17th Annual Berlin & Beyond Festival
by Renata Polt
Back in the day—like, in the 1960s—movie-goers lined up to see the erotic Swedish sensation “I Am Curious Yellow” or the latest films by Antonioni or Fellini.
Where are those lines, or the equivalent “foreign” films, now?
At film festivals, for those of us lucky enough to live in towns and cities (which by now is a lot) that host them.
Among these is San Francisco’s Berlin & Beyond Festival, specializing in German-language films and playing September 27th to October 4th at the Castro Theater. Most of the festival’s 27 films (including a program of shorts) come from Germany; the rest are Austrian or Swiss. The festival’s sponsor is the Goethe Institut.
The festival opens with “Barbara,” directed by Christian Petzold and starring Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld as doctors working in a provincial hospital in 1980 East Germany. Each has been sent there as punishment for a professional or personal infraction. Hoss’s Barbara is tightly wound and initially hostile to fellow-doctor André’s attempts at friendship. Apparently helpless against the constant spying and invasive searches she’s subject to, she nevertheless, against all odds, has a plan to escape to the West–a plan that comes more and more in doubt as she gets involved with her patients and, possibly, with André (Zehrfeld). “Barbara,” Germany’s entry for best foreign-language Oscar, is due to open commercially in the US.
Directed by Russian Alenxader Sokurov but with German dialogue, “Faust” is a modern adaptation of the legend of the man who wants total knowledge, immortalized by Goethe and Thomas Mann. The film features a performance by Hanna Schygula, the legendary German actress who starred in many films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Fassbinder is also featured in a revival of his 1981 film “Lola,” a tribute to von Sternberg’s “The Blue Angel.” “Lola” stars Barbara Sukowa, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and Mario Adorf.
Adorf, who will attend in person, is the subject of a tribute, which will include “The Tim Drum” (1979), “Ship of the Dead” (1959), and his new film, “The Rhino and the Dragonfly.”
Among the festival’s documentaries is the Swiss film, “The Substance: Alfred Hofmann’s LSD,” directed by Martin Witz. The film traces the history of the development and use of LSD–diethylamide of d-lysergic acid–from its accidental discovery by Hofmann in Switzerland in 1943 and his explorations of its use in medicine and psychiatry to its promotion by Timothy Leary (of which Hofmann disapproved) and its prominence in the 1967 “Summer of Love.” Though Witz lingers a bit too long over that delirious time, the film overall is a serious history of a substance that is still being investigated for its medicinal uses, such as in the treatment of cancer patients.
Another Swiss doc is “Whore’s Glory,” directed by Michael Glawogger. Focused on prostitutes in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Mexico, Glawogger reveals the degradation of their lives. However, the film’s piling on of misery after misery eventually becomes paralyzing rather than enlightening. The film played briefly in San Francisco earlier in the year.
I hold out more promise for “Audre Lord: The Berlin Years: 1984 to 1992,” a film about the lesbian African-American poet’s life teaching and writing in Berlin.