Berlin and Beyond Film Festival Week 2

"Movie Magazine International" Special Report

(Air Date: Week Of 1/15/97)

By Andrea Chase

Nightmares pervade the Berlin and Beyond Festival this week.

First up, Silent Night demonstrates what happens when Germans try to make French films. And not good French films, like Truffaut's or even, Heaven forfend, Renoir's. No, Silent Night aspires to be like the self-conscious, would-be sophisticated psycho-sexual piffle that's produced strictly for domestic consumption and is so bad that it wouldn't show up over here on cable at 2 AM even if the cable company were PAID to run it.

Let's make this quick. A masochistic, passive-aggressive twit, his girlfriend and her other boyfriend, a shallow but sensitive sex-machine spend a thoroughly distasteful Christmas Eve on the phone trying to sort out their problems. Yes, it IS every bit as bad as it sounds. Let me put it this way, there's a gun, but it neither goes off soon enough, nor does enough damage, to save the audience from this colossal waste of time.

An excellent investment of your time, on the other hand, is the self-damning true story, "Three Days in April."

One morning, near the end of the WWII, a small German town wakes to discover that three train cars, guarded by the SS and carrying a cargo of concentration camp prisoners, has been ditched at their railway station. Town reaction ranges from shutting windows against the prisoner's pitiful cries, to a desperate, ultimately futile, desire to do something. For everyone, though, it's an all too tangible, painful, symbol of exactly what the Third Reich stands for. Unbelievably, when given the chance, this town doesn't free the prisoners, instead, they push the cars onto a downhill grade, sending off the "problem" for someone else to deal with.

This film in no way attempts to minimize or to condone what happened. It tries to explain how such a mentality could arise.

The festival's closing night offers up a sturm und drang piece de resistance from 1924, "The Hands of Orlac". Conrad Veidt emotes with vein-popping intensity as a pianist who loses his hands in an accident only to have new ones, from a murderer yet, grafted, onto his wrists. Zeitgeist ensues when the hands seem to take on a life of their own, or rather, resume their previous life. You may think you've seen this story before, but trust me, this moody excursion into horror is an original. And the visual imagery is so compelling that, seventy years on, it's still cutting edge. As a Festival extra, screenings are accompanied by the Clubfoot Orchestra playing their original, exquisitely jittery score.

For movie lovers, this nightmare's one sweet dream.

Copyright 1997 Andrea Chase

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