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Reaping the bonus harvest on Getaway dayin Berlin

REAPING THE BONUS HARVEST ON "GETAWAY DAY" IN BERLIN

Although the festival officially ended on Saturday with the distribution of the Golden and Silver Bear awards, the real "getaway day" was Sunday, with a full schedule of repeat screenings at all festival venues for the benefit of fans and professionals who were unable to get around to all the films they needed to see in the hectic ten days preceding. Without the distraction of press conferences, cocktail receptions and other side-bar events to contend with, I was able to fill out my own festival agenda and even come up with a couple of last minute discoveries on this added Day of Grace.

One film which absolutely has to be mentioned is “Sometimes in April”, (competition section) directed by Berlin trained Haitian director, Raoul Peck. This is a documentary style fiction film about the insane genocide which took place in Rwanda in 1994, so gripping that one tends to forget these are actors playing roles. Other than Debra Winger, who appears as an American TV reporter trying desperately to make the world public aware of the horrific events in this small African country, all other principal roles are taken by unknown African actors of extraordinary appeal. Particularly to be noted is handsome, virile Idris Elba, who plays a Hutu army officer with a Tutsi wife, and is therefore caught in the crossfire between the two warring tribes, and Pamele Nomvete, a survivor of gang rape and massacre, who comes across as a dignified ebony Nefretite in the war criminal trial at the end. In this film the Hutus are the hunters and the Tutsis the victims, but apparently the worm turned later in this disastrous civil war. An American asks what the difference is between Hutus and Tutsis, and is told that there isn't any. This was an arbitrary distinction imposed in colonial times by the Belgians and its just “Rwandans killing Rwandans”, made all the more gruesome because the Hutu call the Tutsi “cockroaches” much as the Germans called Jews “vermin” – obviously, to be exterminated with no guilt feelings whatsoever. In a hundred days of mass murder over a million Rwandans were slaughtered by “other Rwandans” and, inevitably, the other
genocide film which comes to mind is “The Killing Fields” of 1984, also set in another small remote country, Cambodia, where, also, a significant portion of the entire population was routinely butchered for purely political reasons. The title, “Sometimes in April”, is taken from the hero’s musings over his personal tragedies most of which took place in the month of April as the political situation deteriorated and the rains began to arrive.
“Hotel Rwanda”, which was also shown here as a special screening, is far slicker as a Hollywood product, but “April” has much more emotional impact because of its very rawness, close-to-the bone reality and, above all, the characters in the film who are so empathetically played that, after a while,
one forgets the colour of their skin and begins to identify personally with their tragedy.

In the realm of discovery was a fascinating 83 minute documentary on Taiwan entitled "Tigerwomen Grow Wings" made by veteran German documentarian, Monika Treut, who specializes in films dealing with femininity, gender and sexuality. The film is basically a portrait of three women from three different generations; Hsieh Yueh Hsia, a retired performer from the traditional Chinese opera where, with her deep masculine voice, she always played men, however, this magnificent old lady is also a firm believer in
traditional family values and an adherent of traditional Taiwanese religion.
The second subject is Li Ang, a far more westernized, somewhat conservative middle-aged writer of best sellers, and finally, there is a good-looking, hip young filmmaker, Chen Yin-jung, who is an atheist and a firm believer in modernization and globalization. Along the way we discover that the Taiwanese masculine ideal is far less "macho" and far more sensitive than its western counterpart. Moreover, in a society with a long tradition of transvestitism and trans-sexuality, homosexuality is far more acceptable and has never been demonized as in the Christian west.
Seeing contemporary Taiwan through the eyes of these highly accomplished women we get a comprehensive picture of the island economic "tiger" which, while in the sights of hundreds of cruise missiles from mainland China just across the straits, continues to maintain its posture of independence in
spite of a strange kind of political isolation brought about because western democracies still fear Communist China and/or are unwilling to risk losing the vast mainland market.
Ms. Treut arrived in Taiwan in the midst of last year's presidential election when A-Bian barely defeated the Guomintang (GMT) candidate. GMT is the authoritarian party established by Chiang Kai Shek in 1948 when Taiwan broke away from the Communist mainland. GMT stands for absolute defiance of Beijing, whereas A-Bian is more conciliatory. Shortly after the election A-bian was slightly wounded in an assassination attempt, all of which is incorporated into this film, which did not start out to be political but has, inescapably, become so.
The setting is largely the neon jungle of the capital, Tai Pei, a city and a country that continues to remain largely unknown in the West. Since Taiwan is the best friend we have in South-east Asia, it behooves us to know more about her, and Monika Treut's exceptional film goes a long way toward filling the information gap. The English sub-titles, incidentally, are the best I have ever seen, with a black frame to the white lettering making them unusually easy to read and viewer-friendly.

"Lost and Found" is a charming omnibus film made by six young filmmakers from the Balkans and Eastern Europe. The total running time is 99 minutes and the countries represented are Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Hungary, Serbia and Estonia. The Estonian contribution was animation sequences tying the other stories together. Each one has a feeling and charm of its own offering fresh insights into the cultures of the countries involved. For me the most touching one was "Turkey Girl", by Christian
Munghiu, the story of a Romanian farm girl (Ana Ularu) who is very reluctant to give up her pet turkey to the throat cutter even if her mother's hospital care is at stake. This is one clever gobbler, being able to distinguish between squares and circles, except when other people are looking. With very funny sequences on the fine art of greasing the palm -- i.e., bribery Romanian style. In "The Ritual", by Nadejda Koseva, a boisterous country wedding party is going on in a Bulgarian village, while the happy absentee couple is away on their honeymoon at Niagara Falls -- but semi-connected by cell-phone! "Birthday", by Jasmila Zbanich, takes place in the Bosnian city of Mostar where a famous old bridge divides the city into muslim and orthodox halves. Two eleven year old girls, both beautiful children, have been separated at birth and have no direct memory of the civil war which separated them. Poignant, but full of hope for a unified future if we can only manage to put the hatred of the past behind us like
these lovely innocent kids. The package was put together by Cologne production company ICON Film at the initiative of the German Federal Foundation for the fostering of the arts in Central and Eastern Europe so have them to thank for 99 minutes of pure delight.
Another brief message of tenuous hope is offered by Dani Rosenberg's five minute gem entitled "Don Kishot be'Yerushalaim", or "Don Quijote in Jerusalem". In this wonderful short the medieval Spanish nobleman and his squire, Sancho Panza, show up in the Holy City, but this time, instead of attacking windmills, Quijote astride his bony steed aims his lance at the ominous wall seperating Israelis from Palestinians.
Finally, closing it all out was a colourful, bizarre (to say the least), erotic, stylized Hong Kong feature entitled "Tao Se" (Colour Blossoms") and directed by Yonfan. The film stars Japanese actress, Matsuzaka Keiko and goes on in three languages, Japanese, English, and Cantonese. However, dialogue is almost incidental in this visually lush expressionistic sextravaganza in which the name of the game is kinky sado-masochistic sex between and among three women and two men -- all of them beautiful, slithering sex objects of one kind or another. The plot hardly matters although it centers around a mysterious wealthy Japanese lady who engages a very beautiful young Chinese girl to rent out her luxury apartment "to the right person". This right person turns out to be a nearly wordless, shaggy but handsome young man, who seems to be some kind of photographer with a criminal past and is bi or pan-sexual. The heroine, Matsuzaka Keiko, was the most beautiful leading lady of the Japanese cinema in the 70s and 80s, where she occupied a position akin to that of Hedy Lamarr in the Hollywood of the forties. Now in middle age she is still strikingly beautiful and is ably assisted by Chinese co-stars Harisu and Teresa Cheung, both of whom are no slouches in the female pulchritude department either. The story line and the way in which S-M is portrayed on the screen is so ridiculous that this might best be described as "Erotic Cinema of the Absurd", or a long Chinese wet dream. However, the production values, sets, dresses, oriental music,
cinematography and, above all, the compelling attractiveness of the women involved, is sufficient to make up for textual shortcomings -- at least it was for me.
And so, auf Widersehen meine Damen und Herren, bis 2006.





by CHAIMPEV

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