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2009 Film Festival -- Dunya & Desie, North Face, Yella

This article first appeared n the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 12, 2009 - Dunya & Desie, Directed by Dana Nechushtan Dark-haired Dunya (Maryam Hassouni) is 18, Moroccan and living with her family in the Netherlands. Bleached-blond Desie (Eva van de Wijdeven) is Dutch, free-wheeling and sexually adventurous. Somehow, inexplicably, the two are best friends. In this mildly engaging movie, the two wind up in Morocco -- Dunya to meet her husband-to-be, Desie to find her father.

The movie has the occasional telling moment -- Desie, pregnant and uncertain, asking her mother whether she regretted having Desie or Dunya's father complaining about being overcharged by Moroccans who consider him more Dutch than Moroccan. Some scenes, such as bikini-clad Desie on the beach surrounded by completely clad Moroccan women -- have the potential, here unrealized for acute cultural commentary. Instead the film seems content to glide along the surface, providing an account of Dunya and Desie's ho-hum adventure.

North Face

Directed by Philipp Stoltz
126 minutes  | Austria/Germany

In 1936, in Nazi Germany, there was one "unresolved" problem in the Alps: The north face of the Eiger mountain had yet to be scaled. The mountain stood there daring to be conquered -- and, for the increasingly nationalist German press, preferably by Germans.

The two Germans who try are hardly Nazi supermen or even sympathizers. (We meet them as reluctant military conscripts, ordered to scrub the latrines as a punishment.) A friend, a young woman hoping to be a journalist, but dismissively treated, wants to cover their story. But a veteran reporter, looking for either operatic victory or tragedy, decides to cover their exploits and to turn them into exemplars of the master race.

Everything that is compelling about mountain climbing is captured brilliantly in "North Face" -- the bravery, heroism, danger and sheer majesty and terror of the mountain. But "North Face" is much more than an adventure film: It is a gripping meditation on friendship, propaganda and the choice to be a human, not a superhero.


Directed by Christian Petzold
89 minutes | Germany

A sense of tense foreboding hangs over "Yella" right from the start when Yella (Nina Hoss) is stalked by her coolly menacing ex-husband Ben (Hinnerk Schoenemann). Feeling trapped by a bullying Ben and economically stultifying east Germany, Yella flees to Hanover in western Germany for a new job -- and a new life. There she meets Philipp (Devid Striesow) who enlists her in his shady business deals. An accountant, Yella impresses Philipp with her business acumen. Even as she takes more control over the business negotiations, she is haunted and threatened by her past.

Christian Petzold directs this chilly thriller in a spare, unadorned fashion. The sterile, empty environments echo the characters' emotional isolation and amorality, and it's increasingly difficult to know who's extorting whom. The deliberate pacing builds suspense, and you can't shake the feeling that there's no escape.

Susan Hegger comes to St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon as the politics and issues editor, a position she has held at the Beacon since it started in 2008.