The Audi Festival Of German Films runs from May 3-6 at Cinema Paradiso. For screening info and tickets hit up lunapalace.com.au.
If your knowledge of the cinema of Germany is limited to some vague ideas about silent Expressionism and Leni Riefenstahl in the first half of the 20th century, or perhaps the Mittel-European arthouse surge of the ‘80s and ‘90s, as characterised by filmmakers like Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog, you are in sore need of some education. And what better way to get some than at the Audi Festival of German Films? It’s not just us saying it; new festival director Dr Arpad Solter is in complete agreement.
“The German films that we have selected are a wonderful method to enter a whole world of culture and language. You’ve got the subtitles and a couple of things are easy to understand and others are not - that’s why the subtitles are provided. But it makes it so much fun to listen to foreign language films. I do it myself sometimes, just to enjoy the sound of language, and sometimes I understand a couple of phrases and am encouraged to learn more.”
Of course, there’s more to the festival than a crash course in linguistics. Now in its 11th year, the festival is one of the most popular culture-specific film events in Australia. As Dr Solter explains, “It’s a public/private partnership; we are supported by many sponsors. It’s a very enthusiastic family out there, and very importantly, it’s an Australian baby: there’s an Australian jury selecting these films, and I am part of this jury. But the majority of the film critics are Australian based: Richard Kuipers in Adelaide, Peter Krause from Melbourne, and we’ve got a couple of others involved in the festival who do introductions, like Eddie Cockerill, who was the film critic for MOMA in New York. So we’ve got a couple of VIPs out there, and that’s what we’re here for: to show the best films from Germany and also from Switzerland, and they’re all contemporary stuff. You don’t find it anywhere else.”
Anyone expecting a strict diet of po-faced arthouse fare is in for a surprise; the festival encompasses an impressively broad sweep of genres. “I really aim at providing a whole festival in the strictest sense of the term,” Dr Solter states. “There’s supposed to be something for everyone; you’ve got the arthouse movies, you’ve got the controversial and experimental stuff like Combat Girls, you’ve got the crowd pleasers sticking out like Men In The City 2 and Summer In Orange, short films of course, and something for the teenagers among us, for the ones who stayed young forever. So we tried to really present a variety. We’ve got psycho films, we’ve got thrillers, we’ve got a sci-fi movie and a horror movie, even a Swiss horror movie - isn’t that surprising?”
That Swiss horror film is Michael Steiner’s Sennentuntschi, a harrowing tale of the supernatural and the weight of the past set in an isolated mountain village. As for the science fiction offering, Hell, it comes with a bleak premise and something of a Hollywood pedigree.
“Hell is a fantastic movie,” Dr Solter says enthusiastically. “It’s actually been produced by Roland Emmerich - he’s our guy in Hollywood. He’s produced big blockbuster hits like Independence Day, so he really knows what he’s doing. Hell describes a scenario where the world has gotten a little warmer; there is not more petrol, there are no more trees, there are gangs out there - Australians will probably be reminded of the Mad Max series. It’s a post-apocalyptic, post judgement day film. It’s already got an Australian distributor, so I’m really excited about this film, and I think it’s coming up really strong.”
Also on offer is the haunting, human war story 4 Days In May, by writer/director Achi von Borries. Set in the closing days of World War Two, the film deals with a tense stand-off between a Russian unit and a German detachment holed up in an isolated orphanage, and the intersection between duty, pragmatism, and morality.
Those seeking something lighter will find the coming of age story The Crocodiles 3: All For One worth a look, if only to see the typical tropes of youth comedy-dramas filtered through German cultural sensibilities. And for anyone looking darker, more cerebral fare, Christian Schwochow’s Cracks In The Shell charts similar territory to the acclaimed Black Swan, tracing as it does the psychological disintegration of a shy actress unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight.
It’s understandable to ponder if there’s much of an audience for German language films outside of their native soil, what with the dominance of American cinema, but Dr. Solter denounces the notion that these gems will go largely unwatched.
“Hollywood is the big juggernaut out there. Hollywood always plays the role of King Kong; nobody can beat Hollywood. But you know what? There is an audience out there looking for something else, looking for different approaches, different methods, different themes, and there’s a large audience in Australia. We’re expecting 26,000 people to buy tickets for the Festival in 2012.”