For 10 years, the German government's cultural arm, the Goethe-Institut, has been sponsoring S.F.'s Berlin & Beyond festival of German-language films -- pictures from Austria and Switzerland as well as the homeland. Now the festival begins its second decade with an unusually strong program that includes an in-person tribute to screen icon Bruno Ganz along with a silent flick from 1928 and several very good new movies.
Unholy Trinity: Young Germans run amok at
Berlin & Beyond.
The opening night party for Berlin &
Beyond begins Thursday, Jan. 6, at 6:30
p.m. (and the festival continues through
German film is best known for two eras: the expressionist dramas of the 1920s and the New German Cinema of the 1970s. Joe May's silent Asphalt, from 1929, stars the kaleidoscopic camerawork of the great Günther Rittau as much as it features actor Gustav Fröhlich (known best from Metropolis) as a traffic cop. Ganz, meanwhile, whose career dates to 1960, is honored with screenings of six of his films (classics by Wim Wenders and Volker Schlöndorff, along with the little-known but very good Knife in the Head) plus an onstage interview with historian David Thomson. Perpetually pained and in a battered way handsome, Ganz is famous for suffering exquisitely on-screen; in Oliver Hirschbiegel's The Downfall, showing just before his tribute on Sunday, he plays out the last days of Hitler.
Deutschland is currently the political and economic hub of post-Cold War Europe, and it's appropriate that the festival includes a quirky documentary, Stanislaw Mucha's The Center, that tries to pinpoint the exact geographical center of the continent. But the new Germany seems to carry its wealth and power uneasily, as its recent fictional features demonstrate. The fest's opening night selection, Hans Weingartner's The Edukators, follows three disaffected kids (two male, one female) who break into the homes of the rich, trash them, and leave political slogans behind. The festival's Best First Feature winner, En Route by Jan Krüger, sets up a similar triangle, as the bliss of a single mom and her lover on a camping trip is disrupted by a tag-along who gradually works his way into everyone's life. Both films play out in the cool, naturalistic style, built up from meticulously recorded behavioral details, that is international cinema's new lingua franca.
More consciously experimental and featuring an equally compelling psychological portrait, Marcus Mittermeier's Quiet as a Mouse stars writer/actor Jan Henrik Stahlberg as a sharp-faced young vigilante on a crusade to chastise speeding drivers, fare evaders, and graffiti-spraying kids. Accompanied by a video camera-wielding sluggard whose tapes form the body of the film, he has every move recorded in a satirical union of fascism and narcissism. Yet much like the work of Ganz (whose career playing Faust is documented in Behind Me), this postmodern spectacle is rooted in classical German culture: Spying a waitress, Stahlberg instantly compares her to Faust's Gretchen.