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Berlin 58 closes shop with Katyn

The 58th Berlin Film Festival closed out a rather unremarkable ten day run with Andrzej Wajda's massive indictment of Russian war crimes, "Katyn". The political significance of this film, especially in Germany, was underlined by the attendance at the final gala of German Prime Minister Angela Merkel and other top level political dignitaries.
Eighty year old director Wajda said that he hopes the film will help build new bridges between Germany and Poland. Considering that Poland suffered far more than any other country under the German occupation of 1939-44 and that many people are still alive who remember the unbelievable murderous brutality of the Germans, a little bridge building at this point between these neighboring countries can't hurt. What is especially interesting is that it was the Germans who first exposed the Mass Murder of Polish prisoners of War by the NKVD in Katyn Forest in 1943. The sardonic Russians, of course, denied their guilt and tried to push the blame off on the Germans.
That in fact, became the official Soviet Party Line --"the Germans did it". Since everybody basically knew the truth from eye witness reports and other sources, it was a taboo subject even to mention Katyn all through the forty years of communist rule in Poland and Wajda's finalistic coverage of the event is like a collective catharsis for all inviolved --Russians, Poles, and Germans.

Dorothea Holloway, film critic and co-publisher of a German film magazine told me that this film is a very touchy subject for older Germans such as herself, for, even though they were the ones who were in a position to say "We told you so" -- "Who are we Germans to talk? --considering our own far greater mass murder record". Monstrous mass murder was the order of the day on both sides and the Poles were caught in the middle -- only able to let off a little steam here and there by themselves collaborating in the extermination of the Polish Jews. Wajda's film touches many still sensitive nerves and indelible memories, but the intention is clearly to close the book on the whole business of mass murder in WW II with one final sweeping artistic statement by one of the world's truly great filmmakers.

As for this year's festival prizes: A Brazilian film, "Tropa de Elie" (Elite Squad) was awarded the Golden Bear best film prize by the amputated six member jury under the chairmanship of Consantine costa-Gavras, nosing out the odds-on favorite "There Will Be Blood". The picture deals with the brutality of a special Brazilian police squad set up to combat rampant drug related crime in the favela slums of Rio de Janeiro.
Paul Thomas Anderson did, however, pick up a Best Director Silver Bear for "There Will Be Blood", his saga of Oil Madness in America starring Daniel Day-Lewis. This was Anderson's second major Berlin triumph, having recieved a Golden Bear for "Magnolia" back in 2000, at the tender age of 29.
To no-one's surprise, Sally Hawkins, flippy heroine of Mike Leigh's "Happy Go Lucky", went home with the best actress prize, and Best Actor was captured by Iranian Reza Najie for his work in a Persian picture called "The Song of the Sparrows.

There was no big closing party in a fancy hotel, but rather a huis-clos reception for a chosen few, select friends of the festival, in a side room of the gala festival hall itself, as the festival fizzled quietly out under the watchful eye of 59 year old festival boss, Dieter Kosslick, who while not exactly your aging Matinee Idol type, (with his shapeless black suits and floppy black hats he looks more like an grinning stand-in for Bela Lugosi in "The Return of Dracula") does make absolutely sure to get himself photographed every single day during the fest steering some star or starlet over the Red carpet or clinging to some big name celebrity at every exclusive festival shindig. This guy really gets around -- one wonders whether he doesn't have doubles doing some of the honors in his stead.
The best films were mostly in the retrospective sidebars, Bunuel and Rosi, while, all in all this was a rather somnambulistic year that makes one hope for better things next time around.

Alex Deleon, Berlin, Monday Feb. 19, 2008

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Chatelin Bruno
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