Independents and "small" countries rise to the occasion
In the festival introduction, Moritz de Hadeln asked for “tolerance, patience, openness and above all renunciation of prejudice” when it came to the films. This sounded unusually cautious, while in fact the programme was of quality throughout. Looking back, Bruce Bereford’s Silent Fall, Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, Abel Ferrara’s The Addiction and Wayne Wang’s double feature Smoke/Blue in the Face were by no means a bad selection of American films. Complimented by Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion (in Forum) they represented a veritable view into the enormous productivity and diversity of the “Independent” genre.
Robert Benton’s Nobody’s Fool starring Paul Newman and Jessica Tandy and Robert Redford’s Quiz Show, however, didn’t make friends of big American cinema especially happy, because it got about which films the Berlinale didn’t get: Robert Altmann’s Prêt-À-Porter, for example, and Nell by Michael Apted.
But expectations of internationality and diversity were also met by the Competition. In Taebaek Sanmaek | Taebak Mountains, Im Kwon-Taek depicted Korea between colonial rule and the civil war during the 1940s. Mexican director Jorge Fons managed with El callejón de los milagros | Midaq Alley to create an homage to the “small people” of his country. Shmuel Hasfari’s Sh’Chur told the story family history of Moroccan Jews in Israel and with When Night is Falling, a subtly told love story between two women, Patricia Rozema put Canada back on the map regarding film.
There were films from Norway and Spain and several productions by young filmmakers from Hong Kong and China. Margarete von Trotta’s Das Versprechen | The Promise was seen as a successful opening film, Michael Winterbottom’s Butterfly Kiss and Bertrand Tavernier’s coldly realistic L’Appât | Fresh Bait offered intense cinema, that dove far beneath the surface, and would have been an honour for any festival. What was lacking at the Berlinale, which other years or other festivals had?
This year Eastern European cinema offered few highlights. Besides Vadim Abdrashitov’s experimental Competition entry Pyesa dlya passazhira | A Play for a Passenger, worth mentioning is also the Polish film Krähen | The Crows by Dorota Kedzierzawska. The story of a young misfit who has to grow up too early, stood out in the Kinderfilmfest.
"Politics and Myth" in the Forum, audience favorites in the Panorama
This year the documentaries dominated the Forum – with a focus on “Politics and Myth” as Ulrich Gregor described in his programme notes. Two controversial film about controversial heroes were Ernesto Che Guevara – The Bolivian Diary by Swiss director Richard Dindo and Ulrike Maria Meinhof by Frenchman Timon Koulmanis. Writing in the “Frankfurter Rundschau”, Sabine Horst accused both films of failed to show the inconstancy of their characters: “While Richard Dindo … at least failed ambitiously, one could say that Koulmanis’ only functions in an uninteresting way,” was her sobering conclusion.
Claude Lanzmann’s five-hour film Tsahal drew similar criticism for not tackling its subject with the necessary depth. The film was a documentary about the Israeli army, in which “not a single image of the six wars in which its was engaged, not even talking about its domestic activities” were shown – as Thomas Rothschild criticised in the “Stuttgarter Zeitung”.
In the Panorama there were two true audience hits with Peter Chelsom’s grumpy but moving comedy Funny Bones and Susanne Oferinger’s Nico-Icon. Films by Antonia Bird, Jean-Luc Godard, Nguyen Huu Phan, Eytan Fox and Idrissa Ouédrogo were proof of the section’s inquisitiveness and open-mindedness. Derek Jarman’s Glitterbug and Marlon T. Riggs’ Black is …Black ain’t represented passionate political commitment. Both directors had died during the previous year.
Farewells to Manfred Salzgeber and Wolf Donner
It was a year of farewells: founder and organizer of the Panorama Manfred Salzgeber had died the year before. His strength had been his openness: for all things new, for the viewpoints of others, open-minded advocacy for that which was important to him, open treatment also of AIDS, the illness which ended his life prematurely. “How often did we profit from his always clever suggestions – even the most radically passionate ones,” wrote Moritz de Hadeln in the festival introduction. Still today, the Berlinale bears the sign of this intellectual passion. In honour of Salzgeber, the festival showed his favourite film: Chaplin’s Monsieur Verdoux.
Wolf Donner, who had directed the Berlinale from 1977-1979 for three years and put the festival on a new course, had also died the year before. In his honour Deutschland im Herbst | Germany in Autumn was shown again, in order to remember Donner’s passion for contradiction and critical viewpoints, and the courage with which he rightly stood behind sometimes unpopular decisions as a festival director.