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Oscar winning Austrian/German drama, The Counterfeiters, is one of the highlights of this year’s Festival of German Films, along with some tuff stuff as well as crowd pleasing comedies, reports Andrew L. Urban.

Following the world-wide success of movies such as the 2007 Foreign Language Oscar winner, The Lives Of Others and the 2008 Oscar winner The Counterfeiters, interest in German cinema is at an all-time high and the Festival of German Films (touring Australia in April) will ride this wave of interest – and screen the latter as part of its program.

“The Counterfeiters raises a number of moral and ethical dilemmas that may well have you discussing the film long after it has finished,” says Festival Director Klaus Krischok of the Sydney based Goethe-Institut. “Based on a real account by a Holocaust survivor, the film explores the secret currency counterfeiting unit established by the Nazis during World War II and the Jewish prisoners selected to work in this unit.

"national pride"

“Of course there is a bit of national pride involved in all this, but the Oscars aren’t everything. What matters more is the very steady and healthy output of engaged, eclectic, entertaining and sometimes controversial stories from Germany and German speaking countries. Those are stories with a specific German accent, but stories and films that become relevant to audiences outside our country as well. This does not only relate to history or wartime dramas. The Goethe-Institut tries to reflect just this in the festival selection,” Krischok says.

Now in its 7th year (and with Audi on board as major sponsor), the 2008 Festival will premiere some 10 new features including the hit comedy Where Is Fred?, and the acclaimed drama The Edge Of Heaven, starring German screen legend and muse of the late Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Hanna Schygulla. Directed by Turkish born German filmmaker Fatih Akin, the film is a “potent drama … captures all the pathos and surprise of life itself, as chance, fate and consequences impact on relationships in Germany and Turkey,” says our critic Louise Keller.

Border of Despair, Duel In The Night and The Calling Game are all tuff stuff movies, the latter based on a novel about a young woman caring for a mute, dying mother between shifts at the local laundry, who places the most unusual prank calls to strangers. She pretends to be a toddler. But when the little girl ‘dies’, her disturbed fanatasies start to unravel. Superb performances from Valerie Koch and Esther Schweins as a woman who befriends her without realising the truth make this unusual film highly engaging.

The latest works from some of Germany’s hottest filmmakers including Andreas Kleinert, Felix Randau, Miguel Alexandre, multi-talented actor/director Til Schweiger and Hans Weingartner, who directed 2004’s critically acclaimed The Edukators, will also feature in the Festival’s program.

German superstar, Jürgen Vogel (Rosenstrasse, Life Is All You Get, A Friend Of Mine, Emma’s Bliss) will be a guest of the Festival to introduce his latest movies, including Rabbit Without Ears, a sparkling comedy which took $27 million at the German box office. “At the age of not even 40,” says Krischok, “Jürgen Vogel looks back on more than 20 very successful years – and has become somewhat of a household name in Germany. We will feature a total of six movies with Jürgen Vogel: You can see him in Naked, as the teacher in the The Wave, as the inspector in Duel in the Night, as the best friend in Where is Fred? …as a lost soul in Shattered Glass – and as himself in Rabbit without Ears. Juergen will be available for Q&As, talk on panels and surely enjoy his first visit to Australia and the Aussie enthusiasm.”

‘ve haf vays of making you laff’

The Festival is clearly aiming to reach mainstream audiences, hence the inclusion of several comedies (‘ve haf vays of making you laff’); as well as Where is Fred? and Rabbit Without Ears, the program also includes Special Escort (Stellungswechsel), a crowd pleaser about some blokes whose necessity gives birth to the idea of forming an escort agency of men for women. Recruiting men at places like the employment agency, gives the film a sense of the ridiculous which serves it well.

As for Rainer Kaufman’s Runaway Horse, there is an edgy tension to the film that boasts four terrific performances from Ulrich Noethen, Ulrich Tukur, Katja Riemann and Petra Schmidt-Schaller. Two very different couples who come together by accident on a summer holiday at Lake Constance, discover raw truths about each other. Seduction and dysfunction provide the conflict.

This year, the Festival will launch the inaugural ‘Golden Gnome’ Award for which audiences will be able to vote on-line for their favourite Festival film.

Highlights of the 2008 programme include:

THE COUNTERFEITERS (Die Fälscher) Director: Stefan Ruzowitzky)
In 1936 Berlin, Salomon "Sally" Sorowitsch is the ‘king of counterfeiters,’ living a life of cards, booze, and women. But his luck runs dry when he finds himself in Mauthausen concentration camp, where he’s forced to produce counterfeit foreign currency in an effort to weaken the economy of Germany’s allied opponents.

BORDER OF DESPAIR (Die Frau from Checkpoint Charlie) Director: Miguel Alexandre
A gripping companion piece to the Oscar winning The Lives Of Others. Commencing in 1982, Border Of Despair tells the true story of an East German resident who is forbidden to visit her dying father in West Germany. This incident sparks her determination to flee East Germany with her children, in search of a better life, no matter what the consequences.

RABBIT WITHOUT EARS (Keinohrhasen) Director: Til Schweiger
When Ludo, a muck-raking Berlin reporter is sentenced to 300 hours of community service after a particularly scandalous escapade, he finds himself stuck in a crèche for eight-year olds. To make matters worse, the crèche is run by Anna, a one-time geek who hasn’t forgotten her humiliation at his hands when both were students at the same school many years earlier…

WHERE IS FRED? (Wo ist Fred?) Director: Anno Saul
Fred wants to marry Mara, but her spoilt son hates him! The only way to win the lad’s favor is to get him a basketball signed by ALBA-Berlin superstar Mercurio Mueller. And the only place to get this is the disabled patrons’ area where Müller tosses the ball after each winning throw. But when Fred, posing as a wheelchair bound fan actually catches the ball, the ensuing media hype forces him to lead an exhausting and comical double life.

DUEL IN THE NIGHT (Duell in der Nacht) Director: Matti Geschonnek
When a policeman is found dead, the detectives investigating the case are drawn into a complex world of politics, corruption, power and manipulation.

THE EDGE OF HEAVEN (Auf der anderen Seite) Director: Fatih Akin
A young German man of Turkish descent travels to Istanbul to find Ayten, the daughter of his father’s late girlfriend, unaware that she is a political activist who has fled to Germany in search of her mother. When a well-meaning mother and daughter befriend Ayten, events lead them all to Istanbul where their lives are irrevocably changed.

THE CALLING GAME (Die Anruferin) Director: Felix Randau
Trapped in a dead-end job with a bed-ridden mother to care for, a young woman resorts to ringing people at random, pretending to be an ailing young girl, in search of love and support. When she decides to ‘kill’ her fictional alter ego, she sets in motion a chain of events with unforseen consequences.

HEAD UNDER WATER (Der Freischwimmer) Director: Andreas Kleinert
In a small town, something terrible is about to happen. Nobody knows why, except for 15-year-old outsider, Rico Bartsch, who is hopelessly in love with Regine, the most beautiful girl at his school. But before circumstances change in Rico’s favour, several inhabitants of the town will die an unnatural death...

Published: April 10, 2008

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The Counterfeiters

Sydney: 16-27 April Chauvel Cinema & Palace Norton Street

Melbourne: 17-27 April Place Cinema Como & Palace Brighton Bay

Perth: 18-20 April Cinema Paradiso

Brisbane 23-27 April Palace Centro

The Edge of Heaven

Rabbit Without Ears

Duel in the Night

Where is Fred

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