Kenny Mathieson at the Berlin Film Festival (below), and Driving Miss Daisy previewed (page 16). INDEX: 17 LISTINGS: WEEK ONE 22 WEEK TWO 24
As the Berlin International Film Festival celebrates its 40th Anniversary, Kenny Mathieson reports on the first ever East-West Festival
‘Ost West Film Fest‘ screams the headline in Berlinaletip, the weekly newspaper issued by Berlin listings magazine Tip. The city has two, the other being Zitty; you have to be careful if you try to say them both quickly. There is also the scrappy English language mag The Berliner, while the Festival itself also issued a daily Journal. And there was no doubt that the open border dominated thinking, although not necessarily programming, at this year‘s event. .
So it was no coincidence that the Festival was swamped by requests for accreditation for both Festival and Market by press and delegates, to the point where the fabled German organisational precision teetered dangerously on , the edge ofconfusion. The stars. too, rolled up in greater numbers than usual, and made the ritual limousine trip to the Brandenburg Gate for a photocall. including, for reasons I never quite fathomed (beyond the obvious one of self-publicity), Jason Donovan.
But Berlin has never been a Festival dominated by such fripperies. It began as a political gesture in the wake of the Berlin Blockade, and has a chequered history of political controversies, notoriously an Eastern Bloc walk-out in 1979 which saw the competition collapse in disarray. This year, the choice of the schmaltzy Steel Magnolias as the opening film sparked off a huge row, resignations, and even threatened litigation. Some things never change.
The developments in Eastern Europe were most obviously reflected by the inclusion of seven previously banned East German films from the 19605 in the Forum section, and Jiri Menzel‘s similarly proscribed Skylarks on the String from 1969 in competition. The new East German film about East Berlin’s gay scene, Coming Out, also in competition, received much praise.
Unlike Cannes, where the public seem restricted to gawping at the front door, Berlin is very much a public event at which film-goers like to make their feelings known. A poignant cry of ‘Scheisse’ greeted the credits of Volker Schlondorff‘s disappointing adaptation of Margaret Atwood's dystopian The Handmaid’s
Barllnnle In Berlin: Ialn Glen and Julie Graham grapple In David Hayman's Sllent Scream
Tale. Similar sentiments were expressed, if more delicately, over Roland Joffe’s Shadow Makers, about the creation of the atomic bomb, and Ed Zwick‘s epic Glory, which found the politically aware audience torn between tacit approval of its commitment to black history, and disapproval of its heroic treatment of the American Civil War.
Costa Gavros‘s Music Box, with Jessica Lange as a woman who attempts to dig out the truth when her father is indicted for war crimes, met with general approval, as did the rather less controversial The War ofthe Roses and Driving Miss Daisy. Everybody Wins, Arthur Miller’s return to screen-writing, proved a little too convoluted to work in film terms, while Pedro Almodovar‘s Atame.’ raised more hackles than hoorays for its portrayal of bizarre sexual practices.
If there were dissenting voices at the screening of David Hayman’s Silent Scream, the first ever Scottish selection in competition, they were not expressed; the director reported equally good, if not better, reactions at the other two screenings, including one across The Wall (still very much there as a physical presence, if shorn of much of its darker symbolic portent).
The film is a complex attempt to re-create the thoughts, memories, fantasies and dreams of convicted murderer Larry Winters during his final night oflife in the Special Unit at Barlinnie, where he died of a drug overdose. Its fractured chronology and harrowing approach to the
subject probably militate against widespread commercial success, but it gives a further push to the acknowledged stylistic bounderies of film-making in Scotland. Iain Glen turns in a performance ofgreat stature as the tormented Winters, suitably rewarded by the winning of the Silver Bear for Best Actor.
The competition is as important as those at Cannes and Venice, the only other European Festivals ofsimilar stature. But results were not due to be announced until after our press deadline, following the final screening, Eric Rohmer’s Tales ofSpringtime. Speculation suggested that Oliver Stone’s Born On the Fourth ofJuly, the spectacular Chinese epic The Terra-Cotta Warrior, and the Soviet film Karaul might be among the front-runners. But juries are perverse and unreliable beasts, and almost never run to form, so who knows?
My favourite movie, though, was an unpretentious Dutch effort, the quaintly titled Crocodiles in Amsterdam, which succeeded in being fresh, zany, charming and very funny in recounting the strange adventures of two unlikely women friends in Amsterdam. I hope we will see it at the Edinburgh Festival as well, along with SilentScream. If these two were the movie highlights, the real excitement of the trip lay in Berlin itself, a divided city learning to reach out, like the bear which is its symbol, and hug its estranged other half.
The List 23 February — 8 March 199015