Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 11, 2009 10:09 pm 
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Young director Stuber excels with explosive tale of pampered students who get out of hand

This accomplished hour-long first feature is set at a posh German boarding school. We know it's posh because it's in a dramatic mountain castle and there's a beautiful mountain lake; the photography shows a good eye, especially for what to show off and what not to show completely. The subject, after all, is something we never quite see -- not so much what's happening at any moment as the situation's growing potential for danger and violence. The scenes, often broken off abruptly, have an explosive, improvised feel that keeps you watching.

Four bad boys led by the bold, dominant Dyrbusch (Niklas Kohrt) form a kind of pact surrounding a nearby "dacha" hangout where they expound Nietschean fantasies and drink shots and snort crystal meth. Dyrbusch's second self is Bogatsch (Michael Ginsburg), who seems manifestly inferior, but brims over with sympathetic hostility and aggression. Konstantin (Franz Dinda) is just naive and curious. Von Leibnitz (Janusz Kocaj) is strange, needy, an outsider, but also brilliant, an aristocrat, perhaps of homoerotic appeal to the leaders with his soft looks and long hair. Though all four, drunk, after bathing nude, threaten a girl called Vaneska (Stephanie Schönfeld), with possible rape, Konstantin and Von Leibnitz have second thoughts and from then on a dangerous dynamic of conflict arises. Plainly two of the bad boys aren't bad enough to suit the other two. Von Leibnitz becomes the all-too-willing torture object of the two boldest and most psychopathic boys; Konstantin, having second thoughts, wants to opt out.

A big, paunchy, but nicely dressed teacher-mentor (Michael Schweighöfer) is the only authority figure seen. He tries by a show of ease and self-confidence to mask the fact that among these moneyed delinquents he may not have the last word. Events do turn tragic and in an unexpected and ironic manner.

The story has familiar elements; the outline has strong echoes of Young Torless. But the telling has a raw contemporary feel. There's a fresh sense of danger and near-hysteria about many scenes -- something tricky to create, and trickier to keep from overwhelming the narrative. Director Thomas Stuber, who was only 26 when he made this film but had six years of apprenticeship behind him, gets intense performances out of his actors. In some of the group sequences, especially the near-rape, you may forget anyone is acting, yet to balance that, the setup is classically cinematic. The economical editing maintains the nice balance between chaos and order. Stuber shows a lot of promise. The writing of Holger Jäckle is praiseworthy too.

Teenage Angst is a recent release by Picture This!, the indie distributor of mostly foreign coming of age and gay-related films (e.g. Garçon Stupide, Come Undone, Aimée and Jaguar, Before the Fall) that as of Nov. 2009 has closed its doors after 13 years. Angst and Angelina Maccarone's (2006, also German) Punish Me/Verfogt (the German title means "Hounded") are examples that Picture This! is a niche loss that will be felt both by viewers and by the industry. This comes on top of the greater loss of pre-eminent foreign film distributor New Yorker Films, which shut down earlier this year after 44 years and US release of many foreign classics.

Angelina Macarone's Puhish Me (US title: German title is Verfogt, Hounded) is another German short feature film. It's topic, a 50-year-old counselor who becomes involved in a sadomasochistic relationship with one of her 16-year-old charges that he imposes on her, is one of several Picture This! releases that might sound like exploitation, but is clear-eyed analysis. The narrative develops not in terms of titillating acts but as a fulfillment of mutual needs that both have but neither understands. The excellent performances of Maren Kroymann as the woman and Kostja Ulmann as the boy are very coviincing. The filmmaking lacks the art of Teenage Angst but that contributes to the sense that this is a wholly no-nonsense look at what is usually a taboo subject -- an approach more likely to be seen in a small European film than in any American product, and a work of interest salvaged from the Locarno Festival secondary competition by PIcture This!.


Bad news of distributors of foreign films. But here's first another news item of a more positive nature:
Scott Foundas Appointed
Associate Program Director
The Film Society of Lincoln Center

NEW YORK (November 11, 2009) Mara Manus, Executive Director, The Film Society of Lincoln Center
today announced that Scott Foundas will be joining the Film Society as the Associate Program Director. The role is described as an integral staff position, with responsibilities inclusive of all series and event programs on the organization's robust annual calendar, including the renowned New York Film Festival. . .their new film center opens in 2011, the Associate Program Director is expected to play a significant role in building the organization's new multi-screen programming strategy. In his new role, Mr. Foundas will be working directly with Program Director, Richard Peña. . .[Foundas] will be relocating to New York City to begin his new role at the start of the new year.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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