Lonely people, desolate urban landscapes, and moral dilemmas are at the core of Michael Klier’s Alter und Schönheit (Age and Beauty) – as found in all films of his self-styled Berlin cycle, a collection of simple stories with penetrating observations by a genuine auteur with a style and vision to match, each lensed by the same French cinematographer, Sophie Maintigneaux. To some extent, these tales reflect the director’s own wanderlust ways. Born in Karlovy Vary in 1943, Klier was driven out of Czechoslovakia with his family, settled later in the German Democratic Republic, where he once served a prison sentence for “smuggling foreign currency,” which in turn got him expelled to West Berlin. Once there, he studied History and Philosophy, enrolled at the Berlin Film Academy (DFFB), and played midfield for an amateur soccer team. An autodidact, he made some short films along the way, found studies at the DFFB not to his liking, then departed for Paris to assist François Truffaut on La peau douce (France, 1964), before finally settling again in West Berlin to make films about himself and the city he adopted.
In Überall ist es besser, wo wir nicht sind (Things Are Better Anywhere But Here) (1989), awarded an Adolf Grimme Prize, a wandering Pole leaves Warsaw for West Berlin and ends up in New York, earning his keep along the way by hustling jobs and changing hard currency (more or less Klier’s own fate). When he meets a waitress in a restaurant, their lives become entwined. In Ostkreuz (East Crossing) (1991), awarded a Hypo-Bank Grant Prize at Filmfest München, the focus is on a teenaged girl (Laura Tomke, in her first film role) whose family has escaped from East Germany via Hungary and is now living in a barrack-like container for refugees in West Berlin. Having lost respect for her mother and without much interest in school, she teams with a Pole (Miroslav Baka, the actor in Things Are Better Anywhere But Here) to deal in the blackmarket – until the girl decides that enough is enough and reports him to the police.
In Heidi M. (2001) a lonely middle-aged woman (Katrin Sass, awarded a German Film Prize in Gold for this role) runs a street-corner shop in East Berlin, has been abandoned by her husband, can hardly bear the departure of her teenaged daughter for Australia, and falls in love with another loner, a man trying to make contact with his runaway teenaged son. In Farland (2004), a couple meet at the bedside of dying relatives, she hoping for signs of life from a sister in a coma, he awaiting the last breath of his son. The borderline setting this time is a desolate Brandenburg landscape near the Berlin-Schönefeld airport. Karla (Laura Tonka), who has left home years ago, is called to keep watch at the bedside of her unconscious sister following a near fatal car accident. In the next bed at the hospital is her sister’s boyfriend, also unconscious, whose watch is kept by his estranged father Axel (Richy Müller). Gradually, as the lonely pair are drawn to each other, Karla must ward off the advances of an old boyfriend (Daniel Brühl) and wonder if her sister will ever awake from the coma. A poetic feature shot on Super-16 for Euro 700,000 with patented low-key performances, Farland is another refined film in the restless odyssey of Michael Klier.
The same theme is developed further in Alter und Schönheit (Age and Beauty), greeted with warm applause at the Hof Film Festival. A film tale as old as cinema itself, Age and Beauty brings together four 50-year-old losers for a nostalgic yet painful reunion at the beside of a dying friend. Manni (Peter Lohmeyer) begs his friends to find Rosi (Sibylle Canonica), the “beauty” of their “Ferrari 49” days, whom they all have lost track of. Before he dies, he wants to beg Rosi’s pardon for an inexcusable affront of the past. Although all three of Manni’s pals feel they have better things to do, they acquiesce to his wish while immersing themselves in nostalgia for the good old days – particularly the pleasures of owning an antique Ferrari. Gradually, however, they confront the moral failures of their existence. Harry (Henry Hübchen) receives a SMS that both his wife and lover are leaving him on the same day. Justus (Burghart Klaussner) realizes, too late, that his mobile “handy” has chained him to a menial business existence that he hates. And Bernhard (Armin Rohde) finally faces the truth that he he has never liked his job and wife – only to discover that his wife never really liked him either.
Then, when Rosi appears on the scene, more water flows over the dam – the past was really not what they all pretend it was, so now pretense is dropped altogether. Michael Klier’s sharply edged dialogue, the ensemble performances, and Sophie Maintigneux’s camera assure an audience hit when Age and Beauty reaches the German screens come January.
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