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Foreign Cinema 

Eccentrics, tattoos, and naked party games in the home-grown German films of Berlin & Beyond

Wednesday, Jan 8 2003
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The global village has taken on an increasingly American feel, so much so that many of the world's regional cinemas seem to be little more than remote outposts of Hollywood. Germany, Austria, and Switzerland are no exception; an estimated 90 percent of their screens show only American films. The good news is that the remaining 10 percent showcase meaningful local, home-grown movies, judging from a sampling of the 22 in this year's Berlin & Beyond festival.

Douglas Wolfsperger's Bellaria examines the zany world of elderly fans of Third Reich-era cinema. These eccentrics gather, in what amounts to a religious ritual, at a small revival theater in Vienna to worship forgotten stars and recall the "good old days." Wolfsperger is simpatico with these characters, some of whom resemble stalkers in the zealous pursuit of their equally ancient idols. But he also subtly links their obsession with the creepily idealized world of Hitler's Germany. Stanislaw Mucha's very funny Absolut Warhola looks at the Eastern European clan -- the impoverished Warholas -- of the true King of Pop. Mucha uncovers an Andy Warhol impersonator in a white fright wig and the sad fate of a mountain of Warhol artwork, sent to the village and adapted to bizarre purposes.

Robert Schwentke's Tattoo excels as a tour of a gruesome demimonde in which body parts are "secured" and traded by connoisseurs. Doris Dörrie's Naked explores themes of interpersonal communication through a nude party game, but, as is typical of her films, she balances the seriousness with whimsy. Another outstanding work is Pago Balke and Eike Besuden's Crazy About Paris, about three disabled people who escape from an oppressive group home. Don't look for "noble cripple" clichés here; the actors bring humanity and black humor to this study of survivors undaunted by a disapproving world.

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Gary Morris

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