SIFF 2008: Autocracy and alarms

Our Rating

On Friday, I decided to nix the idea of seeing three movies in a row, starting at 4:30 (after yesterday’s sleepy incident). This meant I could sleep in a bit, and allow myself to get some kibble before my first movie at 6:30pm.

Strangely enough, I had actually recently re-read the 1981 teen novel The Wave by Todd Strasser. The story of a high-school teacher’s experiment with turning his class into basically neo-Nazis was memorably adapted into an After School Special in the early 80s, but this is the first time it has been made into a theatrical film. The Wave (Die Welle) (6/8) adapts the story to the present-day (cell-phone texting, the internet, and all), and changes the setting to Germany (edgy!). Hipster teacher Rainer Wenger, with his leather jacket and Ramones t-shirt, is assigned to teach “autocracy” to students during project week (drat! he wanted anarchy!). To make a dull, retread topic more interesting (after all, haven’t all the German kids learned over and over how evil Hitler and the Nazis were?), Herr Wenger decides to turn his class into an exclusive club (see? isn’t this fun?). Heck, let’s straighten our backs and stand when we speak. “Strength through discipline!” The kids get a buzz, and start to think they are special. They name their movement The Wave, and soon they are ostracizing those not in the group, until things start to turn violent. Let’s just say things get out of control, and the ending of this adaptation is harsher (but sadly probably more realistic to modern times) than the original novel and TV version.

The Wave was based on real events in Palo Alto, California in the late 60s, and this screening was immediately made more powerful and fascinating because of the presence of the original teacher, Ron Jones (now retired), and a couple of the students from his class (now, I suppose, in their late-50s), Philip Neel and Mark Hancock. The students remarked how the experiment, gone horribly wrong, was something that they all remember very clearly, like knowing exactly where you were when you heard JFK was shot. One of them said he is making a documentary, having tracked down most (all?) of the original 28 class members. Forty years after the incident, they are all dying to speak about it. I can’t wait to see that….

I was excited about my next film, Ferzan Ozpetek’s Saturn in Opposition (Saturno Contro) (5/8). At SIFF a couple years ago, I love Ozpetek’s Facing Windows, which not only ended up making me really weepy, but also won the Golden Space Needle audience award. Saturn is about a group of “polysexual” friends (I took that word from the official description), who have frequent dinner parties and are basically each other’s surrogate family. But then one day young, handsome Lorenzo passes out at the table, and it turns out has had a severe brain hemorrhage. The film basically revolves around the friends dealing with the tragedy, as they hover around the hospital. I never, sadly, became too emotionally involved. Part of the reason was my hatred for the womanizing character of Antonio… because he was just an extension of the actor’s same character in The Last Kiss! Maybe Stefano Accorsi is just too good at playing a conceited man-child.

But, you know, I never found out about how Saturn ends… when there was only about 10 minutes left of the film, the movie stopped, the lights flipped on, and a fire alarm started blaring, with a mechanical voice basically telling everyone to run for the exits. I got to go out the emergency exit, which snaked through a completely unlit hallway behind the screen, and go down stairs and stairs and stairs and stairs, until we all spilled out onto the street. As far as I know, it was a false alarm, but since it was 11pm, I wasn’t about to wait around and find out since no one seemed to know what was going on. So I decided to call it a night.


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