Posts Tagged ‘German Cinema’

Lara (2019) ** Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Jan-Ole Gerster; Cast: Corinna Harfouch, Tom Schilling, Volkmar Kleinert, Andre Jung, Rainer Bock, Gudrun Ritter; Germany 2019, 97 min.

Jan-Ole Gerster enjoyed overnight success with his black and white comedy debut Oh Boy, his 2012 graduation feature from the Film and Fernsehakademie Berlin. His Karlovy Vary Crystal Globe hopeful is a hotchpot of banality dressed up as psycho-horror, proving once again that the second film is generally the most difficult one.

To say that LARA is muddled, is an understatement. To start with, Gerster and his writer Baz Kutin seem unsure about genre. As it turns out, Lara oscillates between neo-gothic horror and hyper realism, with a large dollop of misogyny.

We meet the titular Lara (a brilliant Harfouch) early in the morning, about to take her life – on her 60th birthday as it turns out – but a plan to jump from the window of her high rise is interrupted by a ring at the doorbell. Two policemen enter. They ask her to witness the search of a flat belonging to her neighbour Czerny (Jung), whose son is a drug addict. Meanwhile, her own son Victor (Schilling), is preparing for his debut piano solo, the premiere of his first composition. Lara has devoted her life to coaching him after giving up her own promising career on a whim. She will later meet her former teacher, professor Reinhofer (Kleinert) who also happens to know her son. Victor has since moved in with his grandmother (Ritter), in preference to his mother and girl friend – for reasons unknown. Victor’s attitude towards his mother is hostile. His father (Bock) seems to share his feelings. Undeterred, Lara makes a beeline for her grandmother’s house where she sneaks into Victor’s room, advising him not to perform his piece due to its being “too affected”. While Victor is torn between obeying his mother and revolt, Lara busily buys up the remainder of the concert tickets, distributing them among her former staff at the city council, who, so she is told, hated her. 

All the time, a dark cloud hangs over Lara, but we are never told what caused her mental breakdown a few weeks previously. After a lifetime of dedicated to her only son she has clearly lost her way with his leaving home. The other female characters (girl friend, council employers) are either weak or bitchy. By contrast, the men are reasonable and capable of conflict resolution. Only the grand mother emerges strong and sympathetic – being no sexual threat because of her age. Lara fails to solve the issues it raises, petering out in a limp ending, award winning DoP Frank Griebe unable to save the clumsy direction and clunky dialogue. AS



Beyond your Wildest Dreams: Entertainment cinema during the Weimar years

BFI Southbank and various venues nationwide will mark the centenary of the Weimar Republic with a major two-month season running from Wednesday 1 MaySunday 30 June; BEYOND YOUR WILDEST DREAMS: WEIMAR CINEMA 1919-1933 celebrates a ground-breaking era of German cinema showcasing the extraordinary diversity of styles and genres in Weimar cinema, which conjured surreal visions in the sparkling musicals Heaven on Earth (Reinhold Schünzel, Alfred Schirokauer, 1927) and A Blonde Dream (below, Paul Martin, 1932) and gender-bending farces such as I Don’t Want to Be a Man (Ernst Lubitsch, 1918).

“Ein blonder Traum”
D 1932
Lilian Harvey

In this first foray into the Weimar era we will try to analyse the mainly escapist features of the period, leaving out the prestige projects of Lang and G.W. Pabst, covered in Rudi Suskind’s comprehensive documentary From Caligari to Hitler, and have a look at the B-features which were part and parcel of the growing film industry in Germany, leading to a rapid rise of new cinemas, particularly in the urban centres. Director/producer Joe May, who gave Fritz Lang his big break (before also emigrating to Hollywood) was not only was responsible for mega-productions like Das Indische Grabmal, but, among the 88 features he directed, were small comedies like Veritas Vincit (1918), in which transmigration of the spirit is used, to tell a love story. E.A. Dupont’s Varieté (1925) was a celebration of the music-hall, but was not modern at all: it sounded more like an epilogue than a resume. Karl-Heinz Martin’s From Morning to Midnight (1920) was in contrast a very expressionistic film. Set in Japan, it tells the story of a bank teller, who uses the money he steals on sex-workers, before committing suicide. The Love Letters of the Countess S. (Henrik Galeen, 1924) was typical for a series of films, which dealt with love affairs at aristocratic courts. Comedy of the Heart by Rochus Gliese (1924), also falls in the category ‘scandalous love affairs of the monarchs’. Blitzzug der Liebe (1925) directed by Johannes Gunter might not be well known, but its narrative is very typical for the genre: Fred loves Lizzy, but does not want to marry her. Lizzy makes him jealous, by asking the gigolo Charley to court her. But Charley is in love with the dancer Kitty, who is fancied by Fred. A double wedding solves all problems. Max Reichmann’s Manege (1927) is a sort of minor variation of Varieté , set in the world of the circus. Dupont again is responsible for Moulin Rouge (1928), one of many Varieté  remakes. Ein Walzertraum (1925) by Ludwig Berger and War of the Waltz 1933) by the same director, are, like Two Hearts in Walzertune (1932) by Geza von Bolvary part of many features shot in Vienna, featuring the music of the Strauss family. Karl Grune’s Arabella (1925) is a rather more intriguing endeavour showing the life of the titular horse from its own POV. The Erich Pommer production of Melody of the Heart (Hanns Schwarz, 1929) was one of the first sound features; DoP Karl Hoffmann lamented: “Poor camera! No more of your graceful movements. Chained again”. Even the grim reality of unemployment featured in comedies such as The Three from the Unemployment Office (1932) directed by Eugen Thiele, a plagiarism of his more famous The Three from the Petrol Station (1930). Director Karl Hartl, who would later be a standard bearer of the Nazi regime, showed potential in The countess of Monte Christo (1932), in which a poor film extra (Brigitte Helm) is mistaken for the star, having a great time at a luxury hotel. The final mention should go to Hans Albers, the action man of the German cinema, his career lasting from the Weimar era, via Goebbels and the III. Reich to the post WWII cinema in the Federal Republic: he starred in four Erich Pommer films: FPI Doesn’t Answer, a U-Boot Sci-fi adventure directed by Karl Hartl and scripted by Curt Siodmak and based on his novel of the title; Monte Carlo Madness (Hanns Scharz, 1931), Quick ( 1932, directed by Robert Siodmak, who would soon emigrate) stars Albert as a womanising clown and The Victor (Hans Hinrich/Paul Martin, 1932), where Albers rather ordinary telegraphist develops into a fearless hero. AS



The Blue Angel (1930) ***** Bluray

Dir.: Josef von Sternberg; Cast: Emil Jannings, Marlene Dietrich, Kurt Gerron, Hans Albers; Germany 1930, 106 min.

One of many Germans who would later emigrate to Hollywood, UFA boss Erich Pommer wanted to raise the profile of German cinema, feeling it had not adapted well to sound. So he  engaged Hollywood director Josef von Sternberg (Undeworld) to direct Heinrich Mann’s 1905 novel Professor Unrat at Babelsberg. 

Set in 1924, Emil Jannings played the anti-hero, Professor Rath, who is a strict teacher, and a very repressed man. When is comes to his attention that his High School students are visiting a rather notorious establishment called Der Blaue Engel, to meet the well-known singer LoLa-Lola (Dietrich), he is hell bent on destroying their fun. But instead, he falls in love for the first time in his life. After a night with Lola, he asks for her hand, and is immediately dismissed from his position. With his new wife, he tours small towns, and even takes part in the stage acts: the cabaret owner Kiepert (Gerron) asking him to crow like a cockerel. But Lola is not the faithful type, preferring the young and athletic Mazeppa (Albers) and Rath soon becomes disillusioned and turns to alcohol. When the troupe arrives in his home town, where a large crowd awaits his appearance on stage, Rath has a nervous breakdown. And after trying to strangle Lola, he runs off to his old school to meet his maker.

Dietrich’s songs: “Ich bin die fesche Lola”, dominate the feature: Von Sternberg took her to Hollywood, where she starred in six of his films, becoming an American citizen in 1939, and, for a while, an international star. Siegfried Kracauer, for whom Fritz Lang’s M and The Blue Angel were the most significant German films of the the Weimarer Republic, called the feature “sadistic”. And it is true: Rath is tortured in every way possible after he sets eyes on Lola – he is no match for her, or the milieu he has chosen to live in. He is a victim of what Kacauer called the “Street films”, where the middle class man attempts to follow his passion, but is brutally punished. Rath is one of many tragic screen heroes who can only function in a restricted lower middle-class environment due to his emotional regression. For Kracauer, the majority of German men fell into this category.

Dietrich’s casting proved to be a turning point in the life of two German actors – just six months apart by birth – who aspired to convince Von Sternberg to cast them. The other was Leni Riefenstahl was already an established film star who had had great success in ‘Mountain’ films, a popular sub-genre in Germany. Dietrich on the other hand, was not much more than a singing extra both in films and on stage. Riefenstahl dined with Von Sternberg hoping to get a part in The Blue Angel, but after she heard that he had plumped for Dietrich, she told the newspapers that she had recommended her rival, in order to save face. But according to a another version she shouted “Okay, let the whore play the whore, who cares”. The rest, as they say, is history – and much more than film history. AS

Eureka and The Masters of Cinema Series is proud to bring The Blue Angel back to big screen once again from 31 May 2019, when it is released in selected cinemas nationwide (UK and Ireland) to coincide with the centenary of the Weimar Republic and the BFI Southbank’s major two-month season Beyond Your Wildest Dreams: Weimar Cinema 1919-1933                      

Working with Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-1982)

Renate Leiffer, assistant director of World on a Wire talks about making the ground-breaking Sci-fi series with the iconic German filmmaker whose career as a director, scriptwriter, producer and actor was short but prodigious.


Renate Leiffer with Rainer Werner Fassbinder (photo courtesy of Leiffer).

How would you describe Fassbinder as a director? What was his technique?

He wrote the scripts himself, having the actors in mind for the roles. Mostly he did not like to see the set before the shooting-day, it would have bored him. He trusted his crew mostly chosen by himself, in the leading jobs at least.

When the cameraman was ready and Rainer was asked he came on the set, mostly with a good humour and self-confidence, not doing much rehearsal before the shot, and not giving many more new orders to the actors so as not to confuse their minds. So everybody was switched on and tried to give their best. Everybody knew he would like to do every take only once, liking the performances better [in a first take] than in a second or third one.

What was Fassbinder like to work with?

You always had the impression that you were working on something very important, and that every member of the crew was important for the result, no matter which job you were doing – that was motivating. Mostly the crew members liked and respected him. In real life Rainer was a shy person, therefore he always needed a crowd of people around him, also because he was afraid being on his own, being left like his parents did after their divorce.

Professionally he was strong, he learned by going to cinema already as a young boy, he learnt to cut his films and was shooting the scenes so there was no chance for a cutter to change anything. He understood the camera-angles very well, and knew where to set a close up. He was a real professional. Producers who worked with him the first time were anxious, but were surprised after the first days. And professionally he was not resentful – if you told him a mistake you made, he would defend you. I am speaking of his professional life, in his private life one better not get involved, there were a lot of manipulations.

Fassbinder famously struggled with drugs – did that affect his work?

In the beginning, he was consuming too many drugs – it hurt to look at him. It was not only drugs but medications as well, he could not work without it.

Rainer hated when someone in the group was only smoking Haschisch, he did not want them around him. And then in the Sixties it was in to smoke at least grass. He got involved in it in 1974 during his work at the theatre in Frankfurt.

At the end he was taking drugs and a handful of medications at the same time. And alcohol, that was too much. He told me during [filming Berlin] Alexanderplatz: I will not be older than 40. He only got to 37 – and I am still cross with him that he left so early.

How did the shoot of World of a Wire go, generally? Was it a smooth shoot, any incidents?

I do not remember any real difficulties on those shoots. Except that we missed the dawn several times for a scene with Eddie Constantine, a homage to Godard and Eddie. On the 4th day (cinematographer Michael) Ballhaus got more time to set his light, and was called Monsieur Crepuscule [Mr. Twilight] for a long time.


Still from World on a Wire – courtesy of Second Sight Films

Also, at the end of the film, there is a black bird that should have been trained to pick at the gas-pipe, so the audience gets afraid and thinks: “Oh, now the hut will explode,” – and it does. [When we were filming] that bird did not pick, Rainer went mad, but that silly bird did not pick at the pipe. It picked somewhere else.

Did you get a sense that you were making something good / bad / mediocre?

My feeling was that I was doing something good, but not that his work would be so overwhelming one day. No one expected that, except Rainer himself. In Beware of a Holy Whore (1971), I worked as production-assistant and did not want to be written on the titles. I wanted to go on working as assistant-director with other people. Already then, 1971, Rainer answered me: “But with me it will be for eternity!” He was the most ambitious of all.

World on a Wire is out now in a limited edition Blu-ray box set from Second Sight.

[Edited for clarity]

World on a Wire (1973) Welt am Draht

Dir: Rainer Werner Fassbinder | Sci-fi | Ger, 1973 | 204′ 

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s noirish sci-fi curio was way ahead of its time with themes that are still relevant today, and would later be explored in the likes of The Matrix, Bladerunner, and TV series Westworld.

Originally created for TV by the prolific but short-lived radical filmmaker, this futuristic film explores the nature of reality. It does so through Simulacron 1, a type of projected reality considered to have some revolutionary potential, such as predicting the price of commodities, and consumer habits in the future – both would later become mainstream realities.

When the Simulacron project leader Henry Vollmer dies, Dr Stiller (Klaus Löwitsch (Cross of Iron) become his successor. As the new doctor realises probes and realises he’s on to something ground-breaking, the company’s head of security (Ivan Desny) also disappears during a louche party, and the line between the real and virtual worlds increasingly blurs. Stiller is compelled to dig even deeper for answers to this unfathomable mystery.

With a theme-tune from Pink Floyd’s drifty surreal album ‘Albatross’ to ramp up the atmosphere, the look and feel is stylishly evocative of the ’70s: all opulent white leather and steel. Blueish computer monitors flashing away in the background, DoP Michael Balhaus creates a hostile and alienating aura, and would go on to shoot other dark thrillers such as Goodfellas and The Departed .

Even the characters here are hard-nosed and unlikeable: men posture around in fedoras and wide-lapelled suites; vampish women are invariably tight-lipped and ash blond. There are roles for Fassbinder’s longterm collaborators Ulli Lommel and Kurt Raab, and Mascha Rabben (Salome) and Barbara Valentin (Our Man in Jamaica) also star. This is a compelling and watchable film, richly thematic and aesthetically avantgarde for its time. MT

NOW ON BLURAY COURTESY OF SECONDSIGHT FILMS. This latest restoration comes supervised by The Rainer Werner Fassbinder Foundation and cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, 




Werner Herzog: Retrospective at Visions du Réel 2019


Visions du Réel, International Film Festival Nyon, will pay tribute to one of the world’s major filmmakers during its 50th edition. It is Werner Herzog who will be awarded the Sesterce d’or Prix Raiffeisen Maître du Réel during the 2019 edition of the Festival (5–13 April 2019). In partnership with the Cinémathèque suisse and the ECAL. The audience will meet the legendary film director at a Masterclass on 9 April and screenings of a selection of films, as well as his latest feature-length film, Meeting Gorbatchev (co-directed with André Singer), will have a Swiss premiere.

Werner Herzog was born in 1942 in Munich, Germany and has been living between the Bavarian capital and Los Angeles since 1984. A leading figure of the post-war New German Cinema, he has directed about 70 films.

Moving freely between different forms and processes, fiction and documentary, as a filmmaker whose approach is as philosophical as it is physical, Herzog constantly aspires to “walk to the ends of the earth” (The Dark Glow of the Mountains). At times omnipresent, at times leaving room for others, between heroism and testing limits (Herakles, his first short film in 1962, or The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner), megalomania (Aguirre, the Wrath of God or Cobra Verde, two of the five films made with the actor Klaus Kinski), and a certain taste for madness and the absurd, the filmmaker explores and surveys beings and places, not without humour or (self)derision (Encounters at the End of the World). Author of more than a dozen prose works, he has worked with Isabelle Adjani, Nicolas Cage, Christian Bale and Nicole Kidman among others and won the award for Best Director at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival for his masterpiece

50th edition of Visions du Réel: 5—13 April 2019 | Werner Herzog in Nyon will be communicated in March 2019.

All Good (Alles is gut) ***

Dir: Eva Trobisch | Cast: Aenne Schwarz, Andreas Dohler, Tilo Nest, Lina Wendel | Germany |

Eva Trobisch’s All Good, is about the dark night of the soul in the aftermath to unimaginable tragedy. Something happens, we think we can deal with it, and it goes away – at least for a while – only to return with a vengeance, as grief, anger and finally depression overwhelm and repress the human spirit.

After an ordinary night out at a school reunion Janne (Aenne Schwarz) is raped by a seemingly innocuous old school friend. Martin (Hans Löw) is now a professional, corporate type who duly accompanies her back home after the party. Both are a little tipsy but the evening did not hint at romance or even mild flirtatiousness. So it’s odd that Martin, almost as an afterthought – decided to makes a move.  After a sustained attempt at seducing her, Janne finally acquiesces to Martin’s advances – the scene is well played and captures all the nuanced undertones of an unwanted encounter. In the full light of day, Janne reflects with distaste and then mild anger at Martin’s presumptuousness. But feels awkward about discussing it with her boyfriend Piet (Andreas Döhler) who’s absorbed in his own dramas.

In her feature debut, which won Best Newcomer at Locarno 2018, Trobisch uses these subtle shifts in human response to create a thoughtful and absorbing drama that kicks over the ashes of suppressed anguish with worthwhile insight and impressive command. All Good is just that, Janne fronts up well to her trauma but what lies beneath is quite a different scenario. And Janne’s  increasing and unacknowledged exasperation turns slowly to simmering rage.

At work, Janne’s new boss (Tilo Nest) is also preoccupied with his own issues, and so she goes about her work with resignation and determination not to let the episode overwhelm her as a young, intelligent and independent woman in the 21st century. But life but goes on and Janne will not give up. A surprisingly mature debut with some strong performances, especially from Aenne Schwartz in the lead. MT




Pina (2011) Bluray and Home Ent release

Dir: Wim Wenders | Germany, 2011 | Doc | 113′    

PINA is an amazing and lavishly attractive musical that combines 3D to heighten our enjoyment of a series of dance sequences filmed by Wim Wenders and featuring the celebrated dancer Pina Bausch in her Tanztheater in Wuppertal in the southern Ruhr valley, Germany.

The German choreographer died in June 2009 at the age of 68 just as she was starting her collaboration with Wim Wenders but he so believed in the project that he continued with Pina’s versions of Vollmond, a dance that centres on water splashing in a rock pool, Stravinsky’s exotic expressionist piece The Rite of Spring; Kontakthof, where rhythmic movements are inspired by a heightened naturalism; and the dynamic routine Café Müller, where six dancers move around in a restaurant as they rearrange the tables and chairs. West End Blues sees the troupe in full evening dress with lounge suits and long flowing gowns as they move to the jazz syncopations of Louis Armstrong and his band. The dances often break out into the nearby streets where they swirl around using the backdrop of the monorail and green spaces as inspiration for their graceful compositions. Ever inventive this is one of Wenders’ most memorable and enjoyable films along with Wings of Desire and the cult classic Paris, Texas. MT


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