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  • Christian Hain

Berlinale 2019 – Day 3: Business, Scenery, and a Homicidal Hamburger

(Berlin.) A new day, a new psycho-drama. Austrian language film The Ground Beneath My Feet might have been named for some well hidden link to Salman Rushdie’s 1999 novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet, but if that's so, it seems rather irrelevant. Lola (Valerie Pachner) is a lesbian woman in her early thirties (both partners don’t look like real life lesbians, with that extra-dose of testosterone provided by nature, but more like the pornographic fantasy type), loves her eighty hours per week job as a business consultant without a conscience, has a schizophrenic elder sister who's lately survived another suicide attempt, and now - potentially - starts to develop hallucinations of her own. A character deranged on all levels, you might think. Slowly, ever so slowly (seems like 120 is the new 90 this year, hardly a film with less than two hours running time at Berlinale), her world is falling apart and in the end, she will find herself alone in a hospital bed without lover, friends, job or any living relatives. And she never tried to crash the system, she always swam with the stream.

Marie Kreutzer tells her story very straightforward, without unexpected plot twists or surprising insights, and obviously without ever questioning the reduction of two sexes into one streamlined gender, or if women becoming men was really such a splendid idea (from a business consultant’s pov it definitely was).

WArts Verdict: You will surely understand, that this festival only has a future, if we rationalize your awards, please don’t be unreasonable now. – What? Who’s talking? And will somebody answer that phone finally, please?!

Norway is this year's featured country at efm – European Film Market, the important Berlinale hosted trade fair, and you cannot say, the festival wouldn’t care for its business partners. Meet Out Stealing Horses, the Norwegian entry in the festival competition.

The story is not overtly complicated: Around New Year’s Eve 1999, a pensioner returns from Sweden to a remote cabin in his native Norway, where he has spent an eventful summer with his father fifty years earlier. Step by step we are made familiar with the details of a tragedy that hit the neighbours family back then, namely a child playfully shooting his twin brother with an actual rifle when hiding from their elder brother whom the father had made their keeper that fateful morning. The tragedy affected our main protagonist rather a lot, his own father having shared a longstanding affair with the neighbour’s wife since common adventures in the Norwegian resistance to German occupation forces during WWII. There is a nice old-fashioned touch to the movie, and the last words on screen seem almost outrageous today: “You decide when it hurts” (first postulated by the father when teaching his son to barehandedly remove nettles from a flowerbed.) – No therapy sessions, and pills, then, like at all???

Comparable to Öndög, the true lead actor here is the scenery. Rural Norway is at least as beautiful as inner Mongolia (and the cold likewise motivated the locals to extensive trips around Europe in times past).

On the downside, another quote from the film also feels perfectly fitting and self-reflective: (not the exact words, but about:) ‘That river slowly runs its course, all the way down to Sweden.’ If not to Sweden, you believe you could at least make it to the next Ikea for a Billy shelf and a hotdog and be back in time before anything important happens. The story meanders along, ever so slowly. “Meditative” would be a more benevolent expression. And Out Stealing Horses will make you want to book your next vacation immediately, and to support the Norwegian film industry. Seriously: I did not dislike this film!

WArts Verdict: Out Stealing Horses will make you want to book your next vacation immediately, and to support the Norvegian film industry. You won’t dislike this film.

Fatih Akin’s The Golden Glove, based on a novel that is based on true events, takes us on a trashy, totally over the edge, horror-comedy trip to 1970s Hamburg and the deeds of serial killer Fritz Honka. I will spare you any stock phrases like “not for the faint at bla bla” here. Suffice to say, murder follows on binge drinking in the Golden Glove pub of legendary St Pauli red light district follows on murder follows on...

But in the first place, it’s a “Milieustudie”, the study of a particular sociological milieu, in this case: the Hamburg working class and more narrowly: the loser/drinker scene at its very bottom. Let me tell you this – and it should not deter you from a visit to the most beautiful German city, really not: These people do exist. In real life. In this world. As farcical many scenes and dialogues may appear, as grotesque these character may seem, they are not larger than life. Akin insists, the elaborated make up of his – absolutely funking brilliant - lead actor Jonas Dassler was indispensable, because Honka really had a mug like this.

The “freak show” however is alleviated by the most melodic, most likeable, of all German dialects, a circumstance that obviously is lost in translation/subtitling. Best imagine all these characters speaking your favourite accent (Scottish?), with the exception of Honka, whose Saxon German does not come by chance. In here hides the the movie’s only, small, message: Honka is the "Ugly German", even more so than the invalid former SS man among his drinking companions. Today, the state of Saxony enjoys a bad reputation for being rather backwards (putting it gently). In this context belongs a scene relating to the Greek family living beneath the killer's attic apartment, who suffers most from the bad body (/corpse) odours he's trying to keep at bay with little fragrant trees. His excuse, ‘those guest workers are cooking god knows what stinking filth in their kitchen’, would be considered a typical Saxon statement today.

1970s interiors and German “schlager” music also play an important role in The Golden Glove. Fatih Akin’s Turkish background might have influenced the portrayal of alcohol throughout the movie. In short: It’s evil. As soon as Honka stops drinking schnapps, he stops killing too. Certain Turks would even go so far and claim, the other way round were just as true: The first drop even will turn you into a serial killer. Akin of course is a worldly man, but he has a cultural background too.

It’s always sort of awkward to mention possible influences and similarities, as each viewer brings his proper media biography that may or may not match the director’s. It would not be very interesting to lengthily discuss Kaurismäki characters and the image language of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen here. But: There is a long-running, low budget, German comedy TV series, set in almost the same Hamburg milieu that goes by the name of Dittsche - The Truly Real Life. Who has ever watched this, can hardly keep his mind from transforming Honka into Dittsche (who is no serial killer at all!) in every single pub scene.

Oh, and last thing: If you call this "gore", then go and watch a true splatter comedy immediately. I’d recommend Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow (dang, and I was so proud of having restrained myself from citing this in the context of Out Stealing Horses... Norway and Nazis, you know).

WArts Verdict: Fun, but feels not original, and “arty” enough. Jonas Dassler is the best actor in competition (so far).



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