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‘Beloved Sisters’ premieres at Berlin Filipino film highlights dangerous power of social media

BERLIN, Feb 10, (Agencies): A lush period drama about one of Germany’s most treasured writers and his 13-year-long relationship with two beautiful sisters premiered Saturday at the Berlin film festival. Friedrich Schiller, an 18th century national hero whose work is still taught to every German school pupil, is depicted in the big-budget production “Beloved Sisters” as an idealist whose Romantic notions of freedom and individualism apply to love as well. The nearly three-hour-long picture by veteran director for film and television Dominik Graf is one of four German contenders for the festival’s Golden Bear top prize to be awarded on Feb 15. Schiller makes the acquaintance of the penniless aristocrats Charlotte and Caroline while he is still a rising literary star in the shadow of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

Caroline, a bold and exuberant woman who is trapped in an unhappy marriage of convenience to the wealthy Friedrich von Beulwitz, has writing ambitions of her own and the three engage in lively debates about the looming French Revolution as their friendship deepens. Schiller and Caroline become lovers but she eventually asks him to wed the more reserved Charlotte to keep him in her own orbit and assure her sister is not consigned to her own unhappy fate in marriage. Their love triangle established, Schiller takes care to treat the sisters equally, even writing them identical letters.

But when Charlotte bears Schiller a son and Caroline later falls pregnant, their carefully balanced threesome tips into petty jealousy and resentment. Graf said he was drawn to the material because of the mythic role Schiller plays in German culture, and for the insights it offered into his espoused ideals. “At the heart of the story is an unbelievable tenderness,” he told reporters. “All three are in love and from the beginning there was a spiritual element — of course there was an erotic element too but the goal was for their hearts to beat as one, a kind of transmigration of souls.”

Graf said that the unusual length of the film gave him a canvas on which to develop three rich characters at a pace in keeping with their time. “If you had sped things up it would have been a kind of pseudo-modernity,” he said after a packed press screening that met with applause. “Words themselves were meant to play the leading role in the film.” Far from a bodice-ripper, the film shows the three characters composing letters to each other aloud on screen, and reading passages of their novels and essays aloud.

A 15-year-old’s heartbreak and obsession with the social media make for a gripping tale of how the Internet can drive fragile minds into a dangerous world, in the Filipino film “Unfriend” shown at the Berlin film festival. Director Joselito Altarejos takes viewers on a nightmarish journey with the film’s hero David, who is jilted by his lover just before Christmas, and turns to the screens of his mobile phone, iPad and computer in a desperate attempt to prolong his connection to the 17-year-old Jonathan. As his phone calls, text messages and Skype calls go unanswered, David becomes more and more detached from reality, and meanders through the crowds and chaos of Manila with a fatal plan forming in his head. Altarejos based his film on the 2011 shootings in a Filipino shopping mall of two young male lovers, amateur footage of which later surfaced online and went viral.

“A 13-year-old boy killed his boyfriend and killed himself inside a mall. The video was uploaded on Facebook. I promised myself I would do something about it. I would show people how social media has changed the way we live our lives, how we have become performers, and how social media has also made us voyeurs and exhibitionists,” Altarejos told Reuters. The film has a universal message in showing the dangers that the unfiltered information available online can hold for teenagers - putting them in touch with shady individuals, or informing them how to handle a firearm, for example. “For young people to have the power to get everything is very dangerous,” Altarejos added.

“Unfriend” vividly portrays life in the Philippines, where poverty forces millions to work abroad, and cheap phones and free WiFi make social media all-pervasive. David lives with his grandmother, a kind but distracted woman, immersed in her Catholic faith. Although they can sing karaoke songs together and share tender moments, the generation gap is vast. David’s parents work abroad - compounding his loneliness. Only once do social media become a benign force in the film as it allows David to Skype his mother. “Most Filipinos have to go out of the country to find work...It is ironic that you want to give your family a better life but at the same time you detach yourself from your family,” said Altarejos, whose mother was a maid in the Middle East. The film shows a world where phones are sold at markets, people buy tiny amounts of phone credit from street stalls and kids bury themselves in shabby Internet cafe booths. “Wifi is everywhere and free. Some kids skip lunch to buy credits for their phones,” said Altarejos.

Danish director Lars von Trier premiered a “director’s cut” of “Nymphomaniac” at the Berlin film festival on Sunday, but stayed away from the media on a day that also saw the premiere of a film about strict Catholicism’s impact on a teenage girl. Von Trier’s film starring young actress Stacy Martin and a long list of actors as her sexual partners, drew long queues to cinemas, even though it is being shown out of competition for the festival’s top prize to be awarded next Saturday. Charlotte Gainsbourg appears in the second volume of the extended version of the film, which will not be shown in Berlin. Von Trier appeared with his cast for a photo shoot, wearing a T-shirt that said “persona non grata” — an apparent reference to his having been asked to leave the Cannes film festival three years ago after saying that Hitler had had some good ideas. As has been his custom since then, he did not attend the news conference.

Asked if the director had been able to make the films he wanted, producer Louise Veth said: “Yes he has done what he wanted to until now so let’s hope that it will continue. “Of course this, with a sex topic, made it a little difficult because of public rules. Sex is more difficult than violence — I don’t know why but that’s how it is.” “Our religion is cinema and this is the cathedral and that’s what you do on Sunday. first you go to church service and then you have some fun,” Bruggemann told a news conference. “Fun” would certainly not be a word for Bruggemann’s harrowing film which shows a charming, pretty and bright young girl’s descent into self-loathing, self-doubt and eventually anorexia in a deeply religious German Roman Catholic family.

She is torn between the teachings of her priest, played by Florian Stetter, who at catechism class tells teenagers that rock and soul music are instruments of Satan and that “impurity is the major sin of our time”, and the attentions of a boy who invites her to choir practice in a more liberal parish. Maria, played by Lea van Acken, is attracted to the boy, but also thinks music might help her autistic brother, who has yet to speak a word at the age of four. Her stern and fanatical mother, played with Cruella de Vil panache by Franziska Weisz, forbids it, even if most of the music is Bach, because some of it is soul and gospel.

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