Thursday, January 1, 2009

Taboo Or Not Taboo: That Is The Question

An old adage claims that we always hurt the ones we love the most. Whether through anger or ignorance, through pettiness or cruelty, most of us know exactly how to find and push those raw and tender buttons that will get the most provocative results when we want to get under the skin of someone who is near, dear, and sometimes not so clear to us. 

While Cupid's arrows are designed to bring happiness and delight, a relative's poisonous darts can be intended to keep lovers -- old or young -- from finding happiness with each other. It's hard to live a "purpose-driven life" when so many cards seem stacked against you. As our good friend Prince Hamlet (that most melancholy of Danes) once said:
"To be or not to be, that is the question;
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to — 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life,
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th'oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office, and the spurns
That patient merit of th'unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will,
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pitch and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action."
Two films scheduled to be shown this month at the 2009 Berlin & Beyond Film Festival look at love from different ends of the life cycle. In one, we get to examine a host of star-crossed lovers whose friends and relatives are preventing them from achieving their dreams. In the other, we see what happens when an unexpected dream comes true late in life.

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An apartment building in East Berlin serves as a focal point where strangers' paths cross and mistaken identities abound. In Evet, I Do! several sets of widely diverse lovers keep running into obstacles that could prevent them from getting married.  

Salih (Murtuz Yolcu) has arrived in Berlin looking for a green card so that he can leave his poor family in Turkey and come live in Germany. Despite a variety of efforts to set him up with eligible, if somewhat homely women, he refuses to be paired with a bride who is not pretty (when he returns home with her, he is also expected to bring his grandfather in Anatolya some good German chocolates).

Coskun (Tim Seyfi) is in love with a Turkish Alawi girl named Gunay (Idil Uner). Together, they co-host a talk program at Radio Orange. But because of the strong cultural tensions between Kurds and Turks, getting the consent of Gunay's family has posed a major challenge. Coskun's family isn't helping matters much, until his grandfather describes how he and his friends kidnapped his bride many years ago and suggests that Coskun take a similar course of action.

Dirk (Oliver Korittke) is a college student in love with Ozlem (Lale Yavas).  Ozlem's sister Tulay (Sukriye Donmez) has been ogling lots of personal ads on the Internet (not exactly what a good Muslim girl should do).  Ozlem's neighbor Sulbiye is fat, shy and homely, and has already been rejected by Salih.

In order to obtain the blessing of Ozlem's devout Muslim father, Dirk must be willing to convert to Islam. Dirk's mother Helga (Ingeborg Westphal) is horrified that her son is not only willing to convert to Islam but is even willing to undergo circumcision in order to get permission to marry Ozlem. Luder (Heinrich Schafmeister) has been living with Dirk's mother for years but has never actually married her because he had too much respect for her fierce desire to hold onto her freedom. Luder, however, has some grammatical hangups and can't determine whether he should be telling Ozlem's father that he is asking for his blessing in the name of "our" prophet or "your" prophet, Allah.

Then of course, there is Emrah (Eralp Uzun), a hunky young Turkish queer who is in love with his coworker Tim (Mickey Hardt), a nice German boy.  Emrah and Tim work in the auto mechanic's repair shop owned and operated by Emrah's father.  Despite Tim's efforts to have Emrah come out to his family (he's planted some gay porn in the desk drawer and waved a dildo in front of Emrah's father during lunchtime), Emrah's father can't understand why his son hasn't found himself a nice Turkish girl.  In fact, he's already found a potential bride named Nursel and has arranged for Emrah to meet her family.

Tim (Mickey Hardt) and Emrah (Eralp Uzun)

Written and directed by Sinan Akkus (who appears in a minor role), Evet, Ich Will! tries to find new solutions for age-old problems caused by cultural bias and sexual ignorance.  Whether it is Coskun's threat to chop off his finger in his father's butcher shop (or shoot himself with what turns out to be a revolver-shaped cigarette lighter), Ozlem's threat to unmask her sister's very undignified activity on the Internet, or Sulbiye's quick eye when she recognizes someone at Ozlem's wedding from having seen his picture on a dating service's web page, each couple tries to navigate the obstacle course of societal prejudices thrust in front of them.  

Perhaps the most enterprising approach comes when Luder and Dirk get Emrah to pose half naked for them so they can take a Polaroid shot of his circumcised Turkish penis in the hopes that they can then show the picture to Ozlem's father and convince him that Dirk is circumcised.

All of the lovers' problems eventually do get resolved.  Coskun and Gunay get her father's permission after an old family secret is bared. Helga gets to dance at Dirk's wedding (even as Ozlem's side of the family notes that she's the only belly dancer they've ever seen who never moved her belly while dancing).  

Salih wins a brand new car, which makes him a much more eligible bachelor. And Sulbiye lands herself a big, cuddly bear (who must first do a friend a favor while dressed in a Batman costume).  Emrah breaks down in tears upon meeting Nursel's family, confessing that he is in love with Tim just as Nursel fails to stop her family from meeting the large black man who is the father of her unborn child. Upon leaving the building, he happily calls his mother to explain that "No, mom, she's not a terrorist or a Taliban!"

Evet, Ich Will! is spoken in German, Kurdish and Turkish, with English subtitles. Because this film is just coming out of preproduction, much of the trailer lacks sound.  But it gives you a quick look at the appealing cast of characters:

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Don't be surprised if, during the first 15 minutes of Andreas Dresen's Cloud 9 you start pinching yourself and wondering if you someone didn't pull a huge joke on you by screening Geezers Gone Wild instead.  For there, up on the big screen, are two geriatrics enjoying a healthy afternoon fuck.  And that's just the beginning of Dresen's film.

Cloud 9 is small, intimate, and in many ways brutal in its honesty. Inge (Ursula Werner) and Werner (Horst Rehberg) have been together for 30 years.  A rather taciturn, quiet man who likes to smoke and read the paper, Werner is tender, but not overly demonstrative.  Inge sings in a women's choir and occasionally takes on odd jobs altering clothing to earn some extra cash.

After noticing one of her elderly male customers checking her out, Inge decides to take a walk on the wild side.  She impulsively delivers his trousers one afternoon and, in no time at all, the two seniors are naked and having a great time together.  Upon returning home, Inge is consumed with guilt. When Karl (Horst Westphal) phones, asking if she can fix another pair of pants, she refuses to see him again.

The only problem is that by this point in their relationship, Werner is not offering much excitement (sexual or otherwise).  When he heads out for a day trip to visit his father, Inge succumbs to temptation and has another rendezvous with Karl. Her suddenly girlish behavior warns Werner that something strange is happening, but he can't quite figure out what it is. When Inge finally confesses that she has been having an affair, Werner flies into a rage, demanding to know how she could be so selfish and inconsiderate.

Like the legendary Pandora, now that Inge has opened her box to new opportunities, she can no longer silence the joy she is feeling.  When Karl, who is 76, has a problem with erectile dysfunction, he jokes "Do you know how 80 year olds screw?  She stands on her head and he lowers it in!

Ursula Werner and Horst Westphal in Cloud 9

By contrast, Werner is pretty humorless. Nor can Inge ignore the sadness and guilt that overwhelm her whenever she thinks about what she has done to her husband. Stressing that she didn't want this, and that it "just happened," Inge eventually moves in with Karl, leaving Werner wounded, bitter, and without hope. 

Although they can still celebrate their grandchild's birthday together -- and sing songs with the family -- Inge and Werner know that their relationship has run its course.  Soon after their breakup, he dies. When, upon learning of Werner's death Inge is consumed by guilt, Karl is there to console her.

Ursula Werner and Horst Westphal in Cloud 9

For couples who have clung to monogamy through thick and thin, Cloud 9 may indeed be shocking. For those who have opened up their marriages, it probably will offer poignant and familiar territory.  

At what point do your survival instincts trump the futility of staying in a rut? At what point do you let your best friend in on the good news that you're having an affair when, to do so, would break his spirit? 

Should you be happy?  Why shouldn't you be happy in whatever time you have left to live? These are the questions that Inge must wrestle with.  Though her conflicting emotions are tearing her apart, at least Karl is there to hold her in his arms and tell her how much he loves sleeping with her. 

What sets Cloud 9 apart is the tenderness that accompanies so much of the sex -- the genuine caring, caressing, touching, and kissing -- that is coupled with the camera's unflinching honesty about how our bodies look in the later stages of our lives.  Those who cling to a youth-obsessed culture should be prepared to witness their worst nightmares: the sight of their parents having sex with full frontal sagging flesh, wrinkles, stretch marks, and body hair where you least expected it.  There is no special lighting, no makeup, and no condoms.  This is very much a "what you see is what you get" film.

It's often stated (and sung) that big girls fall in love.  Sometimes, when they fall, they fall hard.

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