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Should artists stay above politics? “Werk ohne Autor” [2018 Germany]

Lars Eidenger in Werk ohne Autor (2018)Though this is not the central theme, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, in his Oscar-nominated semi-biographical epic “Werk ohne Autor” [Eng. Title: Never Look Away], poses a rarely discussed question; Are artists – as liberators, revolutionaries, and thinkers, letting themselves down by endorsing one or the other political party? The argument, as expounded by the art movement in the Düsseldorf Art Academy of the 60’s, assumed that artists cease being revolutionaries the moment they try to answer the questions that their own art raises. These days, many dismiss the thought as elitist and often root for a particular party that they consider the lesser of the evils, while some go all the way to establish their own political party. It’s an interesting thought nevertheless, one that will shape the art and work of the film’s protagonist Kurt Barnert (Tom Schilling), whose character was inspired by the life of one of modern Germany’s celebrated painters, Gerhard Richter.

Saskia Rosendahl in Never Look Away (2018, Germany)Young Kurt lives with his parents and his mother’s extended family in a middle class household near Dresden. He has a close relationship with his beautiful teenage aunt Elisabeth (Saskia Rosendahl), who would sometimes take him to modern art galleries, or stop by the bus station to listen to buses blaring their horns in unison when requested; little Kurt and Elisabeth were close friends who shared their thoughts and secrets.

Saskia Rosendahl in Never Look Away (2018, Germany)Unfortunately for Kurt, he’s also growing up in 1930’s Germany after the Nazi’s took power, whose presence and ideology was fast infecting all aspects of life. Their Eugenics-supporting family doctor and Nazi member forcibly removes Elisabeth from the family home after falsely attributing her eccentricity and creativity to schizophrenia.

Saskia Rosendahl and Sebastian Koch in Never Look Away (2018, Germany)Elisabeth languishes in a mental institution bereft of any legal recourse, and thanks to another evil Nazi Medical Officer, Professor Carl Seeband (Sebastian Koch), is sent to the gas chambers during the last days of World War II. Kurt’s father is forced to join the Nazi party in order to keep his teaching job, a move that’ll hinder his prospects for the rest of his life.

Tom Schilling and Paula Beer in Never Look Away (2018 Germany)Kurt’s life changes after ending up in the Communist Eastern side following Germany’s postwar partition. As an art student, he finds the Communist approach to art not too dissimilar to that of the Nazis. He however falls in love with Ellie (Paula Beer), a fashion design student at the academy, who bore a striking resemblance to his beloved late aunt ElisabethEllie’s father, none other than Professor Carl Seeband himself, had cleverly managed to evade the War Crimes Tribunal and also found for himself an important position within the Communist establishment. But Kurt is unaware of Seeband’s role in Aunt Elisabeth’s tragic fate, and neither it seems, is Seeband aware of Kurt’s relationship to Elisabeth.

Tom Schilling in Never Look Away [2018 Germany]Kurt and Ellie get married and defect to West Germany just before the Berlin wall goes up. Determined to pursue art in Düsseldorf, Germany’s most avant-garde academy, Kurt finds himself creatively challenged by professors and peers alike. The fertile environment, not least his father-in-law’s overbearing put-downs, enable him to evolve his own style and eventually discover himself…

Tom Schilling in Never Look Away (2018 Germany)After exploding onto the world of cinema with a BAFTA and Academy Award in his magnificent debut feature ‘The Lives of Others’, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck returns to form with a beautifully scripted and ‘complete’ film. At over three hours, it is epic in its scope, but it has its audience engaged all the way through, to the extent that one might even be inclined to endure another hour of this saga without losing interest. Adapting freely from Gerhard Richter’s life story, von Donnersmarck nevertheless stays true to essential facts and details (including the staircase portrait), and gives it a life of its own. The cinematography, production design, casting, and script is award-worthy, with notable performances from the main cast. The only jarring note I felt was the Hollywood-style music score which was unnecessary for a film of such substance (perhaps it has something to do with the Walt Disney connection). And for a pleasant change, one finds the English title for the film being much more apt than the original German title. Needless to say, this gem is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.de DVD Link [PAL] | Amazon.de Blu-ray Link

 

The Nudity: Saskia Rosendahl, Paula Beer, Tom Schilling, Eva Maria Jost, and others
The film features some of the most delightful nude scenes seen in cinema after a long time. A sweeping statement this might be, but here’s my explanation; the scenes are liberating rather than exploitative, and they’re unapologetic about depicting it in a matter-of-fact manner. They give an artist’s point of view, and more importantly, they don’t pander to trendy nonsense such as the so-called concern regarding the ‘male gaze’ – this is after all a film about an artist who actually painted nudes as part of his art, and as the title suggests, never shied away from looking. Coincidentally, some of the scenes do remind you of Eliseo Subiela’s similarly titled ‘Don’t Look Down’. There are at least eight noteworthy scenes in the film, of which four feature frontal nudity.

Saskia Rosendahl, Paula Beer, Tom Schilling, Eva Maria Jost and others in "Werk ohne Autor" (2018, Germany)

Saskia Rosendahl, Paula Beer, Tom Schilling and others from the German epic, “Werk ohne Autor” aka “Never Look Away”, 2018.

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A brief film review: “Alanis” [2017 Argentina]

Sofía Gala in "Alanis" (2017)Anahí Berneri captures a moving and at times probing portrait of a young mother and sex worker in her drama “Alanis”. But instead of the gloom and melancholy usually associated with films delving into the subject, it is surprisingly positive and life-affirming.

Sofía Gala in "Alanis" (2017)The film begins with Maria aka ‘Alanis’ (Sofia Gala) being evicted from her Buenos Aires flat along with her toddler Dante following a police sting. Her partner however isn’t as lucky and lands in jail.

 

Sofía Gala in "Alanis" (2017)With prevailing social safety nets unable to offer shelter to women of her disposition, Maria is left to fend for herself. She approaches a distant relative who allows her to crash at her shop floor until she could get back on her feet. An immensely resourceful Maria does manage it in the end…

Sofía Gala in 'Alanis' (2017)More than the individual plot points, where the film shines is in its flawless, intimate, almost voyeuristic cinematography, and an empathetic performance by Sofía Gala (Sofía Castiglione). While she’s had a fine collaborator in her real-life son who plays Dante, she uses her presence in almost every frame in the film to emphatically paint a multidimensional, wholesome image of the character she’s playing. Ms. Berneri has created a precious, elegant, and understated gem that deserves wider recognition. Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon Prime Link

 

The Nudity: Sofía Gala Castiglione
There are brief and intermittent scenes of nudity, mostly of ‘Alanis’ breastfeeding spontaneously. The film also features a prolonged, discomfiting sex scene which, when seen in context, provides added insight into the lead character.

Sofía Gala Castiglione nude in the Argentinian film, Alanis, 2017.

Sofía Gala Castiglione from the Argentinian film, “Alanis”, 2017.

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A load of bull: “El árbol de la sangre” [2018 Spain]

And they end up being as attention-gathering as only a Julio Medem can manage (apart from Bigas Luna, of course). While the bulls and cows in his latest drama, “El árbol de la sangre” [Eng. Title: The Tree of Blood] might bear special cultural significance to Spaniards, others with a lesser acquaintance will nevertheless discern the passionate undercurrents these creatures will come to represent in this pheromone-fuelled family saga.

Úrsula Corberó and Álvaro Cervantes in "El árbol de la sangre", 2018Rebeca (Úrsula Corberó) and boyfriend Marc (Álvaro Cervantes) are staying at his stepmother’s idyllic farmhouse in the Basque country to try and piece together their extraordinary family tree, while opening up to and coming to terms with secrets and betrayals within their own relationship. They begin by recounting the early lives of their respective mothers.

Najwa Nimri and Daniel Grao in 'El árbol de la sangre' 2018Rebeca is the child of Macarena (the beautiful Najwa Nimri), conceived during her mother’s wild rock star years. As a baby, Rebeca had to undergo life-saving organ transplants that’ll deeply affect Macarena for the rest of her life. When one of Macarena’s fans, Victor (Daniel Gra0), expresses his love for her, she decides to get married and settle down, and Victor eases into the role of Rebeca’s doting stepdad.

Angela Molina and Najwa Nimri in El árbol de la sangre, 2018Marc’s single mother Nuria (Maria Molins) is a publisher who befriends and has a fling with writer Amaia (Patricia López Arnaiz). Young Marc first set his eyes on Rebeca at Amaia’s wedding; the groom being Victor’s brother Olmo (Joaquín Furriel). When Amaia introduces Olmo to Nuria, she recognises him instantly as the person with whom she had a brief sexual encounter that led to Marc’s birth. As the complex relationships within this coincidental family take shape, murkier details of the brothers before they entered Rebeca and Marc’s lives come to the fore, with unforeseen  consequences…

Úrsula Corberó and Álvaro Cervantes in El árbol de la sangre, 2018Even with a long run-time of 135 minutes, the narrative is pretty fast-paced; blink and you’ll likely miss a plot point, so this might require more than one viewing. As a keen follower of maestro Medem’s films, I find this screenplay his most ambitious and convoluted yet; instead of neat patterns exemplified in Lovers of the Arctic Circle and Sex and Lucia, we have strands that twist, branch off, and occasionally intertwine.

El árbol de la sangre, 2018And then we have the pervasive symbolism of bulls and cows as facets of conflicting but coexisting qualities between the various characters; be it moral, political, or sexual. They make an appearance in unexpected places, which might be off-putting to those used to more ‘plausible’ story lines, but they’re there for a purpose. As in many of Medem’s films, sex is an important ingredient that drives the narrative.

El árbol de la sangre (2018)Several of his trademark motifs that depict elementary forces also make an appearance in the film. Right from the exquisite cinematography, background score, choice of shots and editing, we see glimpses of the vintage Julio Medem that we love and miss.  If only he could make films more frequently! Performance-wise, the slightly under-used Najwa Nimri, and an ever-elegant Angela Molina playing the brothers’ mother stand out, and the rest of main cast give a decent account of themselves. On the whole, while this adequate Netflix production might not have scaled the heights of gems such as Tierra and La ardilla roja, it is still a full-blooded Medem in all respects, which on any day is Highly Recommended Viewing..!

Blu-ray Disc Purchase Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Lucía Delgado, Joaquín Furriel, Patricia López Arnaiz, Maria Molins, Úrsula Corberó, and Álvaro Cervantes

Lucía Delgado, Patricia López Arnaiz, Maria Molins, Úrsula Corberó, and others from "El árbol de la sangre" aka "The Tree of Blood" [2018, Spain].

Lucía Delgado, Patricia López Arnaiz, Maria Molins, Úrsula Corberó, and others from
“El árbol de la sangre” aka “The Tree of Blood” [2018, Spain].

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Grow more pineapple! “Der Geschmack von Leben” [2017 Germany]

No, this is not a new UN directive concerning public nutrition (though it might be a refreshing idea), but it might increase demand for pineapple if Roland Reber and his vlogging protagonist Nikki’s advice to drink more pineapple juice is taken seriously by men across the world.

In his latest film “Der Geschmack von Leben” [Eng. Title: Taste of Life], the maverick filmmaker and his co-conspirators Antje Nikola Mönning and Mira Gittner toast to the life-quality-enhancing properties of ‘cum’ (ok – semen, for the exasperatingly prude), and extol the benefits this symbiotic exchange would entail for men and women alike.

Antje Nikola Mönning in Der Geschmack von Leben (2017)The film’s title illustrates the evolution of Nikki (Antje Nikola Mönning) in the classical image of The Road to Homo Sapiens, accompanied by a soundtrack that’s a knowing wink to Paolo Sorrentino’s ‘The Young Pope’ theme song (Devlin’s Watchtower). The montage culminates with Nikki armed with an iPhone attached to a selfie stick. As you might’ve guessed by now, this is a comedy, with some serious Reber-style bits from his previous films thrown in.

Antje Nikola Monning and Andreas Pegler in Taste of LifeNikki is an ebullient vlogger, filming and sharing freely her dogging-style sexual encounters, and interviews with random people who readily open up to her. Barely dressed most of the time, she drives through the countryside in a vintage Land Rover looking for ‘victims’, while espousing to the viewer through an in-car camera, her philosophy of sexual living without the restrictions of conventional love and coupling.

Antje Nikola Mönning and Marina Anna Eich in Taste of LifeNikki’s interviewees include women of all sorts; some suffer from religious guilt, some jaded in love, some are still waiting for the right man, and some of them, kinky. Nikki’s advice to all of them is to enjoy the ‘taste’ of life in order to be happy. Morality for her is about accepting and rejoicing in sexual pleasure. “My Jesus is a kind Jesus and pleased when I suck dicks”, she’d emphatically claim.

Antje Nikola Mönning in Taste of Life (2017)The thrust of the narrative is however Nikki herself; living life to the full and ‘feasting’ on cum on her own terms. When a ‘victim’, hoping for some kind of compliment after generously splashing his cum on her, asks if he was good, Nikki dismissively tells him that as far as she was concerned, he was just another blow-up doll who could come, and to add insult to injury, forewarns him that his ‘cumming’ days are numbered.

Norman Graue as Jesus in Taste of Life (2017)Since the dawn of cinema, we’ve had vampires (Nosferatu, Dracula) as an implicit metaphor for women’s need for emancipation, equal rights etc. Later, and as a reaction to feminism, came films depicting women either as oppressors of men in a dystopian future, or as vampires themselves. Reber and Mönning seem to have taken a rather vegan, live-and-let-live approach to post-feminism – no one needs to get killed (and no souls harvested by the devil). What’s more, they’re also promoting pineapple juice, and much like Carla Juri’s pizza-toppings (Feuchtgebiete, 2013), introducing culinary to unusual ingredients, even though they will remain an acquired taste for some.

Antke Nikola Mö and Iris Boss in Taste of Life (2017)Male secretions apart, what struck me was the quality of the film’s production. Mira Gittner’s cinematography, colour-grading, and editing is significantly superior to previous efforts, and it shows. The film is funny for most of its duration – in fact it begins with a scene that self-deprecatingly parodies one of Reber’s own earlier films. But what I like most about the film is that it is not pretentious; it doesn’t seek approval for what it is, it doesn’t compromise, and it farts in the general direction of unwritten film convention. Amen to independent cinema, and Recommended Viewing..!

Amazon.de Blu-ray Link | Amazon.de DVD Link [PAL]

 

The Nudity: Antje Nikola Mönning, Norman Graue, Iris Boss, René Müller, Alex K, Agnes Thi-Mai, Ute Meisenheimer, and others
Antje Nikola Mönning is naked or partially naked, well, for most of the film, and participates enthusiastically in two explicitly filmed oral sex scenes that few porn veterans, let alone Maitland Ward would equal – Ms. Mönning even explains it all in this interview. René Müller and Alex K are her willing ‘victims’. Norman Graue plays a hilarious naked Jesus. Iris Boss is the hitchhiking young girl who goes skinny dipping with Nikki, and is later groped in a sex bar while performing striptease. Agnes Thai-Mai who kinda reminds one of Alizee if she were younger, voluptuous, and of course naked, spends the entire duration of a song in the nude, begging to be whipped. Ute Meisenheimer briefly appears topless as a mature housewife. Other nude men and women appear in walk-on roles.

Antje Nikola Mönning and others nude in Roland Reber's comedy, "Der Geschmack von Leben" aka "Taste of Life", 2017, Germany.

Antje Nikola Mönning and others from Roland Reber’s comedy, “Der Geschmack von Leben”
aka “Taste of Life”, 2017, Germany.

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Interview: Antje Nikola Mönning – ‘Tasting Life’

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To most Germans above a certain age, Antje Nikola Mönning is remembered for her role as ‘Jenny’ the nun in the long running TV series ‘Un Himmels Willen’. But over the past decade, she has become an integral part of Roland Reber’s independent film production house, WTP International. Apart from acting, Ms. Mönning produces, co-writes, and assists directing WTP films, and even finds time to pursue a career in music. 2018 had been an eventful year for Ms. Mönning, not least for the DVD-release of her daring portrayal of protagonist ‘Nikki’ in WTP’s latest film.

“Der Geschmack von Leben” [Eng. Title: Taste of Life] is about a free-spirited woman living and ‘tasting’ life to the full, on her own terms, and publishing her consensually filmed sexual encounters in her blog. I used the opportunity of preparing a film review for this site to discuss with Ms. Mönning the film, her daring sex scenes in it, and her outlook in general. And thanks to Marina Anna Eich’s great help in arranging the interview, here are the excerpts:

 

An interview with Antje Nikola Mönning

Antje Nikola Mönning, from a scene in "Taste of Life" [2017]

Antje Nikola Mönning, from a scene in “Taste of Life” [2017]

 

Hello Antje, a thirstyrabbit welcome to you. You’ve been credited as one of the writers for your latest film, ‘Taste of Life’. What were your thoughts and what were the issues you wanted to talk about while scripting?

The script of ‘Taste of Life’ is based on fragments of Roland Reber’s collection of texts and of the ideas that Roland, Mira, Marina and I developed over several car trips. My wish was to show a person who is totally enjoying her life and who is curious about other people’s ways of living without judging or ‘missionising’ them. Life is sometimes presented very negatively in media, creating anxieties that are not necessarily yours. By choosing Nikki’s special character, I wanted to show how you could live joyfully and free-mindedly without being too concerned about other people’s opinion. But of course there are many more themes that we’ve explored in the movie. You could say that ‘Taste of Life’ is a kaleidoscope of topics like sex and relationship, guilt and religion, sense and nonsense of conventions etc.

 

Was the film in some way a counter-narrative to the puritanical streak we’re seeing in Hollywood today which, while conveniently appropriating itself to the #metoo movement, essentially remains conservative at its core?

We have scripted and realized the movie shortly before the #metoo movement came up. It was never intended to be a comment on this topic, but to give a glimpse of different people’s desires and longings. There are as many life plans, stories, wishes and fears as there exist human beings. Even in these times of #metoo there isn’t just ONE female or male way of perceiving life. But I have noticed for many years already that there is a tendency in society and especially in American movies to become more and more prudish. If you watch how sex scenes are pictured, you will, for example, find woman having sex in bras, which I find unrealistic. Why not show sex naturally and unpretentiously if you want to picture it at all!

 

The protagonist in ‘Taste of Life’ is a free-spirited woman who’s unapologetic about seeking sexual fulfilment outside the confines of love and societal obligations. Can we assume that this is your post-feminist response to ‘classical’ feminism?

To be honest, I didn’t want to respond to any kind of feminism. But I notice that women who have non-binding sex with diverse men are still labelled as slags or sluts. That’s why I wanted to show the other side of reality; Nikki is not only free-minded, but self-defined. In this case, she is the one who chooses when and how often she wants to suck one’s penis without being submissive at any time. She really enjoys her sexual life, and life in general. To me, sperm is a symbol for life (as it is literally giving birth to a new life), and by showing the pleasure Nikki experiences when she licks off the sperm, I wanted to convey this symbolism as a tribute to life itself.

 

Antje Nikola Mönning

Antje Nikola Mönning

 

As you said, being the film’s protagonist, you perform fellatio (leading to a ‘finish’) with two different actors. That’s going an extra mile on top of the extra mile actresses normally go, when performing unsimulated sex for cinema. Did you have any reservations at all in doing these scenes? If so, what were they?

No, not at all. I think it’s funny that I always get asked if sex scenes in front of the camera are difficult to perform. But no one ever asked me if it was heavy stuff to slip into the role of the manipulating author in ‘The Truth of Lie’ who was playing games of life and death with two women by keeping them locked up for some weird experiment.

 

You have a point there. Is Nikki the alter-ego of Antje Nikola Mönning, and are her desires and outlook the same as yours?

The role of Nikki contains a lot of my way of thinking. I look at life in a very positive and open way, and like Nikki, I don’t care about what other people think of me. This creates the greatest freedom you can imagine!

 

Where will you draw the line when it comes to participating in explicit sex scenes in film. What are your limits, if any?

I guess, I would do almost anything that I think is important to describe, and define the character that I want to play. My personal limits are rather not to harm anyone. But explicit sex scenes are not always necessary. Often you can stimulate the imagination a lot more by not showing everything. It always depends on the role and what you can express with it. As an example, Lucy in Angels with Dirty Wings needed her orgasms to feel herself and to feel alive. So I found it important to show real orgasms to support my character.

 

That’s interesting. On a different matter, you were recently fined €300 for exposing yourself in front of two plain-clothes police officers in Bavaria. I quote your brilliant statement to the court, “I cannot believe it is a crime for a woman to show her body naked. We all came into the world naked. So should we sue God?”
Do you think this hypocrisy in society concerning nudity will ever change, at least as far as Germany is concerned?

I really hope so. It is bizarre that our society is almost oversexed by our commercials and media, but when it comes to an approach to real sex and nudity, media responds with a huge outcry over what it thinks doesn’t fit into social norms and habits. As I said earlier, at the moment I have the impression that our society is becoming more prudish. But when we look at the acceptance of homosexuals for example, we can see an enormous progress between the nineteen fifties and now. So let’s hope that other sexual orientations will gain acceptance, too.

 

Just being curious; have you ‘exposed yourself’ to random strangers in public before this unlucky episode?

No comment.

 

Fair enough! Would you like to tell us something about your forthcoming projects?

At the moment, we are brainstorming for our next movie that we plan to make this year. It will be some kind of revue with musical interludes.

 

A musical – fascinating! Is rebel nun Schwester Antje here to stay, and can we expect to see more of your free-spirit in forthcoming films?

Since the press is calling me TV-nun, Naked nun, Sex nun or whatever nun for almost ten years now, I decided to name myself Schwester Antje (Sister Antje) and to play with this image. I don’t take myself too seriously, but it’s more or less just an artistic name to launch my music. Luckily I am still Antje Nikola Mönning and have not transformed into any kind of artificial figure. And I want to challenge myself, so I always choose new characters. The next role will definitely be different to Nikki.

 

Thank you Antje, and we wish you and WTP International a Happy 2019!

(Ms. Mönning has since made a hilarious YouTube video following the court ruling against the traffic police incident, worth checking out.) 🙂

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