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A Passion for Pictures
by Mary Nyiri

True love, infidelity, addiction, survival, murder, witchcraft, folklore, tolerance, bigotry, injustice, politics, religion, sex - what is it that inflames your passion? Film festivals around the world, particularly the Internationale Filmfestspiele Berlin, provide wonderful opportunities to indulge many passions, especially if one has a passion for pictures. Catching as many as six films in one day requires just such a passion and sometimes a lot of patience to sit though some very bad films.

The essence of a truly passionate love is depicted in virtually every art form be it paintings, sculptures, novels, and poems to name a few, but is perhaps most easily expressed in film where little or much can be left to the imagination. No imagination is required in Wild Camp (Camping Sauvage) by French directors Christophe Ali and Nicolas Bonilauri where sexual passion is mistaken for true love. At just seventeen, Camille (Islid Le Besco) is dragged to a summer holiday lake camp by her parents. Scantily clad, belligerent and bored, she sets her sights on the new-but-old, forty-something sailing instructor Blaise (Denis Lavant). Neither cares that Blaise is married with a baby as they ravage one another in various picturesque beach locations. This is the perfect film for any ugly middle-aged man suffering a mid-life crisis in search of a sexual fantasy.

Such passions that drive infidelity are not confined to aging mysterious outsiders and spoiled teenagers. Even a regular guy can fall prey to the heat of adulterous sex as in Longing (Sehnsucht), by German director Valeska Grisebach. Markus (Andreas Müller) and Ella (Ilka Welz) were childhood sweethearts who married and, now in their thirties, live in a small village leading very happy, innocent lives together. Then Markus visits a nearby town for an overnight fire brigade training course. Dinner is followed by heavy drinking and slow dancing. Much later, Markus wakes up with the waitress Rose (Anett Dornbush). Although Markus still loves Ella, who tears up at choir practice when she thinks about her husband’s infidelity, he is constantly drawn back into the passionate embrace of one-dimensional Rose, a passion that finds him accidentally pushing Rose off the hotel room balcony in an embrace gone wrong. He decides to shoot himself and not soon enough for most of the audience, at least those left at the end of the press screening.

A more entertaining choice is a comedy of love that survives war, the central plot of the light-hearted The Tiger and the Snow (La Tigre e la Neve) by Italian director and actor Roberto Benigni. The story developed during conversations between Benigni and Vincenzo Cerami, and is based not on an idea, explains Benigni, but “just a sense of love. The protagonists are urged on by love; the greatest, most subversive and revolutionary force in the world.” Benigni, whose passion for acting thrives in his characters, expresses an absurdly passionate love for Vittoria, a biographer, who wants nothing to do with him. Attilio, an eccentric, poet and university lecturer in Rome, follows Vittoria everywhere, to her great embarassment. Vittoria is writing the biography of mutual acquaintance and friend Faud (Jean Reno), a famous Iraqi poet. Faud decides to return to Baghdad because he wants to be with his own people if there is indeed a war. Vittoria travels to Iraq to finish the biography but when war begins she is seriously injured in a bombing raid. Faud calls Attilio to tell him that Vittoria may die.

Attilio, channeling his intense love for Vittoria into action, poses as a doctor and climbs aboard a Red Cross flight to Iraq. He finds Faud who takes him to Vittoria. She lies alone, unconscious and on the brink of death from a cerebral edema. Attilio sets off to find the drug that will save her but since all the pharmacies are in ruins, he learns of an old Iraqi alchemist who agrees to prepare a crude homemade remedy. Searching for ingredients among the horrors of war, Attilio tip toes around landmines. Then while trying to get through an American military roadblock he is hilariously presumed a suicide bomber since every pocket, belt and strap over his body is chock full of medical supplies mistaken by the soldiers for explosives. He gets the supplies back to the hospital and Vittoria but unfortunately, his constantly ringing cell phone (calls from his lawyer about unpaid bills) attracts the attention of other American troops who take him prisoner before he knows if his efforts have saved Vittoria. Just the ability to find humor in the tragedy that is called the Iraqi war is reason enough to join in the hunt for a tiger in the snow.

Love and revenge can evoke such passion that life itself loses meaning. In V for Vendetta, a touch of love and murderous revenge are woven through this political thriller directed by James McTeigue. The film is based on the graphic novel by David Lloyd and Alan Moore. Set in a futuristic totalitarian Britain, a mysterious man in black, whose identity is hidden behind the hideous grin of a Guy Fawkes’ mask, comes to the rescue of Evey (Natalie Portman) who is caught outdoors after curfew by two police known as Fingermen who want to have their way with her. V (Hugo Weaving) vanguishes the villains leaving Evey intrigued. Thus begins the relationship between V, who seeks to free the people of England from a fascist government and Evey, an orphan of political activism. But V is also on a very personal mission to wreak vengeance on those who imprisoned, tortured and maimed him during a government experiment. As he eliminates his former captors one by one, V furthers his efforts to blow up Parliament which he believes symbolizes the present tyranny. His plan is inspired by Guy Fawkes, who in 1605 was caught in a tunnel beneath Parliament with 36 barrels of gunpowder. There are lots of amusing, not so subtle references to current political issues, such as news reports on the downfall of the United States precipitated by the disastrous war in Iraq. View the video to verify victory for the villains or vigilante V.

In The Promise (Wuji) Chinese director Chen Kaige, best known for his internationally successful Farewell, My Concubine tells a fairy tale of vehement passions: love, revenge, greed, ambition, loyalty. The tale opens with a ragged little girl scavenging for food among bodies littering a battlefield. A noble young lad catches her and offers her the food if she will be his slave. She accepts the offer, but then breaking her promise attacks him, fleeing with the food. She encounters a Sorceress who makes her another offer: She can be a Princess desired the world over, but if she accepts, she will never experience true love or genuine happiness. She accepts. Twenty years later, she is a Princess and mistress of the King. The King offers her to his enemy, the Duke of the North. When the Princess is threatened, she is saved by a Slave dressed as the General. The Slave kills the King to save her, but everyone believes the General is responsible for the murder. The Princess and the Slave flee but are cornered by the Duke who makes them an offer. Is this destiny or are uncontrollable passions ruling their lives? Promise not to miss the romance, martial arts, stunning cinematography and plot twists worthy of Shakespeare.

Promoted as a tale of greed and vengeance with demons, magic, murder and redemption, it may come as a surprise that Milarepa by Bhutan director Neten Chokling is about the early life of Tibet’s greatest mystic. Perhaps even more surprising is that the director, at the age of two, was recognized as the fourth incarnation of the great Tibetan meditation master Terton Chogyur Lingpa. The film is set in the extraordinary Spiti Valley on the Indo-Tibetan border and shot with a cast of non-professional actors, with help from a team of monks and lamas who performed sacred rituals to remove obstacles to filming. The result is a visually stunning folktale about the early life of Thöpaga, who later becomes the spiritual Milarepa. Thöpaga was born into a wealthy merchant family in the 11 th century. Unfortunately, Thöpaga’s father dies leaving the family estate in the hands of his uncle Gyaltsen until Thöpaga is old enough to marry. Gyaltsen seizes the family fortune for himself leaving Thöpaga and his mother Kargyen penniless. Thöpaga, his mother and sister are enslaved to Gyaltsen in order to survive. When Thöpaga is ready to marry, they are told by Gyaltsen that there is no estate. Kargyen plots her revenge against Gyaltsen and the village that supports him, sending Thöpaga to master sorcerer Yongten Trogyal, to learn the skills needed to destroy Gyaltsen. Revenge that destroys the village brings joy to his mother but leaves Thöpaga without peace. He grieves for the innocent who suffered at his hands. The futility of his revenge propels him on his journey to find a spiritual teacher who can deliver him from the evil karma that haunts him. Although the pace is slow, the long journey is spiritually rewarding.

Indulge your passion for foreign travel and history by joining Belgium documentary director Thierry Michel as he explores the Congo in Congo River, Beyond Darkness ( CongoRiver, Au-Dela Des Tenebres). The journey begins aboard a floating village comprised of four barges, a tugboat, a captain and several hundred passengers along with their many animals. For two hours Michel reveals the richness of life on the Congo from the mouth to its source, taking a detour around spectacular falls. Michel explores Belgian colonialism and walks along the tracks of a railroad long out of service where clearing is now being done by hand. He looks at the ruins of a jungle palace never completed by Dictator Marshal Mobutu. He visits a museum where plants are catalogued in hundreds of handwritten books, a bit of science in a country where the Mai-Mai warriors, still clinging to superstitions use sacred water, herbs, fetishes and dances to protect them from enemy bullets. Farther on a church service is held where money is demanded for sins. Then to a dispensary where several women, teenagers and young girls try to recover from rapes committed by the Mai-Mai or soldiers. Along the way, the camera captures the beauty of a Congolese sunset with stirring accompaniment from Lokus Kanza. A bit slow at times, like the lives of those encountered, but this cinematic trip is nevertheless worth booking.

A passion for politics keeps the French constituency guessing in Comedy of Power (L’Ivresse du Pouvoir) by director Claude Chabrol. In the opening credits Chabrol claims any similarities to persons living or dead is purely coincidental thus encouraging the audience to ferret out who did what to whom in the scandal involving petroleum giant Elf Aquitaine. Just as in real life, board members of a big company amass personal fortunes with the help of politicians who cover up their activities. In the character of Magistrate Jeanne Charmant (Isabelle Huppert), these improprieties are passionately investigated. Hard to resist such a sweet French tart.

Whatever your personal politics may be, the true story of British muslim boys who travel to Pakistan for a wedding and end up at the American prison camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba will certainly spur passionate debate. Road to Guantánamo by British legendary director Michael Winterbottom with Mat Whitecross uses archive footage, interviews and dramatized scenes to recreate the events.

In September 2001, Asif Iqbal from England is instructed by his mother to go to Pakistan and marry the woman that she has chosen for him. He asks three friends, Ruhel Ahmed, Shafiq Rasul and Monir Siddiqui to be his witnesses at the wedding. The four friends, two of whom are teenagers, meet in Karachi where they attend a mosque with Shafiq’s cousin Zahid. The Imam is organizing a group to go to Afghanistan for humanitarian aide and asks them to come along. They are curious about Afghanistan and agree. After a long, exhausting journey, they arrive in Kandahar coincidentally on the first night of bombing by the United States when the U.S. troops begin their retaliation against the Taliban for the attacks of September 11 th. The friends continue on to Kabul where they become ill and stay to recover. When they are ready to return to Pakistan, they find themselves instead caught under heavy bombardment near Kundun. They are separated from Monir, who is never seen again. Asif, Ruhel and Shafiq are taken captive by the Northern Alliance. After being shifted around different prison camps within Afghanistan, it is discovered they are English so they are turned over to the U.S. military. They thought they would then be sent home to England but instead, they are treated as terrorist traitors and face endless interrogation, torture and solitary confinement finally being incarcerated for over two years at Camp Delta, the U.S. Army prison camp located in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Now back in Britain, it is clear that the journey they started together is by no means at an end. Are they all criminals or victims of circumstance? See this film, in which Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross won the Silver Bear for Best Director, and then join the debate.

Evidenced by the multitudes that have died in the name of their religion, faith can evoke murderous passions but also other strong emotions such as adoration, dedication, love, devotion, ecstasy, wrath, joy, fear, rapture or zeal. In Requiem, German director Hans Christian Schmid recreates the fervent Catholic belief of Anneliese Michel that she is possessed by demons. This true story of a young woman, tortured by demons, whether real or imagined will certainly spark passionate debate about whether she was indeed possessed (religion) or insane (science) and properly cared for or maltreated leading to her death as either preordained or simply criminal.

Michaela Klingler (Sandra Hüller) suffered from epilepsy and other psychological symptoms. She was treated for years but decided she was fit enough to leave her small village and attend university in Tübingen. She enjoys dancing, flirting, her first kiss and first boyfriend, all new experiences. One morning Michaela is found on the floor of her room by her friend Hanna (Anna Blomeier) so she can no longer hide her illness. She tells Hanna that she had an epileptic fit even though she had taken her tablets. What she failed to explain was that before passing out on the floor, Michaela could not keep hold of a rosary given to her by her mother, nor could she touch the cross that hangs on her wall. Since strong medication does not stop the voices Michaela hears or allow her to practice her faith, she concludes that she is besieged by the devil. She seeks help from her village priest who is skeptical but introduces her to a younger priest who believes she should be exorcised.

Sandra Hüller won best actress at the Berlinale for her performance and deservedly so for expression of her demons through her body, her voice, and her palpable fear. Whether an outside evil force or inner terror, Michaela’s suffering is so all encompassing, so horrible and intense that she does not survive. Was she insane or a sacrifice to her God? This film is not just for those who have a passion for pictures, but for anyone who finds passion in life - take time to indulge!