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08/02/2007

Breathless 2

A poor "Casablanca" clone: Steven Soderbergh: "The Good German" (Competion)

It's not often that there are whistles in the auditorium. And less often are they so deserved. A good German maybe, but definitely not a good film. Pitched as a romantic thriller set in postwar Berlin 1945 and filmed used the camera technology of the time. In Soderbergh's hands this has turned into a poor "Casablanca" clone (complete with farewell scene in Berlin's Tempelhof airport), filmed no doubt in the contemporary conviction that Nazis and war and Berlin always go down a treat. Which they don't. This story about a war correspondent called Jake, who's in Berlin hoping to meet up with his pre-war love, Lena, but who's being hunted by the secret police, is as bland as malt coffee. Naturally there are a few secrets that are revealed over the course of what is almost two hours, but only the Russians and the Americans are eager to find them out; the audience has long since lost interest.

No one would contest that the black market, secret agents, and rocket scientists have potential. But what is the point of this uninspired look into the past, a story about the problems of doing the right thing in a bad situation which has been told so much better long before Soderbergh, before the war, yes, even before the Nazis? The film is supposed to look old, yet George Clooney and Tobey Maguire look like newborns. Fresh off their Learjets, on a direct flight from LA international 2007 to Berlin 1945. The only member of the cast who looks the part is Cate Blanchett, after what must have been hours in a Marlene Dietrich lookalike workshop. But nothing can save this lame duck, not even the attempt to sweeten the critics by making the hero a journalist. Steven Soderbergh, George Clooney, do us a favour and come back to the 21st century. Or think twice before you come back to Berlin, whether that's in 1945 or 2007.

Christoph Mayerl

"The Good German": Regie: Steven Soderbergh. Mit George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Tobey Maguire und anderen. USA 2006, 108 Minuten



Sympathy, yes. But not in bucket loads: Olivier Dahan's "La vie en rose" (Competition)


Edith Piaf is a national sanctum in France and Olivier Dahan is the sort of guy who could be counted on to show his respect by taking a huge hammer and knocking off the layers of ornamental plasterwork which have accumulated over the years. Edith Piaf, as we discover, never ceased to be the scabby-kneed kid from the gutter, even as a dying diva, who like a miserable and defenceless brat tyrannised everyone around her. The film circles around these two poles. There is no time for a life in the middle - for growing up - in this film. Dahan shows Piaf as a street singer, who runs away from her absent mother and her drunk of a dad. And it is father figures who adopt her and turn her into a star. Edith Piaf had to be steered, had to be shepherded, at the end by an entire entourage of carer-assistant-managers. She never seems to feel at home in the world of glamour into which she is gradually singing her way, and she only ever seems truly happy when performing late at night for the drunks in a brasserie and when she falls in love with Marcel Cerdan, the boxer, who prefers to eat raw meat sandwiches to French roasts in fancy restaurants.

Dahan had to do something with Piaf's enchanting songs and all her voice above all, he had to find images for something that is actually best enjoyed with closed eyes. He had to sidestep the general consensus that yes, Piaf does actually sing beautifully. Dahan's way out is confrontation. We see illness, suffering, physical pain, poverty, we seen smeared make-up, trembling hands, spilled champagne, bloody morphine injections. Piaf is not beautiful, she's sickly from the start, and even her voice sounds more piercing than enchanting in everyday life. And then there are the songs, thirty or so of them, which are scattered throughout the film, sometimes in the form of a grand performance. The film thrives on this tension between sound and image, and it also thrives of course on Marion Cotillard, who seems to be more Edith Piaf than she was herself. Cotillard's Piaf is an imp, who is always a stranger in her surroundings and who constantly pokes fun at her flunkies and fans and their adoration that she needs as desperately as her daily injection. She destroys all traces of festivity with her tragic jokes, interrupts stilted upper-class ambiance with her outrageous dirty laugh and tries to put a spanner in the works wherever she can. She doesn't manage it often. She has to sing and she has to perform. Cotillard's face says it all without words: when relaxed it is the face of classical beauty. When it moves, we are back in the brasserie in Paris, with the losers, from where she wrenches her mentor to train her for her huge career. Every time she moves, Piaf puts her foot in it and offends. She never gives up trying, but her attempts get ever fewer. She does not like this life of hers, and she doesn't know what else to do except sing.

Sympathy we certainly have for her. But not in bucket loads. And this is not because Edith always tries to keep Piaf at an arm's length. Of course it's not long before she can escape no more, and at night on her deathbed, her blue eyes no more than black puddles, everything that was once separate mixes together. Sound and image, Edith and Piaf, misery and deity. A moving but not saccharine film which one should certainly see on the big screen, and if possible, with a glass of very dry red wine.

Christoph Mayerl

"La vie en rose": Directed by Olivier Dahan. With Marion Cotillard, Sylvie Testud, Gerard Depardieu and othere. France, UK, Czech Republi, 2006, 140 mins (Competition)


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