Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Berlin Film Festival Diaries
Report #2 (February 16)

by Marcia Pally

Berlin, February 14, 1997

There used to be no cracks in German efficiency. A decade ago I sent a dot of Kryptonite from New York to Berlin and even Superman couldn't stop it from reaching its destination/I sent a comma to Berlin and it arrived safely on my editor's desk. Each Berlinale, I found some new precision to write about, and though German efficiency plays to stereotype, no one seemed to mind. Recently, however, I began to notice flaws. Perhaps it is the burden of assimilating the East, but I sent cigarettes and perfume from N.Y. to Hamburg, and the package was lost. I was shocked. A year or so later, the cups in the festival press cafe didn't balance in their saucers. This year I discover Germany can't produce a decent cold tablet. Earnest ladies at Apothekes around town want to give me pills made of moss and garlic. When in furstration I asked for an "all-chemical, poltically incorrect atom bomb" I got a medium-strength tablet from America which was medium-effective and I continue to suffer. Then I understood: in Germnay, enduring a cold is more important than efficiently ending one. It made me think of Jungvolk camping in the Schwarzwald, withstanding the rigors of nature, improving the German soul. But I protest: I'm not German and don't want to be improved. Besides, Jews have suffered enough In Germany; you don't want to add to the six million with an extra flu. Do you think the national Geist could tolerate efficient cold pills at least for noses of "inferior races"?

There is no God. Or so is the evidence from the first English language films of the Competition. God would've done a better job matching directors to films. As it is, we have a mess: Bille August, whose talent lies in filming oxen groan, directs the thriller, "Smilla's Sense of Snow". Michael Hytner, whose talent lies in irony, directs the morality tale "The Crucible". The result is a strained film with dull performances, save those by Joan Allen, who's great at long-suffering (see "Nixon") and Paul Scofield who's great everywhere. Then we have Anthony Minghella, whose strength is intimate intensity (see "Truly, Madly, Deeply") directing an ironic epic about nationalism, "The English Patient" which ends up as a 1997 "Dr. Zhivago" which makes no one cry. Finally, we have Richard Attenborough, who has no great talent, directing a pointless script meant to romanticize Hemingway but instead draws him as a self-absorbed ass, which he was. The solution to this godless anarchy is to have August shoot "Crucible," Minghella "Smilla" and Hytner "The English Patient." Attenborough and Hemngway deserve each other; Gertrude Stein was right. Now why isn't she God?

Derek Lee's agreeable "Viva Erotica" suggests another sort of solution: the answer to bad porn (see "Larry Flynt") is not no porn but good porn. To earn extra mongy, a young filmmaker makes a sex film but feels guilty until he realizes he can make "artistic" erotica in which the camerawork is elegant, the sex sensitive. Porn for Mary Poppins.

For the best listing of injuries sustainable during sex (hetero, gay & lesbian) see "Chasing Amy", which surely deserves an award for the best first third of a film, after which the director gets earnest. But he's young and grew up in New Jersey where it is crucial to believe that mankind is improvable because N.J. has seen the alternative.

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