Further Notes on (and Praise of) LiWu Once Again + Recommendation: Border (Swedish fantasy/folklore/supernatural film)

Given that this is my first contribution to this website, I thought I might as well kick it off with something I’m really into and link it up with a recommendation of something you could do right now.

I love going to the cinema, especially smaller independent/arthouse type cinemas. And in Rostock, that means the LiWu (Lichtspieltheater Wundervoll). I won’t delve too deep into praise of the LiWu organisation – who never fail to disappoint me in bringing a great range of exciting new (and old) films from various genres to their screens – but instead point you towards these two previous posts here and here to find out more about this amazing cinema.

So this post is really just to add some new/updated information and some further points that might be of interest which my predecessors haven’t focussed on.

Part 1: Why I like LiWu so much and some tips

For one, LiWu relaunched their website a while ago (still feels relatively new to me anyway) and – even though I never do so – you can now purchase tickets online… Though I think you do have to pay a booking fee… Unless you plan to go to a really popular singular event, pre-booking, in my experience, is really not necessary. Just be there a little early to get a good seat! (For those who share my love of as central a seat as possible, in the Frieda ‘branch’ of the LiWu I’d say that’s either seat number 27 or 18.) But if you are in Rostock for a while and wandering around anyway, you can just as well go and buy your tickets at the box office in advance (during the opening times at either of the two venues).

While prices for adult single tickets have increased (from €6 to €7.50 so still decent in comparison with the bigger chains like CineStar where prices go up to €8.50, especially for weekends, while at LiWu you pay the same price no matter what day of the week), students (plus others who get concessions) still pay €6 and here’s some extra good news for the young people among you: Under 21s pay only €5 now. Also, if you’re a cinema lover who’s over 21 and not a student (or entitled to concessions) but planning to stay in Rostock for a longer period of time, do get an “Abokarte” (€48 for 8 tickets, which can be used for up to two tickets per film) to save some money. Also saves you the time of fumbling around with euro notes and coins, which may still be unfamiliar to you if you’re from abroad, at the counter. I’m not entirely sure if you can pay by card at LiWu, since cash is still so common in Germany. Will check next time I go. Would say for now I don’t think so and advise you to bring cash.

Next up, I really like the new design of the Kinoprogramm/Spielplan with a calendar overview which is continuous rather than split into weeks. (While you would commonly just get a ‘what’s on’ section on English-speaking cinema websites, in German we talk, translated literally, about the ‘cinema programme’ when referring to the listings for a week or, in the case of LiWu, a month. The pdf version of the monthly listings is always available for download from the main page (scroll down a bit) or you can sign up for their newsletter.)

When scrolling through those listings as a foreign language speaker (or hater of dubbing/foreign language enthusiast) watch out for OmU (original with German subtitles), OmeU (original with English subtitles) and OV (original version, no subs, usually English-speaking films). If you not only want to watch films in their original language/English language films but also like to see older films on the large screen, definitely look out for Schatzkiste (‘treasure chest’) screenings. Every month, an old(ish) film is shown, with usually at least one screening with subtitles or in its original form without subs. If you do understand German, I must say that the short introductions to the films are always delivered in a very entertaining and engaging way. Those (spoiler-free!) intros offering some background on the production and directors, writers, actors, etc. are part of the reason why I enjoy Schatzkiste so much. Even if I’m actually not too excited about the film in itself beforehand, after those introductory words I always look forward to what is about to come. So far, I haven’t been disappointed and experienced over and over again how the big screen and cinema atmosphere can really make you appreciate works of art on another level. To give a relatively recent example, while I had seen bits and pieces, some scenes, it was only the chance to see some of his films on the big screen at LiWu which made me begin to understand why Ingmar Bergman is considered to be one of the most influential filmmakers of all time (I especially enjoyed Smulltronstället/Wild Strawberries).

What makes LiWu unique to me is that they’ve got special series of screenings like Schatzkiste or students presenting GDR films running all the time, show a fair number of documentaries, cooperate with various organisations for some screenings etc. and have not just one day of OmU like some cinemas in other German cities that I’ve been to. I’d say they succeed quite nicely in setting themselves apart from the “mainstream” within arthouse/independent cinemas and manage to keep their individual profile high. After all, who are we kidding: yes, it’s not the mainstream but within the non-mainstream there’s also a mainstream – not meant to sound like a complaint – after all, even arthouse/independent cinemas need (and want) visitors. In the end, it’s always about finding a balance between showing stuff you can be quite sure to attract a decent number of people with and showing unique and peculiar, more risky, films – and I, for one, like cinemas to be bold and maintain, to some degree, their own individuality.

Depending on when you are reading this and when you’re staying in Rostock, make sure to check out the FiSH-Festival (only a small part of the festival takes place at the LiWu though) and the Tage des indigenen Films (Indigenous Film Festival), which moved from another venue to the LiWu (Frieda23) for the first time in 2018. The selection of films last autumn was absolutely brilliant and gave me an extremely educational and enjoyable weekend of talks, documentaries, and feature films as well as food for thought, discussion and the desire to purse some of the topics addressed for a long time after. Films included new ones like I Am Not A Witch (2017) and some not quite new but groundbreaking films like Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (2001), the retelling of an Inuit legend, or great documentaries like Reel Injun (2009) which I went on to recommend to just about everyone I encountered the weeks after the festival.

Part 2: Go watch Border!

Thanks to all who’ve kept on reading and aren’t bored of my rambling about films and cinema yet, let’s get to my recommendation for this week: The Swedish fantasy film Gräns (2018, directed by Ali Abbasi) – for whatever reason, presumably due to similar weird PR considerations that have lead to so many other strange “German” film titles, not translated into German (Grenze) but published under the English title Border – is currently showing at LiWu (Frieda 23 venue, see map at the bottom of this page).

Disclaimer: I am not an expert or proper film critic; I just love watching films and going to the cinema without knowing a whole lot about filmmaking, techniques, etc. Maybe I’ll still succeed in passing on some of my enthusiasm.

In case you are familiar with and enjoyed the 2008 vampire film Låt den rätte komma in (Let the Right One In) or, of course, the hugely successful novel, it may suffice tell you that Border is based on a short story by the famous horror novel author John Ajvide Lindqvist and that he has contributed to the screenplay, as well. For me to read that, along with a recommendation from my Swedish teacher, was enough to know I would be intrigued. Fair warning at this point: Some scenes might be quite disturbing for some (as in violence, blood, upsetting themes etc.), so be prepared.

But what is the film actually about? Calling it a fantasy film really almost reveals too much. It could, for sure, be classed as fantasy, though to say that it is a film about what it means to be human while also including some supernatural elements might be more accurate. But I’d really say, if you’re interested just go and watch it first. In terms of atmosphere it did remind me somewhat of the Swedish mystery series Jordskott. (If you like Border and are looking for a new series to get into, might be well worth having a look at that one!)

(In case you want more than my word to go on: it won the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes last year (2018) and was the Swedish entry for the Academy Awards. And while awards do not always correlate with quality, it does seem like quite a few people agree there’s something special about it.)

So not to spoil it for you – and I would even say consider not watching the trailer to be even more surprised by the great visuals and the atmosphere conveyed so delicately (will put it down below for those who want to anyway) – I’ll give just this very vague description: The story follows protagonist Tina – played brilliantly by Eva Melander – who lives in her secluded forest home and works as a border control officer at a ferry port. Her ability to smell which of the passengers has something to hide (be it three bottles of alcoholic beverages on a minor or a memory card with child pornography on an inconspicuous business man) makes her a valuable resource at work and even support for the police in an investigation throughout the film. And yet, Tina has been different all her life without knowing why – looking different, feeling different, never able to connect properly with others. Until she meets someone similar to herself and discovers new aspects of her own identity and how she relates to society and being human. The beginning of the film is really just as opaque as my description. It’s one of these films were you can truly follow the slow unfolding of the story rather than knowing from the first few minutes what it is about.

This film actually touches upon lots of relevant topics in a unique and haunting way that has the potential to leave a deep impression on viewers – it certainly did on me (doesn’t mean it joins my all-time favourites but it’s definitely a really good film). So if you’re up for something ranging from bizarre but beautiful to gentle while gross, go watch it!

Screenings are in German (apologies to non-German-speaking readers!), except for twice in Swedish with German subtitles on Saturday 20 April at 10.15pm and Monday 22 April at 8 pm. See here for all times.

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Well, and to all future fellow cinema lovers reading this: I’m sure that the chances are high for something equally good to be on at LiWu when you’re in Rostock. And, as I said, lots of opportunities to see the films in their original languages.

So, I hope you’ll enjoy your visit to LiWu just as much as I do every single time!

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P.S.: This is my first venture into the field of blogging, so I might go back to properly edit and proofread this post over the next few days, just putting it out into the world for now.

Last edited 26/04/2019: Sorted out some linguistic issues, content for the most part unchanged.

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