We don’t usually equate a people as methodical, ordered, in control and dispassionate as the Germans as one with a film industry to take notice of, not when films are about messy things like emotions, tension, adventure, hearts and minds. We’re more used to seeing film festivals about countries where they revel in their passions, fears and joys like Spain, Italy and France.
To paraphrase the People’s Front of Judea, what have the Germans ever done for film audiences, aside from Run Lola Run? One only has to listen to the gnashing of Guillermo (Pan’s Labyrinth) Del Toro’s teeth after The Lives of Others scooped up the Beast Foreign Film Oscar this year. Or there’s the adaptation of Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, with the biggest budget of any German film in history.
The German film industry is indeed making a contribution to world cinema, one festival director Christian Dorsch describes as ‘a discovery trip through the German film landscape’.
The Festival of German Films will go some way to dispelling the myth about Germans as cold, calculating people. But only some. There is an intriguing no-nonsense order behind many of the films on offer in the festival in their direction, pacing and performance.
A classic example is Valerie, the debut effort by director Birgit Moller. Valerie is a young, waifish model used to a glamourous but vacuous existence of drugs, champagne, ritzy hotels and wealth.
We meet Valerie on the cusp of a freezing Berlin Christmas when the work and — worse — the money has run out. She doesn’t have enough to pay her hotel bill, or get her car out of the parking garage.
Soon reduced to skipping taxi fares, eating strangers’ food in restaurants and trying to swindle one last job out of her increasingly disinterested colleagues, Valerie isn’t an uplifting tale a la Pursuit of Happyness complete with Accredited Hollywood Suffering. It’s a detached study of a life spiralling quietly out of control in one woman’s mind as she finds herself in circumstances for which the world has no care or answer.
There’s little introduction or resolution; in that uniquely Germanic way we’re just told with ruthless efficiency what’s going on and left to make of it what we will — even whether Valerie will survive.
The opening night film is the critically revered Vier Minuten (4 Minutes), winner of 8 awards at the prestigious LOLAs, and depicts a piano teacher who teaches prison inmates, finding a prodigy in a convicted serial killer.
Running over four days, the Perth program includes eleven of the most popular films from the program, including the erotic jealousy tale Summer 04, Yella — the Berlin Bear-winning film about a woman in search of a better life who hardly dares for it when it starts to happen, and Eden, a story about the sensual effects of food on a young café waitress.
For the first time in Perth, the Festival of German Films 07 is produced by the Goethe-Institut Australia and screens at Cinema Paradiso from April 26-29.