The Hamburg Film Fest's schedule always has good stuff on offer. Last year I had the great pleasure to attend the premiere of Fade To Black. This year the audience in Hamburg was one of the very first one to have a peek at Michael Radford's latest movie "Flawless". The film also screened at the San Sebastián festival this weekend. Hamburg is a small festival in comparison, no important prices to win here - just people with all kinds of background come to watch new films, made-for-TV stuff and documentaries. The mood is unconventional and you usually don't see too many people from the "in-crowd" here. To sum it all up it's fun to be here and enjoy it all.

The cinema was packed with people, as far as I could observe we also had some journalists and critics among us. A presenter gave us a short intro to the film's plot and told us that unfortunately we'd be the few German cineastes that have the privilege to watch this one on the big screen. Sorry to break the news to you but the German market will have a direct to DVD release - no theatrical release here. It will be out in US cinemas from November 30th, 2007 tho'. One small hint for those of you who hate spoilers - don't read any further. You'll definitely find clues to this lovely heist thriller that might ruin your fun! Go on reading at your own risk.

This one is really meant for the big screen. It's very stylish, very cool and very swinging, quite sixties and yeah sure you'll get into the mood once you watch Demi Moore entering the scenery with all the hairdo, highly sophisticated make-up, uncomfortable but devilish tempting looking clothes and hats, high heels and polished fingernails making all the right moves to the sounds of "Take Five". Hip is the right word for the whole production set. You can feel the sixties oozing through every pore. The interior design is exquisite to the last detail.

The movie is told in one huge flash-back manner: In our modern days a young and superficial female journalist interviews an old lady (our to-be-heroine Laura Quinn) about her past and her ways to make a career back in the London of the swinging sixties. Laura starts talking about her adventures with the London Diamond Corporation and Mr. Hobbs (Sir Michael Caine), the janitor who bore a deep and justified grudge towards certain people and companies.

So all of the sudden the sixties deco is all around you, you are right there and then. But even more so, you'll soon start to realize that Laura Quinn (Demi Moore) has her reasons for her über-stylishness - let's say it's as simple as that: She has to appear to be perfect because (male) people would expect her to be like that in the position she's holding. Not that she personally necessarily believes in it. She's a 38-year-old American-born employee with the London Diamond Corporation (Lon Di) educated at Oxford. She's stuck with her career right in the middle-management. She doesn't even get half a chance to prove that she's able to manage more, like let's say a subsidiary manager(ess) position. Her bosses make her feel the glass ceiling every day. She's trying to fight her own frustration. Since she's got no female compatriots that might lend her a mentally helping hand she starts writing notes to herself. She reads her own old messages in certain situations to herself and gets even more frustrated over her situation as a whole. It all seems like a self-contradictory self-full-filling-prophecy. Very absurd, but understandable.

Just as she's been passed over yet another time by a male (needless to say) inapt rival, she realizes that someone's been reading her notes - he's been adding his own thoughts to hers. Her words: "I'm going to try harder and I'm going to succeed." His words: "No you're not."

She has a small notion of who that strange pen pal is: Mr. Hobbs the night janitor who empties her dustbins and tidies up her office. Hobbs, played brilliantly by Sir Michael Caine is a widower who years and years back took on his job to be able to help his ailing wife during the day. He'd be working during the night to make some money. She died a long time ago, but somehow for some reason Hobbs remained at Lon Di although his education would have allowed him different and better jobs. In this they both share similarities but only to a certain extend - Laura Quinn never made a steep career because she's got the "wrong" gender, Hobbs declined his career out of free will for the love to his wife.

A crisis in South Africa and the international turbulences that arise out of this situation endanger a prolongation of a contract between Lon Di and Russia. This is a vital contract the London based company needs to secure its monopolist position in the international diamond market. Lon Di is the only supplier of diamonds to five continents, would it lose it's unique function in the world market, the price for diamonds would plummet and take a great deal of private investor's money of uncertain origin with it. You may say that there's a lot of dirt behind the highly polished marble walls of Lon Di as well as its investors and guarantors. Laura Quinn's career is finally at stake as she tries to help her boss Sir Milton (Joss Ackland) finding a practical solution to the mess the company's in. The old boy's club decides to sacrifice her for the sake of Lon Di. This btw was something Hobbs told her days before she even had first indications that this would ever happen to her.

Now her that her curiosity and her anger are in full swing, she finally gives in to Hobbs' suggestions: why not take - let's say a thermos flask full of raw diamonds from the vault of Lon Di. No-one would ever notice it and all Laura Quinn would have to do is trying to find out the combination for the safe. A million for him to supplement his small pension he's about to get in a few month's time and a million for her as a golden handshake the old boys would never grand her. Said - Done.

Sir Milton Ashtoncroft one fine day invites all the very important people to his home, including the Russian ambassador. His son Lon Di's senior chef Oliver (Nathaniel Parker) is also present. He's sort of torn between the connections his father uses and the slave labour in South Africa and his good life and his upper-class lifestyle he likes to lead. Laura Quinn is forced to play it nice in order to get into Sir Milton's private study room, she succeeds and find the note with the combination for the safe. She hands the info to Hobbs, but only then she realizes that that very day security cameras have been installed at Lon Di, so there's (almost) no way to get to the safe door without anyone noticing it. Laura Quinn is a keen observer of things and people, so she does find the error in the system. Each camera is offline for about 60 seconds. That's the key to the plan. Hobbs is actually able to rush into the vault during his nightshift within 60 seconds.

The next morning is a rude awakening for Lon Di as well as for Laura. Hobbs took a - well tad - more than they agreed on. Actually all diamonds, raw and cut ones, are gone. The whole vault is absolutely empty. Laura is in shock, she thought that the theft wouldn't be noticed by anyone - now all security hell breaks lose. Employees are being questioned, janitors called back to work. In short a private investigation initiated by the insurance company and lead by Mr. Finch (Lambert Wilson) is on the way. Since Lon Di's function in the international market is that important everyone involved knows that the slightest rumour about the vanishing of the world's diamond supplies would cause pure world-wide chaos. Only very few big cats in Lon Di's management are in the know about what happened. Now the search for the thieves begins. It's apparent that employees of Lon Di must have been involved somehow.

Finch soon reckons that Laura and Mr. Hobbs are the ones involved in the heist. But still he doesn't know how they did it exactly. He's also quite fascinated by Laura. His infatuation keeps him from accusing her openly. A cat and mouse game begins, Laura shows nerves and tries to contact Hobbs, wanting to confront him with his change of plans without talking to her about it. Finch is close on her heels trying to find out the whereabouts of the jewels without incriminating Laura.

Eventually it becomes clear that Hobbs has his very own motives for his deeds. What he wants is revenge on the premature and unnecessary death of his wife. The insurance company declined to pay her treatment years ago - the same one that would have to pay now for the theft should Finch fail to solve the case. Scandal is in the air as the press is being informed that Lon Di's diamonds have been stolen. Ollie's father Sir Ashtoncroft dies from a stroke shortly after that. Now it's Olllie's turn to decide on the fate of his company.

Hobbs blackmails Lon Di. For a ransom of 100 million Pounds the diamonds would be returned. The thriller climaxes in a showdown between Hobbs and Laura who finally finds the clue to how Hobbs managed to get tons of diamonds out of the building without even anyone noticing it. Finch knows that the "saviour of the day" actually is one of the thieves, but conveys nothing. His crush on lovely Mrs. Quinn is simply too big and his understanding for why she did what she did is far too great.

The ransom money has already been paid by Ollie. As we learn, Hobbs transfers it all to a Swiss bank account for Laura. Laura's story she's conveying to our young journalist ends here (as we might think). But Laura also enlightens her (and us as well) about what she did with her money - she gave it away for charities and good causes. She decided to start a family life, married and raised children. It took her 40 years to spend 100 million Pounds in this manner. Now - in our days - she's back in London to tell her story to the world, she finally got rid of her 100 million Pounds.

What can I tell you about this movie? I think this is a wonderful little gem. Really it is. It has so many tales to tell. Hobbs and his revenge, Laura and her fight and coming to terms with her own destiny. A tad of history and the role Lon Di played in the diamond business and a good part of the world's history as well. The history of South Africa and a lot of its connections. Skilfully interwoven with a delicate heist story of confidence and betrayal an surprises and insights and getting on an over with it all. Great and SLOW, but not BORING storytelling. Thrilling at all times, keeping you on the edge of your seats. Riddles that you cannot solve like the one about what happened during the theft? How did Hobbs manage to get tons of diamonds out of there? A great deal of surprise Ahhhs and Ooohs going on. Juicy and ironic dialogues, celebrated and recited so extremely dry by grand masters like Sir Michael Caine and Joss Ackland who once again displays his ruthless villain. Not to speak of Nat's first entrance to the scenery: "There's our fan club waiting for us…." (that made me and my comrade laugh so hard this evening…)

There are some ultimate truths is this one. Want to give it a try? Alright. Glass ceilings still do exist, old boys clubs still work, women do have to make certain decisions before they're getting "too old", people do get fired for the sake of their company or their superiors, people do work hard - some work harder to prove that they are "worthy" - preferably those poor idiots are female. More truths? Yes, you can be a widower and still be happily married and most certainly you've realized that there is a world out there beyond your company that's worth discovering. And yes, sometimes revenge can be strangely sweet.

Radford is very delicate at prompting us to what he wants to make clear. At first I was wondering why I saw Laura alone on the sixties' streets of London, entering her company's building all by herself and the guys in crowds. Especially after the today's intro scenes I thought, well alright the streets in our days London are crowded with women and men as well. Why is Laura all alone in her world? Sure she was lonely as hell. And Radford found an disturbing icon for that as well as he's a very confident translator to other images as well. Call it an iconoclastic style you as the part of the audience will be more than happy to adapt to.

The movie never gets boring although it isn't agitated. It's cool, it's sixties and it's pure fun watching it. It trickles your mind, your brain, your senses and your feelings as well as your own experiences you might have had being a working woman or a loving hubby or a son who disagrees with his father but bows to his money and influence. It's a pleasure to observe Caine and Moore interact. Joss Ackland is appalling (as he' supposed to be) as the ruthless boss and Nat's such an adapted child of his father, it's chilling. But it isn't that striking that it goes on one's nerves. It remains insightful entertainment with a slight feeling of déjà-vu.

Surely this is one I'll love to watch over and over again. It's a joy to watch and I do sincerely hope that you all will be able to catch it either in American cinemas or on European DVDs. Don't miss it, it's a gem. Btw people applauded although none of the movie makers were present. Thanks for a great evening, it was a genuine pleasure.

Update November 26th, 2007: The US release date for Flawless has been postponed to spring 2008.

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