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Preview of the Festival of German Films in Australia


Vibrant and varied, German cinema is riding a wave of popular and critical success - and this festival is a showcase to some of its offerings, ranging from the Opening Night comedy Whisky With Vodka about an actor in crisis, through the Oscar winning and astringent The White Ribbon to the sensuous relationship drama of unlikely love, in Aimée and Jaguar. And then there is young Adolf ....  Andrew L. Urban reports.

Aimee and Jaguar

"If ever there was a forbidden love, it was that of Aimée and Jaguar.  Captive in a whirlwind of romance, danger and desire, we are transported to a rich, complex world filled with drama, eroticism and yearning," writes Louise Keller in her review (from an earlier festival screening). Australian audiences will finally get a chance to see Aimée and Jaguar in this year's program of the Festival of German Films. Max Farberbock's film, based on Erica Fischer's novel, is set in Berlin in 1943, and is part of Berlin Based section of the festival. "Farberbock's passionate debut film is a remarkable achievement," says Louise.


The story is layered and complex: when Felice (Maria Schrader) sees Lily (Juliane Kohler) at a concert in Berlin in 1943, she is bewitched.  But their worlds are very different: Lily, from a solid German family with not much sympathy for Jews, is married with four children. Felice is a Resistance fighter and liberal in every way, intelligent, passionate - and attracted to women, a secret she shares only with fellow lesbians.  Lily is happy to flirt with admirers while her husband is fighting on the Eastern Front, but finds Felice especially fascinating.  Their relationship begins to catch fire and Felice nicknames herself Jaguar, and Lilly is Aimee, in a romantic re-christening. But Felice hides another secret - she is Jewish, and this alone could destroy her as well as endanger Lily, if indeed Lily accepts the startling revelation at all.


But the festival opens with something completely different: Whisky With Vodka. A film set forms the background of this comedy: his love of alcohol, women and his fear of aging cause a veteran actor to create mayhem. A double is brought in and serious competition unfolds, couples fall apart and new friendships form. Andreas Dresen won the Best Direction award for the film at last year's Karlovy Vary festival, and the film has screened at several other fests.


The fascinating historical biopic, John Rabe, marks yet another change of pace in the program: it tells the little known story of the German businessman, manager of a Siemens factory, who saved over 200,000 Chinese during the 1937/1938 Japanese invasion and massacre of Nanjing. Florian Gallenberger's bid budget film, which has won numerous awards including Best Film at the 2009 German Film Awards, was shot on location in China. Ulrich Tukur brings Rabe to life and the international cast includes Daniel Brühl, Steve Buscemi as a laconic British officer, and Dagmar Manzel as Rabe's wife.


Over 30 films are included in the program, including the fable-like and bitter sweet Mein Kampf, directed by Urs Odermatt and based on George Tabori's play. In the year 1910 young Adolf Hitler (Tom Schilling) leaves his hometown in provincial Austrian for Vienna, aiming to conquer the world as a painter. The young artist shares a tiny room at a homeless shelter and waits for his big day. His roommate is a Jewish bookseller Schlomo Herzl (Götz George). When rejected by the Arts Academy, Hitler's little world falls apart. Having lost all faith in his future, he wants to end his life. Ironically it is Shlomo who finally suggests to Hitler to try his luck in politics.


Keeping us off guard with unpredictable choices, the festival has programmed the first European Bollywood film, Tandoori Love, by Swiss filmmaker Oliver Paulus. Vijay Raaz (Monsoon Wedding) plays an Indian cook on a film shoot in the Swiss Alps. He jumps ship when he meets Sonja (Lavinia Wilson) at a local chalet restaurant and falls in love with her despite her having a fiancé. Her fiancé may be the cook at the chalet, but Vijay has other plans, involving Indian cuisine, song and of course dance.


There is even an Australian angle in the program, David Wenham, who plays Gerald, a companion to a woman who has risen through the ranks of the Catholic Church in the 9th century disguised as a man, and is elected Pope. Wenham's character causes Joan some ambivalence about her future. John Goodman plays a Pope with a laconic sense of humour, and Iain Glen another priest who becomes involved in Joan's life. John Goodman plays a Pope with a laconic sense of humour, and Iain Glen another priest who becomes involved in Joan's life.


In the German Currents section, you'll find the 2010 Foreign Oscar winner, The White Ribbon, from Michael Haneke. Eichwald in Protestant Northern Germany on the eve of WWI is a place of malice, envy, brutality and fear. And that's before a series of nasty events which hurt, maim and kill children of the village. The first casualty is the doctor (Rainer Bock), whose horse is tripped by a hidden wire; the horse doesn't survive and the doctor is hospitalised for many weeks. Other incidents soon follow, including the fatal fall of a tenant farmer's wife from a loft, a burnt down bar .... Escalating to the awful ritual punishment of a couple of the village children.


The fathers are all fascists, even the Pastor (Burghart Klaussner) and especially the widowed doctor, whose housekeeper (Susanne Lothar in a heartbreaking performance) bears the brunt of his brutish behaviour. The children - almost all - are innocents who seem destined to emerge from their innocence into the same putrid world their parents inhabit. This, too, is a riff in the film, but the performances by these youngsters is astonishing; that alone is worth the pain of the film's uber-grim reality.


Shot beautifully in black and white, the film hints darkly at the fascist society that breeds such people - or is it the other way round?


Audi Festival of German Films in Australia

Sydney (21 April - 2 May), Melbourne (22 April - 2 May), Perth (22 - 26 April), Brisbane (28 April - 4 May), Adelaide (7 - 9 May)





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