art feature
  October 7, 2011

 

Kansas International Film Festival Encores
Reviewed by Dan Lybarger

The Kansas International Film Festival (KIFF) frequently brings terrific movies to town that wouldn’t play here otherwise. Sadly, the films frequently only play once and then leave local screens for good.

This time around, however, five choice offerings will be playing at the Fine Arts Group theaters and are worth catching if you weren’t able to attend KIFF. For more information, go to www.fineartsgroup.com.

Silver Tongues

Lee Tergesen and Enid Graham play a couple that go wandering from town to town playing mind games with everyone they encounter. With a pair of newlyweds, they say that they’re interested in swapping. When they go to a church, one pretends the pastor is embezzling from the collection plate, while the other pretends to be a cop trying to clear the reverend’s name. Throughout all their adventures, no money is taken, and nothing is missing but their audience’s pride. Because the motives for their deceptions are only hinted at, Silver Tongues seems even more eerie.

Tergesen and Graham have a ball switching gears at a moment’s notice, and it’s certainly fun watching them do it. Writer-director Simon Arthur winds up teasing viewers the same way his characters toy with their victims. Curiously, it’s actually a satisfying experience. (N/R, some profanity and sex) Rating: 4

Vincent Wants to Sea

The opening for this one is with the price of admission. During a quiet and somber moment during his mother’s funeral, young Vincent (Florian David Fitz, who also wrote the script) bursts in to loud blasts of profanity and has to be escorted out of the church. It turns out the lad can’t help it because he has Tourette Syndrome, which also causes him to have debilitating tremors.

His unsympathetic father (Heino Ferch), who works as a shady political operative, places the lad in a mental institution where Vincent bonds with a young woman (Karoline Herfurth) with anorexia and a fellow (Johannes Allmayer) whose obsessive compulsive disorder winds up driving everyone else insane.

The three steal their doctor’s (Katharina Müller-Elmau) car and head to Italy to bury the ashes of Vincent’s mother. Most of this German film is played for laughs, but director Ralf Huettner treats his characters sympathetically. Even the abrasive father has a heart buried under all the cynical bluster. (N/R, but probably would earn an “R”) Rating: 4.


Habermann

A German factory owner named August Habermann (Mark Waschke) believes that because his family has run the local sawmill in the Sudetenland section of Czechoslovakia for hundreds of years, he, his workers and his family are safe from the rise of the Third Reich.

With several decades of hindsight, it’s safe to say that he doesn’t know what’s coming. His factory is loaded with both figures in the Czech Resistance and informers happy to rat out the others to the Nazis. In addition, neither Habermann nor his wife (Hannah Herzsprung) know that her biological father was a Jew. Some of the villagers, however, do and exploit the fact.

It’s not a spoiler to reveal that the real Habermann was murdered because there’s still some mystery about how he died and where his remains ended up. Waschke is compelling as a man whose sense of noblesse oblige clashes with the brutal reality of Nazi rule. It’s hard to be a generous aristocrat when you’re surrounded by greedy amoral Nazis and understandably vengeful Czechs.

Some of the other story strands aren’t quite as well developed, but it is refreshing to discover that there are apparently copious engaging tales from World War II (N/R). Rating: 3.5

Berlin 36

Like Habermann, Berlin 36 is a fact-based, German language drama. But whereas the former story seems all too credible, Berlin 36 initially seems outlandish. In the run up to the 1936 Olympics, the Nazis have a PR problem. Their best women’s high jump competitor is Gretel Bergmann (Karoline Herfurth), who can easily set records with her polished technique and desire to win. That said, every time she gracefully clears the pole, she debunks the myth of Aryan superiority because she’s a Jew.

The Nazis can’t drop her from the team or the Americans will walk out of the games, and the German women simply can’t hope to compete with her unless she breaks a leg. In a moment of desperation, the Germans locate a strange girl named Marie (Sebastian Urzendowsky). She walks, talks and dresses oddly, but her raw talent is just a little shy of Gretel’s. Because she’s a misfit, Marie and Gretel quickly become friends.

Of course, the reason that Marie doesn’t move or jump like a girl is because she isn’t one. Director Kaspar Heidelbach presents the unlikely relationship in a matter-of-fact but touching manner. The two protagonists want to be accepted even though the society around them isn’t worth fitting into. Because Herfurth and Urzendowsky play off each other so well, it’s easy to overlook the outlandishness. In addition, the real Gretel Bergmann appears toward the end along with photos of Marie. Not only did Bergmann survive the war, she’s still with us. There are some historical alterations (this is a drama), but the heart of the story is still there. (N/R) Rating: 4.5

Beautiful Darling

While Andy Warhol had a fascinating life and career, he surrounded himself with several equally intriguing if not nearly as famous people. One, the drag queen Candy Darling, was the star of many of his experimental films. She’s the subject of an engrossing documentary Beautiful Darling.

Born James Slattery, Candy Darling’s act was so intriguing those even serious dramatists like Tennessee Williams wrote roles for her. Because she looked like a glamorous woman but not quite, she was often more fascinating to watch because she moved and acted in a way a biological woman might not.

She longed to be a Hollywood diva, but Warhol and his studio, known as the Factory, wouldn’t and probably wasn’t able to pay for her services the way Louis B. Mayer could pay for Joan Crawford’s or Jean Harlow’s.

Although Candy Darling only lived to be 30, she left an indelible impression on everyone who met her. In Beautiful Darling, filmmaker John Waters and writer Fran Lebowitz vividly recall her even though she’s been dead for nearly 40 years. In fact, she’s the “Candy” Lou Reed sang about in “Walk on the Wild Side.”

The most touching aspect of the film is watching her friend Jeremiah Newton, who’s credited as a producer, taking steps to find a final resting place for her. After all these years, he still misses her, and he also recorded hours of audiotapes where he interviewed people who knew her, including Williams. (N/R) Rating: 4 (Posted on 10/07/11)

Dan Lybarger can be contacted Lybarger@efilmcrictic.com.