27 January, 2009

Young German Actor Breaks Through

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

David Kross, an 18-year-old actor who hails from a small northern town in Germany, is suddenly a bright, shining star on the international film stage. His role as a German student who discovers that his much-older lover hides a secret of being a guard in a Nazi concentration camp in THE READER has been universally praised. The film, directed by Sam Mendes, and starring Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes, is now a major Oscar contender, with 5 nominations including Best Picture, Best Director (Stephen Daldry) and Best Actress (Kate Winslet).

Kross began his career in regional children’s theater groups, which led to his casting at the tender age of 15 as the lead in TOUGH ENOUGH (Knallhart), in the role of a young student in a troubled high school in one of Berlin’s most violent districts Neukoelln. His authentic performance was recognized and admired at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival, where the film had its world premiere. The film went on to be both a major boxoffice hit in its native Germany, but also stimulated investigations and legislation to help conditions at socially disadvantaged schools.

In 2007, Kross won a coveted role in the lavish filming of the best seller KRABAT, directed by German auteur Marco Kreuzpainter. The response to this second performance drew the attention of British director Stephen Daldry, who cast Kross in the pivotal role of the young man in THE READER. Despite a thick German accent dotting his first-ever English-language role, the young actor has been widely praised in critical reception, more than holding his own with a cast of celebrated veterans such as Winslet and Fiennes. Expect to see more European and American films featuring this intense young talent.

23 January, 2009

Sundance FF: Not Just American Indies

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Sundance Film Festival, which enters its final weekend starting today, is best known as the proving ground for new films from the American independent scene. But over the past few years, the international component of the Festival has grown and now merits its own competition categories for World Features and World Documentaries. It is hard to track whether an award at Sundance for a foreign language title means very much commercially, but certainly the exposure and the publicity of the event does create momentum for non-American films looking to crash these shores.

One of the films drawing interest (and perhaps distribution) is UNMADE BEDS, an intimate feature film about two young Europeans adrift in and out of a London squat. The film is the second feature from the Argentine writer and director Alexis Dos Santos, whose first film GLUE was a hit on the international film festival circuit. This beautifully shot movie is as elliptical as the lives it concerns, with more than a casual nod to the Nouvelle Vague films of the 1950s and 1960s, when closeup of faces and on-going dialogue were enough to fill a scene.

COLD SOULS is an intelligent, gravely humorous English-language feature debut from the French writer and director Sophie Barthes. The American actor Paul Giamatti plays an actor (also named Paul Giamatti) who decides to put his troubled soul in cold storage.

LULU AND JIMI is German director Oskar Roehler’s visually flamboyant period romance, set in Germany during the 1950s. Actress Jennifer Decker, in a star-making turn, plays Lulu, the rebellious daughter of a proper bourgeois family, who falls in love with Jimi (Ray Fearon), an American who’s a one-man advertisement for black cool. The director has a debt to the films of David Lynch but also creates a distinct freaky joy ride that is all his own.

An American film that is heavily influenced by European aesthetics is THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE, the latest nonstudio venture from director Steven Soderbergh. The movie, a work in progress that was shown as a sneak preview, is the second in a series (the first was BUBBLE) of high-definition digital features he is making for 2929 Entertainment, which will be simultaneously released on different platforms. This newest addition involves a high-end Manhattan escort called both Christine and Chelsea (Sasha Grey, a porn actress), who lives with her boyfriend, a trainer with muscles and no personality, Chris (Chris Santos), and sells her body, and perhaps her soul, to whoever can afford her price. With obvious references to the early films of Michaelangelo Antonioni and Jean-Luc Godard, the jury was out about whether Soderbergh's latest elliptical experiment is a movie at all.

Awards in the World Cinema and World Documentary competition categories will be announced this Sunday and a story will appear in this blog on the winners and other non-American highlights of the Festival.

21 January, 2009

Burma VJ To Open In United States

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

BURMA VJ, a Danish documentary that won the Joris Ivens Competition at the International Documentary Film Festival of Amsterdam (IDFA) in November, will open theatrically at New York’s most prestigious arthouse, the Film Forum. The film, which had its North American debut this past weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, has also been acquired by cable giant Home Box Office for a 2010 television premiere.

The film, the definite buzz title of the IDFA program, looks at last year’s uprising against the military dictatorship in Myanmar, told through secret home video footage. The film offers an unprecedented look at the movement and it’s organizers, which includes Buddhist Monks who vocally demonstrated for changes in the repressive Burmese government. The mass demonstrations in Rangoon drew international attention through secret video footage of a band of journalists known as the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) that was smuggled out of the country and beamed around the world. The film, which also won the Movies That Matter Prize at IDFA, recently was an award winner at a documentary film festival in its native Denmark.

14 January, 2009

The Holocaust For The Holidays

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

In a somewhat intriguing and unplanned collision, the Holiday season was marked with, among other things, a confluence of films with themes that relate to the Holocaust. With the current economic doldrums and the anemic Christmas shopping season inspiring downer headlines in the press, another challenging period has been explored on movie screens across North America. Four films in current release dig back into the century’s most tragic crime, with a mix of realism, poetry and attempt to understand the lessons of that period for our own age of anxiety.

The first to be released was THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS, a Holocaust tale suitable (some would argue that point) for children, since it centers on the unlikely friendship between a young Jewish boy who is incarcerated in a concentration camp and the son of the camp’s commandant. The psyche of those who worked in the camps (as if their day jobs were somehow “normal”) is one of the themes of THE READER, director Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of the prize-winning autobiographical novel, about a concentration camp guard (played by an incandescent Kate Winslet) and her affair with a boy much her junior. In between erotic roundelays, the film explores the guilt of the generation of young Germans after the war who must confront the crimes of their family, their neighbors and, in this case, their lovers.

Another Holocaust film currently on the big screen is GOOD, the adaptation of a British play about a mild-mannered man’s complicity in the crime of the century. Starring Viggo Mortensen, the film tells the true tale of a German literature professor whose theories on euthanasia are used by the Nazis as a basis for their program to eliminate first, the mentally and physically challenged, and eventually political enemies and whole races of “inferior sub-humans”.

While most of the above films portray the Jewish victims of the Nazi terror as just that, powerless victims, the new film DEFIANCE tells a different tale….of Jewish resistance as embodied by the Bielski brothers, a band of partisans who created a community in the woods of Belarus while also creating havoc for local Nazis and fascists. The cast, led by Daniel Craig (Mr. James Bond himself) and Liev Schreiber, illuminates a lesser known side of the Holocaust story that stands in contrast to the universal assumption of Jewish passivity and weakness.

Add to this the pyrotechnics of the Hollywood big-budget actioner VALKYRIE, with Tom Cruise playing a Wehrmacht colonel who conspires to assassinate Adolf Hitler, and the Holidays seem almost overrun with Nazis. That these films were released in time with Christmas and New Year’s seems both fiercely ill-timed and oddly appropriate.

07 January, 2009

Woody Allen's Love Affair With Europe

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Woody Allen, long known as the “quintessential New York filmmaker” has been having a love affair with European locations in the late renaissance of his 40 year career in film. With VICKY CRISTINA BARCELONA, shot in Barcelona and in various Spanish locations, Allen has scored a late-career hit with both critics and audiences. The film has been in constant theatrical release since the summer, making it one of the Woodster’s most financial successful efforts.

The film continues a trend of shooting in Europe, which began with the warmly received MATCH POINT three years ago. That film, shot in London, gave Allen a whole new urban palette to explore. While he continues to live in New York, his new production ventures are taking him across the pond. At a press conference held in Paris right before Christmas, Allen announced that he plans on shooting his next film in the City of Lights. “I’ve always wanted to shoot a whole film here, and I have a screenplay all set that would be perfect”, Allen announced. “I wrote the screenplay a few years ago but when I tried to get it going then, it was just too expensive. Now with the production tax credit in Paris, the financing should work and we can film in the next year or so.”

05 January, 2009

Swedish Vampire Flick Is Unlikely International Hit

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

A Swedish film that features the unlikely relationship between a young man and a possible female vampire has emerged as one of the big international hits of the year. LET THE RIGHT ONE IN by director Tomas Alfredson has recently come up on many film critics association lists as Best Foreign Language Film of the Year, including the prestigious Chicago, Washington DC, Boston, Toronto, San Francisco and San Diego Film Critics Associations. In its previous film festival career, the film won top prizes at the Tribeca, Edinburgh, Woodstock, Sitges and Puchon film festivals after its world premiere at the Goteborg Film Festival, where it won the prestigious Nordic Film Prize.

The film tells the story of Oskar, a bullied 12-year old, who dreams of revenge and eventually falls in love with Eli, a peculiar girl whose taste for blood may actually be a result of her being a vampire. Realistic human drama mixed with vampire genre thrills make for an unusual and unique experience that has intrigued audiences and critics around the world. The film, which is distributed in the United States by specialty distributor Magnolia Pictures, has been in constant theatrical release since October, amassing close to $2 million in theatrical receipts. The recent critics accolades and the film’s growing cult status could extend its theatrical run for months to come. For more information, click on: