New York: KINO! 2013 New Films from Germany

Freier Fall (Free Fall). 2013. Germany. Directed by Stephan Lacant

Freier Fall (Free Fall). 2013. Germany. Directed by Stephan Lacant

The longest running showcase for German Films in the United States, KINO!  featured from April 18 – 24 at the Museum of Modern Art award winning selections. They were chosen from the last edition of the Berlinale and other major festivals and provided an enlightening perspective on current creative film making in Germany.  Most of them depart from the standard track of storytelling. Staged for 35 years now KINO!  has programmed over the last years numerous films and served as an important vehicle ensuring upscale promotion and commercial release of German films in the United States. This included, but is not limited to ALLES AUF ZUCKER (Dani Levy), SOPHIE SCHOLL (Marc Rothemund), HANAMI (Doris Doerri), THE WHITE RIBBON (Michael Haneke),  SOUL KITCHEN (Fatih Akin), VISION (Margarethe von Trotta), THREE (Tom Twyker) and  YOUNG GOETHE IN LOVE (Philipp Stroelzl). The 2013 KINO! selection presented several films which garnered awards already such as OH BOY (Jan Ole Gerstner) and FORGET ME NOT (David Sieveking).

FREE FALL (Freier Fall) by Stephan Lacant, the opening night film at the Berlinale’s Perspective German Kino, is a superbly enacted portrait of the seemingly straight police officer Marc. He has a pregnant girl friend but starts an affair with another male officer prompted by an accidental encounter.  As a result his life goes into a free fall.  Rejected by his wife, family and most friends who cannot comprehend his new orientation he is increasingly isolated and estranged from his old social context, uncomfortable in the gay scene and utterly dejected when his lover leaves.  Lacant demonstrates how precarious identities are constructed, how they are prone to shatter and how difficult it is to rebuild them. As in the beginning scenes the film closes with Marc running again, leaving open what lies in the future.

Jan Ole Gerstner presents an offbeat story in OH BOY about a former student who becomes a drifter, aimlessly meandering through the gritty urban landscape of Berlin. Nico is impoverished and unemployed and no longer supported by his golf playing detached father who thinks he is as much of a failure as his mother was. His girlfriend has left him.  Between aimless talks with occasional few friends and strangers, fights and disputation not leading anywhere, he ends up in a bar listening to an old man who talks about the last 60 years which have been lost and his childhood.  He singles put the Kristallnacht when shards of glass made it impossible to ride his bike. When he collapses Nico brings him to the hospital but cannot ascertain the old man’s identity after his death. In the end, his desire for a cup of coffee throughout the story is finally met.

KALIFORNIA by Laura Mahlberg depicts an old man living by the sea in a caravan who decides on the spur of the moment to visit a friend in California. Having been disconnected from the outside world he is an accidental traveler, hitch hiking rides with strangers, encountering normal and odd people before arriving at the sea port. He does not really know how to relate to other people and follows their clues. Finally he takes a bus back to his caravan, moves his arm chair to the beach and peacefully watches the sea. He feels more at home in isolation.

Andreas Bolm presents with THE REVENANTS (Die Wiedergaenger) the most challenging film in the KINO! selection. His complex non-linear story moves between time, imagery and memory without any dialog or interaction between the principals, an aging hippy couple Ada and Volker living deep in the forest .Two musicians with down beat songs make brief appearances.  A running commentary is effectively used, presenting from time to time catastrophic radio news about an environmental catastrophe, poisoned food, and evacuations. A voice over relays the story of Ada and Volker, the loss and possible murder of their son Tom by young Fabian who is meandering through the forest. Long tracking shots, static camera angles, the silent passages, and penetrating nature imagery contribute to the foreboding, loss, and search for a safe home which the film conveys.

In David Sieveking’s feature length documentary FORGET ME NOT (Vergiss Mein Nicht), Sieveking provides an intimate sensitive portrait of his family coping with the Alzheimer’s disease his mother is suffering from. The father has become a full time care taker giving up his own life until help is hired, though reluctantly. Sieveking records how the mother is losing mastery of cognitive and behavioral skills and how members of the family have to adapt to the changes.  Frequently confused about their identities she fails to recognize the son and his father and progresses into self isolation. The constant attention her illness requires and the knowledge shared by those close to her that there is no cure or remedy for her passage into dementia create  stressful and seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  The film documents how the family accompanies her descent and provides a highly personalized and sensitive perspective on a disease that has become a significant health problem for the aging populations of advanced industrial societies.

Nico Summer presents with SILVI a woman at the end of her forties who is forced to redesign her life and relations after her husband abandons her. This leads her to blindfolded encounters with strangers interested in sex rather than her, exposure to alcohol and drugs, and experience with sadomasochism to name a few episodes. In her voiceover commentary Silvi describes what has gone wrong with her life, how she has to return to life after failing completely as a woman and comments on her need to overcome rejection and isolation. Yet, even after an episode with an apparently normal professional male who reveals  that he is attracted to bondage and being locked up in cabinets, Silvi does  not abandon her aspirations. At the end of the film she declares instead that she is open to new adventures.

Like the other films in the KINO! series SILVI presents a character and a story that is outside our taken for granted realities. The term normal no longer applies and there seems to be no firm center holding everything together and establishing the path for predictable developments.  The curators have programmed a rather appealing KINO! selection this year.

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