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Germany 'In July'

Fatih Akin's amusing and upbeat film opens an L.A. salute to German cinema that includes standouts 'No Place to Go' and 'The State I Am In.'

November 02, 2000|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Made in Germany," the inaugural L.A. festival of German cinema, opens Friday at the Music Hall with the U.S. premiere of Fatih Akin's amusing romantic road adventure, "In July," in which a pretty, free-spirited Hamburg street merchant (Christiane Paul) named July persuades an uptight student physics teacher, Daniel (Moritz Bleibtreu), to buy a ring engraved with the Aztec symbol for the sun.

All that Daniel has to do to find true love is to come across a girl wearing the same symbol. Unaware that July is smitten with him herself, he is soon pursuing a beautiful young Turkish woman on an eventful journey to Istanbul. At 100 minutes it's a bit long-winded, but it's an upbeat choice with which to launch the festival, whose primary sponsor is the Export Union of the German Cinema.

The festival has two standouts as stunning as they are bleak: Oskar Roehler's "No Place to Go" (Saturday and Monday at 7 p.m.) and Christian Petzold's "The State I Am In" (Tuesday at 7:45 p.m.). In the first film Hannelore Elsner gives a grand diva performance, galvanizing and unsparing, as a middle-aged writer, long in exile in England and now living in Munich, whose life crumbles along with the Berlin Wall.

A famous, once-celebrated leftist novelist, Elsner's Hanna Flanders is on an odyssey that finds her precipitously moving to Berlin to be with a former lover who is now with another woman and has never encouraged her to come. Elsner gives us, in this striking black-and-white film, a woman of fierce pride, a drug-abusing chain-smoker who wears dramatic outfits and a bizarre rather than flattering out-sized Dutch bob wig. This defiantly self-deluded woman has brought about her own dire fate, but there is something admirable about her stubborn, uncompromising courage as she approaches the abyss.

Reminiscent of the American film "Running on Empty" but tougher and terser, "The State I Am In" presents Clara (Barbara Auer) and Hans (Richy Muller), political terrorists who've been on the run for more than 15 years and who currently are in hiding in a Portugal beach resort. At long last, just when a safe and secure life with some form of legal status awaits them in Brazil, the slightest of slip-ups throws them into jeopardy.

Most inconveniently for fugitives, they have a 15-year-old daughter, Jeanne (Julia Hummer, as indelible a presence as Elsner above) who is ripe for love and rebellion. Like Elsner's Hanna, Clara and Hans have become politically obsolete without fully acknowledging it. In "No Place to Go" and "The State That I Am In," whose titles could be interchangeable, it is clear what the 20th century has exacted from the German people.

In contrast, Lenard Krawinkel's sweet-natured, gently humorous "Sumo Bruno" (Sunday at 10 p.m. and Tuesday at 5 p.m.) is about a 400-pound man (Hakan Orbeyi) who finds his destiny as a sumo wrestler and romance with a lovely dance teacher with an overweight adolescent son who bonds with him. Also screening are Veit Helmer's "Tuvalu" (Sunday at 5:30 p.m. and Monday at 9:30 p.m.), which the American Cinematheque presented last March, and Joseph Vilsmaier's "Marlene," which closes the festival Nov. 9 at 7:45 p.m. and which was included in the Hollywood Film Festival in August.

The enchanting "Tuvalu" is a nearly wordless fairy tale with an intricate sound design and imagery that recall the jaunty, absurdist works of Eastern European animation that suggest the universe is an antique machine in the process of falling apart. "Marlene" is an entertaining though conventional biography of that most unconventional woman, Marlene Dietrich, who is played quite convincingly by Katja Flint. German festival, (213) 896-0954; Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills.

*

The Laemmle Theaters' "Documentary Days" continues with Jeremy Spear's irresistible "Fastpitch," in which Spear, a New York conceptual artist who played baseball at Yale, joins Ohio's Ashland Bombers, a hardscrabble softball team. Among many memorable characters is Nick McCurry, whose struggle to keep his team going on next to nothing contrasts with Peter Porcelli, a flashy, affable Florida tycoon with such deep pockets he sets out to buy the team of his dreams. If McCurry represents the best, most innocent aspect of baseball's past, Porcelli stands for the money-is-everything present of big-time sports. A lovely, disturbing film, it screens Friday and Saturday at 10 a.m. at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., (323) 848-3500; and Nov. 14 and 15 at the Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica, at 11 a.m., (310) 394-9741.

The late Timothy Carey (1925-1994) had a vivid screen presence, never more so than in his rarely screened homemade epic, "The World's Greatest Sinner" (1958-61) in which he played, in his own words, "an Elvis Presley who becomes a Billy Graham who becomes a Father Divine"--a man who calls himself God and ends up believing it.

It's a work of primitive art, pretty awful by strictly conventional standards, a hick morality play whose incoherence mirrors the confusion of the mind of this longhaired, heavy-lidded Satan in satin suits. The American Cinematheque screens it Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Egyptian Theater, 6712 Hollywood Blvd., as part of a weekend tribute to Carey. His son Romeo will appear with "Sinner" and present 30 minutes of his documentary, a work-in-progress on his father.

Information: (323) 466-FILM.

*

The second annual Polish Film Festival, which runs Tuesday through Nov. 16 at the Monica 4-Plex, has a gala invitational opening Monday at the Directors Guild, 7920 Sunset Blvd., with a screening of "The Cardinal," starring Andrzej Seweryn as Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. The closing-night screening at LACMA is "Man of Iron" (1981) by Andrzej Wajda, well-represented in the series with some of his earlier rarely seen films. Polish festival information: (818) 982-8827.

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