46th Berlin International 
Film Festival (1996)
feature by Eddie Cockrell

Snapshots from Berlin

French director Bertrand Blier has been known for his saucy and scandalous brand of cinema since Les Valseuses (Making It in the UK, Going Places in the USA) introduced Gerard Depardieu to the world in 1973. His International Competition entry Mon Homme might just do the same for Anouk Grinberg, who copped the best actress Golden Bear for her bold portrayal of a prostitute who takes in a homeless man who changes her life. And while the rest of the moviegoing world might have caught up with Blier's sexual frankness (would Making It be that shocking if released today?), few filmmakers can match him for audacity and originality.

American independent filmmaker Paul Budnitz shot his feature debut 93 Million Miles From The Sun entirely at night in the eccentric Mission District of San Francisco. The chief strength of the work, given its German premičre in the International Forum, is its cheerful quirkiness. But this soon wears thin, as Budnitz's four self-centred protagonists elicit no sympathy for their respective plights. Guerilla filmmaking on this level must be encouraged, but young directors, particularly those who write their own scripts, would do well to remember that character-driven pieces are only as successful as the audiences' tolerance of the characters.

The Czech Republic and Slovakia, since their amicable but somewhat abrupt split a few years ago, have each struggled to maintain the rich cinematic heritage established internationally by The Shop on Main Street and Closely Watched Trains in the sixties. On the strength of Czech Jan Sverák's Jízda (The Ride) and Slovak Martin Sulík's Záhrada (The Garden), both of which screened in the International Market, each country has at least one home-grown talent in which to invest.

The Ride's simple story - two guys drive around the Czech Republic in a car, pick up a mysterious young woman and drive around some more - is old hat by Hollywood standards and not the reason to get excited about Sverák's talent. The news here is his fresh eye (how many different ways can you film three people in a car?) and knack with actors. These elements combine to create an atmosphere of relaxed, improvisational freshness that is so elusive to some directors (Paul Budnitz take note).

With The Garden, Sulík continues to impress with the same writing and directing talent that made Everything I Like an audience hit on the American festival circuit two years ago. In The Garden, a directionless and rather puzzled young man moves to his late grandfather's dilapidated country house. But peace is elusive, as nature and some rather mystical events conspire to teach him some valuable lessons. Sulík employs a unique story structure, in that each 'chapter' is announced by an unknown narrator. The tone of the film is so consistent that, even when it turns inscrutible, audiences can trust the filmmaker to keep them interested.

Farewell to Berlin... Although this is a day for exhausted goodbyes and vain attempts to fit a mountain of Festival documentation into one suitcase, there are, believe it or not, still a few Festival theatres showing new movies. The very last official screening tonight (26th) is at 11:30, of a British film called Nervous Energy - hope they're passing out samples...




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