Film Scouts Diaries

1997 Berlin Film Festival Diaries
Report #5 (February 22)

by Marcia Pally

Berlin, February 22, 1997

The Holocaust has become the Wild West of Europe. Most of the people involved are dead; it is a grand landscape for epics of evil and justice where we may feel good about how bad we feel for the underdog. The possibilities for stories seem endless; at least two new were tried at this festival. "The Island on Bird Street," a Danish film in English about Poland, looks at a ghetto after liquidation - an empty ghetto - and at a boy's attempt to survive there by sniffing out the food left behind. It has bad Germans and good Poles, a subject I'll leave to Daniel Goldhagen. "Mendel" looks at Jewish refugees in postwar Norway, exploring their obsession and silence about the Holocaust (do you want the children to have nightmares?) and the resulting confusion in the kids. The reminder of Jewish secrecy after the war is worth noting, as today the Holocaust is the subject neither Jews nor Germans can leave alone - the way Americans can't leave Dodge City: why be a recreational-vehicles salesman when you can be heir to a great drama? It's the non-victims who dramatize victimization, not to prevent repetitions but to lend heroism to ordinary lives. Martyrdom lite, taste without calories. It is the function of the Wild West, the Holocaust, and the crucifixion. I'm not suggesting there is an alternative - that would be simply forgetting. But as long as we're remaking WWII as Wild West, can I expect a "Blazing Saddles"-like satire?

* * *

Alexandr Sokurov has again created the most astonishing images in the festival. He manipulates focus, lenses and image distortion, and perspective to draw a series of paintings that indirectly say something precise. In "Mother and Son," the camera is too close to its subject or capped with fish-eye lenses so that one cannot make out what one sees or so that what one sees curves into entropy. The path the eye takes to decipher the story between son and dying mother is ambiguous and unreliable; one's position or role vis a vis the image or environment changes. There is no stable frame. One must reinterpret according to one's internal sense of balance, as do the characters, as in life.

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If you have been longing for Agnes Varda ("Vagabond") under the influence of Cassavetes ("A Woman under the...") crossed with Richard Linklater ("Slackers," "subUrbia"), and "Thelma & Louise," see "Little Shots of Happiness." Well, someone might've been longing for it. I didn't know I was till I saw the film.

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Since I complained in my last column about men offering trips to Bratislava or to love me without my body, things have been looking up. Walking with me through the mists of a late night street, a man looked at me warmly and offered to be my parking garage. (?!) This means, I suppose, that I am squarish, thick in the middle, and that my high heels look like tires.

* * *

Best tip for surviving film festivals (from "Ueberwaching"): when you're about to nod off in the theater, loop a shoelace around an overhead fixture and tie the free end to a tuft of hair. It worked for the guy who got the girl at the end.

Best tip for surviving WWII (from Claude Berri's "Lucie Aubrac"): all Nazis have fabulous cheekbones and all French - even those in the Resistance - have great hats.

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