Tue, Mar 05, 2002 - Page 11 News List

German cinema's new look finds buyers

This year's Berlinale showcased a new breed of German films that steer clear of lugubrious historical introspection and which have proved popular with international film buyers, including those from Taiwan

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

At the Berlinale this year, German films were more entertainment oriented, a shift which has helped them attract attention on the international market.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL

Do German movies inevitably involve serious, history-laden stories? No, say German, as well as non-German, film professionals, after this year's Berlin International Film Festival.

Festival director Dieter Kosslick's motto of "accepting diversity" in German film meant that the 52nd Berlinale was full of surprises, and provided a forum for many new faces in German cinema.

"I feel that German films have been changing their image and style," said Margaret Hung (洪偉珠), head of Taiwan-based Crown Films (向洋影業). "They are now less political and less serious," she said.

Hung's Crown Films, which caters to the local art house market, bought four German films at February's European Film Market at the Berlinale. The company was responsible for bringing the works of directors such as Las Von Trier -- Breaking the Waves, The Kingdom and Dancer in the Dark -- as well as Wim Wenders' Oscar-winning documentary Buena Vista Social Club, to Taiwan.

Tom Tykwer, with his 1999 urban-adventure romance Run Lola Run can be seen as the forerunner of German cinema's new look. His lead has been followed by a strong line-up of other German films.

Four German films were selected for the official Berlin competition this year: Tykwer's Heaven starring Cate Blanchett, Dominik Graf's Map of the Heart, Andreas Dresen's Grill Point and Christopher Roth's Baader. In addition, there were two separate programs showcasing German films: 10 films under the Perspective German Cinema program and 20 films at the more commercially oriented German Cinema program.

"We are fortunate that this year there were enough films for us to make a selection," said Alfred Holighaus, director of the Perspective German Cinema program.

The new look

The awarding of the Jury's Grand Prize for Andreas Dresen's Grill Point goes some way to explaining the appeal of German cinema's new look.

Set in the "not too happening" city of Frankfurt (Oder), in what was East Germany, the film takes an intimate look at the lives of two couples in mid-life crisis. Radio host Chris and his second wife Katrin don't have much to say anymore. His friend Uwe slaves away everyday in his hot-dog stand, forgetting about his wife Ellen. But when Chris's and Ellen's accidental affair begins, they are caught in the act by Uwe, and the four, who have long forgotten what life and dreams are all about, get a wake up call. The film does not seek for a resolution to the couples' marital problems but instead takes a humorous, poignant, poetic look at life's ironies.

In Grill Point, Dresen adopts a cinematic method influenced by Lar von Trier's Dogma ideology, shooting with handheld digital video, working without a script and depending heavily on improvisation. Emotions and sentiments in the film thus are rendered more genuine and expressive.

Dresen provides a refreshing vision of life behind the drab exteriors of East German housing estates, and won laughter and applause from the audience, various awards and sales to Denmark, Czech, Israel and Brazil. All this from a film with the small budget of 600,000 euros.

"In recent years, we have tried to work a way beyond the heavy, depressive stories [that used to characterize German films]. More and more filmmakers are getting what we see as optimistic films in terms of screenplay and character development, and have become more entertainment oriented," said Thortsen Ritter, marketing manager of Bavaria Film International (BFI), distributor of Grill Point. "Yet they don't resort to threadbare plots and phony happy endings. They are still substantial films with solid stories, just dealt with using a lighter approach," he added.

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