Kino!2017, a Festival of German Cinema at the Sunshine, Closes on April 6

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Lilith Stangenberg in Wild.

Lilith Stangenberg in Wild.

For its fourth season as an independent festival, Kino!2017, has moved to everyone’s favorite art house, the Sunshine Cinema, as congenial a venue as possible for the screenings and the inevitable lively discussion around them. Curated by New York film professionals—distributor Meghan Wurtz, journalist Karl Rozemeyer and festival consultant Marian Masone, Kino!2017 presents twelve feature-length films, including one North American premiere, five US premieres, four East coast premieres and two New York premieres, plus the Next Generation Short Tiger 2016 selection. A keynote was established by a screening of a new restoration of Fritz Lang’s Destiny (Der Müde Tod, 1921) with a musical accompaniment by DJ Raphaël Marionneau. Everything else was new.

The full-length features are

24 Weeks (24 Wochen), Anne Zohra Berrached, 102 min., East Coast Premiere
Sunday, April 2, 8:30pm
Thursday, April 6, 6pm

All Of A Sudden (Auf Einmal), Asli Özge, 112 min., US Premiere
Friday, March 31, 5pm
Wednesday, April 5, 4pm

Destiny (Der Müde Tod), Fritz Lang, 97 min., US Premiere
Monday, April 3, 8pm

Silent film with live music by DJ Raphaël Marionneau
Presented by Bertelsmann

Fog in August (Nebel im August), Kai Wessel, 126 min., US Premiere
Saturday, April 1, 6pm
Sunday, April 2, 3pm

Fukushima, Mon Amour (Grüsse Aus Fukushima), Doris Dörrie, 104 min. East Coast Premiere
Friday, March 31, 3pm
Saturday, April 1, 4pm

Hanna’s Sleeping Dogs (Hannas Schlafende Hunde), Andreas Gruber, 120 min. New York Premiere
Tuesday, April 4, 5:30pm
Wednesday, April 5, 8pm

Marija, Michael Koch, 100 min., US Premiere
Monday, April 3, 6pm
Tuesday, April 4, 3:30pm

Original Bliss (Gleissendes Glück), Sven Taddicken, 102 min., New York Premiere
Sunday, April 2, 6pm
Thursday, April 6, 8pm
Actress Martina Gedeck in attendance.

Paula, Christian Schwochow, 123 min., US Premiere
Friday, March 31, 7:30pm, opening film
Saturday, April 1, 1:30pm, followed by Deutsches Haus at NYU discussion with lead actress Carla Juri at 4:30pm
Lead actress Carla Juri in attendance.

Power To Change – The Energy Rebellion (Power To Change – Die Energierebellion), Carl A. Fechner, 94 min., East Coast Premiere
Wednesday, April 5, 6pm
Thursday April 6, 3:30pm

The Verdict (Terror – Ihr Urteil), Lars Kraume, 120 min., North American Premiere
Tuesday, April 4, 8pm

Wild, Nicolette Krebitz, 97 min., East Coast Premiere
Saturday, April 1, 8:30pm
Sunday, April 2, 1pm
Director Nicolette Krebitz in attendance.

Soon I’ll have much more to report as I view more films from this impressive selection and prepare the interviews I conducted with Nicolette Krebitz, writer and director of Wild, and Prof. Ulrich Limmer, producer of Fog In August (Nebel Im August), both among the three films I have seen so far. The third was Sven Taddicken’s Original Bliss (Gleissendes Glück), which will be shown once again on Thursday, April 6 at 8pm. Since only two days remain to visit the festival, which is as rewarding as it is challenging, some brief reviews will give you an idea of the variety and quality of the offerings. I’d hate to have missed any of these. The individuality and seriousness of purpose of these films couldn’t be further away from the conventionality and triviality of so much of what we find in mainstream cinemas today, whether from Hollywood or independent producers.

In our conversation, Nicolette Krebitz, writer and director of Wild, stressed that she is not interested in genres. From her film it was clear that her purpose was to tell a story that cuts into the heart of modern (and ancient) society in the most direct way possible, and she was not prepared to compromise this in any way with cinematic conventions. She might have made Wild as social commentary, as a moral tale, as a crime or a horror film. It is all of those and none, since it concentrates consistently on the protagonist, Ania, and her experience.

Young Ania takes a job, possibly her first, with a publicity firm. She lives in a large apartment complex. Her grandfather, who shared the apartment, has had a stroke and is in the hospital, where his condition continues to deteriorate. She lives alone there, separated from her siblings, with whom she has difficult relations. She habitually keeps to herself, avoiding much social contact, above all with her colleagues at work. Repelled by the alcohol-sodden parties they enjoy, she prefers to fire a pistol at a shooting range by herself. Her boss, Boris, pushes himself on her without success, leaving her at one point alone with his van, while he angrily walks home.

On her way to the office there is a patch of country or parkland that intrudes into the outskirts of the city. One day she encounters a wolf. They gaze at one another and become fascinated. She returns to the spot in hopes of finding the animal, but without result. After that she buys expensive steaks she can’t afford to lure him—without success, then living rabbits. Pursuing her researches further, she learns that Lapps have a traditional method of catching wolves by setting up precincts of colored flags. Boris’ van and a group of women she hires enable her to carry out this elaborate scheme, which she finances with money she has obtained by rolling a drunk in the street. So far this dependable working girl has sunk to theft and quasi-prostitution to catch the wolf. Her hired women scatter as she drugs the wolf with darts from a blow gun. She drags the inert wolf into the van, then into her apartment, where she has a room specially emptied for him. She has torn a hole in the sheetrock to observe him. Through feeding and rewards, she manages to tame him to the point where she has some confidence that he will not tear her apart. The wolf eventually pushes down the wall separating them, and they are then living together. Considerable courage is still required of her, and her efforts drain her physically and mentally. By smearing meat over her body, she attracts the wolf to lick her legs and groin, and her orgasm shows that their relationship is now on a new level. Now that she has tamed the wolf, the wolf will do the opposite to her.

She goes to the office to quit her job early in the morning, encounters Boris, who finds Ania all the more attractive in her wild state. She seduces him. They have sex twice on his desk, whereupon, animal-like, she marks the place by defecating on the desk and her resignation letter. Then she pours lighter fluid over the area and sets it alight.

Her landlady is incensed at the noise and stench coming from her apartment. The situation is unmanageable, and she takes the wolf on a leash, first to the roof, where Boris manages to find them and is seriously mauled by the animal. Ania escapes, and, seemingly exhausted, psychically and physically, she follows the wolf out into a strange wilderness, a black northern desert. As the film closes, we see that she has paired with the wolf, living from caught animals and ponds as he does—and with complete joy.

This story, without setting itself up as anything but a straightforward narration of a story, is more profound than any self-conscious allegory or fable. Free from these pretensions, it explores the boundaries not only of civilized life, the kind of existence afforded by the dreary suburban environment of Ania’s life, if that can be called civilization, but the boundaries of the human. This Krebitz achieves with matter-of-fact directness, pulling no punches, but not overtly trying to shock the audience either. Bravo to her, to her courageous leading actress, Lilith Stangenberg, and to her crew for this powerfully narrated, acted, photographed, and edited masterpiece, which so bravely dwells in the dark recesses of Büchner, Wagner, Freud, and William Golding, not to mention Euripides, in his Bacchae.

Ania is not the only adventurer in Kino!2017. In Original Bliss (Gleissendes Glück), the distinguished actress Martina Gedeck portrays Helene, a middle-aged housewife, who, worn down by her abusive husband, embarks rather more cautiously on an intimate journey into the disturbed psyche of Eduard Glück, an outwardly personable and confident self-help guru. At the very best Helene and her husband have nothing left in common to enjoy, other than her more ambitious efforts in the kitchen. Depression, insomnia, conditioned submissiveness to her husband’s violence have led her to a state which she identifies as a hard-to-define loss of her once strong religious faith. A broadcast accidentally heard on the radio leads her to travel to Hamburg to meet with the guru, a brain surgeon, who views the brain as a computer that an individual can reprogram by oneself, with his guidance. This turns out to be something he would desperately like to achieve for his own benefit, but cannot. He reaches out to the woman for help. Gradually, over time, she turns to him and helps him overcome an addiction to pornography that has tortured him for years. Severely beaten by her husband after he discovers the postcards she has received from her new friend, she goes to his home in Berlin, completes the therapy, and seems ready to stay. However, she goes back to her husband. Why did she take this seemingly suicidal step? She says she had to sort it out properly before leaving him entirely. Her husband, beating her for the last time, wonders if she came back wanting to die, but as she lies in her hospital bed, we realize that she has found the connection to God she had once lost.

Gedeck creates a tour de force in her portrayal of the traumatized Helene. It was thrilling to watch her dole out tiny teaspoonfuls of her repressed charm and warmth to Eduard, as she begins to open to him, so sensitively played by Ulrich Tukur. Johannes Krisch gave an unforgettable portrait of Helene’s violent husband—clearly in the grip of a compulsion as relentless as Eduard’s, but hateful nonetheless. By contrast, there was an endearing cameo by veteran Hans-Michael Rehberg.

Here is another profound and gripping story that unfolds in ordinary domestic and public spaces, fueled by the irony that the routine, missionary sex she seems forced to endure by her husband, is no more natural or rewarding than the repellant pictures and films that hold Eduard captive. We experience these through Eduard’s descriptions of them, and they are as hard to listen to as it is to watch the brief displays of domestic violence. These representations are as honest and true as the rest of the film, but they are, believe it or not, handled with taste and artfulness. Perhaps the frank, unsentimentalized treatment of Helene’s religious crisis is even more courageous—at least for American audiences.

In her talk after the screening, Frau Gedeck mentioned that Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones had the first option on A. L. Kennedy’s novel, and that it fell through. Thank God, it did!

Ernst Lossa (Ivo Pietzcker, left) and Dr. Werner Veithausen (Sebastian Koch, right)

Ernst Lossa (Ivo Pietzcker, left) and Dr. Werner Veithausen (Sebastian Koch, right)

Both Wild and Original Bliss are important films. Fog in August is another, if for different reasons. Ulrich Limmer, the producer, stressed in our conversation that all those involved in its making had a profound sense of duty in telling the story of an under-recognized horror of the Third Reich, the systematic extermination of mentally and physically handicapped people. The principle behind this activity was widely accepted, even into the post-war decades, pursued most notably in the United States by a research group at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and in a program of forced sterilizations at East Louisiana State Hospital. (It seems that the degenerate who now holds the presidency of the United States is one of the few remaining people who accept eugenics.) The German solution was to kill people suffering from the many varieties of neurological, mental, and pathological impairments that prevent a human being from contributing to the economy of the “New Germany.” (Interestingly, Nicolette Krebitz said that in modern Germany normal behavior is founded on one’s contribution to the economy, and of course this attitude isn’t confined to Germany or Europe.) In Nazi Germany the place for these people was in mental hospitals, where they were given temporary asylum, studies, and finally eliminated, either at extermination centers, or, later, on the spot, through lethal injection or starvation—all in the spirit of releasing the patients from their suffering.

Much of what we know about this work was revealed by the American occupation forces, particularly in regard to Ernst Lossa, the protagonist of the film, who is the only inmate in this system about whom much is known. Lossa was a Yenish traveller, a member of a wandering people who are not Roma, still fairly populous in Switzerland, but categorized as Gypsies by the Nazis, and therefore to be eliminated. Lossa committed various petty crimes and was sent to a reform school, which sent him in turn to a mental hospital. An important addition to that emerged in the 1980s, when the new director of one of the hospitals found that the records from the Third Reich survived intact in its files. In 2008 the novelist and journalist Robert Domes published a novel about Lossa, called, like the present film, Nebel im August, which is based on the novel, although the film-makers conducted further research to make every detail as authentic as possible. No existing hospital still resembled its state eighty years ago, so they pored over old photographs and built sets on that model.

The result is a profoundly moving, sorrowful narrative of Ernst Lossa’s experience in the Kaufbeuren hospital. The call to authenticity was balanced by an artful sense of cinematic drama, so that characters were invented and erased for effective storytelling, names were changed, and Lossa’s story was fleshed out into a first-person perspective on life in the institution.

This was the most conventional of the three films, in that spun its thread with sets and costumes of great detail and vividness, finely developed performances of a traditional cinematic sort, and refined cinematography. Sebastian Koch, as highly regarded an actor as Martina Gedeck, gave a detailed, sensitive, and ultimately terrifying performance as Dr. Werner Veithausen, the director of the hospital, who in our perception evolves from a kindly and devoted physician, to a fanatic, to a ruthless opportunist, to a heartless murderer. The character, like his historical model, played with the children, who all liked him, in order to study them and to decide their fate. Henriette Confurius gave a truly chilling performance as Edith Kiefer, the nurse who is brought in to administer a fatal dose of barbiturates to the children after it is decided to kill them on site, rather than in the execution centers. This exceptionally beautiful nurse carries out her grisly duty by speaking gently to her victims, offering them medicine in raspberry juice, as if it were a treat. Dr. Veithausen improves on this, however, by devising a soup devoid of nutrients, which starves the patients to death without actually depriving them of food. Another of many unforgettable performances was that of David Bennent, best known for his youthful role in Volker Schlöndorff’s The Tin Drum, as Oja, an extreme disturbed mature patient, whose brief explosion in violent outrage sums up the whole film. Jule Hermann is very beautiful and finely expressive as Ernst’s friend, Nandl. (One would think of this role as the beginning of a brilliant career for her.) Finally Ivo Pietzker, as Ernst, gave a tour de force which did more than its share of sustaining the film throughout. His shifts from a feeling of being lost and abandoned to spirit, aggression, humor, and humane sympathy gave his performance infinite variety.

The makers of Fog in August can be proud of the outstanding film that came of their dedication. It is not only deeply moving, and almost perfectly executed film, but a lesson to all peoples about the horrors of misguided theories and authoritarian hierarchies. I sincerely hope that it enjoys wide distribution in the United States and everywhere.

To come:

All Of A Sudden (Auf Einmal)
Wednesday, April 5, 4pm

Power To Change – The Energy Rebellion (Power To Change – Die Energierebellion)
Wednesday, April 5, 6pm

Hanna’s Sleeping Dogs (Hannas Schlafende Hunde)
Wednesday, April 5, 8pm

Power To Change – The Energy Rebellion (Power To Change – Die Energierebellion)
Thursday April 6, 3:30pm

24 Weeks (24 Wochen)
Thursday, April 6, 6pm

Kino!2017 is an admirable cultural exchange and gesture of diplomacy which, I hope, will lead to a renaissance in Americans’ interest in German cinema and many more opportunities to follow this great tradition in cinema.

About the author

Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts and The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

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