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Will A German Film Grab a Bear?

by Alex Deleon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Twilight in Arctic Hammerfest as German Guest Worker visits scene of wife’s Hit-and-Run accident in “Gnade”
On Day Number 8 some German papers are touting the possibility of a German Golden bear.
In a not overly compelling competition selection there have been several notable German entries.
"Barbara" starring popular actress Nina Hoss is set in communist East Germany (The GDR) during the summer of 1980 and has been getting good word of mouth.  This mornings big press screening was "Gnade" (Mercy, or "Grace", as in Hail mary , full of ...) a most unusual moral drama set completely on the extreme northern Norwegian island of Hammerfest which is so far above the Arctic Circle that the sun never rises betweeen November 22 and January 21 -- the largest city in the world that far north.  In this harsh twilight environment a German Couple have come to work, he an engineer and she a nurse. Neither are terribly attractive physically but he starts an affair with a very attractive Norwegian nurse that begins to threaten his marriage. However, what brings him back to his wife is a weird accident. On a darkened highway she is runs over "something" --which turns out to be the child of a Norwegian couple in the small community. With no witnesses to this hit-and-run accident the wife decides to keep mum so as not to ruin their lives, but is eventually beset by such guilt that, in the clamactic scene of the film, the German couple face the bereaved Norwegian couple to reveal the truth. In this extremely tense confrontation the mother of the dead child asks sardonically, "So, what do you expect us to do, thank you?" --
Now the whole story is up for grabs and the director does not supply a neat answer --however, on a sunny day in June (when the sun never sets) we do see an insert of the German couple with a vague smile on their faces, so we can asssume that Mercy was rendered all around ....
German actor
Jürgen Vogel who already a best actor bear recipient here a couple of years ago will be a strong contender again this year and actress Birgit Minichmayr is also compelling in her unsavory hit-and-run role. Both German actors incidentally had to learn Norwegian for the shoot and their language lessons are shown as part of the story. Director Matthias Glasner is know for offbeat themes and films with no easy answers. While the ending here is not exactly satisfactory the fantastic setting and arctic twilight photography alone make this one a Bear contender in more than one category. 


The Chinese film "White Deer Plain" (Bai Lu Yuan) directed by Wang Quan'An is a period piece set at the end of the Chinga Dynasty in 1912 and the early years of the new Chinese republic.  Director Wang won a best Film Golden Bear here (for "Tuya's Marriage" ) back in 2006 but his latest work, based on a sexually explicit novel that was long blacklisted in China, is one long dark yawn.
Hsiao-e, is by far the prettiest, cleanest, and most desirable gal in a grim grubby peasant village out in the wheatfields on the great plains (The title is the name of the village).  Everybody in town wants a piece of her, and almost everybody eventually does get his piece -- while the heroine's husband is away somewhere -- with numerous brutal beatings along the way to preserve Clan Values -- One older rapist can't get it up for her but invokes the popular local metaphor, "Oh how I'd like to drink your piss" --so Hsiao-e, ecstatic under the influence of some local brew, actually squats over him and gives him a face full of hot urine which causes him to fly into a rage ... and so forth.  The heroine is really cute but the film is Desperately Dreary. One to pass up if it ever comes your way.
 
B-B Thornton's "The Car of Jayne Mansfield" is worthy of note in some respects although it is far from a great film. 
First of all, it has just about nothing to do with Bumptuous Lady Jayne who was beheaded in a bizarre road accident back in 1967. The title simply refers to the car in which she was killed now being sold at auction, an event that will somehow serve to reunite two old husbands of a lady who dies before the picture commences.  Without getting into the story, which is pretty shaggy-doggy, two real old timers, Robert Duval and Englishman John Hurt, are the central protagonists, the widowers of an American lady who died in England but asked, as her final wish, to be buried in the old family plot back in Alabama. (Actually Georgia in the film, but, what the hell --The south is the South)
Hurt brings the body back along with his English offspring who intermingle with their estranged half-family in America, with occasionally humorous results.  The highlight of the pic is when one of Big daddy Duvall's hippy kids (The movie is set in 1969) slips some LSD into his tea and now elderly Bob goes on a fantastic Acid Trip -- almost killing rival husband Hurt in the process.  Kevin Bacon is all but unrecognizable as an aging hippy in beard, beads, and long hair and  B.B. Thornton himself plays an oversexed ex-WW II aviator who struts around in his white navy officer's uniform and likes to show off the full body burns he received when he was shot down in aerial combat in the pacific. This film is kind of an attempt at a throwback to the Hippy Vietnam protest days in which Geogia stands in for Alabama and sort of leaves one wondering what's the point? -- But it's almost worth it for Duvall's senior citizen acid trip shenanigans alone.
 
The side bars of the festival are, as usual, the most interesting, but the venues are now spread so far apart that it is hard to get around.  One Big event this year is the 100th anniversary of the Babelsberg Studio with a ten film retro of some of the greatest films made there, but Babelsberg is two hours away from Potsdamer Platz, in the peripheral City of Potsdam  -- and I am about to make the trip out there to see a very rare screening of the first postwar German film, made in 1945, entitled "Die Mörder Sind Unter Uns" =>"The  Murderes are Still Among Us”  -- with the fabulous Hildegard Kneff in her first starring role.  The murderers in question in 1945, were, of course, the many Nazis who survived the war and thrived in early post-war Germany!

  

A scene from  “Bai lu yuan” with Heroine in a faint as the crowd roars

 

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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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