German Films Undo Stereotypes at DIFF 2017

There was a ‘German Focus’ at this year’s Durban International Film Festival. Ten German films were screened as part of this focus. Lien Heidenreich-Seleme of the Goethe-Institut explained that the institute’s goal was to ‘undo stereotypes through visual storytelling’. There remained a general impression, said Heidenreich-Seleme, that German cinema was highly political and serious. The new filmmakers wanted to break that stereotype.

Well, I think they did a good job. I saw three of the ten and can recommend all of them. Humour, sensitivity, quirkiness, captivating cinematography and unique storytelling featured in various degrees in the films I watched.

Goodbye Berlin is the story of two fourteen-year-old boys (Tshick and Maik) who form an unlikely friendship one summer. Both social outsiders, the boys have absent/no parents and look for belonging and to be special to someone. They take matters into their own hands when they fail to be invited to a popular girl’s party, steal a car and set off across Germany in search of some mythical place. Along the way they forge a friendship that will ostensibly last a lifetime, discuss deep life issues, and develop a confidence that (Maik certainly) didn’t have before.

Another film that centred on friendship was The Most Beautiful Day. In this story two men in their thirties dying from incurable diseases meet at a hospice. Throwing caution out of the window the two go on a stealing spree, trade in the goods for cash and then set off on an African adventure. Apart from death the story touches on other sensitive issues like love, courage, commitment and treasuring what is important. But it never gets sentimental. A little silly in places The Most Beautiful Day is nevertheless very funny and – of interest to South African viewers – features a strong South African element.

Paula is an altogether different film to the two above and tells the story of German painter Paula Becker. Paula was a free-spirited young woman in the early 1900s, determined to do the unacceptable for women, which was to: paint for a living and paint in her own unique style. She did this, eventually. The story of Paula’s art is told in parallel to her personal love life. The sexual tension throughout the film is evident and forms an integral part of why (according to the storytellers in this film) Paula painted what she did. Carla Juri who played Paula was absolutely brilliant and the cinematography throughout its German countryside and Paris setting flowed beautifully.

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience of the German Focus at the 2017 DIFF. I only hope these features make it to the mainstream cinema circuit in South Africa.

Source: IMDB

Pirates of the Caribbean number 5…an enjoyable conclusion

The latest Pirates movie is great. It is less confusing than the previous films, funny, full of action, and has a satisfyingly conclusive ending.

It starts off hilariously with a ‘bank heist’ and a tipsy and, as usual, useless Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) who narrowly escapes beheading by guillotine. Shipless and crewless Sparrow is nevertheless still in demand.

Intersecting story characters include Salazar (a cursed, ghostly foe from Sparrow’s past) who sails the Flying Dutchman (a ghostly ship), Barbosa (a living foe) and Henry Turner (son of Will Turner). All of them need Sparrow: Salazar (a marvellous Javier Bardem) for revenge for Sparrow’s defeat of him many years prior; Barbosa (Geoffrey Rush) for a special map and the magic compass; and Turner (Brenton Thwaites) for help finding a magical treasure. A very clever and determined woman, Carina Smyth (Kaya Scodelario) also enters the mix. She figures out how the map works and joins up with Sparrow and Turner. The three, together with Sparrow’s absurd crew, ‘resurrect’ The Black Pearl and set sail.

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Money, Monkeys and Serendipity

Serendipity is “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way”.

This is something I experienced on a recent trip to the UK. And then again when I returned to my home. Both after some, shall we say, trying circumstances.

In a wintry December London, my daughter and I set off from our residence to visit two museums in the centre of the city. After walking 15 minutes to the underground train station daughter realised she didn’t have her travel card with her. While she was contemplating spending her last pounds on an expensive day ticket I popped into the WH Smith to buy a magazine and realised I didn’t have my wallet with me. Now we were in a quandary. Putting our loosely screwed heads together we debated what to do, when – serendipitously – my son-in-law arrived at the station on his way to work. After hearing our pathetic story he opened his very thin wallet, preparing to give us his meagre spare change, when – serendipitously – I happened to glance over at an ATM machine just two metres away from us. There, lying on the ledge of the machine was a ten pound note. Honestly. The previous customer must have accidentally dropped it after drawing money. And there it was. In our moment of need. But we hesitated. Well, daughter and I did. If we took it wouldn’t that be – er – stealing? Son-in-law had no such qualms. He gave us his change, picked up the ten pound note and went on his way. And we, happily, resumed our journey to the museums.

Fast forward a month or so and I was back in South Africa enjoying my mum’s matchless Christmas cake. This cake is made and given to me every year after many weeks of hard work and bottles of brandy. I love it. Unfortunately, so does my husband. I have begged and pleaded with mum to make us our own cake each but she refuses. And so, after 25 years of marriage I have devised a way of dealing fairly with this issue. I cut the cake exactly in half and each half goes into a separate tin, one half for each of us. Neither of us is allowed to touch the other’s cake after that. One afternoon I was working away in my home office when I heard a commotion. I ran through to the kitchen and there was a large monkey helping himself to (my husband’s) Christmas cake. Honestly. It opened the tin and then – when it saw me bearing down on it yelling and waving my arms – it took off with the cake and vanished through the back door. I couldn’t believe it. The precious Christmas cake was gone. I couldn’t possibly tell mum about it. Two minutes later husband arrives home and I start telling him how a monkey just stole his cake when I realise that – after our tense history – he must think I was lying. That I must have scoffed his cake and then pretended that a monkey stole it.

Obviously playing on my mind, a couple of hours later, eager to venerate myself, I went out the back door to check if, by any chance, the cake was anywhere. And there – serendipitously – lying on the roof was husband’s Christmas cake. The monkey was gone. I was so excited I leapt up on a plastic bin nearby, promptly putting my foot straight through the lid. Limping off with the lid stuck around my limb I found a ladder, climbed up sensibly and retrieved the – largely unharmed – cake. I gave it a quick dash under the tap and trimmed off all the sides and put it back in the tin. All was happily restored.

I’m not sure why the monkey dropped the cake. Perhaps it was too heavy to carry far. Or maybe the Vervet didn’t like brandy. Whatever, I know that with only teetotalling, lightweight monkeys around the only competition I have for the cake is inside the house.

Undressed: a brief history of underwear

Boobs up, hips out, bottom in! Wait, boobs up, yes, but hips in, bottom out…Actually, boobs flat, waist tiny, hips and bottom streamlined. Hold on, I’ll have bigger chest area, round waist and big thighs. Nah, stick it, I’ll go with boobs up, good cleavage, tiny waist and… concealed everything else.

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Plane, Train and Automobile to Scotland

Heigh ho, heigh ho, it’s off to Scotland we go, with our online check-in and hand luggage only, heigh ho, heigh ho, heigh ho, heigh ho”. This was the bravado and happiness my group of five felt as we exited our London accommodation at 6.15am on 27 December 2016. We were off to Edinburgh! Once up north we would pick up a pre-booked hire car and travel to countryside Comrie where we planned to spend a few days before returning to London. We would get to the airport with about 50 minutes to spare.

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The letters of Edinburgh airport. Photos: Brenda Daniels

The letters of Edinburgh airport. Photos: Brenda Daniels

The smiles we exchanged on the train to the airport turned quickly to nervous lip biting when we saw the security queue. The one we had to join was packed with shuffling customers while the “fast track security” avenue was invitingly empty. Cheerful airport attendants issued instructions to: put liquids in minute plastic bags; close those tiny bulging bags; donate items that didn’t fit in those tiny bulging bags to the bins provided; remove jackets, coats, hats, scarves, boots, belts, keys, laptops, mobile phones (basically unpack and undress) and lay these items next to each other in the too-small plastic trays for checking. I was the first of our group to make it through to the other side so snatched up my belongings and galloped through the terminal in search of boarding gate information. This was difficult. I hadn’t repacked and redressed properly so my trousers were falling down and my boots were tripping me up. Also, there was no boarding gate information. Mainly because the gate had already closed.

It was also a mistake to leave the rest of my party. We all became separated into three groups. While charging through the airport each group thought the others had made it to the aeroplane and that they were the only ones left behind. Gnashing of teeth at the thought of being the only ones to miss out. Eventually, security personnel shepherded us all through the “return-to-the-other-side-because-you-missed-your-flight-and-start-all-over-again” channel. (You won’t miss it; it’s the one teeming with slumped-shouldered, dragging-feet people.)

Well, we did make it to Scotland. Eventually. (We drove). Needless to say we had learnt our lesson. For our return flight from Edinburgh airport we smugly arrived over two hours ahead of time. Naturally, the first thing we saw on the boarding gate info board was “flight delayed indefinitely”. Apparently there was freezing fog in Munich. More gnashing of teeth. The airline did ease our discomfort, though. By giving us each a refreshment voucher to purchase something yummy. The vouchers were worth GBP 3 each. Because of all the extra time on our hands we read up on passenger rules and rights. We discovered that you can claim from the airline if your flight is delayed by over three hours. We counted down the minutes once we were on the plane and were gleeful when we landed back in London three hours and ten minutes late. We are currently awaiting millions in compensation. (Once we figure out where on the website to claim.)

Comrie was lovely by the way.

Happy times at Crieff, near Comrie in Scotland. Photo: Roxanne Daniels

Happy times at Crieff, near Comrie in Scotland. Photo: Roxanne Daniels

 

My Father’s War

I have often found South African films difficult to watch. Perhaps because of a shameful predisposition to think they are second rate. Probably because of a strongly felt desire not to watch more of what I live and see every day around me. My Father’s War is difficult to watch. And it is deeply South African. But it is certainly not second rate. And it tells a unique, brave story. One I could strongly identify with.

The tale revolves around one family’s struggle to deal with the after-effects of the 1980s South African-Angolan bush war. David Smit (Stian Bam), the main character, was a soldier in the war but now, 20 years later, is married, has a grown-up son and works for a security/guarding company. He still suffers from post-traumatic syndrome and has a terrible relationship with his son Dap (Edwin van der Walt). Dap resents David’s absence over the years and is critical of his father’s participation in an “apartheid-fuelled” war. But something strange begins to happen to Dap: he starts having dreams about David’s role in the war and even appears in the scenes alongside his father. It is through these dreams that Dap learns to understand how much his father loves him, and how much the man went through in combat.

So many aspects of the war’s portrayal and its resultant effects rang true for me. David worked in Iraq after the bush war before becoming a bodyguard in South Africa, not unusual for a former soldier in this country. The war scenes accurately depict assault-rifle gunfire, “black-is-beautiful” face cover up, Afrikaans and English speaking soldiers, Black and White men, Portuguese soldiers who had defected to the South African side, helicopter drops and the African bush. David’s PTS manifests as hypersensitivity to gunfire-type noises, anxiety, insomnia, anger and confusion, again not uncommon in former soldiers. I quizzed my husband, a bush war soldier himself, after the movie. His answer: “It sounds like my life.”

Although the war was obviously firmly grounded in politics My Father’s War manages to remain unpolitical. It is a film about people and one viewers from different sides of the political spectrum will watch and appreciate. One negative: I found the home scenes just a little too angst ridden. Other than that, My Father’s War is a touching, extremely well-made, sensitive and brave movie.

My Father’s War releases at cinemas in South Africa on Friday 5 August 2016. It is rated 10PG.

National Arts Festival Grahamstown: A Perspective

On the first day of the festival, A Feast of Tales watched Breaking the Wall, a show which set the scene for our day ahead. In this two-man theatre piece the actors did a good job of making the audience feel uncomfortable by presenting issues of race in a humorous yet confronting way by periodically addressing us directly, thus ‘breaking the fourth wall’. By contrast, Whistle Stop was a flawless, tense, well-elocuted show in which the two actors expressed their thoughts in soliloquies. Those thoughts revolved around their attraction for one another, thoughts laden with emotion, conflict and sexual tension, displayed through movement and the use of one stage prop: a bench. Our lighthearted entertainment of the day was Brothers Streep: Stand up Musicians Plugged, a musical in which a band sang originals like the Steri Stumpi song, Intermission and the Day after Christmas, poking gentle fun at a variety of things. Not so lighthearted was Comedy Masterclass by Durban-based Aaron McIllroy. This seasoned actor-singer ‘taught’ his audience the do’s and don’ts of what appeared to be his autobiographical journey with comedy and music. The ‘comedy’, while reflecting the actor’s great versatility, ended with the sombre Charlie Chaplin piece, Just Smile.