Liebe me, liebe me not

Love is in the air (and theater) at this year's Berlin and Beyond fest
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Love on Cloud 9

By Nicole Gluckstern

› a&eletters@sfbg.com

It might not be spring, but love is already in the air, thanks to a Berlin and Beyond lineup crammed full of romance — as mysterious and elusive as the first vernal crocus. From the grief-stained impressionistic canvas of Götz Spielmann's Revanche, to the addled office politicking in André Erkau's Come in and Burn Out, to the sweetly scandalous wartime liaison of Ulla Wagner's The Invention of Curried Sausage, the vagaries of love, lust, and even plain old like are on diverse display.

Going by typical film fare, one would think romantic love is a sensation reserved for awkward adolescents, torrid 20-somethings, and the midlife crisis set. Any character over 50 is either comfortably married or a lone wolf, and if they display any sexual spark at all it is frequently comic or saccharine. Considering too the usual portrayal of desperate love triangles from which no one exits unscathed, we might further find ourselves taking false comfort in the myth that such messy affaires d'coeur will sort themselves out later in life. With Cloud 9 (Wolke Neun), Andreas Dresen seeks to dispel those myths with a fearless cast of aging ingénues.

When seamstress Inge (Ursula Werner) falls for one of her clients (Horst Westphal), a charming widower whose flirty spontaneity is a distinct contrast to the familiarity of husband Werner (Horst Rehberg), she impulsively gives in to her desires. By turns exhilarated and distressed, Inge struggles to balance her welling fondness for Karl with her habitual devotion to Werner. And though she is cautioned against coming clean by her daughter, she eventually confesses her actions to Werner, who wrathfully accuses her of not acting her age. "What does it matter if I'm 16, or 60, or 80?" she retorts, a deserving question for which none in her sphere can provide a good answer. The unscripted cast members comport themselves with a naturalistic dignity and guileless intimacy even as the movie's initial optimism takes a sharp downturn into melancholia. Avoiding moral conclusion, Dresen's quietly resonant film suggests that the pitfalls of mature love are just as treacherously uncertain as its youthful counterpart.

That such uncertainty also belongs to the young is evidenced in Micha Lewinsky's unusual The Friend (Der Freund), which centers around an imaginary love affair between awkward singer-songwriter Larissa (Emilie Weltie) and her equally awkward fan-boy Emil (Philippe Graber). Agreeing to pose as Larissa's boyfriend, Emil doesn't entirely realize his role is to be that of an alibi. Nor does he get time to find out. Before he can solidify the terms of the agreement, Larissa is dead, and her family insists on meeting him. This overtly-dramatic introduction aside, The Friend is a gentle reflection on death's impact on the living, and the nature of life to move beyond.

Though Emil bears all the hallmarks of a typical loner, by the movie's midpoint it has become apparent that he is in good company. Each character's painful isolation is so deeply ingrained they can't even find words to remark upon it. But despite their instinctive solitude, they can't help but grasp for comfort from each other, which precipitates a clumsy romance between Emil and his dead fantasy's sister, Nora (Johanna Bantzer). The final frames might be a shameless rip-off from Fatih Akin's Edge of Heaven (2007), but the movie that precedes them is a singular creation.

BERLIN AND BEYOND

Jan 15–21, most shows $10

Castro Theatre, 429 Castro, SF

www.berlinandbeyond.com.

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