The Stars and Bars: Where have I Seen that Déjà Vu? By Dinko Tucakovic

in 57th Berlinale

by Dinko Tucakovic

Stars, filmmakers and directors became involved in independent film production at a very early stage, in 1919 to be precise. Almost a century later the pressure of studios and markets has changed the contemporary scene. Berlinale 2007 is a testament to this new age of cinema that’s heading towards an inexorable digital transition and proclamation not that “Gott ist tot” (God is dead) but that the auteur is dead! On the other hand, the least visible and promoted part of the festival has been film history itself. In the program “City Girls” (Frauenbilder im Stummfilm) the highlights including the restored version of Hamlet by Asta Nielsen, the Arthur Penn retrospective and the illuminative presence and restored masterpiece of R.W. Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz. However, these were in the shade of hammy performances like Jennifer Lopez in Bordertown or something else which cast a giant shadow.

But let us remain with the Berlinale program. The opening film was La Môme (La vie en rose) but haven’t we already seen Edith and Marcel and Piaf? First Déjà vu? Is this one only for the DVD generation and, like War and Peace, digestible only for housewives? The female lead in The Good German definitely draws allusions to Fassbinder’s muse Maria Braun with a nod to The Third Man also. The Brazilian film The Year My Parents went on Vacation (O ano em que meus pais sairam de ferrias) is too much like Kusturica’s When Father was away on Business for comfort. Cannes palmares? Much too obvious?

Quoting, essays or recycling…or film history starts from scratch. One should admire the complexity of Clint Eastwood’s Letter from Iwo Jima or Paul Schrader’s The Walker, both out of competition. When they have added some new chapters to their work, Dali and Cocteau have claimed that genius is always quoting himself or making a self-portrait.

Even 300 is another brick in Frank Miller’s wall. Sin City meets ancient Greece. Drop dead Oliver Stone. Poor Robert de Niro badly needs a good director or producer, and Jacques Rivette and Jiri Menzel at least need a script because there is not a good one here because Balzac and Hrabal were not in the trade of screenwriting and the novel is not a film, although there have been novels like film, and vice versa. So what we can do? Give a hand to Irina Palm or support the bravura of Dame Judi Dench and demoiselle in distress Cate Blanchett (in Notes on a Scandal)? Or we can see film art as a life, like evolution, continuity and not necessary revolution and the rediscovering of hot water.

The encouraging moments this year were the blooming of new auteurs, in the XIX and XX century sense, and not only the workers in the dream factories of today. Sarah Polley with Away from Her, similar to Egoyan, or Julie Delpy (with Two Days in Paris — Deux jours à Paris) like Woody Allen, have announced themselves like producers, writers, actresses, directors — artists. Auteurs. Antonio Banderas, on the other hand, has a lot to learn and Steve Buscemi needs to work on more personal stories than re-makes. I would also not miss the opportunity to mention two Serbian entries: The Trap (Klopka, Forum) — the second film of Srdan Golubovic, a transitional film-noir, and also Goocha (Guca!), second feature by Dusan Milic — a trumpet western dedicated to Raoul Walsh.

There is also some good news from Israel, with the rising star Ohad Knoller performance in Beaufort and The Bubble with both, symbolically, taking Israeli cinema out of the bubble. The East is still wild, particularly if you see I am a Cyborg But That’s OK (Saibogujiman kwenchana) by enfant terrible Chan-wook Park, and Desert Dream (Hyazgar) by slow and talented Lu Zhang who has discovered once again the varieties of the planet that we are sharing. Not to forget Lost in Beijing (Ping guo, by Yu Li) — by being lost in this years entropy of Berlinale’s programs. 2 (two) is certainly bigger than 1 (one), but 300 or 2007 is not necessarily bigger then 2 (two), or even 1 (one).

Entropy, industry, and sleeping… On the disappointing side, it appears Fassbinder is not reappraised in the most appropriate way 25 years after his death and Arthur Penn just had a nice chat with the brilliant DP Robby Müller, and City Girls has remained mute. The Berlinale, just like our jury of FIPRESCI, has been more receptive to the mainstream. Sometimes I had to envy the colleagues of mine at some moments during screenings. Maybe that is what the future of film criticism is all about — to see with eyes wide shut? Here it would be appropriate perhaps to quote Pasolini or rather his A Thousand and One Nights fairy tales: “The truth is not in one but in many dreams!”

There is an old joke about Déjà vu — but you have heard that one. You know. Déjà vu…

Or maybe it is for the best to remain silent like the heroes of In Memoria di Me, one of the best events of the festival. After sound (in Dolby digital) and fury (of CGI FX) the rest is the silence. So let me finish with the prophetic words of Jane Fonda, but good old Jane from the sixties: “People in my generation all grew up hating Indians, objectifying woman, fearing ‘mobs’ and all that. Those filmmakers really knew how to manipulate people’s emotions. We have to learn how to move people but in another direction!”

And not to manipulate. The same goes to festivals. Including Berlinale. Same goes to FIPRESCI. Including Juries. Der Rest ist Schweigen.