Evan and Rainer - Fall 2008 - Amherst, MA


After a day straining my eyes at the Bundesarchiv with microfiches detailing debates about film as a “kulturpolitisches Instrument,” it was nice to go to Potsdam and catch up with a friendly acquaintance.

Rainer Simon, one of the most prominent DEFA directors in the 1980s, invited me over to his art-bedecked apartment to talk shop and watch the World Cup.

While I hold much of our conversation in strict confidence, I can say he’s doing quite well:  he was at a film festival in Guadalajara, and intends on re-visiting Mexico via Ecuador this fall if all goes right.  He also foresees being in the U.S. for an extended stay in 2011, which may mean his films will be screened wherever he’s at.  As a foreign director working in Mexico, he finds himself revisiting Sergei Eisenstein and his “failed” project ¡Que Viva México! (1931), which never does one harm to do.

At a certain point, the match between Brazil and North Korea began, such that we spent the next 90 minutes gaping at the television as the rare spectacle of the tightly coordinated North Korean defense pitted against the Brazilian powerhouse offense unfolded before our eyes.  We naturally rooted for North Korea – Simon: “Ich stehe immer auf der Seite der Außenseiter.” – and were sad for their 2-1 loss.  Nevertheless, we found it so poetic that they posed such a strong resistance for the first 65 minutes of the game that we forgot the renewed geopolitical dispute over the 38th Parallel N the country’s leaders have offered us in recent months.  Then again, we are all captivated by immaculately kept soccer fields amidst a South Africa stricken by the horrific economic and social consequences of neoliberal capitalism.  So it goes.


Lady Snowblood (dir. Toshiya Fujita, 1973)

The classic “child of vengeance story”: a woman’s family is killed by four evil people, so she murders one and bears a child for the express purpose of having the remaining three killed.  Kill Bill (2004) extensively references this film, but let’s not dwell on that.  Instead, our attention should be focused on the intense shock edits demonstrating the revenge-obsessed psychology of the protagonist (cf Lone Wolf and Cub), the simple-yet-effective fight choreography (cf Seven Samurai) and the different philosophical paradigms embodied by the antagonists (cf El Topo).  A masterwork of generic excess.

Les Vampires (dir. Louis Feuillade, 1915)

I remember watching this French serial back at the University of Iowa in the summer of 2001 and wanted to see if it was as good as my memory of it.  It is.  Though the pacing of individual scenes runs against modern viewer expectation (i.e., we spend a long time watching actors walking all the way into buildings, across roofs, etc.), the mise-en-scène is still quite stunning, with multiple fields of action and a coherent delineation between them all.


Much of the last week has revolved around the largest international student film festival in Europe, sehsüchte 2010, held in Potsdam-Babelsberg for five days in April.  I did the English translation for the festival, so I was very much involved with its organization from the very beginning.  But eventually I moved from being hunched over German text on my computer to hauling hay bales for the Once Upon a Time in the West set for the opening party.

The festival itself was wonderful – being able to mingle/party with international filmmakers in view of their recent work is a recipe for my happiness.  The organizers, my fellow HFF students, did their absolute best to deliver an excellent experience, only to encounter what many filmmakers run into as well:  technical difficulties.  I don’t think sehsüchte could’ve had a more sympathetic crowd.  And in light of last night’s mad live electronica band mayhem, that crowd became very sympathetic indeed…

The Fantasy section details some of the notable films I viewed and my thoughts about them.


Assume all dates of release to be either 2009 or 2010. As a measure of self-indulgence, I am including my English summaries of the films.

The Last Day of Bulkin I.S. (Posledniy Den` Bulkina I.S, Russia)

“When Ivan Sergueevich Bulkin innocently opens the door one day, a strange official stands before him and tells Mr. Bulkin he must die today.  He tries all kinds of tricks to escape his fate.  Yet for every movement he makes, the unbidden guest can nevertheless read the corresponding passage in the screenplay of Bulkin’s life in advance.”

An humorous bit of contemporary fantasy with a twist.  The opening shot with the ceiling fan reminded me much of the opening of Murder My Sweet (1944), which seems only appropriate given the material.

Columbus – Love Machine (Germany)

I fell head over heels for this music video (actually most of the music videos were breathtaking on the big screen — this should be a regular occurrence) – space islands, power armor and a keyboard duel, all in HD.

Hinterland – Voixmusik (Austria)

A highly parodic Austrian rap video that nicely depicts where the line of whiteness lies.

Prayers for Peace (USA)

“Prayers for Peace is a stop-motion animation about the personal memories of the director Dustin Grella on his brother Devin, who died in the Iraq War.  With pastel colors painted on a chalkboard, a unique visual style comes into being that gives expression to the fragility of life and the senselessness of war.”

The personal narrative of this film makes it stand out.  The soundscape reminds me quite a bit of I Met the Walrus, which only leads me to encourage more use of found audio as a basis for animation.

Superhero (South Africa)

“A superhero wakes up in the desert and can’t remember what happened to him.  A small boy helps the crippled superhero because he firmly believes in him and his powers.  When his memory slowly returns, he has to face the fact that he’s anything but a hero.”

Beautifully shot in a mine waste dump, this film reinforces why comics are going to save the world through their fictionalization of reality.

Silver Girls (Frauenzimmer, Germany)

“They work in the oldest profession in the world and are themselves made of “old iron.”  Three Berlin women give a glimpse into the business with their bodies.  Their everyday lives are surprisingly bourgeois.  A documentary about happiness and self-respect – and about the search for an orgasm.”

An extraordinary documentary with an intimacy rarely found in today’s sarcastic culture vis-à-vis sex and old age.  74 minutes which you won’t forget.  Deservedly won Best Long Documentary at the festival as well.

Exactly the Same (Genau Gleich, Germany)

“Andrés’ new girlfriend Anna threatens the inner relationship between him and his twin sister Alina.  Alina cannot accept her brother’s newfound happiness, since she wants to share him with nobody.  Alina has to painfully learn that loving also means letting go.”

One of the best explorations of incestuous inclinations I’ve seen on the silver screen. I subtitled the film, and hope it runs at more festivals!