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Established 1995 filmfestivals.com serves and documents relentless the festivals community, offering 92.000 articles of news, free blog profiles and functions to enable festival matchmaking with filmmakers.

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A Very Black Carmen and other films of interest in Berlin

"U-CARMEN eKHYELITSHA" is an extremely unusual version of the opera Carmen set in a squalid shanty-town "Township", Khyelitsha, near Capetown, South Africa --and sung entirely by African singers in the "click language", Khosa! This black Carmen is a light year beyond the light brown "Carmen Jones" of 1954 which starred Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge and seemed so sucy and racy at the time. For one thing, Pauline Malefane (Carmen) is not a slender Hollywood mannekin type like Dandridge was, and Andile Tshoni ("Don Jose") is not a ridiculously handsome piece of brown male sculpture as was Harry B. Both are hefty people you wouldn't want to get into a barroom brawl with, and both can sing the hell out of Carmen. If Dandridge and Belafonte were simply ebony versions of your standard Hollywood beautiful people, these Carmen protagonists look more like heavy set black angels from Hell, as do most all the performers in this cast. Of course, what is at stake here is a very different set of physical beauty standards. The Xhosa aesthetic clearly does not place a high value on slenderness and these massive actors must obviously conform to local standards of "good-lookingness". But what is really important is that they can not only sing, and dance (African style), but they can also act! -- such that, after a while the viewer is completely swept up into the drama with many stretches of unsung dialogue is the surprisingly soft-sounding, melodious Xhosa language. The entire setting of this South African Carmen
is the gritty township which calls for certain modifications. There is indeed a cigarette factory in the area, but the smugglers are now smuggling dope in from the nearby seashore. Jose is the local chief of police, quite brutal, and rides around in a jeep, whereas Don Escamillo is now "Nkomo", a local singing star who is actually set to sing excerpts from the opera at a local music hall. The charged dramatic exchanges between this Carmen and this Jose, especially at the end, are as gripping or more so, than any I have ever seen on any opera stage. In fact, the one previous screen Carmen this film does have something in common with, for sheer drama and interweaving of real life with the Carmen story, is Carlos Saura's all Flamenco Carmen of 1983. Mark Dornford-May is the director of this heavyweight, hypnotic, exotic "Carmen" which may turn out to be a surprise hit wherever it is released.

Another view of another outsider, shanty-town community is dished out in powerful doses by the Hungarian film: "Dallas Pashamende" directed by Robert Adrian Pejo in Romania and Hungary. This is a Gypsy settlement where three languages, Hungarian, Romanian and Romany are all current. A handsome urbanized gypsy returns to "Dallas" for his father's funeral and finds that he has inherited a bear. Soon his car is stripped and immobilized and before he knows it he is drawn back into the life of this junkpile community which for some reason calls itself "Dallas" (The title is Romany for "Dallas among us"). Although he has a "white" Romanian fiancee "out there", our hero Rado, falls back in love with his old girlfriend who, in his absence has married another guy -- the town brute who beats her up constantly. This will lead inevitably to a tragic conclusion. All the music is original gypsy music of compelling beauty. Pejo says it took him nine years to get the film made and the Romanian government at one point cut the shoot short because the portrayal of such abject poverty in Romania was deemed as harmful to the national image. The shoot had to be completed in Romania and the set of "Dallas" reconstructed. This is definitely an ethnic movie involving mostly Gypsy non-actors, all of whom highly approved of the final result. This is not an easy film to take but it has a certain relentless beauty amidst the garbage heaps and is very well acted. Dora Gylla was named best actress at the recently concluded Hungarian film week, and it's not hard to see why. Robert A. Pejo is undoubtedly a new director worth keeping an eye on.

Star Sightings

Despite the dearth of Hollywood blockbusters there has been no lack of shooting stars flitting in and out of the festival. The first two days were graced the presence of France's Grande Dame of the silver screen, Catherine Deneuve, here to promote her new film "Les Temps Qui Changent" (Changing times) by veteran Andre Techiné. In a sidebar event called "Films For Peace" Catherine found herself on stage with the American actress, also "of a certain age", Susan Sarandon. When the German moderator introduced Sarandon as "the best actress currently active in world cinema", Deneuve took an extremely dim view of this and cut her scheduled talk short complaining of the acoustics in the hall.
The only real Hollywood megastar to appear so far has been Kevin Spacey, who showed up with Bob Hoskins to promote his Bobbie Darrin musical biopic, "Beyond The Sea", which was actually financed and shot right here in Berlin (Potsdam to be exact). Kevin's press conference was the most crowded of the week as everyone wanted to get a good look at a superstar in a weird new hat. Dennis Quaid showed up for "In Good Company" in which he plays a middle-aged advertising exec in danger of being fired by his new boss half his age. Asked by one uppity press sage if he wasn't beginning to feel like an "old fart" getting upstaged by younger actors, the ex-husband of Meg Ryan and recent drug recoveree said calmly, "No. I'm getting the best roles of my life right now and I do not feel like an --er -- "old fart". Today Bill
Murray and Angelica Huston were here to help keep "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou" afloat, but there is little hope that any amount of bailing out can help this extended clunker -- theoretically a comedy, but one which laid the biggest egg of the fest so far, gathering not a single hand clap at the conclusion of the gala press screening, but one did see a lot of shaking heads walking out as if to say, "why did I sit through this?"

CHAIM PEVNER, Berlin

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