Though the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival has been a Bay Area cinema staple for decades, I haven’t had the opportunity to cover it previously. That changes now: 2023’s Festival (the 27th!) runs from Thursday, March 23, through Tuesday, March 28, and plants its East Bay flag at Rialto Cinemas Elmwood for two screenings on Monday, March 27.
While I was unable to pre-screen the first film appearing at the Elmwood (Everything Will Change, 6 p.m.), I can heartily recommend Family Affairs (Der Nachname, 8:30 p.m.). It’s a sequel to writer-director Sönke Wortmann’s How About Adolf?, a delightfully droll comedy-drama that tickled my funny bone when it appeared at the 39th San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in 2019.
Adolf? introduced viewers to the Böttchers, a fractious middle-class German family torn apart by a difficult baby-naming decision. The clan returns in Family Affairs, and while the baby upheaval has passed, controversy now swirls around matriarch Dorothea’s (Iris Berben) decision to marry erstwhile clarinetist Rene (Justus von Dohnányi) and settle down in Lanzarote (one of the Canary Islands).
His contempt for Rene made crystal clear in the first film, Dorothea’s son Thomas (Florian David Fitz) is disgusted by his mother’s decision; daughter Elisabeth (Caroline Peters) is mostly upset that she wasn’t invited to the nuptials; uptight husband Stephan (the wonderful Christoph Maria Herbst), meanwhile, can’t get over the airline charging him 30 Euros for bringing some overweight carry-on luggage — which he endlessly insists wasn’t over the limit. And then comes news of a surrogate pregnancy …
While Family Affairs isn’t quite as acerbic or sharply drawn as its predecessor (some of the characters’ rougher edges have been sanded down), those who enjoyed How About Adolf? will be happy to see more of the passive-aggressive Böttcher family.
Lanzarote also features briefly in Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer (screening at San Francisco’s Roxie Theater at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 25), a straightforward documentary about a most un-straightforward filmmaker. The island serves as home for Herzog’s new directors’ workshop, but Radical Dreamer doesn’t spend a lot of time there — instead, the film (helmed by Thomas von Steinaecker) retells Herzog’s life from his beginnings as a wartime refugee in rural Germany to his 21st century role as a beloved cultural icon.
Along the way we meet both of Herzog’s brothers, including Lucki, who became his producer during the making of 1972’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (a film that’s resided firmly within your humble scribe’s all-time “top ten” list for decades). There’s remarkable behind-the-scenes footage from a number of the director’s productions, including film of star Klaus Kinski going absolutely bananas while shooting 1982’s Fitzcarraldo, and context and commentary aplenty from Herzog colleagues and friends Christian Bale, Volker Schlöndorff, Patti Smith, Carl Weathers and Wim Wenders.
Amusingly, the film is prefaced by the statement “based on a true story” — but as Herzog asserts herein in his distinctive monotone, “truth is something we do not know.” In a world where AI technology is increasingly making up facts out of whole cloth, he might just be right.
“Based on a true story” also pops up in front of The Forger (Der Passfälscher, screening at the Roxie at 9 p.m. on Thursday, March 23), a well-made if occasionally confusing drama about a young Jewish man in 1942 Germany surviving thanks to a work exemption and a knack for creating phony ID cards. The excellent Louis Hofmann (2018’s Land of Mine) plays the quick-witted Cioma Schönhaus, who managed to survive the war and live to the grand old age of 92. Writer-director Maggie Peren’s screenplay leaves a few too many questions unanswered, but The Forger is never boring.