richard Loncraine’s  competition flick, “My One and Only” starring Renée Zellweger  and Kevin Bacon, was a passably entertaining light semi-comedy set in the fifties and totally retro in every way, especially the music and the cars. The uncredited  other star of the movie is a powder blue Eldorado Cadillac convertible, vintage 1954, in which Zellweger takes off with her two teenage sons on a cross-country trip when she catches her profligate husband (Kevin Bacon) in flagrante with another woman and decides to leave him on the spot. For the third day in a row we had an aging, or at least not-so-young  Hollywood star doing the honors in a basically throwaway competition film. (the other two were Michelle Pfeiffer and Demi Moore in films discussed earlier).  Zellweger, a very capable and versatile actress, has been around for quite a while but didn’t really make it big until the gigantic hit “Brigitte Jones Diary” 2001, in which she played a plain-Jane English girl getting racked over the coals by various British cads but winning out in the end in spite of her plain looks and pudgy figure.  The funny thing about Zellweger is that she really is plain-looking , compared, say, to the likes of a Nicole Kidman or a Catherine Zeta-Jones, both of whom she partnered in “Chicago” (2002), and yet people react to her as if she were some kind of exceptional beauty.   
In this film after leaving her stray band leader husband she sets off with her two boys, one fluffily gay, the other straight as an arrow, determined to find a rich alternate husband to support them all.  It seems she is well known by wealthy older men all over the map, and all consider her to be a raving if somewhat fading beauty.  At long last when they finally get to the West Coast after various misadventures along the way, Bacon comes after her for a reconciliation.  Kevin actually has a minor role in the picture and Renée’s real co-star (besides the Cadillac) is 17 year old wise-cracking actor Logan Lehman, a very handsome young cat who all but steals the show as “George Hamilton”, in the picture.  A colleague at the screening remarked that “this kid is going to be the next Leonardo Dicaprio”, and I couldn’t help thinking this guy just might be right!  Aside from the incredible collection of cream condition classic cars in the movie (one of Renée’s numerous admirers drives a cream puff  ’37 ford coupe)  the main value of this pic is maybe in the unveiling of a major new talent. Otherwise it’s strictly routine, but harmless and fun. At least it kept me awake the whole time.
The front pages of the morning papers today were all adorned with photos and background stories about German actress Heike Makatsch (37) who plays the title role in the new German biopic of iconic German actress Hildegard Knef who died in 2002 at the age of 77.  Knef was the first big German movie star after the war causing a sensation when she appeared nude in a picture called “The Sinner”. The Catholic Church protested vehemently against that film but Hildegard just commented: "I can't understand all that tumult - five years after Auschwitz!" The actress had a brief, not very rewarding Hollywood career, appearing in a few American movies, notably “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” (1952), before moving back to Germany.  In Hollywood she was overshadowed by fellow Teuton Marlene Dietrich, but in Germany she was big news for a long time. Not only as an actress but also as a successful singer of hit songs which she herself wrote. In later life she established a reputation as a writer, as the author of several best-selling books including An auetobiography.
The film “Hilde” deals mainly with Hildegard’s return to Germany in 1966  at age forty where she was treated with a certain contempt as a “deserter”, but eventually regained her prominence and the affection of the public.  With thick blond hair and sensuous lips, actress Makatsch has an acceptable physical resemblance to Knef and, being herself a vocalist of some note, performs many of the well known Hildegard Knef ballads herself in the picture.  The film is a box office success here but feelings about the film are rather mixed –some love it some hate it – according to their own feelings about the original Hildegard.  It is not however, very likely that it will translate into bankable box office outside of Germany.
  
The final competition film to be shown, as the festival closer following the awards ceremony, was a “Eden Is West” Eden à l'Ouest, a film about  illegal immigration throughout Europe, by Costa-Gavras.  Gavras (born 1932) has long been known as a director addressing himself to sensitive political issues all over the world such as the CIA plot in Chile (“Missing”, 1982), the takeover of Greece by a Military Junta (‘Z’, 1969) or, more recently, the connivance of Pope Pius with the Nazis in WWII, in the film “Amen” which was shown here at the Berlin fest in 2002.  Gavras stated at the press conference that although the film was shot partly in Greece (his first Greek language film in over thirty years ( as he has lived in Paris for many years) he does not name any countries because, since illegal immigration is a problem all over Europe,  he does not want his film to tie the problem down to a single country. The press conference itself, lightly attended, went on in four languaqes, French, German, Italian, and English.  Most articulate was Italian actor Riccardo Scarmacio, who is qui9te a sex sybol back home in Italy, but was taken aback when Gavras offered him a leading paert in the film because he looked right for the role.  The idea of the title “Eden is West”, is, of course, obliquely a reference to “East of Eden” but ti se3ocifically refers to the fact that for illegals entering Europe from the south (for example in Greece) their ultimate goal is to get to the wealthier countries of Western Europe, but as Scarmacio pointed out, in the film you see that the West is that the Garden of Eden the illegals thought it would be for them.
The one film I really regret missing, because it will probably be hard to find outside of Germany once the festival is over, is “John Rabe”, a German film directed by Florian Gallenberger. This is a true-story account of a German businessman who saved more than 200,000 Chinese during the Nanjing massacres of 1937-38 which have come to be known as “Tzhe Rape of Nanking”.  Since the Japanese were part of the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo “Axis” alignment, Rabe, a German had a certain amount of influence and used it to establish a safety zone for Chinese civilians who were being randomly and brutally murdered en masse by the bestial Japanese invaders.  A typical Japanese  game was to tie a prisoner to a post and then use him for live bayonet practice.  Women of all ages were raped right and left and then murdered.  Not very nice people these ordinary Japanese soldiers who raped and ran amok as their officers either looked the other way or joined in on the fun.


There is an excellent docudrama about the same subject, “Nanking” which I saw at the Seattle Intl Film Festival in 2007. That film co-directed by Dan Stuhrman and  Bill Guttentag, tlls the story of John Rabe, played by Jürgen Prochnow, plus two other foreigners living in Nanking at the time who helped save Chinese civilians from the rampaging Jap, An American , Bob Wilson, played by Woody Harrelson, and n A,erican woman, Minnie Vautrin played by Mariel Hemingway.  The idea of a “good Nazi” is very much in the air these days in Germany with the Tom Cruise film “Operation Valkyrie”  doing very well at the German box-office in a Germman dubbed version. This is the one in which Tom plays Claus von  Stauffenberg, the Wehrmacht officer who headed the unsuccessful plot to kill Hitler near the end of the war. In any case,it should be interesting to see how the Germans themselves see another card carrying Nazi who saved civilians from unprovoked military massacre -- Okay, they were Chinese, not Jews, but anyway….
In general 2009 has been a year of multiple anniversary commemorations of various kinds. First of all the all of the Berlin Wall, thirty years ago in 1989  is marked by an outdoor exhibit of some interest, set up right on the square where the main U-bahn (Underground) exit pours people out every morning onto the festival grounds,  Then this is the tenth anniversary of the move from the old Budapester strasselocation in deep west Berlin to the new central sub city in Mitte, Potsdamer Platz.  On a personal level, French director Claude Chabrol, is being honored on the fiftieth anniversary of his very early film, ‘Les Cousins, a typical Nouvelle vague piece which took a Golden Bear home in 1959. Chabrol, now 78, also has a new film of his here, “Bellamy” starring Gerard Depardieu, the very first collaboration between these two giants of the French cinema.  French composer Maurice Jarre, 84, received a career award during the week. Jarre has been one of the busiest of all composers of screen music ovedr the years with some 164 titles going back to 1959, and has worked all over the world. Among his credits are the famous scores for “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Doctor Zhivago”, both by David Lean, and both of which earned him Oscars.
Polish master director Andrzej Wajda, now 82 and still going strong, had a film in competition here (for the nth time) entitled “Tatarak” English title Sweet Rush” starring the grand dame of polish cinema, Krystyna Janda. Janda got her start with Wajda in his landmark film “The Man of Marble”, 1968.  She was married to ace cameraman Edward Klosinski, who died too young about a year ago. In the film, as in Wajda’s “Everythiing for Sale”, a fictional death and a real death of one close to the people in the  making of the film are intermingled- Didn’t get to see it but it has got to be interesting and wills surely surface at other festivals-


Another super old-timer here this year is Manoei Oliveira of Portugal. His latest opus is entitled “Singularidades de uma Rapariga Loira” (Eccentricities of a Blonde-haired Girl). Manoel will be 101 in September 2009, but he was only a mere hundred when he completed this picture.  Undoubtedly the oldest film director currently active and probably the only man ever to direct a movie at age one hundred.  Now if that ain’t something to write home about, I don’t know what is.
The various bear prizes have just been announced. Many reporters followed the awards ceremony live on computer screens here in the press room rather than trying to con somebody for a ticket to the gala across the street in the great Glass Cavern of the Berlin Palast.  A  Spanish language film from Peru, “La Teta Asustada”, which means something like the “frightened tit”, took the Grand Prix Golden bear.  That’s one I didn’t get to see, because I was busy watching dumb American star vehicles, but it must have something because the director,,a good looking young woman by the name of  Claudia Llosa is the niece of leading Peruvian writer,  Mario Vargasi Llosa. Speaking of female relatives of famous writers making films these days, one Rebecca miller had a film in competition here entitles “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee” based on her own book. She must have writing in her blood since she is the daughter of Nobel prize winning playright Arthur Miller. 
Finally, the only party I got to during  the week was a good one, the Turkish embassy reception at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. I only scored an invite because I know Turkish film honcho, Dr. Ahmet Boyacioglu, of the Ankara based Festival on Wheels:  We became friends some five years ago at a press conference for the film ‘Solaris’ starring George Clooney. Of course everybody in the room was sucking up heavily to gorgeous George telling him ho0w great he was and so forth.. Dr. Boyagioglu was standing at the back and was finally recognized by the chair for a question. “Well, it’s not exactly a question –I just wanted to say that I found the film quite boring”.  With this Mr. Clooney. normally the picture of cool, totally blew it and snarled back, practically in a rage “Who do you think you are --Did you ever try to MAKE a film?  Affter the conference I told Ahmet  that although I wasn’t bored I treasured his right to express his opinion and thought that George had been totally out of line. That led to our friendship and a nice Turklish party five years later. And so it goes, and the balcony is now closed at Berlin,2009 until next year, if it is the will of Allah.
Dr. Ahmet Boyagioglu and Bashak Emek, co-directors of the Festival on Wheels in Turkey, at the ritzy Ritz Carltojn reception in Berlin. .
  
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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