Fresh Fokus on German film

As the inaugural festival opens with Victoria, we preview the programme.

by Amber Wilkinson

The inaugural Fokus Film Festival opened at Edinburgh Filmhouse last night with Sebastian Schipper's Victoria. The festival - a collaboration between Filmhouse and the Goethe-Insitut in Glasgow - runs until December 14 and has been deliberately subtitled "films from Germany" by the Institut's project director Konrad Siller.

At the opening reception in the city's Akva bar, he explained that the intention was not to show "German cinema, whatever that might be". Instead, they were aiming to show films from a "distinct geographical and political area in Europe" that would encourage audiences to reflect on things which are important to modern German society. He added: "I hope it will be exciting, hopeful and useful."

The reception was also attended by Goethe-Instut director Nikolai Petersen, who recently moved to his Scots posting from Caracas in Venezuela. The German Consul-General Jens-Peter Voss was also in attendance. Edinburgh Film Festival has previously showcased New German Cinema - most recently in a dedicated strand in 2014 - but the organisers now hope that Fokus will go on to be a regular fixture on the film festival calendar. The early signs last night were certainly very positive, with the Filmhouse moving the film from one of its smaller screens to its largest in response to ticket demand.

The festival will show films at seven venues across Scotland - Edinburgh Filmhouse, Ayr Film Society, Belmont Filmhouse, DCA in Dundee, Eden Court in Inverness, Glasgow Film Theatre and Heart of Hawick.

Head of Edinburgh Filmhouse Rod White, Goethe-Institut director Nikolai Petersen, project director for the Goethe-Institut Konrad Siller, Edinburgh consul-general Jens-Peter Voss
Head of Edinburgh Filmhouse Rod White, Goethe-Institut director Nikolai Petersen, project director for the Goethe-Institut Konrad Siller, Edinburgh consul-general Jens-Peter Voss Photo: Amber Wilkinson
The line-up features contemporary German cinema, such as Victoria - a daring and impressive single-take thriller that follows the eponymous heroine over the course of one night - alongside a retrospective strand dedicated to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whose 70th birthday would have been this year.

The line-up is as follows:

Victoria, Dir Sebastian Schiller

A fluid one-take tale which follows its young protagonist through the streets of Berlin through the early hours of a single eventful night in which she will meet a group of young men who seem to offer excitement and the opportunity to flirt but who will later involve her in an episode that will irrevocably change her life. Notable for extraordinarly committed performances by Laia Costa and Frederick Lau it's a fast-moving thriller that covers some surprisingly emotional ground.

Beloved Sisters, Dir Dominik Graf

Dominik Graf was the subject of a dedicated strand at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2014 and his Beloved Sisters - from that year - is an excellent example of his work and was Germany's admission for the foreign language Oscar race. It tells the tale of two siblings who fall for the same man, writer Friedrich Schiller. Our reviewer wrote: "This sympathetic and thoughtful portrayal of the many faces of marriage avoids clichés about the good old days as well as the bad ones."

B-Movie, Lust & Sound In West-Berlin 1979-1989, Dir Jorg A Hoppe, Klaus Maeck and Heiko Lange

This documentary, featuring the likes of Nick Cave, Muriel Gray and Gudrun Gut, is narrated by Mark Reeder, a Mancunian musician who was drawn to the creative melting pot of West Berlin during the period. It recalls the period prior to the fall of the Wall, when the city's avant-garde music scene was thriving.

Finsterworld, dir Frauke Finsterwalder

Exploring generations of a family through loosely connected strands, our reviewer wrote: "A protagonist of the film is the German language itself. Precise, dangerous, disturbing and spellbinding, co-written with Christian Kracht, Finsterworld celebrates words of lore as well as colloquial rhythms and structures of non-communication."

Inbetween Worlds, dir Feo Aladag

A contemporary look at the war in Afghanistan from a German perspective, Feo Aladag's film follows soldier Jesper who signs up for a tour of duty despite the death of his brother while in action. The film explores his conflict of conscience of the soldier and, though perhaps a bit too predictable, it offers an even-handed view of conflict.

My Friend Raffi, Dir Arend Agthe

Family film telling the tale of a missing hamster - with a raft of special abiliities, including the ability to sniff out smuggled goods - and his owner's adventure as he attempts to track down the kidnapper through the streets of Hamburg.

Parents, Dir Robert Thalmheim

The story of a couple's everyday juggling act between parenthood and work. Currently boasting a "100%" rating from audiences on Rotten Tomatoes, it must be doing something right.

Under Snow, dir Ulrike Ottinger

Documentary focusing on the Japanese town of Echigo, which is frequently covered in several feet of snow.

Who Am I - No System Is Safe, Dir Baran bo Odar

First screened in Scotland at Edinburgh Film Festival in June, this film dives into the contemporary world of 'hactivism'. A young man joins a subversive group who are intent on "hacking the world". Described by our reviewer as "a tense and shrewd cyber-heist film", he noted: "Who Am I succeeds because it grounds its braggadocio in action that never feels beyond the realms of possibility."

Fassbinder

Baal

A television adaption of Bertolt Brecht's first full-length work transposes the action from the Weimar Republic to contemporary West Germany. Starring Fassbinder as the anarchic poet who vacillates between being lauded and rejected by the bourgeoisie. After its initial broadcast in 1970, Brecht's widow prohibited further screenings, a decision not reversed until 2011 (by his granddaughter), which led to the restoration screening at Fokus.

The Marriage Of Maria Braun

A heart-breaking study of life for a woman, Maria, in post-war West Germany. Our reviewer wrote: "Made during the period of detente during the Cold War, it at once expresses the German desire for unification as well as the impossibility of this, as the communist East behind the Iron Curtain becomes radically different from anything in Maria's world."

Fox And His Friends

An unemployed young gay man finds that a lottery win grants him access to a new, but hostile, world in this film which, as so often, sees Fassbinder take on the role of an outsider. Our reviewer wrote: "The quality of the writing, editing, cinematography and everything else is top-notch, but it’s undoubtedly a bleak, hard watch."

For more information about the festival and to buy tickets, visit the official site.

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