by C.P. Czarnecki
In the week from June 25th to July 2nd of 2005, a big public film festival took place in Munich, Germany. I attended this fabulous event on five days and I hope you enjoy this little report.
Saturday, June 25, 2005
The first day of the festival and I’m right there. Today I will attend the first German screening of Miranda July’s debut film “Me and You and Everyone We Know” which just won the Camera d’Or at Cannes, for the best first film.
Its 5 pm and I go right into the Maxx theatre to pick up the tickets I ordered via Internet. Then right down the stairs and into the foyer, where I noticed a lot of people I know from TV and press and a nice information centre where you can pick up pamphlets, catalogs and press material. I walk into theatre no. 3, where I am waiting impatiently to see “Me and You and Everyone We Know”, which was just hailed by Roger Ebert as one of the year’s best films. At 5:15 pm the doors closed, everybody sat down and a lady walked in front of the screen to introduce the film. The lights faded out, the film started.
“Me and You and Everyone We Know” is a wonderful film about interesting people in strange situations. It is primarily a tender love story between the nice shoe salesman Richard (John Hawkes) and the sweet artist Christine (Miranda July), but also takes more than one look at the lives of Richard’s children, Christine’s melancholic father (who near the beginning of the film talks about his new girlfriend and simply provides one of the most beautiful monologues I’ve heard in a long time) and two young girls attracting Richard’s goofy friend Andrew (Brad William Henke). July loves all of her characters and gives them enough place and time to develop their eccentric qualities. There’s for example the art curator Nancy (Tracy Wright) who seems to be selfish and unfriendly, as she quickly rejects Christine’s request for viewing her artistic video project. But there are two scenes in which Nancy shows us her real emotions and feelings, and one of them made me cry because of its creative tenderness. While every character seems a little bit strange or lets say, unique July creates the feeling of real life. We are all different in our actions and emotions and “Me and You and Everyone We Know” is daring and intelligent enough to express it in a poetic way.
This is a very special piece of film that proves how strong American Independent cinema is today.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
At 7 pm I was sitting in front of the Maxx theatre, slurping my cappuccino at a little street café and reading the festival’s official catalogue. In just a few minutes I will attend the German premier of “Crash”, a film I’ve been waiting to see since I first heard of it. When I finished my cappuccino and walked into the cinema’s foyer, I was shocked to see how crowded it was. On Saturday I saw around 15 people in the foyer and now there were easily 100! But when the film started at 7:30, I forgot I was sitting in a cinema.
“Crash” is written and directed by Paul Haggis, the man who wrote the script for Clint Eastwood’s “Million Dollar Baby”, which is in my opinion the best film of 2004. What Haggis does in “Crash” is telling stories about people colliding. About people crashing into each other in racial and social conflicts. Haggis doesn’t place his characters like chess figures in the film, just to push them around to go on with the story, he gives them the freedom they need to become human and real. And they do. I have seen some of the finest performances in years in this film. The most daring, thoughtful and multi-layered character is probably Matt Dillon’s Sgt. Ryan. A racist, brutal cop at first sight, but also a simple human being unable to help his suffering father. And all characters are like that. They have good sides and bad sides and you never know how they will react in the next moment.
“Crash” is thought-provoking, intelligent modern cinema at its finest, filled with bravura performances and creative in its visual technique.
Monday, June 27, 2005
Another day, another film. Today I would have the unique chance to see this year’s winner of the Palme d’Or at Cannes, Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s “L’Enfant”. I walked right out of the subway, into the cinema and sat down in the theatre. I wanted to get a decent seat to perfectly enjoy the Dardenne’s new achievement. I was one of the first in the theatre, so I had free choice. When the doors closed for the third time and I was ready to see the film, something unexpectedly great happened: the Dardennes were there! I couldn’t believe my eyes. Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne just walked down the theatre’s stairs in front of the screen and said that they would talk about the film afterwards. The lights faded out and the film’s title appeared on the screen.
“L’Enfant” tells the story of Bruno (Jérémie Renier; who you should know from the Dardenne’s earlier masterpiece “La Promesse”), Sonia (Déborah François) and their little son Jimmy. Bruno and Sonia are young and don’t know anything about raising a child. They live in the present, never spending a single thought about the future. One day Bruno sells his son to get money for Sonia and himself to live. This action shocks Sonia so intensively that she collapses and Bruno decides to get his son back. While this short summary certainly does not evoke the feeling of greatness, the film truly is great. “L’Enfant” is a quiet, realistic portrait about youth, despair and quick, stupid decisions that lead into self destruction. It doesn’t have a soundtrack, expensive effects or unrealistic outbursts of corny Hollywood drama, but involved me deeply into the characters’ destinies.
In my opinion, the Dardenne brothers are two of the greatest geniuses of modern cinema. “Rosetta” was one of the best films I’ve ever seen and “Le Fils” and “La Promesse” were brilliant as well. “L’Enfant” is not an exception. While I haven’t seen the other nominated films yet, it’s a very well deserved Palme d’Or and a movie that will not leave my mind for the future.
While I was still loudly applauding after the film has ended (as well as everyone else in the audience), the Dardennes came back to answer questions. There was time for around five or six questions from the audience, some interesting, some don’t. Luc Dardenne also told us a nice little story that was a symbolically perfect addition to the beautiful film we’ve just seen. After the whole event was finished, I walked out of the theatre, still touched by the psychological depth of the film and my happiness about the presence of the directors. As I just wanted to go downstairs to get the next train back home, I saw Jean-Pierre and Luc standing in front of the theatre. I couldn’t miss the chance to talk to them personally. So I walked right in front of Jean-Pierre (while Luc was talking on the telephone) and told him how much I admired “L’Enfant” (the Dardennes’ English isn’t very good, but there was luckily a nice woman translating everything I said to Jean-Pierre). I added that their films enrich the lives of many people (including me) and he was obviously very touched by that statement. He sincerely thanked me for my enthusiastic words and after this very special meeting I walked down the stairs to the subway station and got back home.
Thursday, June 30, 2005
For my next film at the Munich Film Festival I choose Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s “Café Lumière”, an homage to one of my all-time favorite directors, the great Yasujiro Ozu who lived from 1903 to 1963. The screening was at 5:30 pm and I had a good friend of mine accompanying me.
I’ve heard a lot about Hou Hsiao-Hsien in advance, but I have to admit that “Café Lumière” was the first film I’ve seen from this gifted director. But I am a big admirer of Yasujiro Ozu’s work and have seen many of his films, so I was impatient to recognize the references Hsiao-Hsien would build into his film. As expected and hoped, “Café Lumière” is a slow-paced, poetic little film about the beauty and sadness of everyday life. It follows Ozu’s motif of “mono no aware”, the bittersweet nostalgia as Roger Ebert perfectly interpreted it on the audio commentary for Criterion’s “Floating Weeds” DVD.
While I loved the mood, camerawork and subtle use of music in “Café Lumière”, I felt it was a little bit too shaky and uncertain whether it’s a Hsiao-Hsien film or an Ozu homage. The film certainly feels Ozu’esque in its composition and atmosphere, while sometimes losing itself in unnecessary moments like the scene in which Tadanobu Asano’s character shows Yoko (Yo Hitoto) the train animations on his computer. The modern mood of the 21st century often distracts from the beauty of Hsiao-Hsien’s shots and interrupts the unique atmosphere.
While I highly enjoyed viewing “Café Lumière”, I sometimes felt as if Hou Hsiao-Hsien was uncertain which way the film should go. It remains a good film, which I want to recommend everyone who loves Ozu’s work as much as I do (the Hsiao-Hsien fans have probably already seen it).
Friday, June 1, 2005
This was my last day at the Munich Film Festival and I attended a special theatrical screening of Takeshi Kitano’s 1993 film “Sonatine” at 2:45 pm at the Maxx 1 cinema. I’ve seen “Sonatine” once or twice before and always admired the poetic scenes at the beach, where the Yakuza troupe finds back to the childish freedom and innocence they never really had. While I think that “Sonatine” has some flaws in storytelling and composition, it still remains a very interesting and intelligent film with a great score by Joe Hisaishi and some beautiful landscape shots.
Its Monday now and the Film Festival in Munich is over. I highly enjoyed my time in Bavaria’s capitol and was happy to feel a little bit of the unique mood such a film festival can provide. I met two of my favorite directors of all time personally, saw three of the greatest films of the year 2005 and simply had a great time at the movies!
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