Moving essay of images

The German Film Week in Mumbai was an opportunity to see some good, prize-winning movies.
A report by Ervell E. Menezes

Caroline Linkís Nowhere in Africa looks at Nazism
Caroline Linkís Nowhere in Africa looks at Nazism

ANY conversation on German cinema always conjures up names like Fassbinder, Schloendorf, Herzog and Wenders of the New Wave of the 1970s. As in any country, " times there are a changing" and todayís divas are Twyker (Run Lola Run), Link (Beyond Silence) and Akin (Head On). They may not be in the same mould as their predecessors but give them time to mature. For one thing the German Film Week in Mumbai gave cinema buffs a rare and welcome chance to lap up European cinema which is a totally different ball game from Hollywood.

It is not only entertainment that these films aim at. They are deeply committed to the people in that they portray and probe human pain, problems and situations. Social problems are dealt with with sensitivity, be it the suicide, drugs, crime or the case of the migrant Turks. At times they may be a wee bit didactic but in most cases they leave much to the viewerís imagination, thought and perception. They are like essays weaving their way around the subject at a lazy pace but always ending up by making a point.

In collaboration with the National Centre for the Performing Arts, the Federation of Film Societies of India and the Prabhat Chitra Mandal, the Max Mueller Bhavan had clubbed eight films, prize-winners in the last four years. A good selection, it shows that the fall of the Berlin Wall is still churning out mature East-West analyses, devoid of its initial rigidity and self-righteousness.

Wolfgang Beckerís Goodbye, Lenin! is a delightful story of how an East Berlin family keeps the fall of the Wall and the GDR a secret from their very socialistic and party-minded mother. The reason for this : she suffers a heart attack/stroke and after partially recovering the doctors feared the sad news would probably cause a relapse. It is her son Alex who does his utmost to keep his mother happy But then one not-so-fine day she sees a Coca Cola ad on an adjoining building and her dreams are shattered.

"Life is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel," they say, and this comes across strongly with the behaviour of some of the characters. When the father earlier left the family the mother had the gal to lay the blame on him. She also blocks all the letters he wrote to them because she had political ambitions and his absence was connected with them. But despite the deception the children forgive the mother and arrange a final reunion. All this is handled without recrimination or angst displaying the maturity of the director and the coming of age of a united Germany.

Caroline Linkís Nowhere in Africa is a powerful narrative and gives one a far-away look at Nazism, because the family moves to Africa to escape the persecution of the Jews. May be the White-person-in-Africa is a bit of a clich`E9 but the little girlís narrative in first person is quite laudable. "I remember Germany as a dark place, not bright as Kenya," she begins with and right through her assimilation with the Africans is the best. Then there are problems with the parentsí marriage because of the fatherís absence and the motherís rather racist attitude. But all this is deftly handled by Ms Link whose earlier film Beyond Silence, about a deaf girl looking after her deaf parents, is also a masterpiece. Nowhere in Africa won the best Foreign Language Film Oscar in 2002.

Faith Akinís Head On is set in a Turkish quarter and focuses on two suicidal Turks. It is well known that the Turks are not welcome in German society because they do the menial jobs and yet the Germans cannot do without them. When Cahit (Birol Unel) is a born loser, drives his car into a wall in a bid to end his life, it is only the beginning of a fresh batch of problems because it brings him in contact with Sibel (Sibel Kekilli) who is also suicidal because her excuse to get away from her family is to marry Cahit. If suicide is a bond between the two the marriage is very nearly on the rocks for starters.

Now this is a normal love-me, hate-me love affair with rock music (Punk is not dead),pot-pulling and what have you ? But since it is a Turkish couple it shows that they are borrowing much from the German culture and who can stop that. The film meanders for all of 120 minutes and not even a powerful ending can save it.

Almut Gettoís Do Fish Do It is a moving love story between two teenagers. Simple yet touching because 16-year-old Jan has Aids through a faulty blood transfusion. Nina is the girl who accidentally crashes into him on her skates. Fish is their common interest but when it comes to sex he is afraid that she will contract the disease. Much of the liaisons between the two youngsters and the angst of the Aids-victim are sensitively handled.

Hannes Stohrís Berlin is in Germany ( a title like that would have shocked Hitler) is also about a born loser. After a lengthy sentence in prison which began in the days of the GDR, Martin has now been released in a unified Germany. He meets old friends, many of them fellow convicts, and his wife who is living with another man. He also sees his son for the first time. Not unexpectedly, Martin cannot keep out of troubleís way.

How he barely manages to escape another prison sentence is graphically recreated by Stohr who goes through different layers of society to make his point. It is also a comment on the difficult on the economic situation which crops up again in Michael Schorrís Distant Lights which is about the smuggling of folks from the Polish side.

The river Oder divides Frankfurt from Slubice and the goal of many a Pole is to reach Frankfurt. But at what price? Excellent cutting and editing makes for a fast-moving drama.

Unfortunately, this German Film Week wonít go beyond Maharashtra. Festivals like this should make it to the major cities of India. Max Mueller Bhavan please take note.