Thursday, 16 September 2010

'The Dispensables' review/The start of the Cambridge Film Festival...

Venice is now a thing of the past and I have just landed at another film festival: Cambridge Film Festival. It starts today at the Arts Picturehouse and I will be working as one of two sub-editors on the daily paper here. I had hoped to watch the opening night movie, the next Luc Besson film 'The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec'. But instead I have been roped into presenting the on-stage Q+A tonight for the first film in the festival German Cinema Season: 'The Dispensables'. I'll be talking to director and writer Andreas Arnstedt about the movie... and so I better end this now and write down some questions...

I'll fill this entry out by putting my review of the film here, an expanded version of one published in today's daily:

The Dispensables, which played as the opening of the German Film Season here at the 30th Cambridge Film Festival, is the debut feature written and directed by Andreas Arnstedt – a well-known TV actor in his native country. Set in contemporary Berlin, it is the story of those who fall through the cracks of society – focussing primarily on one working class family. It is a universal story of poverty, that its director told me has been best received in festivals in some of the world's poorest countries (notably winning top prizes in Sao Paulo,Brazil).

It is the complex and uncomfortable, true-life tale of a boy who,fearing life in an orphanage, continues living with his father's corpse in their squalid flat. It shines a light on problems not
normally associated with the cities of Europe's most affluent nations – but which is actually always right under our nose, unreported. As a result, the film has been a tough sell in Germany (and currently has no distribution deal outside that country). Arnstedt was in fact forced to fund the film entirely out of his own pocket, and the great personal attachment he has to this story is evident and sincere.

Traumatic events in recent German history are in the background here, but often go unaddressed, from the neo-Nazis in the street, to the old man still fighting the Second World War with an army of garden gnomes. There is a socially satirical streak here and some black comedy, in this gritty social drama that feels more similar to something offered by Ken Loach or even the late great Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Arnstedt's idol), as opposed to anything else in recent German cinema.

Told from the perspective of the young boy, Jacob (Oskar Bökelmann), the film goes backwards and forwards in time with some considerable skill. The transitions are seamless and flow naturally, whilst the narrative line is always coherent. The film is a real triumph of editing, and perhaps a genuine fascination with film editing is the reason for the film’s running joke about the superior editorial skills of Steven Spielberg.

There are some really good performances here too, especially from the actors playing Jacob’s parents, André Hennicke and Steffi Kühnert. Hannicke manages to portray the temperamental “master painter”, Jürgen in a way which is sympathetic, despite the jarring physical abuse he inflicts upon his family. There is always a pitiful sadness behind his eyes. Kühnert is better still as Jacob’s alcoholic mother, Silke, never straying into cliché or playing the victim.

The Dispensables is tragic, gritty and unflinching, yet also moving without ever verging on sentimentality. It is also made with style and confidence uncommon in a debut feature.

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