Tuesday, April 7, 2015

KINO! 2015 Contemporary German Film Festival

KINO!, a celebration of contemporary German films, returns to New York for its 36th edition, setting up shop at Cinema Village in the West Village for the second year, April 9 - 16.

Selected from across the great expanse of different genres and from seasoned directors and newcomers alike, this year's edition features 10 features and 8 shorts, including new works from Christoph Hochäusler (The City Below, I am Guilty), Christian Zübert (Three Quarter Moon) and TV veteran Uwe Janson, as well as from rising stars Baran bo Odar (The Silence), Philippe Lienemann, Stephan Altricher and Neele Leana Vollmar (Vacation from Life).

In addition to the screenings, there will be panel discussions at Goethe Institut and Deutsches Haus for Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery and The Lies of the Victors with filmmakers attending.

KINO! 2015 runs April 9 - 16. Please visit Kino! 2015 website for more info and tickets.

Here are samples of five films I was able to catch:

The Lies of Victors
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Christoph Höchhausler's latest is a sleek, taut political thriller in the vein of All the President's Men and Z. Florian David Fitz (also representing Tour De Force in the series) plays a hotshot reporter named Fabian who had established himself with his Afgan war coverage for the fictional Berlin magazine Die Woche (The Week).

He is digging up some dirt about PTSD and toxic poisoning in vets returning from tours in Afghanistan. He is assigned a new perky intern Nadja (Lilith Stangenberg) to help him out by his editor-in-chief. Fabian who has always worked alone, resents her company at first and throws some unrelated story at her to investigate. It turns out that the story of a man who threw himself into a lion's cage has a connection with his PTSD story. But is he getting played by everyone? Is Nadja really who she says she is?

Without ever using car chases or gun fights, Höchhausler creates an engrossing thriller. Fabian doesn't really know that a powerful firm representing a big German chemical company which has ties with the politicians, is watching his every move and feeding false leads, every step of the way. And when Fabian realizes the fact, it's already too late.

With stylish back and forth dolly shots and 360 pans and a Howard Shore resembling, tense soundtrack (expertly arranged by Benedikt Scheifer), The Lies of the Victors is a sumptuous neo-noir experience.

Beltracchi: Art of Forgery
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This documentary tells an exciting story of master art forger, Wolfgang Beltracchi, who claims to have forged over 300 paintings by 20th century masters - Max Earnst, Heinrich Campendonk, Fernand Léger and others over 35 years. He's no mere copy artist. What's impressive about this long haired, affable aging hippie is his ability to convincingly forge 'new' paintings of those said artists' 'gap years' through meticulous research and craftsmanship thus tricking even the scholars and specialists of the art world.

Beltracchi and his accomplice/wife Helene, played the art market well, and made millions without getting caught until recently. Beltracchi not only illustrates the brilliant conman's career but also tells the sweetest love story ever told.

King's Surrender
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A taut police thriller starring Ronald Zehrfeld (Barbara, Phoenix) and Misel Maticevic (In the Shadows). They play members of a tight knit special unit SWAT team. The country under austerity measures, things are tightening up even in the police headquarters. Some of the special unit resort to taking bribes.

After a bungled raid, team members are dropping like flies in what seems to be execution style revenge killings. Hot-headed Mendez (Maticevic) calls for blood while Kevin (Zehrfeld) digs deeper into corruption inside their unit and up the chain of command.

These testosterone filled, wayward cops involve themselves inadvertently in a conflict between local gangs and that proves to be a fatal mistake. With great cast, tense atmosphere and heart pounding suspense, King's Surrender is a gripping policier that rivals any Hollywood production.

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Stephan Altricher directs a modern day retelling of Don Quixote in Schmitke. Schmitke (Peter Kurth) is a middle aged wind turbine engineer who dreams of being in the forest, away from his city life filled with jack hammers and traffic noises. Every morning he listens to the news of the discovery of a man who's been living in the forest alone. This so called Bear-Man is apparently refusing any help from authorities and only longs to go back to the forest. But being a prototypical German engineer who takes pride in his work and efficiency, Schmitke doesn't really buy into spiritual mumbo-jumbo that his daughter who just got back from India, talks about or the Bear Man.

He gets a chance to go into the mountains in the Czech Republic for maintenance work on a wind turbine, a model he practically designed, which stopped working. With his young, slacker assistant Tomas (Johann Jügens) in tow, he drives to the small mountain town.

Upon arriving, they notice an unending loud noise that sounds like a constipated dinosaur coming from the mountain. It turns out to be coming from the creaky wind turbine in question. But whatever he tries, the turbine is not responding. After getting icy receptions from the townsfolk and sleepless nights at the local inn, our engineer discovers that Tomas has disappeared. From a sexy local business woman Julie (Helena Dvorakova), Tomas was last seen talking about some mystical power of the forest and Bear Man. Schmitke's wild goose chase begins.

The yearning for nature and the process of giving into something bigger than yourself against reason takes a center stage in Schmitke. Kurth's plays the title character straight with his stone face and matter-of-factness which works well in this droll comedy. Shot beautifully by Cristian Pirjol in the Ore mountains of the Czech Republic, and with amazing sound design by Paul Wollstadt, Schmitke is a great surrealistic comedy.

Who Am I: No System is Safe
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In the wake of North Korean hackers scandal, Baran bo Odar (The Silence) offers a fast paced, slick cybercrime thriller Who Am I: No System is Safe. It starts out with our unreliable narrator, Benjamin (Tom Schilling, looking like young Edward Norton) turning himself in to authorities, telling how it all started. Ben is a socially awkward, self-admitted misfit, who grew up in front of the computer. He is recruited by a group of fame seeking hackers and together they build CLAY (acronym for Clowns Laughing At You) with clown masks from his grandma's house.

They hack into various financial systems and pharmaceutical buildings, mostly for laughs. But more than anything, they want their cyber idol MRX's approval, whose driving mottos are 1. No system is safe, 2. Aim for the impossible, 3. Don't limit your fun to the virtual world.

They hack into German cybercrime unit to impress MRX but it turns out that MRX has other plans when it comes to eliminate the competition. Now the crew doesn't think the fame is worth risking their lives.

Co-scripted by his writing partner Jantje Friese, bo Odar creates a tension filled, cat-and-mouse thriller with lots of twists and turns. Elyas M'Barek (The Wave, City of Bones) plays charismatic Max, Hannah Herzsprung (4 Minutes, Beloved Sisters) plays Marie, the love interest and great Danish actress Trine Dyrholm (The Celebration, A Royal Affair) rounds up the top notch supporting cast as the seasoned Europol investigator. Who Am I is a superbly created entertainment. Hollywood should recognize bo Odar's talent sooner than later.