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A German La Vie en Rose & a performance to die for
Hildegard Knef (19252002) was many things Broadway star, songstress, screen diva, international icon and bestselling author. In this compelling biography Heike Makatsch gives a knockout performance as Knef, who walked out of the rubble of post-war Berlin and embarked on a career so amazing it could only be true. Infamous for appearing in the first nude scene in German cinema (in "Die Sünderin", 1951) and called 'the best singer without a voice' by Ella Fitzgerald, Knef's adventures in Hollywood, on Broadway and back home in her beloved Germany is the stuff of showbiz legend.
So reads the blurb for the 2009 Audi German Film Festival and about 200 to 300 of us were lucky enough last night to attend 1 of 2 screenings in Melbourne of the "version originale" as the French would say.. original German language with English sub titles. Before the 8.15pm performance the cinema foyer was fairly buzzing and alive with a very good vibe as keen German film fans, some German by birth queued up for the 8:15pm session.
This is a bio pic or is it a bio epic painted with a very broad and polished brush starting out where we find Hilde caught up in WW2 as a budding actress in war torn Berlin. It's here she meets characters like her early directors and the lady from the acting school who are in her life for many years to come. From the early 1940s the film takes us through her life and career, relationships, a time in Hollywood for the next 40 years up until about 1970. At the close of the film other later facets and highlights of Hilde's life are covered by text before the closing credits.
Hers is a very full and interesting life and surely lead actress Heike Makatash was born to play this role. Without the need to physically transform like Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose, Heike is truly luminous here. I was going to say initially Heike was a little like Angelina Jolie physically except with a lot more warmth and perhaps a stronger looking body (and one to die in some scenes) But as one comment here in the boards states Heike looks very much like Jeri Ryan http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0005394/ whose around the same age and born in Munich.
Production values and the quality of the screenplay here are first class. It's intelligent, well written and covers a multitude of themes. Too many perhaps to fully absorb in a single viewing. At 136 minutes it's not a short film and perhaps like a lot of modern films (Australia comes to mind) a short intermission would have help. Perhaps the point for such a break would have been at the conclusion of WW2.
But truly we have a top quality performance here and film making, sets and locations and recreations of the period of a very high degree and quality. Not being familiar with the real Hilde it's difficult to say how close Heike got so the question may remain was it the actress who appealed, the character she played or both. At this stage lets stay both. Once again whether Heike did the vocals I'm not sure. Mention should be made of her early male piano/vocal accompanist.. some very nice duo and solo work here.
(Postscript - taking a quick look online after writing this review the resemblance to the real Hilde is remarkable. The real Hildes vocals seem somewhat more husky than in the film. The real Hilde was a stunning beauty in some of the black and white stillshots I found online)
Digressing France have done Piaf (1916-1953), German have done Hilde proud (1925-2002). Can someone in France please do the same for the late great Yvonne Printemps (1894-1977) to complete the trio. To quote the NY (New York) mag "Printemps was one of France's great vocal originals, who flourished in the music hall, operetta, film, and, apparently, the bedroom during the first half of the last century. Her singular voice, seductive presence, piquant style, and sheer joy of performing can still be relished on CD reissues and in several movieswatch Les Trois Valses of 1938 and try to resist her". Hear, hear!
French actress Catherine Frot would be my pick to perhaps play Printemps in her 50s.
Meantime I hope Hilde gets a wide distribution so the good work of Heike, the other actors and the production team can be fully appreciated by a wider audience for this flagship German film production.
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