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February 14, 2000 07:43am
Degenerate America on Full Display at Berlinale
Source: Reuters
by: Erik Kirschbaum

(BERLIN) -- The darker side of America has long been favored terrain for filmmakers at the Berlinale, but the focus on the degenerate parts of the world's most commercial society has been especially intense this year.

Foul-mouthed Americans with broken lives who lie and cheat, molest their children and wallow in drug-induced self-pity are on full display in P.T. Anderson's film ``Magnolia,'' which made its European premiere Monday at the Berlin Film Festival.

Alongside ``The Million Dollar Hotel,'' which delves into the seedy world of Los Angeles derelicts, and ``Three Kings,'' which takes a cynical look at the U.S.-led war Gulf War, ''Magnolia'' is competing for the prestigious Golden Bear award.

``The Beach'' and ``The Talented Mr. Ripley'' -- two other films competing for the festival's top honors -- are productions that portray the seamier aspects of American life.

These are the antitheses to the traditional Hollywood films with happy endings. They are tales about lost souls, and soulless losers, irresponsible, spoiled, conniving, murderous and unfaithful.

They represent a genre of films that have become increasingly popular in Europe -- in particular Germany where the former blind faith in the good of everything American that prevailed during much of the Cold War has long since dissipated.

``America is a huge country that has everything from the best to the worst,'' Moritz de Hadeln, the festival's director, told Reuters. ``That's what people love about America. These films that are critical of society are the best films on the market.''

Starring Tom Cruise and Julianne Moore, ``Magnolia'' is a three-hour epic that follows a group of unhappy Los Angeles families with a wide assortment of problems -- most self-inflicted. Like America itself, they have plenty of wealth but it only seems to make their woes worse.

Cruise, who won a Golden Globe award for best supporting actor, plays a speaker who teaches men how to pick up women.

Cruise deftly brings out the shallowness of the character and turns in an impressive performance when he reluctantly decides to visit his loathed father just before the death of the man who ran away from his family 20 years earlier.

Moore, who also starred in the 29-year-old Anderson's widely acclaimed ``Boogie Nights'' satire of the porn industry, is the much-younger wife of Cruise's father who admits marrying him for his money. She tries to kill herself with prescription drugs.

``I think my movie is a hopeful one,'' said Anderson, who is also a native of the Los Angeles suburb he portrays. ``To get to that you have to show the darkness.''

``Magnolia'' features a lonely cop who falls in love with a cocaine-snorting woman who also loathes her father, a vacuous game-show host who admits on his deathbed that he may have molested his daughter.

The film concludes with a bizarre scene. Heavy rains have stopped and suddenly it starts raining frogs. Thousands of them splatter down on to cars and pavements. Anderson, who stressed that the frogs were computer-generated, joked that he thought about letting it rain ``cats and dogs.''

``But that would have been too expensive,'' he said.

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