Douglas Sirk Prize for Life’s Work to director Andreas Dresen and producer Peter Rommel. Festival film: Stopped on Track (Halt auf freier Strecke)
Forty-year-old Frank and his wife Simone are shocked and speechless when the friendly but helpless doctor explains the devastating diagnosis of Frank’s brain tumour. It is inoperable and he has about three months to live. How does one come to terms with this kind of situation, how to tell the children Mika and Lili?
At first, the family tries to keep to its daily routine until Frank has to stop working. Simone takes on the demanding task of caring for her husband at home. We witness tender and funny moments as well as the strain the family has to shoulder. It is troubling to see Frank’s mental and physical deterioration but one can also laugh at the bizarre and unwittingly crazy scenes. For some viewers it might be an all-too-accurate and realistic portrayal of Frank’s dying but some of the funny and poetic scenes will make up for it. This emotionally touching film never becomes melodramatic and surprisingly left me with a positive feeling. The temperamental outbursts by Steffi Khunert as the wife and Milan Peschel as the cancer patient are convincing, contrasting with the tender moments. Also the two children (Mika Seidel and Talisa Lilly Lemke) have to be praised for acting so naturally. Filmmaker Andreas Dresen is taking a brave, honest and unsentimental look at death. He even abstains from using any music score and engaged laymen, like the doctor, nurse and care personnell to act their part in the film. This makes for a particularly authentic touch. At the film festival in Cannes 2011 the movie received the highest award in the category Un Certain Regard. (BS)
The International Art Cinema Award of 5000 Euro to Monsieur Lazhar by Phlippe Falardeau, Canada
The film starts with a shock. One morning the body of the beloved teacher Martine dangles from the ceiling of the classroom of the elementary school in wintry Montreal. This is not a sight that the 11 and 12-year-old pupils should be faced with. The confused teachers have to deal with traumatised children and their hysterical parents. Monsieur Lazhar (Mohamad Fellag), an Algerian refugee, who is stepping in as the replacement teacher, reaches out to the children with empathy and moral support. At the same time he has to deal with his own loss, the death of his family and his uncertain political status as a foreigner. Touching and very convincing performances are given by the children, particularly Sophie Nélisse as Alice and Emilien Neron as her close friend Simon. With this thoughtful and sensitive film the writer-director Philippe Falardeau explores Canada’s racial conflict by high-lighting the educational system of his multi-cultural society. He even allows himself to wittingly poke fun at elementary school politics. Monsieur Lazhar is Falardeau’s fourth feature film and has been chosen as Canada‘s candidate for the 2012 Oscar nomination.(BS)
Häagen-Dazs Audience Prize of 5000 Euros to King of Devil’s Island (Kongen av Bastay) by Marius Holst, Norway
This sinister, angry film plays slowly, softly on a beautiful forested island, surrounded by a sparkling fjord. In 1915 young boys go to an institution for juvenile delinquents on Bastøy Island for committing small crimes such as stealing from the church collection plate. Some are just 11 years old; abuse, both mental and physical, is common. This is a religious era and wrong must be punished in the eyes of God. They share a large room, cot next to cot, and attend classes. But, mostly, they perform hard, cheap, manual labor in the fields and forests under the sharp eyes of their “protectors,” i.e., the director and teachers. As part of their “correction” they are reminded how lucky they are to be in such a fine establishment, when the alternative would be prison. One day, Erling, a new prisoner, arrives. He never accepts his imprisonment and immediately begins to plan his escape, which misfires at least once. His steady commitment to this goal serves as a role model and the other boys slowly give up their small rivalries and unite against the adults to create an unforgettable explosion. This was my favorite festival film. Each actor has his own aura, his own composure which in itself seems to tell a story. Benjamin Helstad, who plays Erling, commanded attention at all times, even when he was locked in a cell. Not for one minute did I stop worrying about these boys, even though I knew, of course, that it was “just a film” although based on a true story, which could have come straight from Charles Dickens (although he was born 100 years prior to 1915). The symbolism about life on a ship and sailors sighting whales is food for thought. The ending is logical, rather than happy. This was the only festival film which brought tears to my eyes, and was a worthy winner of the festival’s audience prize. It has also won several prizes in Norway. (BT)
Foreign Press Award to The Art of Love by Emmanuel Mouret, France
Hamburg Film Critics’ Award to Take Shelter by Jeff Nichols, USA
A storm’s a comin… From the moment Take Shelter begins you know in your heart of hearts that something calamitous is going to happen. Curtis (Michael Shannon) is a towering, quiet-spoken man, a construction worker in rural Ohio. He has a loving wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain) and an adoring but hearing-impaired daughter Hannah. Still, life is good for the LaForche family. But one day Curtis begins having waking nightmares of coming storms raining oil. He observes flocks of birds making disturbing swirling patterns in the sky. At night he agonizes over apocalyptic nightmares of impeding disasters. Shaken, he secretly seeks medical advice, terrified he has inherited his mother’s schizophrenia. And yet, still fearing for his family’s safety he borrows money he cannot afford to turn a simple backyard tornado shelter into an elaborate bunker. Is this decent loving family man a prophet, or is he just plain mad? Though slow moving, Take Shelter had me mesmerized at every step in anticipation of an imminent catastrophe. More than just a disaster movie, it’s also a human drama portraying Samantha’s unwavering love for her husband when their Ohio neighbors shun him. Adam Stone‘s cinematography is stunningly disturbing though, in some scenes, I was a bit distracted from the plot, too aware of the wonders of modern computer technology.(PF)
TV Producer Prize of 30,000 Euro to Tödlicher Rausch by Johannes Fabrick
Best First Film Award Die Elfe) of 5000 Euro to Avé by Konstantin Bojanov, Bulgaria
Montblanc Screenplay Award of 10,000 Euros to Simon and the Oaks (Simon och ekarna) by Lisa Ohlin, script by Marnie Blok Sweden, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands
Simon and the Oaks had its world premiere at the Filmfest Hamburg 2011. Film maker Lisa Ohlin created a moving and fascinating adaptation of Marianne Fredriksson’s acclaimed novel of the same name. It is an account of the years between 1939 and the 1950s set in Sweden and Berlin. Little Simon lives with his loving parents Karin and Erik Larsson (Helen Sjöholm, Stefan Gödicke), a working-class couple. His father does not like that Simon always “has his nose in a book”. No wonder that Simon feels out of place in his own family. As he seems intellectually gifted, he is allowed to attend school in Gothenburg where he meets Isak, the son of Ruben Lentov (Josef Liefers), the wealthy owner of a Jewish bookshop. The family fled Hitler’s Germany, fearing persecution. Soon WWII is raging all over Europe. German soldiers are seen in Sweden, making life unsafe for Jews, and Isak moves to live with the Larssons. The two friends grow up together but develop very differently—Isak prefers to work with his hands, and Simon still prefers reading or listening to classical music. After the war the harmonious family life suddenly comes to an end when Simon discovers that he is adopted. Fighting his emotional confusion, he leaves, trying to discover his roots. He moves to town, staying with the rich Lentov’s where he finds support and understanding for his deep love of music.
This powerful epos has multiple levels: two boys coming of age during the turmoil of World War II, the unique situation of Jewish people in Sweden during that time, two families merging together with their different secrets and rivalries. It is an enthralling saga combining mythology and compassion with atmospheric images by the talented cinematographer Dan Lausten. The sweeping orchestral finale carries strong emotions without needing much dialog.(BS)