Volume 76, Number 31 | Dec. 27, 2006 - Jan.2, 2007

Koch on film

By Ed Koch

“The Good German” (-)

Although this film was slammed by other critics, I decided to see it. I was hoping to see Berlin in the ’60s, when the Soviets erected the wall dividing the country, and hoped even more that the movie would create the intrigue of “The Third Man,” starring the genius actor and director Orson Welles. But even though “The Good German” had enormous possibilities, the critics were right. It is terrible.

The story takes place in Berlin after World War II, when Germany is waiting for the Potsdam Conference to take place and decide its fate. U.S. war correspondent Jake Geismer (George Clooney) returns to Berlin searching for his former German girlfriend, Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), who is now the mistress of the slimy Tully (Toby Maguire). Tully uses his motor pool access to travel everywhere, including Russia, where he conducts business with Russian General Sikorsky (Ravil Isyanov).

The acting is ridiculous and the script is worse. Everyone is searching for Lena’s husband, Emil (Christian Oliver). Why? It is the beginning of the Soviet-American nuclear arms race and they are sweeping up German rocket scientists. Not a single character is believable with the exception of General Sikorsky, who is malevolent and part of the Soviet conspiracy to gain total control of Berlin. Other critics mentioned Director Steven Soderbergh’s attempt to convey the atmosphere of “Casablanca” and capture its memories. The scenes of Berlin looked to me like stage settings, the plot made little sense, and I could not have cared less about who lived or died.

The intended message was to explain how the Americans and Soviets sought to round up the German Nazi scientists who had been working on rockets for Hitler.  Ultimately there will be a terrific film putting it all together, but “The Good German” is not it. 

“The Secret Life of Words” (+)

Though occasionally inexplicable, this film, written and directed by the Spanish filmmaker Isabel Coixet, is on the whole very poignant and rewarding.

Hanna (Sarah Polley), who survived the cruel civil wars of the Balkans, is a solitary, mournful figure who works in a British factory. Told by her employer to take a holiday, she visits Ireland. Bored and lonely, she volunteers to serve as a nurse on an oil rig where she meets Josef (Tim Robbins).

Josef is hospitalized on the rig suffering from serious burns and temporary blindness as a result of a fire. He and Hanna become quite friendly, but their relationship ends when Josef is taken to a mainland hospital and Hanna rushes away from the ambulance. Josef searches for her hoping to learn what caused her to separate herself from everyone.

The acting is brilliant and so is the script. Robbins and Polley portray their characters beautifully. I’m very familiar with Robbins, who is always a consummate actor. Polley, whom I had not seen before, was singled out by other critics for her performance in this movie, and rightly so. Julie Christie does a superb job in her cameo role as a humanitarian who knows Hanna and her background.

Hanna’s torment, her later displayed physical injuries, and her stories of the civil war are searing. How ordinary people can rape, torture and kill their neighbors is mind- boggling. Yet we see that happening in sectarian strife in Iraq, where close to 100 people are killed every day in Baghdad and many of them tortured before their death. The sectarian killings in Rwanda and Burundi in Africa, between Serbs, Croats and Muslims in Europe, and between Sunnis and Shiites in the Middle East should make us stop and think. We should be more thankful for our lives here in the United States.

HS, with whom I saw the film said, “This film illustrates Post-Traumatic Stress syndrome. On a dreary, windblown oil rig, after silence and rejection, two damaged souls escape their traumas.”

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