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The Tenth Annual German Currents Film Festival

Robin Menken: Dedicated German Film lovers remember German Currents as a highly anticipated annual sidebar at the AFI Film Festival before the festival launched as a standalone festival ten years ago.
German Currents Film Festival

Me and Kaminski

LA celebrated the 10th Annual German Currents Film Festival (Oct 20th-23rd) at The American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre.

Dedicated German Film lovers remember German Currents as a highly anticipated annual sidebar at the AFI Film Festival before the festival launched as a standalone festival ten years ago.

Dedicated German Film lovers remember German Currents as a highly anticipated annual sidebar at the AFI Film Festival before the festival launched as a standalone festival ten years ago.

This year the fest's program included ten LA premieres, a kid's matinee and meaty Q& A's with well-known directors, writers and actors.

The Festival's Gala opening night film was the archly comic "Me and Kaminski" by Wolfgang Becker ("Good Bye Lenin!") who gave an amusing, spirited Q & A after the film. Becker and others organized a prestigious Art Gallery retrospective of fictional artist Kaminski, which drew an attendance of 4000 people before the hoax was revealed by the media.

The month-long "Kaminski Retrospective" at the gallery at BIKINI Berlin (an upscale mall near the Bahnhof Zoo) showed large-format images of the "Blind Series", late works of Kaminski "long considered annihilated by the artist." Seven preliminary studies on "Death on the Pale Sea" were also on view.

Hoaxed ephemera at the exhibit included the old issue of Times magazine with Manuel Kaminski on the title, the obituary in the Paris newspaper "Le Monde" from the year 1995, photos of Kaminski with Muhammed Ali, Stravinsky, and his teacher Matisse.

The exhibition at BIKINI Berlin (September 11 to October 8, 2015) was seen by some 4,200 visitors, Paintings by the actual painter (Manfred Gruber) could be purchased at contact@manfred-gruber.com

"Me and Kaminski", written for "Good Bye Lenin!" star Daniel Brühl is Becker's return to feature films after a nine year hiatus working on shorts and documentaries.

Becker's 2003 "Good Bye Lenin!" launched Brühl's career on the international stage, and put Becker on the international map when it swept both the German Film Awards (with eight awards) and European Film Awards (six awards) in 2003. In all "Goodbye Lenin" won 32 awards at international festivals including a Bambi (2003), Berlin International Film Festival best director (2003) a Capri European Film (2003) Award, a Bavarian Film Award (2004), a César (Best European Union Film-2004), Goya Awards 2004-Best European Film, Directors Guild of Great Britain-Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Foreign Language Film (2004) and London Critics Circle Film Awards 2004-Foreign Language Film of the Year)/

Another festival highlight was acclaimed writer-director Doris Dörrie’s award-winning "Fukashima, Mon Amour". (The Goethe Institute primed the pump with a multi film tribute to fest darling Dorrie's career).

The festival screened writer-director Annekatrin Hendel’s brilliant documentary "Fassbinder", Writer-director Nicolette Krebitz’ controversial, sensual Sundance Film Festival selection "Wild", starring Lilith Stangenberg, Swiss writer-director Tobias Nölle’s debut feature "Aloys" (winner FIPRESCI Prize Berlin 2016) Anna Zohra Barrached’s multi-award- winning 24 "Weeks" (2015 Berlinale Competition); Austrian director Händl Klaus’ Berlin Film Festival LGBT Teddy Award-winning "Tomcat", writer-director Gerd Schneider’s multi-award- winning debut 'The Culpable" screens with 2012 Student Oscar winner Thomas Stuber’s "A Heavy Heart" (winner of 3 German Film Awards in 2016), as well as a family matinee of Swiss director Alain Gsponer’s adaptation of the children’s classic "Heidi", starring Bruno Ganz (German Film Award 2016 - Best Children’s Film).

The GABA Film Initiative and the Goethe-Institute Los Angeles hosted a TRIBUTE TO WOLFGANG BECKER featuring a conversation about his career, followed by a filmmaker brunch.

German Currents Film Festival

Fukusima, Mon Amour

"Me and Kaminski", Wolfgang Becker and co-writer Daniel Kehlmann's adaptation of the novel by Thomas Wendrich is an amusing tale.

Becker's 2003 black comedy "Good Bye Lenin!" (also starring Daniel Brühl, was a festival darling. Becker wrote this script with Brühl, in mind. Brühl, who appeared in countless international films since, ("Inglourious Basterds", "Rush", "The Bourne Ultimatum"), he welcomed collaborating with Becker.

Brühl's character, Sebastien Zöllner, is a narcissistic art critic hoping to tie his fortune to his exclusive biography of aged, reclusive painter Manuel Kaminski (Jesper Christensen), a blind painter whose career once rivaled Andy Warhol's in world fame. Faked archival footage shows Kaminski's rise: Picasso championed him; Matisse mentored him, Cocteau and Warhol, counted him as a friend. especially once his blindness was revealed.

Pushy Zöllner can't resist tying his fortune to the aging (hopefully dying) Kaminski. Zöllner's a worldclass carpetbagger on a par with Budd Schulberg's Sammy Glick, or would be if he could catch a break.

It’s Zöllner's last chance. His wealthy girlfriend Elke (Jördis Triebel) breaks up with him on the phone, threatening to move his belongings to his agent's office. Zollner begs her to desist; she hangs up on him,

Zöllner arrives two days early chez Kaminski, alienating the sullen housekeeper Anna, wonderfully played by Viviane de Muynck ("The Ardennes").

Performances by vet character actors Jan Declei (Holm) and Patrick Bauchau (Prof. Megelbach) add to the pleasures of the film

Zöllner, convinced Kaminski faked his blindness, is determined to reveal his hoax to the world, center-piecing this bombshell as part of his exclusive biography.

The script wisely leaves this mystery unanswered). Kamnsiki's luscious protective daughter Miriam (Amira Casar) attempts to shield her father but is repeatedly out moved by shameless opportunist Zöllner.

Only bitter Kaminski seems to warm to the wormy Zöllner (perhaps seeing a younger version of himself.)

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In a reverse kidnapping Zöllner eventually finds himself helping Kaminski escape his daughter's strict control, alllowing Kaminski to regain some autonomy.

The late Jacques Herlin (a well known character actor in French and Italisn films of the 60's and 70's, plays Dominik Silva, Kaminski’s former patron, with gravitas.

One's rarely seen a more unlikable protagonist. (You’d have to go back to Alec Guiness's turn as Gully Jimson in the wonderful "The Horse's Mouth" to find a more determined art scoundrel, and Brühl is up to the task.

We revel in each unpleasant move in the clever, slightly overlong tale.

Doris Dörrie's latest, the cleverly titled "Fukashima, Mon Amour", is beautifully shot in black and white by DP Hanno Lentz as an homage to Resnais's iconic "Hiroshima, Mon Amour." The film is a delicate journey of friendship and healing.

On the mend from a breakup, clown Marie (Rosalie Thomass) travels to Japan to bring hope to elderly survivors of the 2011 nuclear disaster still living in emergency shelters near the Fukashima Nuclear plant.

When Marie arrives at the station too catch the Bullet train, we see a short man in a giant realistic cat head. This example of almost surreal Japanese Kawaii kitsch bookends the film.

Wearing her signature face paint (blacked out eyes on a whiteface) Maries' s surprised to find “Clowns4help” is a three clown operation. Mosche Cohen (a renowned physical comic) and Nami Kamata play the other clowns.

As usual Dorrie includes spontaneous observations, shooting with a background cast of actual senior survivors.

They drive to the shelter.

Keeping an eye on her personal radiometer, Marie stares at the empty towns in the area. The government has deemed it safe for repopulation, but so far, no-one's returned to the area, no longer known as the zone.

Marie hopes to heal her broken heart by working with people who are facing hardships, but nothing on her journey plays out as expected.

Failing to teach Hula hooping to her elderly audience, she meets bitter bilingual survivor Satomi (Kaori Momoi). Famed Japanese actress, singer Momoi is remarkable as the last remaining geisha in the area, haunted by the memory and ghost of her last pupil Yuki (Nanoko), who died in the Tsunami.

Dorrie presents a delicate odd couple, playing Tomass's lanky grace and spontaneous innocence against Momoi rich layered performance.

Satomi hopes for a final student, but Marie (who she described as an elephant) is too large and clumsy. In a wonderful scene they argue about how to sit at the table. Marie, who cannot kneel comfortably, drives Satomi mad with her rude splayed legs. As time goes on, though Satomi mocks Marie to anyone who'll listen, Marie masters some of the art of Geisha-hood

Satomi tricks Marie into driving her back to her abandoned home, later the project head accuses her of kidnapping Satomi.

Marie abandons the clowns and finds herself back at ground zero helping Satomi reconstruct her life. Healing and geisha lessons follow and the film becomes a minimalist ghost story.

The thorny affection between these women will haunt you.

Dorrie's an old Japan hand. After twenty visits and at least three other features set in Japan, she's nimble at understanding the margins often lost in translation by other Western directors, and her fey sense of absurdism mines the cross cultural misunderstanding with delicacy.

Lenser Hanno Lentz’s strong black-and-white images add to the almost dsytopian atmosphere. One shot of plastic garbage bags, filled with nuclear waste, piled in evenly spaced mounds conflate human devastation and Contemporary installation art.

Close-ups of the women holding hands are as effective as the kitschy street scenes, and the meditative landscape shots.

Ulrike Haage’s droning score mix electronica with discordant piano Christof Ebhardt’s sound mix captures the quirky world that is a Dorrie film, This is my favorite of her later films. A MUST SEE

Anne Zohra Berrached's "24 Weeks" was a brilliantly edited elliptical drama. Popular stand-up comedian Astrid Lorenz (Jentsch), her manager, boyfriend Markus (Mädel) and their 9-year-old daughter Nele (Pieske) seem to have it all, When they discover their unborn child has severe Down syndrome, Astrid must make a terrible choice, pressured by Marcus, her family and the media. Strong central performances, crystalline cinematography by Friede Clausz, a sophisticated edit by Denys Darahan, and Jasmin Reuter's score envelope the hot=button issue.

Tobias Nölle's psychological drama "Aloys” is the portrait of a middle age private detective (Georg Friedrich) whose regulated life of professional voyeurism is upset by a mysterious woman (von Overbeck) and her obscure Japanese mindgame of "telephone walking’ where imagination is their only connection. It’s a compelling minimalist drama featuring DOP Simon Guy Fässler’s beautiful visuals

Robin Menken