The German film Ich und Kaminski (Me and Kaminski) opened Alexandria’s Goethe Film Week on 2 May at the Goethe Institute.
Directed by Wolfgang Becker, the film is based on the 2003 book by Austrian-German writer Daniel Kehlmann, starring German actor Daniel Brühl in the role of arts journalist Sebastian Zöllner and Danish actor Jesper Christensen, a veteran of European cinema, as the once-famous blind artist Manuel Kaminski.
The film follows Zollner as he sets off to write the biography of the ageing artist, secretly betting on his imminent death to boost the book’s popularity and give him his big break.
When Zollner’s investigations uncover the address of Kaminski’s old lover and muse Therese, who was long believed to be dead, they embark on a perspective-altering journey.
The lives of both the artist and biographer are interwoven as they develop in parallel, both experiencing heartbreak, and reckoning with their pasts -- at one point in the film Kaminski says he feels they've walked into Zollner's past rather than his own -- and eventually finding some closure.
The story is told to us in eight chapters, as if we are reading the book Zollner writes at the end, and a reference to the original book on which the film is based.
Although Manuel Kaminski is a fictional artist, the film makes it easy to forget, especially in the prologue which presents media coverage on the artist’s death, complete with footage of other famous actors and artists who knew him.
Art is not only the main subject of the film but it is also in the editing, as scenes artistically morph into paintings, and vice versa, as a transition from one scene or chapter to the next.
A warm colour palette runs throughout the film, taking us from beautiful German landscapes to galleries, art-filled homes, and even cheap hotels that are picturesque.
Even though viewers already know the fate of both characters, we are still on edge with a sense that their adventure could turn into disaster at any moment.
What Zollner will mess up next? How would Kaminski react to that? What happens if they do meet Therese?
At first the clumsy, anxious Zollner seems uninterested in truly learning anything about Kaminski as a person, beyond finding a catchy scoop for his book.
We may find ourselves experiencing a similar change as Zollner does, starting off with one goal in mind, and ending up being far more enriched by the journey itself.
Instead of wondering how Kaminski dies, we are more emotionally invested in what he has to say next, what his views are.
Humour, absurdity, wisdom, and a gentle dose of suspense are present throughout Me and Kaminski, and in fact the film was chosen to open the film week because of its lighthearted quality.
“I thought it was the best mood to start with, while most of the other films were very serious and dramatic,” Yousra El-Mallah, programme assistant at the Goethe Institute in Alexandria which organises the film week, told Ahram Online.
After Me and Kaminski the Egyptian film One Plus One Makes a Pharoah’s Chocolate Cake was screened, followed by a discussion with directors Marouan Omara and Islam Kamal, who is Alexandrian.
“I also wanted to start off the festival with an Alexandrian film; it’s very popular around Alex,” said El-Mallah.
Usually daily screenings include one German film and one Egyptian film, as part of the film week’s purpose is to acquaint audiences will German films and culture, in addition to promoting Egyptian films.
Variety and steering away from stereotypes were kept in mind during the selection process, according to El-Mallah.
“I didn’t want us to screen another World War film, and the things we are used to seeing about Germany. We’ve seen enough of that. I wanted things that were new, and different, and I think the other films we have in the programme are not about Germany as we know it, but offer that fresh perspective,” she said.
One example is the film Overgames, a documentary centred on a 1960s West German reality show titled Nur Nicht Nervös Warden (Don’t Get Nervous), looking at how it affected and influenced the psychology of society in Germany.
Other German films at the festival include We Were Rebels, Four Kings, and 24 Weeks.
“The film selection is primarily done in the Cairo branch, but we also participate and look at what films we want to have screened here or suggest others,” said El-Mallah.
There is no particular theme or criteria for the film selection, except for being German films, or premiers of Egyptian productions that are connected to Germany in some way, such as participation in a German film festival, like the Berlinale Forum Expanded or Dok Leipzig.
Since the film week will take place in several cities, starting with Cairo (from 2 to 9 May) and Alexandria (from 2 to 6 May), some of the selections including Me and Kaminski are exclusive to the Alexandria programme, while others are screened in both or all cities.
Goethe Film Week extends beyond May to be held in Minya, Damanhour and Ismailiya in June, as well as Aswan in September.
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