It might be a new museum exhibition, or something at the opera, symphony, or ballet, or it might be something I've (we've) seen on the street. Whatever it is, it's a quick review and impression of what's captured my thoughts for the moment.

Vier Minuten Berlin and Beyond Festival

Arthur is taking German lessons at the Goethe Institut in San Francisco. He is, I think, being impelled in this direction by a couple of things: a trip to Switzerland with all of his father and step mother's families in July, and by having met my relatives in Straubenhardt, Germany. None-the-less he's doing a good and diligent job of it. As a part of this education, he decided to go to several performances of the Berlin and Beyond Festival, at the Castro Theater, in San Francisco.

This film by director Chris Kraus is about two women in extremis. The first is Traude Krüger, played by Monica Bleibtreu. She is a true heroine, having taught music at a women's prison in Berlin since the end of the war. The other is an antiheroine, Jenny, played by Hannah Herzsprung. The focus is clearly on these two women with the exception of a social/cultural wannabe, played by Sven Pippig. The question addressed is "who am I?" and "who shall I be?" Frau Krüger centers her public life on beauty, music, manners, and propriety. Jenny (one wonders if she is based on Kurt Weill's song, Poor Jenny) is the opposite, a convicted inmate ­ a murderer no less, and a social misfit.

Both of these women have been deeply affected by their times. Both have done heroic deeds, and both have participated in horror. Traude, as a noble nurse during the war abandons the men and women suffering around her, and Jenny, the presumable killer and sociopath has participated in nobility and beauty. All of this is in contrast to the guard, who serves as somewhat of a social catalyst and reactionary, who only wants to acquire a veneer of cultural acumen, but not to participate in the moral struggles associated with its acquisition.

In the end it is the true self that wins out, that irrepressible sense of what we are. Oddly enough the names of the actresses (Bleibtreu [Remain true] and Herzsprung [Heart spring]) serve as honest clues as to the make-up of the characters they serve.

The film looks as though its director, Chris Kraus, has studied at the feet of Krzysztof Kieslowski. Quick cuts, focus on detail, and the quality of the score all seem familiar aspects of his film-making. This is in addition to wonderful photography. Grim brick, and lush countrysides are treated as treasures for the eye. Indeed, the faces of the actors are treated with equal respect, the collective effect of their deeds and experiences clearly displayed and exploited. The action is taut, and there is precious little moralizing or even interpretation. Events are presented as just that ­ events. These moments propel and repress all of the actions and the futures that the characters have experienced, or will experience.

This is a wonderful film, and worth your while, should you ever be able to find a screening. Netflix?




Archive of Previous Reviews

MTH 1/24/07
Return to home page