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FILM

Ralph Fiennes directorial debut wins over critics at Berlinale

British actor Ralph Fiennes won applause at the Berlin film festival for his directorial debut, "Coriolanus," a modern adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy about a vengeful Roman general.

Ralph Fiennes directorial debut wins over critics at Berlinale
Photo: DPA

The all-star cast includes the two-time Oscar nominee in the title role alongside Vanessa Redgrave as his ambitious mother Volumnia and Gerald Butler as Tullus Aufidius, an enemy army commander.

Swapping swords and sandals for automatic weapons and mobile phones, the film borrows from present-day conflicts such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq by depicting a world power locked in combat with insurgents.

The picture’s script was written by John Logan, the screenwriter of “Gladiator” and “The Aviator,” and re-imagines one of Shakespeare’s lesser-known plays as a contemporary look at the overreach of empires.

Fiennes, 48, said he had played the role in a London theatre 10 years ago and the wars of the last decade had underlined the relevance of the story.

“The idea of Coriolanus as a film was inside my head and heart for some time,” he told reporters after a well-received press screening on Monday.

“All around me, even before 9/11 but certainly afterwards, I kept seeing images in newspapers and on television that seemed to come from this story. I felt more and more convinced that the world around us was the right setting for this piece.”

Filmed in Belgrade, the picture shows Fiennes as a loyal warrior whose triumphs on the battlefield propel him toward a political career in Rome.

But he finds himself unable to adapt to the expectations of the angry citizens of the empire and is eventually banished. Isolated and humiliated, Coriolanus leaves his family behind and takes up arms with Aufidius.

But in the wrenching dramatic climax, his mother seeks him out at the rebel camp with a final plea for him to return home.

Redgrave, 74, said Volumnia was a challenge even for a seasoned actress. “I didn’t think I could play her but thanks to the fact that Ralph is an extraordinary director, I had complete trust in him,” she said.

“He assembled such a fantastic team of people, all of whom had trust in him and therefore we had trust in each other.

“For some reason, but basically for that reason, I felt that I could see my way to a woman who was prepared for her son to be killed rather than for him to lose his honour or his country. It’s a concept that I think is very unfamiliar today except in military families.”

Butler, best known for his roles in the blockbuster “300” and a string of romantic comedies, said he relished the chance to sink his teeth into Shakespeare.

“Something intellectual is always challenging for me,” the 41-year-old joked.

“I wasn’t somebody who was brought up steeped in Shakespeare. And to enter into this venture at such a high level with Ralph and Vanessa… was just amazing.”

Fiennes said there was a clear homoerotic component in the relationship between Coriolanus and Aufidius which he and Butler consciously brought to the screen.

“The erotic element is very apparent in Shakespeare’s story,” he said.

“In the battle scene, the physical contact should be suggestive of some kind of love-making.”

“Coriolanus” is one of 16 films in the running for the festival’s Golden Bear top prize, to be awarded Saturday by a jury led by Italian-American actress and director Isabella Rossellini.

Other contenders include “Margin Call” starring Kevin Spacey and Demi Moore in a thriller about the start of the financial crisis and “Tales of the Night”, a 3D animated feature by France’s Michel Ocelot.

AFP/Rm

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CULTURE

‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

Germans have an international reputation for enjoying functional clothing. A top German fashion expert told The Local whether the stereotypes of German fashion are really true - and what Angela Merkel has to do with modern style.

‘Sandals mean freedom’: Eight tips on how to dress like a German

‘Comfortable and practical’

“It’s pretty easy to define German style,” says Bernhard Roetzel, the author of books on men’s fashion such as ‘Gentleman: A Timeless Guide to Fashion’. “Nowadays the basic dress of a grown-up man is mainly blue jeans, some kind of sweatshirt and an anorak. The shoes are usually comfortable sneakers. This is the basic German fashion that everyone from workers to doctors wears, and it is suitable for 90 percent of occasions.”

The basic theme, he says, is comfort and practicality. “That is very important.”

According to Roetzel, this love for the practical stretches all the way back into the 19th century when most other Europeans still had strict public dress codes.

“It began with a movement called Lebensreform, which valued things like vegetarianism and woollen clothes, which were supposed to be healthy,” he says.

“Even if Germans at the time didn’t like political freedom, they loved the freedom to wear sandals. Freedom for Germans is to wear sandals in places where it is not appropriate!”

A woman lies on the shore of the Schwarzachtalsee in Baden-Württemberg still wearing her sandals. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Thomas Warnack

Dressing down became even more acceptable after the First World War, when Germany became a republic and the aristocracy, with its formal sense of dress, lost its importance. “The Nazis also propagated being active outdoors,” Roetzel notes. “Fashion was seen as something awful created by the French and the Jews to bring about the downfall of German culture.”

When the craze for casual wear crossed the pond from the US in the 1960s, Germans were slow to adopt it. But now jeans are even standard clothing for septuagenarians, he says. “Twenty years after jeans arrived people started to realise that they are great for all occasions – and now everyone wears them. This was the last blow to formal German clothing.”

Dress down for work

The German love for all-purpose clothes means that it is perfectly appropriate to wear jeans to work, according to Roetzel. 

“If you don’t work in a bank or law firm you can probably wear jeans in most offices. A non-iron, short sleeve shirt is also very important. German men love these shirts, despite the fact that you get hot in them.”

You can even wear sneakers in the office. Or, if you have to look a bit smarter “some very cheap, comfortable leather shoes” will make you fit right in.

“In business, it is very important that you don’t stand out,” Roetzel advises. “If you are smartly dressed people will ask if you have an important meeting or will think you are looking for a pay rise. For everyday business, you dress as casually as possible.”

A woman cycles to work in jeans and a simple jacket in Hamburg. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Christin Klose

Nothing too sexy

Meanwhile, women’s workplace style, perhaps even more than men’s, is based on the principle of ‘the more forgettable the better.’

“Women in German business must not look too sexy,” says the fashion writer. “If you wear a skirt, for example, it should not be too short and heels should not be too high.” A “boxy, mouse grey suit” including a jacket that doesn’t complement one’s figure completes the look.

“Whereas in Italy, businesswomen carry Chanel bags, in Germany they usually carry a laptop bag or something very practical. Makeup is also rather reduced, not too much lipstick, nothing that is too obvious,” he says.

No door policy

Ties are basically a redundant piece of apparel in modern Germany, meaning wearing one really is a matter of choice in most settings.

“There are very few places where you are not allowed in if you don’t wear a tie,” says Roetzel. “I don’t know a single restaurant that wouldn’t admit you if you don’t wear a tie. You might not be allowed into Cologne Cathedral if your shorts are too short, but basically, you can wear everything everywhere and Germans love this!”

Funerals and weddings

Even the most formal occasions, such as weddings, funerals and important birthdays are much more informal events than they once were.

“At funerals, people will wear black but they rarely wear a black suit, most people will wear a black sweatshirt and jeans,” says Roetzel.

Copy Merkel

Angela Merkel’s unpretentious style appealed to Germans. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Fabian Sommer

Anyone looking for inspiration need look no further than recently retired German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who famously wore variations on the same trouser suit for most of her career.

“She had different colours and fabrics but that was her uniform and she also found her hairstyle and that was it. I don’t think she had a stylist,” Roetzel says. “That’s what Germans love. It’s recognizable and it doesn’t look expensive.”

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“In Germany, one thing you should never admit to is wearing expensive, tailor-made clothes,” he explains. “As a politician, you can admit that you like drinking but you should never admit to having an expensive wardrobe.”

In fact, the cheaper the better. “Olaf Scholz has always earned a lot of money but his clothes are awful, his suits are awful – this is just perfect for Germany,” says Roetzel.

Splash the cash subtly (or on outdoor clothes)

This is not to say that all Germans wear cheap clothes, but they don’t make a big fuss about the brands that they do wear.

“People want to express status by wearing certain brands,” Roetzel points out. “But in Germany, this is done in a very subtle way. You will see small details in the clothes and glasses of a professor or doctor that will tell you a lot. Class exists but people hide their status because it is negative to show it off. This can be hard for foreigners to detect.”

There is one major exemption thought to the rule of not flaunting your wealth – outdoor apparel.

“Outdoor clothes are really a big thing here,” Roetzel says. “It gives people a sense of freedom and healthiness. Spending €800 on an outdoor jacket is perfectly okay. But it is a sin to spend the same amount on a tailor-made suit – you will destroy your image if you admit to doing this.”

Moreover, anyone who wants to impress Germans through their possessions would be better advised to buy a good car or modern kitchen, the fashion expert says. “It is perfectly normal to have a very expensive kitchen, but your clothes should still be cheap.”

Focus on inner beauty

The German (dis)interest in fashion can actually tell us a lot about deeper German values.

“There is an old Prussian saying of mehr sein als schein (content is better than appearance). Germans feel that if something is too beautiful there must be something fishy about it. Anyone who is too smartly dressed could be a conman,” says Roetzel.

“Germans are very honest, they like to be very direct. They say “what’s the point in not wearing sandals if it’s hot?’”

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