Dirs. Stefan Hillebrand and Oliver Paulus. Switzerland/Germany, 2003. 78mins.
If this largely improvised, shoestring budget production finds its place on the festival and art house circuit, as it rightly should, it will not be because of its glamour or production values, of which it has none, but its immediate spontaneity and its unadorned, gawky charm. Following a naive, solitary 30-year-old German cleaning woman who believes she has found the right man for her and is willing to follow him all the way to Turkey, the picture is replete with small, perceptive details on life first in the West then in the East. For once a film that deals with the classic confrontation between the rich West and not-so-rich Asia Minor with a smile instead of a grim scowl. As such, this should be an auspicious debut for writer-producer-directors Stefan Hillebrand and Oliver Paulus.
Digitally shot, but avoiding most of the pitfalls encountered in the medium, the picture takes a while to settle down, but once it does, it is a pleasant surprise all around. The film recently had its German premiere at Mannheim-Heidelberg in late November after receiving a special mention from the New Directors Jury at San Sebastian.
Neither very bright nor particularly beautiful, Paula (Fischer) is a big, strapping blonde woman, living on her own with her canary, Butterfly, and sharing her innocent romantic dreams with her diminutive friend, Aiken, with whom she sweeps the floor of a mall every night. She is convinced that, once the right man comes into her life, she will immediately recognise him and that no conceivable obstacle will be able to prevent their eternal happiness.
When she meets Mustafa (Sengul), a security guard whose polite interest she misinterprets as assiduous courting, she decides on the spot he is the chosen one, immediately starts fantasising the beginning of a romantic affair between them, follows him to a bar he mentioned in their conversations and embarrasses him with her ungainly presence.
One day she finds out that his family has sent him back home to Turkey, but once the shock wears off, she is easily persuaded by her friends to take her meagre savings and chase after him. Unable to speak Turkish, and with little chance of finding her would-be beau, she refuses to give up: 'When I was acting normal everyone said I was crazy. Now that I am acting crazy everyone says the same thing. So what's the difference'' She persists and, with the help of a kindly reception clerk, manages to find Mustafa, although she is in for a surprise.
German-born Stefan Hillebrand and Swiss Oliver Paulus, working on lines already used several times in the past, noticeably by an award-winning Danish film POV: Point Of View, divide their tale for the sake of convenience into a brief prologue, three acts and an epilogue.
That said, their primary methodology is improvisational. While the two leads, and that of an impoverished German noblewoman (Grimme) who befriends Paula for a while, are played by professionals, all the other parts are taken by amateurs, acting out for the most part their real-life roles. Similarly, dialogue and plot developments are not pre-planned.
The film is superbly served by Isolde Fisher's straightforward, sincere and unaffected performance as Paula, a woman who can walk into the jets of a city fountain with the natural enthusiasm of someone who is truly carried away on the wings of her dreams. The soundtrack is a lively stream of modern Turkish pop songs that complement the film's mood.
Prod cos: Motorfilm, Frischfilm, Schicke Bilder
Int'l sales: Motorfilm : firstname.lastname@example.org
Prods: Stefan Hillebrand, Oliver Paulus, Mathias Schick
Cinematography: Mathias Schick
Ed: Andre Bigoudi
Prod des and costumes: Nicole Hartmann
Music: Erdal Tosun
Sound: Wolfgang Stock
Main cast: Isolde Fischer, Helga Grimme, Can Sengul, Tulay Gonen, Arcan Arican