“Back to classics, back to cinema” is a personal journey through the movies. For every older movie I am going to talk about, I will go to the cinema and watch a new one. Because if the classic movies and their directors teach you one thing, it is:
Go to the movies.
Annie Hall-Woody Allen-1977
Everyone who adores the cinema of Woody Allen today based on his latest, quite decent efforts like “Whatever Works”, “Midnight in Paris” or “Vicky Christina Barcelona” is not compellingly on the wrong track. But watching one of his all time classics of his 70s period, the feeling emerges that the Allen of today is lacking a huge amount of creativity and energy compared to the Allen of yesterday. As the Academy does not care, he is likely to not care himself, throwing in one film every year and having become a kind of tourist guide for European cities. (Next in line is Rome in his film “With love to Rome”) Annie Hall is pure substance, however and still serves as an idol for almost every romantic comedy.
It is not that Allen was original at all. He heavily quotes Bergman for instance. But by throwing it all in the pot, his own character with his neurotic, self-reflexive, very male and very Jewish style and a beautiful Diane Keaton delivering nothing less than a real-life performance far away from any other woman one might have seen on the screen, the film has become a paradigm for modern relationships in films. Movies like “500 Days of Summer” by Marc Webb just copy the Allen-formula and in this particular case turn around the gender roles. What distinguishes “Annie Hall” from other pictures in the career of Woody Allen is its enormous amount of funny lines. It is almost impossible to get every joke by just viewing it once. But this is not the typical American strategy to keep an audience attracted by just having as many action and jokes as one can get out of the subject. This humor is more subtle, you rarely have to laugh because of the joke but frequently because of the way it is spoken out. It is just the way people react to one another. Allen constantly searches for our human mistakes and he succeeds due to the paradox that he is right, wrong and he knows that he is wrong all the time.
The plot circles around the development of a relationship between Alvy Singer, a comedian and Annie Hall, a singer. The scenes are edited in a non-chronological order and there is an interesting use of flashbacks when the characters are able to “travel” into their own past, just like in Bergman’s “Wild Strawberries”. The emotions always feel real and due to it fragmented structure the film moves quite fast. One of the great things about Woody Allen is the freedom he gives himself to drift away. Some of the scenes just feel like little digressions into a topic the author was interested in; one almost has the feeling to browse through Allen’s notebook and to read stuff his discovered and observed during his own relationships. Like always he takes us into the world upper-class artists and aspiring artists and by presenting them with all their faults and fears he makes us feel as if we were part of their world. The director of “Manhattan” will always be considered as own of the greatest filmmakers of all time but undoubtedly he had his greatest time in the 1970s. He is like a stand-up comedian and today he just performs his routine. But in 1977 he made a movie that came as close to a comedy-performance as anything one might have ever seen in the cinema: It makes you laugh and think.
The identity of German cinema is coping with the past. Every artist has to pay tribute to Germany’s inglorious history. Christian Petzold, who is one of Germany’s most interesting directors, counting to the founders of the so-called “Berliner Schule”, a current in German cinema that has developed a unique but almost indefinable style (this is why everyone mentions long takes as a stylistic device of it), could not escape this unofficial compulsory. Either it is World War II or it is the German Democratic Republic. The reason, he expressed in several interviews, for making this film, was that in his opinion the German Democratic Republic always looks grey in German films. But he experienced it differently, as a place where the life under constant surveillance was just of an imperceptible presence beyond a normal, healthy looking, colorful environment where people have usual problems.
Barbara is about a woman who wants to escape from East Germany, leaving a life without perspective behind her. Throughout the movie she remains an opaque character. Here lies the greatest strength of Petzold as he keeps the audience always questioning every move, every glimpse and every word spoken of his characters. One desperately wants to know what she is thinking and what she is going to do next. One feels that way from the very beginning when one gets thrown right into the action. Without any further explanation you have to deal with the characters. Motivations are not presented cheaply; one has to read them between the lines. Barbara constantly turns her back to the camera. It is clear that she not only runs away from a system but that she runs away from a home, her origin. If there is one constant topic in Germany besides the past, it is hospitals. Petzold really seems to have fun playing with the viewing habits of German audiences. Talking about a hospital in East Germany one would naturally visualize almost the exact opposite of what Petzold presents us. As his look at East Germany is based on personal experience and research, it legitimates the film although plot wise it does not present something new.
Petzold makes movies about women. With Nina Hoss he has found his perfect muse. She played for him before, for example in “Toter Mann”, “Yella” or “Jerichow”. She is strong and weak at the same time; in the cold distance she keeps, she embraces true beauty. Always remaining a secret, always on the verge of a breakdown. This is why she fits perfectly in the world of Christian Petzold. Every shot is chosen cautiously. He is one of the few Antonioni-esque masters of non-verbal communication. Nevertheless “Barbara” moves a little faster than many of his former films and it somehow looks a little bit more like a television movie. (Not only because of its topic) Petzold directs the story more than the mood this time. But the plot is good enough to keep you attracted. It is just that the true power of Petzold lies in the sound and the movement of the trees next to a little path where Barbara rides with her bike. And the wind comes every time from the same direction because behind the trees is the ocean. It is the wind that blows Barbara back to where she belongs as the wind always comes from the sea, not the other way round.
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