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Cannibal pic hard to swallow

Helmer von Praunheim provoking with pair of pix

BERLIN — Rosa von Praunheim is no stranger to controversy, but the Berlin director’s latest pics, “Dein Herz in meinem Hirn” (Your Heart in My Brain), a study of cannibalism, and Berlinale screener “Heroes and Gay Nazis,” promise to raise more than just eyebrows.

For the past 35 years, von Praunheim has been one of Germany’s leading campaigners for gay rights in both film and politics, and he is widely credited as having had a decisive impact on Germany’s current liberal stand on gay and lesbian issues.

While the provocative director has long challenged the establishment with his exposes on homosexual life, “Your Heart in My Brain” and “Heroes and Gay Nazis,” with their examinations of the more wicked aspects of gay culture and homoeroticism, are certain to provoke the same gay communities that have long held von Praunheim in high esteem.

“Of course they will be controversial. After making films about liberal gay heroes who contributed to gay emancipation, I am now more interested in evil homosexuals,” he says.

Inspired by the grisly real-life case of a German computer technician who killed, carved up and ate a victim he says wanted to be cannibalized, von Praunheim says cannibalism is a subject that has long fascinated him and one he lampooned in his 1999 pic “Can I Be Your Bratwurst, Please?”

“I was reared Catholic, and the church still employs cannibalistic rituals that go back to pagan times — the eating and drinking of Christ’s flesh and blood, for example. Even though it’s part of our culture, in religion, in fairy tales like ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ it remains a very taboo subject that really revolts people, even those who regularly stuff themselves full with animal flesh.”

Even before shooting began, the project raised a ruckus among conservative German politicos, who called the project “a monument to a perverse criminal” and bashed Germany’s film subsidy boards for backing the fictional pic.

The film is a two-man show in which the lead thesps, Martin Molitor and Martin Ontrop, not only improvise their dialogue but also play all the supporting roles, including a police officer, a Russian hooker and the mother of one of the characters.

It’s a dramaturgical device von Praunheim compares to the one employed by thesp Jefferson Mays in “I Am My Own Wife,” Doug Wright’s critically acclaimed Broadway play about the late Berlin transvestite and museum curator Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, who also served as the subject of von Praunheim’s 1992 docudrama “I Am My Own Woman.”

Although the film’s protagonists are not gay, the homoerotic aspects of the story are apparent, says von Praunheim, adding that the story is more about power and the passive-aggressive dynamics of the two main characters.

Von Praunheim, who just completed principal photography on the low-budget pic with his two-man camera team of Lorenz Haarmann and Jens Paetzold, is in talks with Berlin-based Ziegler Film to pick up rights to the film, which will likely hit theaters later this year.

Similarly, “Heroes and Gay Nazis” looks at modern-day gay neo-Nazis as well as homosexual officials in the Third Reich, including Ernst Roehm, who headed the Nazi Party’s stormtrooper division before being executed on Adolf Hitler’s orders.

Germany’s Nazi past remains a delicate subject here, and the pic’s producer, regional pubcaster NDR, has communicated its considerable concerns to von Praunheim. Although the pic was selected to run in Berlinale’s arthouse Panorama section, it was nearly shelved by nervous officials at the pubcaster.

Von Praunheim has two other documentaries unspooling at the Berlin fest this year: “A Life in Vain — Walter Schwarze,” about a concentration camp survivor, and “Who Is Helene Schwarz?,” a profile of one of this year’s Berlinale Camera winners.

Von Praunheim will return to full-time filmmaking next year when his five-year term as an instructor at the Film & Television Academy near Berlin expires. His next feature, “Six Dead Film Students,” will be a satirical work about his academic stint there.

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