Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Berlin Film Festival Diaries
Report #3 (February 18)

by Marcia Pally

Berlin, February 18, 1997

The camera is a voyeuristic tool. If you hadn't guessed before, Gerardo Herrero explains it all in "Territorio Comanche" - either explains it or dismisses any purpose films might have. At least all films save his. If nothing else, "Comanche" is proud of itself. It realizes, newly, that watching pictures is different from reality, and pronounces reality more real. Now you know. The film follows a group of war correspondents in Sarajevo, first indulging in outdated, adolescent yatter about whether women reporters are tough enough for the job. Proceeding from the outdated and juvenile, it moves to the outdated and juvenile, lampooning the reporters for being more concerned about the "story" and the "picture" than actual people, until they learn that real people are real. That makes other filmmakers - those that haven't learned Herrero's lesson - and by extension audiences, mere voyeurs. And voyeurism, according to Herrero, is less authentic than reality, which rather takes the punch out of cinema, not to mention photography. I wonder if the Lumiere brothers realized that? I wonder if Herrero includes documentarists in his complaint? Does he fault them for not being "real" enough to stop the Bosnian war? Does he include himself?

By contrast with Herrero, Bruno Barreto is an unethical guy. He is content to be a voyeur, making films about single mothers ("Tati"), the poor ("The Story of Fausta"), and now in "Die Guerilleros Sind Muede" about the student revolutionaries who in 1969 kidnapped the U.S. ambassador to Brazil to protest the military dictatorship there. Barreto makes a point in "Guerilleros" of noting the camera's voyeurism, as the edits from one point-of-view to another (for example, from the students' to the police's) are done through tv screens. The camera closes in on a tv in one location and pulls back in the next - as if to suggest that cameras offer perspectives that one cannot get through one's own eyes. There's an idea.

Perhaps the best insights about power in this collection of films on totalitarianism are in David Hare's "Designated Mourner", based on Wallace Shawn's play. Three interconnected monologues tell the story of a man of mediocre talent (Mike Nichols) who marries the talented daughter (Miranda Richardson) of a famous writer (David de Keyser). He forever hates their liberal literary circles and when a military junta comes to power, he leaves the family to be tortured and killed. You see, they were such complicated, hypocritical armchair radicals and he just wanted a wife who would love him. "Designated Mourner," a "My Dinner with Andre" for fascists, looks hard at passivity in the face of other people's torture, and does so without indicting the camera for taking pictures. The performances are flawless: Nichols plays the husband with perfect guilty complaisance, and Richardson the wife with all the warmth of a fountain pen. One shouldn't let others be murdered, even not very nice others.

Best line at the Berlinale to date: Kristin Scott Thomas said "It's difficult to go into makeup each day and say 'make me gorgeous.'" It is? Can I have her job?

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