Germany wouldn't be Germany if the success of one of its own at the Oscars -- this year, the victory of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's "Das Leben der Anderen" ("The Lives of Others") in the Best Foreign Film category -- didn't result in immediate controversy in all of the major newspapers.
Thus, to take one notable example, the civil rights activist Werner Schulz claims, in Die Welt, that the film does not deserve a prize, due to its cavalier attitude towards historical fact:
Steven Spielberg would've been picked to pieces worldwide if he had dreamed up Oskar Schindler and his list. Roman Polanski would've suffered similarly with the "Pianist" had he behaved the same. Iit seems that one can freely and imaginatively play with the history of the GDR with no attachment to historical authenticity. Thus a tough guy, a specialist for surveillance and a Stasi-leader, suddenly becomes a protector of dissidents.
On the other hand, Stefan Reinecke defends the film in today's taz:
"Das Leben der Anderen" is an intimate piece, far removed from the aesthetic of domination. It dissolves the cliche of the Stasi -- without whitewashing -- and makes possible a play of identifications. That is the key to success. Perhaps the naivete and obsessive curiosity of a bystander like Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck -- a West German who was 16 when the Wall fell -- was necessary in order to abandon the well-trodden path of the GDR-Stasi theme. Where, then, is the problem? In 2006 "Das Leben der Anderen" was not a German entry in the Berlin Film Festival. Why not? Why is it so difficult to recognize what is positive about this film? True, director von Donnersmarck is blessed with a level of self-confidence that is difficult to distinguish from hubris. But that's not the point. It has to do with a cultural-critical reflex that has long ago become routine -- namely that success must be mistrusted. A German thriller that also tells a political story is virtually guaranteed widespread suspicion.
Daß die Bäcker ihre weißen Hände ausziehen.
Daß die Metzger vor den Tieren sterben.
Daß die Dichter einen nutzlosen Mund haben,
den sie rund machen und breit ziehen.
Das steht im Vernichtungsbuch geschrieben.
sind der Statuen durchlöcherte Sohlen,
dort, wo die Bleisockel in die Bronze griffen.
Daß man durch das fehlende Auge,
durch ein Loch im Schädel
zu den Ablagerungen im Inneren gelangte.
Daß die Werkzeuge bis in den Brustkorb reichten.
Daß sie dort eine Kugel fanden
von der Größe eines getrockneten Herzens.
Daß die Stempelkissen ihre Tinte verströmten,
das Papier schwärzten, alle Farben schluckten.
That bakers shed their white hands.
That butchers die before the animals.
That poets have useless mouths
which they make round and stretch wide.
That is written in the book of annihilation.
are the hole-riddled soles of the statues,
there where the lead plinths gripped into the bronze.
That through the missing eye,
through a hole in the skull,
one arrived at the deposits in the interior.
That the tools reached all the way into the ribcage.
That there they found a bullet
of the size of a dried-up heart.
That the inkpads leaked all their ink,
blackened the paper, swallowed up all colors.
- “Babel” (Paramount and Paramount Vantage) An Anonymous Content/Zeta Film/Central Films Production; Alejandro González Iñárritu, Jon Kilik and Steve Golin, Producers
- “The Departed” (Warner Bros.) A Warner Bros. Pictures Production; Graham King, Producer
- “Letters from Iwo Jima” (Warner Bros.) A DreamWorks Pictures/Warner Bros. Pictures Production; Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz, Producers
- “Little Miss Sunshine” (Fox Searchlight) A Big Beach/Bona Fide Production; David T. Friendly, Peter Saraf and Marc Turtletaub, Producers
- “The Queen” (Miramax, Pathé and Granada) A Granada Production; Andy Harries, Christine Langan and Tracey Seaward, Producers
And the award goes to ... "Letters from Iwo Jima," Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg and Robert Lorenz, Producers. I loved both "Little Miss Sunshine" and "The Queen," but neither of them have the scope or ambition to be best pictures of the year, in my opinion. "Letters from Iwo Jima" does ... and it is a remarkable cinematic achievement -- as well as being by far Eastwood's best movie since "Unforgiven."
- “Babel” (Paramount and Paramount Vantage) Alejandro González Iñárritu
- “The Departed” (Warner Bros.) Martin Scorsese
- “Letters from Iwo Jima” (Warner Bros.) Clint Eastwood
- “The Queen” (Miramax, Pathé and Granada) Stephen Frears
- “United 93” (Universal and StudioCanal) Paul Greengrass
And the winner is ... Martin Scorsese, for "The Departed." He's the Susan Lucci of the Academy Awards for Christ's sake! Enough is enough. Give the man his statue already.
- “Babel” (Paramount and Paramount Vantage) Written by Guillermo Arriaga
- “Letters from Iwo Jima” (Warner Bros.) Screenplay by Iris Yamashita, Story by Iris Yamashita & Paul Haggis
- “Little Miss Sunshine” (Fox Searchlight) Written by Michael Arndt
- “Pan’s Labyrinth” (Picturehouse) Written by Guillermo del Toro
- “The Queen” (Miramax, Pathé and Granada) Written by Peter Morgan
The winner is ... "Letters from Iwo Jima;" screenplay by Iris Yamashita, story by Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis. I've written already about how much, surprisingly, I loved "The Queen," but "Letters from Iwo Jima" was brilliant.
"Letters" is also so clearly not a Paul Haggis production -- for example, in the way that a scene in which a mother's letter to a captured American soldier is read by his Japanese captors, a scene intended to underscore the common humanity of soldiers on both sides of the conflict, is then saved from maudlin or treacly sentimentality by a scene that follows shortly after, in which a Japanese deserter meets his death in an event that is surprising in it's stark, youthfully callous murderousness.
(An interview with Yamashita on NPR's "Here and Now" is here.)
- “Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (20th Century Fox) Screenplay by Sacha Baron Cohen & Anthony Hines & Peter Baynham & Dan Mazer; Story by Sacha Baron Cohen & Peter Baynham & Anthony Hines & Todd Phillips
- “Children of Men” (Universal) Screenplay by Alfonso Cuarón & Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby
- “The Departed” (Warner Bros.) Screenplay by William Monahan
- “Little Children” (New Line) Screenplay by Todd Field & Tom Perrotta
- “Notes on a Scandal” (Fox Searchlight) Screenplay by Patrick Marber
And the winner is ... Alfonso Cuarón & Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby for "Children of Men"!
I know, I know ... I loved the Borat movie, but most of its scenes were unscripted, so it seems odd to give it the award for best adapted screenplay. I found "Notes on a Scandal" to be bizarrely misogynistic and homophobic -- not to mention full of utterly unsympathetic and irredeemable characters. (I haven't yet seen "Little Children"; given what I know of Field & Perrotta, both of whom I love, I might otherwise have given it the nod.)
This one was really a toss-up. Cruz, Dench, and Mirren were all amazing. In my opinion, "The Queen" was the strongest move of "Volver," "Notes on a Scandal," and "The Queen," and since Mirren's performance was the foundation of that movie's success, I'm giving the nod to her.