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German film makers focus on ordinary lives

THOSE who seek a taste of German cinema can watch documentary offerings in special screenings in the next few days. They range from "Shanghai Fiction" about four lives in the metropolis to "Dust" about minute ever-present particles.

The documentaries are hosted by the Cultural and Education Section of the German Consulate General in Shanghai and the Goethe Institute, where some are screened.

Four have already been screened in the Magnolia International Documentary Awards (MIDA) section of the Shanghai Television Festival.

"Shanghai Fiction" was screened last Friday to a full house at the Goethe Institute. It's part of a screening of European documentaries and won awards at the DOK-Film Festival at Leipzig and Duisburger Filmwoche in 2009.

The one-and-a-half-hour film features four unconnected people who live in Shanghai and describes their lives. There's no narration, some dialogue and a little music.

The award-winning film in color about a mind-boggling metropolis is directed by Julia Albrecht and Busso von Muller.

The four are poor migrant construction worker Yuan Jilei; German architect Johannes Dell who works on urban planning; Professor Liu Wei, a former Red Guard who lost his passion and ideals after the "cultural revolution" (1966-76); and a hard-headed businesswoman Hebe.

"The four characters are in very different situations," co-director Albrecht says. "We followed their lives not to show their difference, but their similarities. They all face the same problem: how to live, both materially and morally."

One reason the directors chose China to delve into the issues is that China's current situation and rapid urbanization reflect Europe's own rapid changes and social dislocations, she says.

The film begins with Yuan's story. He comes from Anhui Province, does odd jobs, was turned down for a job as postman and now works in construction.

A voice asks: "What's your ideal life?"

"I don't want an ordinary life." Yuan says.


"People of my class don't have dreams," Yuan says.

The film also follows him home to a typical rural Chinese wedding, giving a sense of Yuan's roots and how different his rustic countryside home is from Shanghai.

The second character introduced is Dell, a professional in a modern and comfortable environment, helping draw up blueprints for the city's future.

The camera cuts between Yuan eating in a shabby restaurant and Dell in his office discussing future plans with his office team.

Liu is a university professor and former Red Guard, who first appears before the camera adjusting his old Red Guard cap in front of a mirror. He was among the youngest of the young revolutionaries.

He speaks fluent English and talks a lot about philosophy.

"If you see yourself too happy, there must be something wrong," he says.

Hebe is a shrewd businesswoman, who mixes English in her Chinese. The middle-aged woman still believes in late Chairman Mao Zedong, but has given up on idealism.

"I learned the trick in business: It's success that survives," she says.

The documentary shifts among four different worlds and the audience needs to pull it all together for themselves.

"To connect the fragments in the film, you give the spectators small fragments. You choose what you show," Albrecht says. "It's also our point of view; we try to be open, and to transport the viewers."

The European Documentary Film screening in Shanghai aims to bring outstanding European films to a Chinese audience.

"I think that documentaries have a closer relationship with what's going on," says German Consul Wilfried Eckstein. "The documentary is closest to our idea of the process of understanding the country."

All admission is free.

"Children, As Time Flies"

Third in a trilogy about ordinary families from Halle-Neustadt.

Date: June 13, 3:45pm,

Venue: Broadband Cinema


Dust is everywhere all the time. It's the smallest discernible object about which to make a film.

Date: June 13, 9pm

Venue: Metropole Cinema

"Shanghai Fiction"

The one-and-a-half-hour film features four unconnected people who live in Shanghai and describes their lives.

Date: June 14, 9pm

Venue: Studio City

"Forgetting Dad"

A man who suffers total amnesia in a seemingly harmless car accident embarks on a new life.

Date: June 14, 1:30pm

Venue: Studio City

To get more information, go to the Goethe Institute at 102A, Cross Tower, 318 Fuzhou Rd.

'Focus Germany' series during Shanghai International Film Festival

Was du nicht siehst (What You Don't See / Sommerspiel)

Director: Wolfgang Fischer

This psychological thriller is about a sensitive German adolescent grappling with his father's suicide and his mother's new boyfriend.

Screening date: June 13-14, 17-19

Where to watch: Shanghai Film Art Center, Nextage Film Art Center, Peace Cinema, Century Friendship Cinema

13 Semester

Director: Frieder Wittich

Two college graduates from Florence leave the college after spending 13 meaningless semesters and learn life's real lessons outside the school.

Screening date: June 14-16, 18, 20

Where to watch: Broadband International Cineplex, Shanghai Film Art Center, Kodak Cinema

Phantomschmerz (Phantom Pain)

Director: Matthias Emcke

This German-language psychological drama follows the turmoil of a cyclist and womanizer who loses one of his legs in a hit-and-run accident and must adjust to his disability.

Screening date: June 14-17, 20

Where to watch: Stellar Cinema City, Shanghai Film Art Center, UME International Cineplex

Schreibe mir - Postkarten nach Copacabana (Write me ? Postcards to Capacabana)

Director: Thomas Kronthaler

The 14-year-old Alfonsina lives with her mother Rosa and her grandmother Elena. Together with her best friend Tere, Alfonsina plans to leave this boring place in order to see the world.

Screening date: June 15, 17-18

Where to watch: Cathay Theater, Studio City Cinema

Lila, Lila (My Words, My Lies, My Love)

Director: Alain Gsponer

David, a waiter, finds an unpublished manuscript in a dresser drawer and claims to be the author. When the novel becomes a best-seller, the real author begins to take over David's life.

Screening date: June 14-15

Where to watch: Studio City Cinema, Broadband International Cineplex, Century Friendship Cinema

Die zwei Leben des Daniel Shore (The Two Lives of Daniel Shore)

Director: Michael Dreher

Daniel Shore, a 28-year-old German American, is about to spend a few days in the flat of his deceased grandmother. But things get complicated when a boy gets killed.

Screening date: June 13-15, 18-19

Where to watch: Yonghua Cinema, Studio City Cinema, Shanghai Film Art Center

Waffenstillstand (Ceasefire)

Director: Lancelot von Naso

A group of five people plans to help people in Falludscha and end up fighting for the lives of the helpless and wounded and eventually their own.

Screening date: June 14-15, 18-20

Where to watch: Grand Theater, Nextage Film Art Center, Tianshan Cinema


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