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Thread: BERLIN & BEYOND Mar. 2023

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    BERLIN & BEYOND Mar. 2023

    BERLIN & BEYOND 2023
    San Francisco March 23-28, 2023



    GENERAL FILM FORUM

    LINKS TO REVIEWS

    AXIOM (Jons Jönsson 2022)
    WERNER HERZOG: RADICAL DREAMER (Thomas von Steinaecker 2022)
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-09-2023 at 09:31 PM.

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    AXIOM (Jons Jönsson 20220

    JONS JÖNSSON: AXIOM (2022


    RICARDA SEIFRIED AND MORITZ VON TRUENFELS IN AXIOM

    TRAILER

    A sociopath's world that's both cozy and scary

    Axiom is about a liar so habitual and gifted watching him jars our sense of reality. More than that, as Jessica Kiang says in her admiring Berlinale review for Variety, "His borrowed stories. . .are merely an expression of a far more worrying buried sociopathy, controlling him through compulsion as much as he tries to control the world through lies." He is not a successful criminal like Patricia Highsmith's Tom Ripley but Julius's world is as Graham Greene said of Highsmith's "a world claustrophobic and irrational which we enter each time with a sense of personal danger." Or perhaps it a concern for Julius (Moritz von Treuenfels), and for some of them who come close to him, who are bound to get burned.

    It would be a bad idea to summarize much of the action, because that would short-circuit the surprise and shock of the "fabulism," the lying, the invention, which sometimes grows out of other stories Julius has just heard, like a fish thief or a naked man on the street, and sometimes seem spun out of whole cloth, spurred by an embarrassing question because he doesn't want to reveal the truth. The film takes place all over just three days: we don't know what new edifices will be constructed or what existing ones will come crashing down after that.

    Amusingly, the actor has an aristocratic name, and Julius pretends to be well-born on his mother's side. When we meet him, he is at work as a guard, in the modern art museum in cologne. He is friendly, he is obtrusive, he helps visitors, he bosses them around, and he eases in a new employee called Erik (Thomas Schubert) just arrived from Austria, and he invites Erik along on a sailing trip on the family boat with Jonas (Maximilian Hildebrandt) and Savo (Zejhun Demirov), who are most annoyed that this newcomer, plain and religious, should be brought along at the last minute. There isn't any boat, and Julius has postponed this trip before and will have to find a new way of short circuiting it. He finds two, the second a very dramatic one.

    "When are you going to stop doing this?" asks his mother (Petra Welteroth) when she retrieves him from the hospital, "You're not five anymore." (The actor is very youthful, and seems unspoiled or untouched - by reality? - which helps.) Then, he reassures her by telling her he has a girlfriend now, an aspiring opera singer. By now already we know to doubt everything, so it's a surprise that Marie (Ricarda Seifried) does exist, and ironically as she rehearses we learn she has trouble conveying believable emotion - lying, in fact.

    After what happens in the boathouse, we have that "sense of personal danger." And we feel danger for Julius because he is tilling not only Marie but her parents (Marita Breuer, Rolf Kanies), at a nice dinner to meet them that he is an important architect supervising a big project involving 14 others. He hopes they're all on an equal basis but "it's a bit more complicated than that."

    Long takes, fixed camera positions, and simple but elegant photography bring out the best in the very able von Treuenfels and help us to identify with him even as we perceive him as a strange, volatile creature. How witty of Swedish director Jönsson, who lives in Germany and for whom this is the second feature, to plant the most far-fetched story in the mouth of the innocent, good-natured Erik, who, like the disappointed sailing party, makes a surprise reappearance despite Julius' abandonment of the boat side scene and the museum in days that follow. We see him spend affectionate moments with Marie in bed. They the dinner to meet her parents goes well. But a quiet glass of sine with her alone can't last. He feels the call of music and parties and new strangers, tabulae rasae on whom to paint his attractive, but treacherous pictures. A very original and arresting film.

    Axiom, 112 mins., debuted in the Encounters section at the 2022 Berlinale Feb. 15, and has been shown at other interrnatinoal festivals including Edinburgh, Hong Kong, Bergen, Belfast and Thessalonii. Screened for this review as part of Berlin & Beyohd (Mar. 23-26, 2023, San Francisco. (Also well reviewed by Jay Weissberg for The Verdict.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-05-2023 at 09:39 PM.

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    WERNER HERZOG: RADICAL DREAMER (Thomas von Steinaecker 2022)

    THOMAS VON STEINECKER: WERNER HERZOG: RADICAL DREAMER (2022)


    WERNER HERZOG INTERVIEWED IN WERNER HERZOG: RADICAL VISIONARY

    Werner Herzog loses his edge

    Werner Herzog is a unique living filmmaker. For better or worse he seems almost a pop figure in America now, and we wonder what that will mean for his fuure reputation. We learn in this documentary that he significantly revitalized German filmmaking after the War. Lotte Eisner, a key figure, said so after she saw one of his early films, Signs of Life (1968) (of course that was 20 years after the war: there's a gap in cinema history here). Later, paradoxically, several of his most epoch-making and insane films , Aguirre, The Wrath of God and, ten years later, Fitscarraldo, the German film industry apparently would no longer underwrite his work, and having for some time become "international," he seems to have abandoned Germany and his first wife, taken a new wife, and gone to live forever in The US, taking with him, he says, nothing but a tooth brush. Good thing: director Thomas von Steinaecker is German, and he interviews important German figures here in German, inncluding directors and siblings. We also see numerous films of Herzog himself as a young, vigorous, sexy man, contrasting rather with the more mellow elder statesman type who was filmed for this well meaning but essentially disappointing documentary.

    Unfortunately this is not a worthy, intelligent, or thorough enough documebntary of a man who himself has made bold and penetrating documentaries as well as pioneered in blurring the line between documentary and drama, not to mention between reality and illusion, sanity and insanity. While the making of Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo are touched on, and the crucial role of Klaus Kinski is referenced, many other significant films like Even Dwarfs Started Small, The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser Stroszek , Little Dieter Needs to Fly and various others are not mentioned. Herzog's early life is not described in enough detail (even though a brother is a talking head, notably reporting Werner's winning a screenwriting contest for an entry written in a week).

    This film is too often content with generalities and, worst of all, with celebrity endorsements. If you want to see Nicole Kidman, Christian Bale, Patti Smith and Robert Pattinson say what a cool guy "Werner" is, this is the film for you. It's true, fellow German language filmmakers Volker Schlöndorff and Wim Wenders say something about the director's importance in their development, as well as the Lotte Eisner moment. Prizewinning younger American filmmakers Chloe Zhao and Joshua Oppenheimer talk about Herzog's uniqueness for them, and that's of some value, one supposes; but it's essentially just professional endorsement.

    The subject, Werner Herzog today, who is now 80, walks through this film and reminisces; he is even taken to the first place where he lived (I wish the short film about a plastic bag's saga that he narrated for Rahmin Bahrani had been mentioned). He talks about his early milestones, and his new career in America. He has become a pop cultural character, figuring as himself in "The Simpsons" and other cartons like "Boondocks." We need to hear more about that. The voice of Herzog narrating in English has become a thing. Wem Wenders says he invented his own accent. (I challenge that: it's Herzog's intonation, not his accent, that's so distinctive; it's basically just a German accent. But has Herzog been popularized and cheapened? Has he allowed this to happen?

    As a latecomer to the game myself, I find this film particularly disappointing because I need more background, more elucidation, and more analysis. Personally, I ignored Werner Herzog's famous films of the Seventies and Eighties, the ones like Aguirre, Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo that made him into a cult figure. (I sensed that Klaus Kinski would not be my cup of tea; no doubt I missed out). The superficial treatment here is particularly glaring in view of the fact that there is a well-known documentary by Les Blank, Burden of Dreams, about the chaotic but epic making of Fitzcarraldo.

    The film that did grab me once and for all and make me an admirer of Herzog is his 2005 Grizzly Man. This I find also celebrated, if briefly as usual, here: the documentary about the ultimate grim fate of bear activist Timothy Treadwell is a many-layered story of a man and nature and a look at the relationship that dares to disregard received views. Herzog also makes extraordinary use there of the revealing body of recorded data of himself Treadwell left behind. When I saw Grizzly Man, I knew I had found something unique. (So, apparently, did a lot of other people.)

    It's Herzog's role as a solitary visionary also that interests me, and it relates to caricatures of his pseudo-profound pronouncements. His visionary status has come to seem, or ring, hollow. What of it is solid and worthy of our lasting admiration? Werner Herzog is a subject crying out for the kind of bold, in-depth examination he himself might have provided in making a portrait of himself and his career. Herzog is more impressive than this simply as a man as well as a filmmaker: over and over again he has shown immense courage and will power. He has been enormously productive. He deserves better than this.

    Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer, 102 mins., debuted at Telluride Sept. 5, 2022. It was shown at Mexico City (DocsMX), Cologne, Vienna and other festivals. Screened for this review as part of Berlin & Beyond, San Francisco Mar. 23-28, 2023
    Showtimes:
    Saturday, March 25 – Roxie, SF:
    1:00 PM:
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-09-2023 at 09:53 PM.

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    THE ORDINARIES (Sophie Linnenbaum 2022)

    SOPHIE LINNENBAUM: THE ORDINARIES (2022)



    Searching for feelings and identity in an unfair cardboard meta-cinema world

    The Ordinaries is an oddball and original film about a chaotic, repressive meta-cinema world of filmmaking where we never actually see a finished film. Instead we are enclosed in an Orwellian world - which sometimes feels a little like Blade Runner (and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil has also been mentioned) - in which a hierarchy of film elements, characters, and parts of these seem at war with one another, living with illusions and deceptions. Violations of the rules are ruthlessly enforced but nothing is quite right.

    At the top are main characters, below whom are supporting characters. Then there are mere outtakes, misfits defined as "jumpcutters" or the "wrongly cast." . There is a heart gadget that produces sound which the main characters have, but supporting characters don't. At the level of outcasts - we barely see them - are the black and whites. Administrators may digitalize a face into a blur at will; outtakes may, of course, suddenly disappear. Sometimes the screen keeps going dark. This is a movie that doesn't always seem to know where its going but never ceases to be playful. Director-writer Linnenbaum has said that she is seeking to depict our world of "exclusion," but among the menace and "angst," there is always playfulness and cuteness here and Linnenbaum has a gift for chaotic scenes with scrambled characters and objects that look intriguing. In his Screen Daily review Jonathan Romney comments that The Ordinaries comes from a "rarefied conceptual zone" that lies "somewhere between Pirandello and Charlie Kaufman." He also says Linnenbaum shows "ambition and craft on a mightily impressive level."

    At the center of the scrambled narrative is Paula Feinmann (Fine Sendel), a busty young woman who may be a supporting character or may be black and white but who's in main character school and is constantly protected and urged on by her mother Elise (the wonderfully sad-sack Jule Böwe), whose constant repetition of the same few lines is a giveaway that she is a supporting character, and a very minor one. Much of the film, which holds it together, is Paula's search for her missing father whom she has never known. Elise insists he was a main character who died and is filed away somewhere, but Paula suspects otherwise and has to find out the truth. Paula gets challenge and reassurance from her better off best friend Hannah (Sira Faal), whose level of main character privedge is shown by their ability to burst into MGM-musical song-and-dance at the drop of a hat.

    The Ordinaries feels vaguely familiar and at the same time with its metafictional self-invented details is sui generis and intriguingly strange. The trouble with a film as high concept and unique as this is that much of its run time must be devoted to explaining itself, the peculiar premise, assumptions, and rules of this fabricated world. But there are charmers - some of whom turn nasty - and there are musical interludes - it seems the preferred kind of drama is an upbeat musical. Isn't that what, in some kind of hysterical ideal fantasy world, every family wants to be, a window on the golden age of Hollywood?

    But in the end we learn everybody has their secrets; no one lives up to the ideal. The cruel perfectionism has been a distortion of reality. The lower orders need to acquire equality. Plainly in Linnenbaum's world revolution is coming, while in the past there was a major event known as "the massacre." That, like some other details, is never quite worked out. But the fun of The Ordinaries is that it's making itself up as it goes along, and we get to share in the game.

    Numerous subversive and species-strange characters come and go whom Paula enlists in her search. One charmer is Simon (Noah Tinwa), a young Outtake Paula connects with.who runs a black market trade in bottled sound effects, another Paula's friend Hannah’s family’s cross-dressing, or "Miscast," comically down-at-the-mouth male housemaid Hilde (Henning Peker). Paula's mother has been desperately trying to make ends meet, or hold up the pretense of being somebody. Paula is in Main Character school, preparing for a final exam/recital, which will climax the piece with a speech everyone loves and is moved by - till she shocks them with a series of surprising revelations.

    The film's consciously diverse casting, Linnenbaum says in an interview cited in a description of the film in Variety is meant to show "Racism, sexism, classism, etc. are not accidental side effects of our society." But it also conveys the sense that this world is made up of badly misassembled elements, with everyone trying hopelessly to find a place.

    The Ordinaries is bristling with raw ideas and may be a fertile field for remakes. Meanwhile We will want to watch to see what comes next from Linnenbaum. Her mix of the high concept and the playful bodes well for future ideas and successes.

    The Ordinaries, 120 mins., debuted at Munich, playing at numerous other German festivals and European ones, winding up and South by Southwest Mar. 10, 2023. Screened for this review as part of Berlin & Beyond (Mar. 23-26, 2023) in South Francisco.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 03-10-2023 at 10:29 PM.

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