Big-time movie industry names alongside debut films by as yet unknown filmmakers, that's what makes the International Program at Filmfest München so intriguing.
IThe first category includes the latest films by such directors as Jaco van Dormael (MR. NOBODY), Francis Ford Coppola (TETRO), Richard Linklater (ME AND ORSON WELLES), Jim Sheridan (BROTHERS), John Hillcoat (THE ROAD), Bernard Rose (MR. NICE) and Werner Herzog (MY SON, MY SON, WHAT HAVE YE DONE), with stars like Jared Leto, Diane Kruger, Vincent Gallo, Zac Effron, Claire Danes, Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman, Tobey Maguire, Viggo Mortensen, Rhys Ifans, Willem Dafoe and Chloe Seigny. And two outstanding music documentaries: MONTREAL SYMPHONIE with Kent Nagano and STONES IN EXILE with the Rolling Stones.
Volcanic ash, oil spill, financial crisis, revolution in Iran, deadlock in the Near East - the world is in turmoil. Traditional vested rights, established hierarchies, tacit comforts and conveniences; they are all being challenged. How are filmmakers from around the world dealing with it? What are their responses? What are their dreams?
One thing is for sure: political cinema is back. There have seldom been so many convincing films that counter these inhumane, degrading, corrupt and bellicose policies so radically. The survival of a Tutsi woman in THE DAY GOD WALKED AWAY is a harrowing account of the genocide in Ruanda. Andrei and Olga Nekrassov's creative rage (RUSSIAN LESSONS) has divided the political opposition in their native Russia; Stefano Savona's documentary about Israel's last Gaza operation (PIOMBO FUSO) to which the media was allowed to attend, focuses on the human dimension. In the urban jungle of TEHROUN the recent revolutionary energy is palpable. And North Korea, also often in the headlines, gets a visit of the unexpected kind in the THE RED CHAPEL.THE BALIBO CONSPIRACY, one of the best Australian films of the year, is an intense political thriller set in East Timor in 1975, the year the newly independent former Portuguese colony was invaded and occupied by Indonesia. British documentary filmmaker Rex Bloomstein returns to the festival with THIS PRISON WHERE I LIVE, about Burmese comedian and actor Zarganar, who was sentenced to 59 years in prison for 'public order offences'. Bloomstein's co-producer and collaborator is none other than star German stand-up comedian Michael Mittermeier.
Europe, too, is not without its share of political problems and scandals. There's radioactive waste (INTO ETERNITY) and there's media brainlessness a la Berlosconi, which is numbing the political sensibilities of many Italians (VIDEOCRACY). The other Italian documentary, DRAQUILA, about the aftermath of the disastrous earthquake in Aquila, has already led to political tensions in Italy. The political erosion in both of these films, however, is not just an Italian phenomenon. How deceptive the power of visual propaganda in totalitarian countries can be is superbly demonstrated in THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF NICOLAE CEAUSESCU - three hours of official regime footage fabulously (re)edited. This acclaimed film shows how history everywhere can be manipulated. The historical drama THE MAN WHO WILL COME, winner of numerous Italian film awards, centers on a family in Marzabotto, where the infamous SS massacre took place during WWII. The Belgian melodrama ILLEGAL is about illegal immigrants in Europe and the horrors they go through avoiding deportation and, in the worse possible case, actually being deported.
A good number of this year's films are about religious, social and familial conformity and narrow-mindedness. Israeli Avishai Sivan's debut film
THE WANDERER deals with a troubled yeshiva student. MAMA is a wordless look at an over-the-top mother-son relationship. SUMMER IN THE CITY also falls into this category. Not so much an indictment of society, BETWEEN TWO WORLDS is more of a poetic invocation of concealed myths of nature in Sri Lanka's civil war.
As always, the diversity of the many films means more than the expressly political. And, as every year, there is an 'embarrasse de richesse' of very personal films telling very personal stories. Genuine and bizarre (LITTLE BABY JESUS OF FLANDR, SWANSONG: THE STORY OF OCCI BYRNE, ZAPPING-ALIEN@MOZART-BALLS), fusions of documentary and fiction (YOU ARE ALL CAPTAINS, GREETINGS FROM THE WOODS), and films on music and musicians (THE EXTRAORDINARY ORDINARY LIFE OF JOSE GONZALEZ) that go in new directions. Whoever expects to find a standard narrative form in Eugene Green's Lisbon diary (THE POTUGUESE NUN) will be just as disappointed as audiences who expect pure action in Nicolas Vinding Refn's archaic, meditative Viking storyVALHALLA RISING. In ZERO, the camera follows countless characters, but reveals only fragments of their lives. Nothing is as it seems.
THE TRAVELLER is partly reminiscent of Fellini, partly of 'A Thousand and One Nights' as well as a rendezvous with Omar Sharif. The brutal prison drama R and the ingenious thriller THE DOUBLE HOUR are suspenseful genre films. So is CITY OF SHADOWS by Kim Nguyen.AMER combines the aesthetic of Italian giallo with the tradition of Belgian cinema phantastique and is an elaborate homage to genre films.
A conspicuous tendency in international cinema, despite all political furor, is a kind of rediscovery of beauty and life in harmony with nature. IN THE WOODS, shot with a digital snapshot camera, we witness a fresh and captivating ménage-à-trois. And by all means, don't miss THE FOUR TIMES, a poetic look at life in southern Italy. There's a unique, fascinating little story in every frame.
Robert Fischer / Christoph Gröner / Bernhard Karl