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Thread: BERLIN AND BEYOND Feb. 2018

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    BERLIN AND BEYOND Feb. 2018

    BERLIN AND BEYOND, Feb.9-15, 2018

    General Film Forum thread here.





    Berlin and Beyond is a festival of films by or about Germans presented by by the Goethe-Institut of San Francisco. See the program on their website HERE.

    I will describe a few of the selections.
    Beuys (Andres Veiel 2017)
    Code of Survival or the End of Genetic Engineering (Bertram Verhaag 2017)
    Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden/Egon Schiele: Tod und Mädchen (Dieter Berner 2016)
    Godless Youth/Jugend ohne Gott (Alain Gsponer 2017))
    Mr. Gay Syria (Ayse Toprak 2017)
    Paradise/Rai (Andrey Konchalovsky 2017)
    That Trip We Took with Dad/Die Reise mit Vater (Anca Mircuna Lăzărescu 2016)
    Welcome to Germany/Willkommen bei den Hartmanns (Simon Verhoeven 2016)


    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-10-2018 at 10:28 PM.

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    THAT TRIP WE TOOK WITH DAD/DIE REISE MIT VATER (Anca M. Lăzărescu 2016)

    THAT TRIP WE TOOK WITH DAD/DIE REISE MIT VATER (Anca M. Lăzărescu 2016)

    ENCIU, MARGINEANU AND SCHUMACHER IN THAT TRIP WE TOOK WITH DAD

    Freedom, homeland, rock 'n roll

    Documentary filmmaker Anca M. Lăzărescu's feature debut takes off from her own family's experience as Germans who lived in Romania during the Cold War. It all comes together when the brothers set out to drive their father to Dresden for brain surgery in 1968. The moment chosen is a tipping point: the new Czech leader Alexander Dubček has declared a period of "Communism with a Human Face," with increased democratic-style freedoms. Russia sends half a million troops in to stop this nonsense - and this is happening just when Emil, Mihai, and "Tata" are driving their yellow Skoda over the border to East Germany. Wife and mother isn't around anymore: she was run over by a drunken Russian soldier.

    Mihai Reinholtz, the older son (Alexandru Margineanu), is a doctor. He nervously tries to tamp down the revolutionary enthusiasm of his 18-year-old brother Emil (Razvan Enciu), who paints anti-Stalin slogans on a wall and is writing fiery songs to sing with his guitar. With this, the movie shows us Romania's oppression as MIhai is forced by an iron-fist local official to finger his brother's collaborator in the slogan-painting to protect Emil, and they must pretend the trip is only a vacation, not an urgent mission to save the father (Ovidiu Schumacher) from water on the brain, with surgery that can't be done in Romania.

    As Russian tanks rumble into Czechoslovakia, the men's trip is halted abruptly when Russians, Czechs, Romanians, even a German countess are rounded up off the road and put in holding areas to "protect" them from this situation till things cool down. This changes everything for the three men. At first it's chaos, and the Czechs and Russians are at each other's throats. Ceacescu, the Romanian leader, makes a pro-Dubček declaration that pleases - and deludes - the assembled Romanians (he will go on, of course, to be one of the worst dictators).

    In the effort to keep order Mihai is useful to the German soldiers (who for the most part are nice, even these East German ones) because he (like father and brother) speaks German as well as he speaks Romanian - and because he's a doctor.But he's looking after himself and his father. He makes a phone call, and gets the Romanian embassy to send an emissary who gets the Romanians out of this limbo.

    Meanshile Mihai has met Ulrike (Susanne Bormann), a countess from Munich. He covers that her "pregnancy" to get special treatment is only a pretence, and as they cozy up, she suggests his father could have the operation in West Germany, in Munich. The Romanians all go driving - not through Eastern lands, but through West Germany, Austria, and Yugoslavia. As the brothers and depressed father squabble, Mihai, fed up, abandons his role as the responsible one and jumps into Ulrike's car, asking her to take him to Munich.

    Ulrike turns out to have opened her luxurious digs to be a small commune of people who reject the consumerism of West Germany. This scene is almost as chaotic as the East German holding camp, and when Emil and their father are brought by the authorities, things come to a head.

    What counts most in this madcap recap of the faux-Glasnost and disappointments of Eastern Europe at this time is: pop music. Not Emil's protest songs, though they go over well with the commune folks, but vinyl records, which carry with them the magic and wonderment of another world, another planet, really, where the Beatles were making their own pop revolution. (At a checkpoint, Emil tells a guard "Strawberry Fields Forever" is about collective farming. Back at home, coming and going, the little kids are always on the ground floor of the apartment building, ardently playing at dictatorship and execution. Like a lot of this movie, it'd be hilarious if it weren't terribly sad.)

    Lăzărescu's film is by turns giddy, scary, sardonic, and rueful. It all somehow works, even though the plotting squeaks sometimes, manipulating events conveniently to show off the history. Phones seem to work extraordinarily easily and people are easy to find, so the action comes off more as pageantry than event sometimes. But this is a lively and appealing film that adeptly brings home the stark contrast between the "Free World" and the Communist world in the Sixties. Both the young male actors, Margineanu and Enciu, have star quality.

    That Trip We Took with Dad/Die Reise mit Vater, 111 mins., in Romanian and German, debuted at Munich in June 2016, and has been in at least seven other international festivals, opening theatrically in Hungary and Romania in early 2017. Reviewed as part of the Berlin and Beyond festival of the Goethe-Institut of San Francisco Feb. 2018.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 01-31-2018 at 10:58 AM.

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    GODLESS YOUTH/YUGEND OHNE GOTT (Alain Gsponer 2017)

    ALAIN GSPONER: GODLESS YOUTH/YUGEND OHNE GOTT (2017)


    ALICIA VON RITTBERG, JANNIS NIEwÖHNER IN GODLESS YOUTH

    A tale still to ponder

    Godless Youth, from the Swiss director Alain Gsponer, adapts, not for the first time, the 1937 novel by Ödön von Horvath that is a critique of Nazi ideology. It focuses on a special summer camp up in the Alps some time in the future where "superior" young men and women are chosen, through challenges and awarding of points, for scholarships in an elite university. Eventually we see that while this "ruling class" is being cultivated, the rest of society is treated like rubbish and lives in squalor. Meanwhile those at the top are morally corrupted and encouraged to be brutal and wind up committing crimes to stay where they are. This story may be overshadowed by more colorful Young Adult tales of competitions like "The Hunger Games" or "The Maze Runner," but it has clear points to make that are not unwelcome. You cannot blame the film for its artificiality: the point is that the mindset of National Socialism creates an unnatural environment and unhealthy behavior. Some of Gsponer's urban scenes have the bracing chill of the Berliner Schule.

    The story has, or in some cases notably lacks, modern accoutrements. Contestants get a GPS unit injected at the base of the thumb to be tracked and are monitored by other gadgets, but are deprived of their electronic devises, warned that may be hard for some. The activities are simple Outward Bound ones, like crossing a raging mountain stream, climbing rocks, racing through the woods. Any five minutes of a Maze Runner movie would trump the best action sequence here. That's beside the point. What matters are the conflicts that arise among the competitors and among the people running the camp. The beauty of Godless Youth is that every moment counts and is examined and pondered. But we're kept in suspense. Mistakes or misdemeanors may be a sign of needed independence. There's the arbitrariness of a dictatorship.

    The main character, by far, is the sinewy and chiseled Zach (Jannis Niewöhner), and he's assigned to share a cabin with a girl, the blonde Nadesh (Alicia von Rittberg). Zach arrives in a troubled state because his father, head of a successful company, has recently committed suicide. Loreen (Anna Maria Mühe), the psychologist, who's closest to being in charge, wants him to simply take a pill that will quell his grief, but he prefers to take comfort in keeping a diary, which was authorized earlier, but here is heavily frowned on. The climactic action will turn on the diary, and Nadesh's curiosity about it. And there will be a crime, a trial, and a surprise revelation.

    The youths are warned by Loreen that there are dangerous vagrants, low-lifes, who are in the area and may steal things. Zach finds one, Eva (Emilia Schüle), a beautiful, dark-haired girl, and he starts meeting her secretly. One may wonder how this eludes the authorities.

    There are other youths, notably Titus (Jannik Schümann), who is slippery, and Wladim (Damian Thüne), who is plump and rejected by the other contestants as unfit. But the key character next to Zach is Lehrer, (Fahri Yardim), a teacher (but does he teach?) who has a penchant for siding with underdogs in the group. He champions Zach, and later Wladim, but to his peril.

    The weakness of the film structurally is that while it spends most of its time on events at the camp, what happens afterward out in the world turns out to be more important. Nonetheless the early action is suspenseful, because it's building up an environment whose rules we don't yet understand.

    The screenplay adaptation is by Alex Buresch and Matthias Pacht from Von Horvath's eponymous novel. (This may be a very free adaptation, influenced by recent films.) Though Von Horvath died only a year after publishing Jugend ohne Gott, 1938, at only thirty-six, his writing has been the basis for many recent play productions and movies. The son of an Austro-Hungarian diplomat he was a successful playwright whose strong opposition to National Socialism eventually led to trouble for him in Germany. He was killed by a falling branch in Paris, reportedly after watching a film version of Snow White, just when he was beginning conversations with the Polish German director Robert Siodmak then exiled in France, about adapting Godless Youth for the screen. A citizen contributor to IMDb reports that there have already been one French and two German film adaptations. This new one shows what compelling material Von Horvath provided. It has too good acting and production values for a mere TV movie - but TV movies can be fine sometimes, especially French ones. The French one is from 1996, by Catherine Corsini, Jeunesse sans dieu (Youth without God), and it was a French/German Arte TV movie, though it debuted under the radar at Cannes and got a favorable review by Isabelle Potel in Libération.

    Godless Youth/Jugend ohne Gott, 154 mins., opened in Germany Sept. 2017, and showed at one German festival. Reviewed here as part of the San Francisco Goethe-Institut's Berlin and Beyond Festival, 9-15 Feb. 2018.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-10-2018 at 01:09 PM.

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    EON SCHIELE: DEATH AND THE MAIDEN (Dieter Berner 2016)

    DIETER BERNER: DEATH AND THE MAIDEN/EGAN SCHIELE: TOD UND MÄDCHEN (2016)



    A beautiful, breezy portrait of the artist

    The Egon Shiele of Dieter Berner's new film is a charmer, and the bright eyed, chiseled-featured Noah Saavedra makes that charm convincing. With his long face and windswept hair, he resembles Schiele, but is definitively prettier, and was only 24 when this film was shot. In time-honored style, the film focuses on the last days of the artist during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 just toward the end of the First World War, while flashing back to key moments in his adult life. He had achieved notoriety and an international reputation but was only 28. He died only three days after his wife, the bourgeois Edith (Marie Jung), for whom he'd abandoned his longtime mistress Wally (Valerie Pachner). Edith and her sister Adéle (Elisabeth Umlauft) had lived right across the street. But Wally was still around, and Edith's sister. The story the movie has to tell is of an unusual lifestyle and unique talent. Schiele was a protege of the older Gustav Klimt (Cornelius Obonya), and the two were masters of the early twentieth century Viennese style - tortured, shocking, erotic, elegant and stylish work that still looks modern. A main focus is on the artist's proclivity for painting underage women in the nude, including his 13-year-old sister Gerti (Maresi Riegner). It was essential to his convention-defying style, which involved tortured, expressionistic poses, nudity, and blatant sexuality. His always striking images make him one of the major figurative artists of the early twentieth century. It took Berner 18 months to find Saavedra for the lead role, but he shot his film in only 40 days, and it is beautiful and breezy. Here, Schiele's épater les bourgeois is not tortured but fun. Berner doesn't achieve the originality and naturalism of Maurice Pialat's Van Gogh by a long sight, but the good cheer avoids many clichés of the genre, and only the music is occasionally a little annoying.

    Egon Schiele and the Death of the Maiden/Egon Schiele: Tod und Mädchen, 110 mins., debuts at the Zurich Film Festival 26 Sept. 2016, opening in Austria 7 Oct. This review was originally published for the film's showing 15 Oct. 2016 at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Now scheduled for Feb. 2018 at Berlin and Beyond, San Francisco. Sun. Feb. 11, 2018 at 8:30 PM at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco, Special Screening - Castro Closing Night Film ; Encore: Mon. Feb. 12, 2018 at 9:45 PM at the Shattuck Cinemas, Berkeley.

    Trailer.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-03-2018 at 08:06 AM.

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    PARADISE/RAI ( Andrey Konchalovskiy 2017)

    ANDREY KONCHALOVSKY: PARADISE/RAI (2017 )


    VIKTOR SUKHORUKOV AND CHRISTIAN CLAUSS IN PARADISE

    Fantasies and the Holocaust

    Paradise is a disturbing World War II film with excellent performances by Julia Vysotskaya (the director's wife) and Christian Clauß and lustrous and handsome black and white images in appropriately retro and claustrophobic academy ratio. It's also a movie that in certain important ways goes very wrong. Some seriously wrong choices and an air of hubris mar what in other ways is an impressive and strangely beautiful film that strives mightily to be an original one.

    Andrey Konchalovskiy, the Russian director, has produced a narrative unusual for its sympathetic depiction of people World War II movies don't normally treat so kindly. The title arrives drenched in irony: it appears over the screen in a grim opening sequence when a Russian princess named Olga (Vysotskaya) is screaming as she's locked into a dank cell in Fresnes Prison, south of Paris. She turns out to be an emigrée Vogue fashion editor in Paris who joined the French Resistance and has been caught hiding two Jewish children in her apartment. The time is 1942.

    The movie focuses on three people whose into-the-camera ruminations (or interviews?) punctuate scenes of action. They look like prisoners, or are in some kind of limbo whose nature we gather later. Olga tells her story in Russian; a French collaborator tells his in French; and a young German aristocrat who gets a high post in the SS, tells his in German.

    The first person to address the camera is plump, bland-looking French-Nazi collaborating officer Jules (Philippe Duquesne). He lives in a very large country house with his wife and young son. Toward her he is rapaciously sexual, while he is kind and attentive to his son. Things are going badly for Germany, and knowing his complicity with the Nazis, Jules' wife is worried. He denies that there is danger - his status is so good, their circumstances so comfortable - but he is working for the Gestapo. When he goes in to the office, Olga is brought to him. and he soon seems willing to cut Olga a deal in return for sexual favors.

    Olga offers herself in exchange for lenient treatment of a resistance colleague and herself. The idea of sex with a princess is too tempting for this stolid bourgeois. The liaison is to begin with a nice dinner and a bottle whose chateau and vintage she has specified. For a while we have entered into both Jules' domestic and working lives. But he is soon out of the picture and things turn bad again for Olga. Later she turns up in a concentration camp.

    For a while in the "interview" mode we listen to and watch the lean, young, very aristocratic Helmut (Christian Clauß ). He is a cultivated man, but, like the officer in Vercors' The Silence of the Sea (Jean-Pierre Melville's debut film), also a true believer in Nazi ideology and the fantasy of a pure, Aryan, master race utopia. Helmut is so clearly distinguished, well-bred, and intelligent that we wonder constantly, as later Olga does, how he could believe this stuff (until finally he doubts). That's the point, to show how deeply the madness penetrated.

    Helmut is made a Standartenführer, a high SS rank like that of Obersturmbannführer held by the protagonist of Jonathan Littell's prizewinning 2006 French Novel Les bienveillantes (The Kindly Ones), which also looks deeply into the mentality of such a person. Helmut gets promoted and assigned to a high post as supervisor in charge of weeding out corruption at a major concentration camp, this honor bestowed by Heinrich Himmler himself in an odd scene that reminded me of Sokurov's Moloch. (Sokurov may be an influence, especially for some of the images.) This scene is one of Konchalovsky's first missteps, because Himmler is played by Viktor Sukhorukov, his voice unconvincingly dubbed by another's in German. It's not the only instance of dubbing, something we don't expect to encounter in this day and age. But this scene is important for the story Himmler tells of Hitler's preposterous fantasy of withdrawing into anonymity as an artist in southern Europe after he has crushed all his enemies.

    Another error is the distracting "distressed" effects used on the "interview" films of the three personalities in their prison-like garb addressing the screen, Jules, Olga, and Helmut, unnecessarily insisting on some kind of period authenticity that hardly fits the circumstances. It might be argued that these interpolations as a whole are a misstep and distraction. But the film's curious structure wouldn't have worked without them either. They hold together an otherwise disjointed and arbitrary structure - at the same time doubtless intended to prevent viewers from escaping into the drama and instead permitting Konchalovsky to indulge in philosophizing.

    Paradise may impose unity with its monologues, but the action sequences are weakened by a reliance on dubious coincidences. When Olga is in the concentration camp, she suddenly comes upon the two French Jewish children she had been protecting when she was arrested by the Gestapo, and for a while she takes them under her wing. Later a liaison develops between Olga and Helmut, who turn out to have had a memorable, halcyon flirtation in Italy back in 1933. Another misstep: a self-indulgent series of flashbacks to this affair, the lovers draped against each other in pretty clothes, all drenched in sunshine. This is meant to be one "Paradise" that haunts Olga and Helmut; the other is the Nazi fantasy of an Aryan utopia. Helmut makes clear from early in his monologue that he became disenchanted with Nazi horror (though not as explicitly as a fellow officer). He and Olga plan on escaping. But this is too much distraction. Meanwhile, the depiction of the concentration camp - a task whose overwhelming difficulty became clearer when Laszlo Nemes's 2015 Son of Saul set a new standard for such things - is never really convincing.

    Though Konchalovsky is in his late seventies, this film in its ambition reminded me of young Brady Corbet's recent directorial debut (also 2015) The Childhood of a Leader, equally bold and beautiful and promising, if not altogether successful. One might wonder if the Russian director may be indirectly influenced by Michael Haneke and Lars von Trier as Corbet clearly was. Paradise also seems more promising than successful.

    Konchalovsky's varied career has included collaborating early on with Andrei Tarkovsky on his classic film Andrei Rublev and a detour to Hollywood in the Eighties when he made the thriller Runaway Train with Jon Voight and Eric Roberts. His last movie, The Postman's White Nights, an amalgam of documentary elements focused on a small town in Russia, won critical accolades including Best Director at Venice, but didn't do so well commercially. This new feature won the same Venice prize, but has been otherwise mostly a critical flop. No one can deny the lush richness of Alexander Simonov’s camerawork and lighting, however, or the good acting of the principals.

    Paradise/рай (Rai), 133 mins., debuted at Venice in 2016 where it won the Silver Lion Best Director prize. It has been shown in about 20 other international festivals and released in 13 countries in 2017, starting with Russia, inclding France (15 Nov.), with a mediocre critical reception (AlloCiné critical rating 3.1). The limited US theatrical release was 6 Oct. 2017, when it was reviewed dismissively by Ben Kenigsberg in the New York Times. Screened for this review as part of the 9-15 Feb. 2018 San Francisco Berlin and Beyond festival.


    PHILIPPE DUQUESNE AS JULES


    VYSOTSKAYA AND DUQUESNE IN PARADISE


    CHRISTIAN CLAUSS AND JULIA VYSOTSKAYA IN PARADISE
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-10-2018 at 01:20 PM.

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    CODE OF SURVIVAL OR THE END OF GENETIC ENGINEERING (Bertram Verhaag 2017)

    BERTRAM VERHAAG; CODE OF SURVIVAL OR THE END OF GENETIC ENGINEERING (2017)


    AMBOOTIA TEA PICKERS

    Why non-GMO crops are essential for human health and the future of the environment.

    Over the last ten-plus years, Bertram Verhaag has made nine films exploring aspects of genetic engineering and, increasingly, the healthy, organic alternatives. The tenth film, Code of Survival – or the End of Genetic Engineering, contrasts sustainable projects in Germany, India and Egypt with the continuing use of GMO farming in the US. Worldwide, millions of tons of the insecticide Roundup, wose active ingredient is glyphosate, are applied to the land year after year. The alarming consequences: poisoned soils, resistant superweeds, contaminated crops and sick livestock. Nonetheless, especially the United States continues to follow this model of GM-agriculture, which impoverishes the crops and makes the soil barren.

    As the first US farmer, George Jeffords of Mississippi, tells us, many think they must raise GMO crops using Roundup, that they cannot afford to produce at high volume and low cost by natural methods. Dr. Jane Goodall points out the industry is driven by the profit motive. Obviously, the information we find if we Google this subject is deeply permeated with propaganda from the GMO producers saying that it's okay. The "biggies," Monsanto, Dow, Syngenta, Bayer, Dupont - aren't nice guys. They are vicious invaders of land, dominators of property. How can killing everything in a field except the crop be healthy for the land or for animals and humans?

    We hear from Alternative Nobel winner Ibrahim Abouleish of Egypt, his family and coworkers. For four decades his Sekem Farm has used compost to activate microorganisms in desert land and turn it into fertile land. He studied in Austria when he was 20 and returned at 40, where his family has grown up Sekem, an agricultural collective community where the education and whole community are considered as much as the soil.

    Ulrich Walter of Lebensbaum is heard from. He buys tea from organic farmers in the Darjeeling region of India who own the Ambootia Tea Group, the largest biometric producers of tea in the world. Women are seen on their knees, and also standing, hand-picking the tea leaves. The Indian family owning and running the farm took some of the farms over in the Eighties when the soil had been ruined by use of chemicals and restored it with compost and careful cultivation. Both this Darjeeling tea farm and the organic farm in Egypt use cow dung in cow horns buried in soil to condition it.

    We cringe when the film returns to the US, this time to Idaho, because we think that here Roundup will reign. But instead we hear from Dr. Don Huber, Plant Pathologist, a world authority on GMO's. He explains that genetic engineering has caused plants to be reduced in minerals, and is causing them to be further reduced; our animals are undernourished, and the number of people with autism, gluten intolerance, cancer, etc. is growing. We go to Iowa, where a farmer raised non-GMO and GMO-fed pigs and found how much better the pigs did. Howard Vlieger is an American farmer and agricultural consultant who is a powerful spokesman, like Dr. Huber, for biodiverse and non-GMO agricultural strong spokesman for biodiverse non-GMO agriculture. He explains how the impoverishment of the soil and the crops and the sickening of humans all are good business for the chemical giants whose business is selling treatments and drugs at each end of the cycle.

    At the end, Bertram Verhaag explains how lacking scientific aptitude, he nonetheless decided decades ago he decided to focus on making documentaries about genetic engineered plants. He realized he didn't need profound technical knowledge to decide he preferred a natural environment. He convinces the viewer of the validity and urgency of his viewpoint in this powerful film.

    Code of Survival or the End of Genetic Engineering, 95 mins., debuted in Germany 1 Jun. 2017. It was screened here as part of the Berlin and Beyond series where it shows Tue. Feb. 13, 2018 6:00pm at Goethe-Institut, San Francisco (the Northern California Premiere).
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-07-2018 at 10:24 AM.

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    WELCOME TO GERMANY/ WILLKOMMEN BEI DEN HARTMANNS (Simon Verhoeven 2016)

    SIMON VERHOEVEN: WELCOME TO GERMANY/WILLKOMMEN BEI DEN HARTMANNS (2016)



    MAIN CAST OF WELCOME TO GERMANY

    A comedy that shows how Germany might like to feel about refugees

    Welcome to Germany isn't a typical festival film or even a very good film. But it was the most popular locally made film in Germany in 2016 and early 2017. And as such, it shows us what Germans wanted and needed to see. Not surprisingly its main focus is the refugee issue, which it seeks to make manageable and unthreatening. Germany confronts this international crisis more intensely than any other firstworld country: it has seen the arrival of over a million migrants and refugees since the beginning of 2015. The movie looks at this without hiding from how frightening and dangerous it can be. A joyous and silly feel-good picture, Welcome considers even the points of view of those it most disagrees with. That assumes it has a point of view, which isn't always sure. But that doesn't matter. The object of Simon Verhoeven, I think, was to get the issues most troubling to Europeans today out there in palatable form, desensatizing viewers and encouraging dialogue and laughter. If the action is a mess, that's part of the fun - and an aspect of classic comedy, which moves from disorder to reconciliation. Through exposure to an outsider, a family becomes reunited, and through looking at the vast problem on a manageable scale it can envision positive outcomes - one day and one refugee at t time.

    To some extent the whole German population comes into play here, but in middlebrow microcosm. The movie's actual title isn't "Welcome to Germany" - that's just for English-speaking viewers. It's Willkommen bei den Hartmanns, "Welcome to the Hartmanns'." The Hartmanns are a well-off Munich family, who adopt an African, Dialo (Eric Kabongo), a Nigerian who lost most of his family to the Boko Haram. His story is tragic, but he himself is more sweet than angry. He speaks in simple, staccato German. He is unfrightening and downright cuddly. We are expected to sympathize with him while also identifying with the crudely exaggerated version of a mainstream German family that struggles to cope with his existence. Kabongo is appealing, but less important than the stars playing the German family. It's been pointed out that the movie poster didn't give Kabongo's name.

    The film arrives with good credentials for the popular German audience. It costars as wife Alexandra the veteran actress Senta Berger, a popular star who appeared in the English language pictures Major Dundee and Cast a Giant Shadow in the 1960s. It's directed and was penned by Senta Berger's son, Simon Verhoeven, who's made some silly but financially successful crowd-pleasers before. It has other popular actors. Florian David Fitz, considered a hottie, plays the driven son, Philipp Hartmann, an corporate lawyer whose drive is so intense it comes to seem sheer madness. Indeed he's thrown in the loony bin, but escapes to close his deal in China after all. This is an example of how the film likes to have it both ways: Philipp needs an attitude adjustment, but he's eminently redeemable. Also slated for reformation is Philipp's father, Dr. Richard Hartmann, played by Heiner Lauterbach (winner of awards for movies and TV sitcoms), a highly successful cardiologist. Dr. Hartmann is at midlife crisis (and then some: he looks sixty-ish), much more concerned with trying to indulge in nightlife and getting botox shots than caring for patients, urged into self-empowerment by his hipper contemporary colleague Dr. Heinrich (Uwe Ochsenknecht). LIke his son Phillip, Dr. Hartmann is an example of workaholism: he really just needs to retire and get away and let younger men move ahead, but only a health crisis leads him to take this step.

    A traditional chauvinist, Dr. Hartmann scoffs when Alexandra, who has herself just retired from her work as a head teacher, finding herself sipping too often from large glasses of wine as she rattles about in the family's enormous house, now all the emptier with their grown son and daughter away, proposes that the family adopt a refugee from the local settlement center. But he reluctantly gives in, though the official at the center has to make it clear than you don't pick one out like a dog or cat at the pound.

    Nonetheless you sort of do. The movie doesn't destroy stereotypes; it works with them to create harmony and good vibes. Dr. Hartman only thinks Dialo's arrival may inconvenience him. When he sees that there is room for the man - who takes over gardening chores and turns into a servant at times (a dubious development the movie never quite questions), he sees that this development only enhances his liberal credentials. Likewise eventually Phillip gets involved in Dialo's cause as a way of throwing his weight around and seeming less materialistic and self-centered for a change.

    The existence of xenophobic racism in the society at large is developed through a couple of threads. There is running tension between the Hartmanns and their crucifix-wearing (i.e., anti-muslim) little humorless neighbor with a Polish name, an allusion no doubt to serious problems over refugees with Eastern Europe. More immediately, the Hartmann daughter, Sophie (Palina Rojinski) is rescued from a group of men harassing her in Cologne on New Year's Eve by a racist cab driver who from then on stalks her, reiterating his fears that all multicultural people are dangerous threats. It is he and his oppressive hounding of her and his prejudices that are the threats.

    At the refugee center some volunteers act possessive about personal favorites they call "my refugee," while various dressed-up refugees "audition" for a place in the Hartmann household, including families that insist on being taken together while there is a forty-something man who claims to be a minor. The Hartmanns will take only one person, but the movie doesn't entirely mock their lack of ambition, which after all, is only practical. Intelligence corpsmen spy on Dialo after they adopt him, convinced that this innocent little fellow is some kind of Isis mole. Later one of Dialo's roommates turns out actually to have in fact been Isis - so you never can tell, nor have the authorities much of a clue.

    Phillip goes nuts, gets to China to negotiate, and still returns in time to plead for Dialo's (threatened) asylum (in reality, only 8% of Nigerian applicants are getting asylum in Germany). Through all the turmoil, perhaps given a sense of proportion about their own easy problems by briefly, vicariously, confronting those of refugees, Alexandra and her husband are reconciled. Sophie gets rid of the nagging cab driver with the xenophobia and crush she does not share. Instead she discovers an old classmate, Dr. Tarek Berger (another pop hearthrob, Elyas M'Barek), her father Dr. Hartmann's associate whom he constantly rejects, a volunteer in group weekly workouts of the refugees who Dialo wants to fix up with her. They find each other instead. (Note how this nods indulgently at traditional matchmaking, while bypassing it.)

    The younger generation is represented by the Hartmanns' preteen grandson Basti (Marinus Hohmann), who enlists Dialo in his precocious rap and hip hop schemes, which involve, of course, drugs, trash talk, and obscenity, though he is only a kid, and a kind of complicity develoops. This subplot suggests that there is a bond that can develop between new arrivals and the younger generation that bypasses conventional prejudices and stereotypes.

    We may roll our eyes at the simplifications here, while still falling a little for the charm.

    Reviewed as part of the Berlin and Beyond festival, San Francisco, where it's showing Fri. Feb. 9, 2018 at 6:30 PM at the Castro Theatre,
    Northern California Premiere - Opening Night Film
    In Person: Simon Verhoeven
    Also:
    Mon. Feb. 12, 2018 at 7:00 PM
    Shattuck CInemas, Berkeley
    Special Encore


    ERIK KABONGO (CENTER), MARINUS HOHMANN (RIGHT) IN WELCOME TO GERMANMY
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-12-2018 at 11:05 PM.

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