Film Scouts Diaries

1996 Berlin Film Festival Diaries
Report #4 (February 21)

by Marcia Pally

February 21, 1996

Reports from the gender wars: Each year I judge the quality of the new Clinique line by the male attention from my hotel's breakfast room. I figure, if I can generate interest at 7:52 a.m., the mascara must be working. Last Berlinale, the festival put me in a new hotel where I was the only woman in the breakfast room. I received not a glance. I sued the festival for mental cruelty. This year, I've tried to find a man to dance with me at every party with a band. No takers. I'm suing the bands. A tall, dark, intense-looking man I'd seen around press haunts finally introduced himself. On hearing my accent, he winced "An American" and sighed. I've hear of men with political scruples but never one who'd get out of bed for them. I then found out he guy is from Belgrade, capital of the flawless country. This is what's called condescending from no particular height. I'll show him: he can just forget about his paper-marriage green card.

Perhaps my slump in the guy department is because I like "From Dawn Till Dusk". I am one of the few girls who does. Written by Quentin Tarantino and directed by Robert Rodriguez (who directed the Tex-Mex cowboy sendups "El Mariachi" and "Desperado"), "From Dawn Till Dusk" begins as a "Natural Born Killers"-"Reservoir Dogs" type of cops-and-bad-guys-bloodfest and ends as a vampire-bloodfest. In between its investigations of men and violence, it looks at men and sports, which comes to the same thing. There's a great scene is a topless bar where women are advertised as "white pussy, black pussy, Mexican pussy" -- until they turn into vampires who suck the life from all the men and whom the men get to thwack into smithereens. Male viewers laughed out loud as the film offers every fantasy a guy ever thought of. I laughed out loud because the guys were laughing out loud and I am confirmed in my understanding of what men think of. This is called condescending from an appropriate height. As for the slump in the guy department, I guess men don't like when they are condescended to.


I may be having a bit of trouble on the male front, but not nearly as bad as Hugh Grant, about whom Robert Downey Jr. said the following. Asked about the difficulties between them on the set of Restoration, Downey said, "Not at all. It's obvious that we've been lovers since the early '70s. I'm clearly the top man; he'll be wearing the frocks and cooking, and be receiving in the homosexual superbowl." Downey then said he'd gotten many roles lately because he works cheaper than many actors. Cheaper than Grant? "Nobody," Downey said, "is cheaper than Hugh Grant."


Robert Downey Jr. may be annoyed at Hugh Grant, but not half as annoyed as I am at the current outpourings of Holocaust-chic, among them Michael Verhoeven's "Mutters Courage" and Andrzej Wajda's "Karwoche". It's not that this year's Holocaust movies are any worse than usual--though "Mutters Courage" surely is as it tries to be about the inanity of the 1944 deportation of Hungarian Jews, and "Karwoche", with its "Our Town" of WWII Poles (one good Pole, one fascist Pole, one who just wants to stay out of trouble...) has the inventiveness of grass growing. It's that these films, like the rest of the genre, are self-congratulatory and pointless. As filmmakers and filmgoers admire themselves for their political sensitivity, Holocaust films have little political import. The problem is not only the cliché that they haven't stopped atrocities in Bosnia, East Timor, Liberia, Haiti, and so on; even on the question of Jews they fail. These films declare that, with all its political awareness, the world will at least not allow another Jewish genocide. Convince me: why should the world stop a Jewish genocide when it permits every other?


Bo Widerberg, who in 1967 made that classic of sentiment "Elvira Madigan", has after a decade away from directing made "All That Is Fair", a film that has three things to recommend it (in addition to the savvy turns it takes with its schoolboy-affair-with-pretty-teacher plot): 1) a furniture tip: a cuckoo clocks that geysers up gin on the hour; 2) a sex tip: have you tried it inside a vaulting horse while preteen girls practice exercises on top (of the vaulting horse)?; 3) a fashion tip: never let women wear sandpaper on their thighs because once they do, there's no telling where they'll stop.

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