Tag Archives: Bruno Ganz

61st London Film Festival – Day 7


A film by Sally Potter with a stellar cast is always going to be a winner. The Party is one such. By modern standards, quite short – it runs for 88 minutes and was shot in two weeks. This is a political thriller with a twist. Kristen Scott Thomas plays Janet, a married woman whose whole life has been devoted to politics and the Party; her husband, Bill, Timothy Spall has evidently supported her along the path, and finally she has made it to the top.

Bill is monosyllabic for most of the film, and yet it is a very powerful performance, in some ways it is he that is the central character, not Janet. Mr Spall brings this off quite marvellously.

So a small group of close friends are celebrating, but the rooms are full of secrets.  Lives are imbalanced and are about to unravel, so this is both a tragedy and also comedy, at times extremely funny. There are moments of shock, frequently de-fused by a caustic aside from Patricia Clarkson, who plays April one of Janet’s true friends. April is married to Gottfried, lugubriously played by Bruno Ganz as a mystic faith healer, the relationship between them is clearly close, though she is impatient with his endless aphorising clichés. Many moments between them made the audience laugh.

There is a lesbian couple, one of them, Jinny has just discovered she is with child, April reminds her each time “children”, as she has announced that she is having triplets. This sudden addition to coupledom freaks out her older partner, Martha. This couple, played by Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer are both conflicted and yet very solid together.

Finally there is a drug fuelled financier…

Filmed in black and white, on a single set – three rooms in a terraced house, mostly interiors (kitchen, bathroom and sitting room) plus a small terrace garden – it is closely and superbly observed, and the gradual reveals that rupture the party mood are both immensely disturbing (to the individuals) while seeming extraordinarily funny to the audience.

The music is unusual, there is no “sound track”, Bill plays an endless series of vinyl records, good jazz and this shows quite subtly his life, and the way it has changed. In the Q&A afterwards, Sally revealed that they were her vinyls…

This will be in Picturehouse Screens almost immediately – I strongly recommend it, possibly followed by A Comedy of Terrors!


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59th London Film Festival Day 5

Two more films, I am not sure I have the stamina for three films a day now, I returned my evening ticket to someone in the “stand-by” queue!

11 RAn American film from the THRILL Section by Director Atom Egoyan called Remember. Two elderly men meet in an old people’s home. (Do you remember Aimée et Jaguar?) Zev (Christopher Plummer) is physically well but is suffering from dementia, Max (Martin Landau) is wheelchair bound, but greets Zev as an old fellow sufferer from the camps. On the death of his wife Ruth, Zev’s condition worsens somewhat, but Max sends him off to seek out a man he has identified as a camp guard. Unfortunately, there are four Germans living in the United States and Canada under the same (and presumably assumed) names, variously played by Bruno Ganz, Jürgen Prochnow and Heinz Lieven, there is another who has already died but Zev has an encounter with his son.

This film has a great cast, a compelling, if unlikely, story and will be praised and damned in equal measure, I suspect. It is controversial and to my mind, irresponsible. Both the screenwriter and the director have a back-story of their own that might be a justification for making this film the way it is; many people with a real back-story belonging to the characters in this film may agree with the premise (may even wish they had thought of it themselves) and many, many people will ask – can you justify another story about The Holocaust which has no basis in believable fact?

11 GCThe second film of the day was equally hard hitting. Another Danish film with a searing look at Danish history. Gold Coast comes from the JOURNEY Section and covers a short period towards the end of a period when the Danes controlled a section of Africa’s west coast, the Gold Coast in fact. Our main character is called Wulff, (Jakob Ofterbro) he is a visionary plantsman who arrives in Africa with the aim of starting a coffee plantation. We meet him first in dire circumstances, and then backtrack a few years to his arrival in 1836, full of joy and hope.

What he finds though is rather different. Although forbidden by decree, he discovers that the slave trade continues (who knew that the Danish Government were involved, heavily committed in fact, to the slave trade? Not many of today’s Danes, it would appear.) After an encounter with a hostile Ashanti people, Wulff travels inland to another outpost of Danish sovereignty to meet Richter (Wakefield Achuaku), Richter in spite of his name has strong ties with the Ashanti (the actor’s surname gives you a clue); an agreement is reached that Wulff will no longer be harassed by the Ashanti, so his project thrives. But recovering from a fever, he sees from the walls of Christianberg, a slave trading mission.  Distraught he goes to the Governor and gets permission to take action against Richter. While this is taking place, the Governor dies and his place is assumed by another Dane, who recalls Wulff. Wulff chooses to ignore this summons, eventually successfuly raids the castle stronghold and releases the slaves and takes Richter back to the new Governor Dall.

This all goes wrong…but the colour of Richter’s skin in an important pointer to the realities of the slave trade, one which hardly ever gets a mention…

Apologies, I haven’t has time to proofread this.

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BFI Gothic Season – Nosferatu in 1922 and 1979

For two months the British Film Institute is running a series of Gothic horror movies, ranging from FW Murnau’s Nosferatu of 1922 up to the most modern Gothic thrillers like The Shining, The Mummy series, The Woman in Black and so on. The marvellous thing about this series is that is all inclusive, so one can see FWM’s version of Nosferatu and a week later see Werner Herzog’s masterly re-working of the same story, nearer still to the original novel by Bram Stoker: Dracula.

To put them in context, Friedrich Murnau is regarded as one of the finest German film-makers of the early twentieth century, his stature in the silent era of German film making is without parallel, since he was making films very different from the early comedies of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. German Expressionist films of that era, although highly stylised and using very imaginative and mystical scripts, have come to represent some of the finest work of the period. Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, Golem: How He Came into the World right through to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and M. All of them use shadow and mirror to great effect. Probably the most famous image from Nosferatu is Count Dracula’s shadow creeping across a wall, claw-like hands spread out towards his victim.

The story of Dracula is now pretty well known and in fact was still in copyright when Murnau made his film, for which he was sued by the Stoker family estate and lost, thereby bankrupting the film studio, who never made another film. So even though FWM had altered the story somewhat, changing names and situations, it was still recognisably the same story. The fact that Bram Stoker himself was using fragments of folklore and binding them into a single narrative was to not let FWM off.

By the time Werner Herzog made his film, homage, remake, refresh or call it what you will in 1979, he was able to return to the original story, so although his film owes much to FWM, it follows more exactly the novel from which the ideas came. But with some significant differences. In the Herzog version, Jonathan Harker (played by Bruno Ganz) is a strong, strapping German mensch; unfazed by dire warnings from good burghers and gypsies alike, he looks as though he could cross the Carpathian mountains on foot, which cannot be said of the same character in the original who is a bit of a wimp.

The imagery and the music are tremendously important, parts of Wagner’s Rheingold music fill your ears as Jonathan Harker sits in the fading light, under the very ramparts of the ruined castle, before climbing the last steps towards his doom. Count Dracula’s carriage which collects him on the other side, the dark side you might say, is to all intents and purposes a glass hearse drawn by four black horses, lacking only the feather plumes for full effect.

Popul Vuh wrote much of the music, as he had done for Aguirre, Wrath of God, another Werner Herzog film about the corruption of power, also with Klaus Kinski, who plays Count Dracula. While Jonathan Harker is a full-blooded mensch, his wife Lucy is played by Isabelle Adjani, almost bloodless even before she has met Dracula.

The performances are universally brilliant, the make-up superb, a blue-black Count Dracula with his extended teeth and fingernails seems the very embodiment of the Undead: tortured, blood-hungry – there is a marvellous scene (in both films) when Jonathan cuts his thumb on a knife, and Count Dracula swoops on it to suck the blood. The truly terrifying enactment of Lucy’s sacrifice gives Klaus Kinski a moment of sheer brilliance, the slurping, sucking sound of his feast at Lucy’s neck manages to be both electrifyingly horrid and deeply erotic at the same time.

The story winds its wounding way from Transylvania to Germany in both films, the principle differences are camera angles, and of course colour. In black and white the rats look black, in colour they are lab rats, white-ish and pink eyed, and thousands of them. You have to keep reminding yourself that this is not CGI, there are literally thousands of rats in every shot once they have escaped from the ship…a miraculous piece of filming.

The final close-up shot of Bruno Ganz, after Count Dracula’s death, and once he has assumed the dreaded mantle is an amazing transformation, for the make-up has created another Dracula much like the first, and all unknowingly has also created Hitler, in the much later film Downfall, also played by Bruno Ganz nearly 30 years later.

The film ends with Jonathan Harker’s Dracula galloping across the sands to the sounds of that most glorious of all Sanctus, the swooping Sanctus of Gounod’s Messe Solomnelle.

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