Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Berlin Film Festival Diaries
Report #2 (February 19)

by Marcia Pally

February 19, 1996

"Sense & Sensibility" is a perfect opening-night film for a festival--perfect not because it is well-acted or lushly shot, and not because it has more hats than Four Weddings and a Funeral, if that's possible. It's perfect because, as conceived by director Iara Lee and Emma Thompson (scriptwriter and leading lady), it is Four Weddings and a Funeral: a comedy in which people behave in silly ways about love, but where the silliness is transparent. Even if the characters look down in the mouth, we viewers see all the whys and wherefores--all the reasons that men make love to you and then leave you flat, all the reasons why you're better off without that jerk (whom, by the way, you adore), and best, why all the paths will lead the right people into each other's arms in the end. This is a hell of a lot better than real life, where for example there is no reason why men make love to you and leave you flat. The last one whom I knew left me for Moscow, and when a man would rather be in Moscow... that really hurts a girl. Finally, the reason Sense & Sensibility is the perfect opening-night film is that, in the film's afterglow, one may float through the opening night party and imagine that all those people you've known for years, and all the men who've left you flat, and those you won't give you the time of day will soon behave like Hugh Grant in a frock coat.


You may imagine this, that is, until you see some party-goer like Rosa von Praunheim dressed as an AIDS virus and you are suddenly thwacked back to your banal present. AIDS-virus costumes land you back in the present not because AIDS is a 20th century illness but because of the depressingly obvious nature of costume's "statement." There is, by comparison, no record of anyone in a British ballroom ever dressing as tuberculosis.

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Before I arrived in Berlin, I interviewed Elia Kazan--honored at this year's Berlinale with the Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement--during the worst New York snowstorm in 48 years, which did not improve his mood. When I asked him, "Which of your works was most important to you?" he said, "Nah, I don't want to do that." When I asked, "Who were the colleagues who were especially meaningful to you?" he said, "Oh I don't want to do that." When I asked, looking for a change in subject, "Are there contemporary actors you admire?" he said, "No, I don't admire actors as a group anymore." I tried, "Which contemporary films do you admire?" and he said, "Not many. There aren't enough thematic films with, not a political message, but an expression of the director's feelings." So I asked about Oliver Stone's Nixon, a film with its share of director's feelings. Kazan said, "I haven't seen it yet but I liked Platoon. It was daring and strong, the kind of expression I'm talking about.

MP: And Martin Scorsese?

EK: He's a close friend and yes, he speaks from a personal point of view. He makes films from things he's experienced.

MP: Are there certain subjects that are more suited to films? Classically, movies are said to express emotions better than they convey information.

EK: I don't buy that. Films should come from the conviction of the director/author. The director is the author of the film.

MP: Is it harder to make that kind of film today, with the competition with TV and cable and the industry's need to fill the ten-plexes with fluff.

EK: I don't buy it. It was always difficult to do something with an edge. But if I were young today and I wanted to make films nothing could stop me. The thing to do is find a director with conviction. The money people don't make films. Artists do. Look at Pulp Fiction: it was made for very little money. It's a difficult film but he [Quentin Tarantino] made sure it got made. Spike Lee is another one with that conviction. Nothing can stop him. That's the whole point about art. I saw Leaving Las Vegas which I like very much, and Richard III. It has a wonderful performance by Ian McKellen. It's not easy to name films with conviction. It's hard to use superlatives--the "best" film, the "most important" film. I made films so I see the good and the bad in them. A film is like a human being.

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