(AFP) – Feb 13, 2008
BERLIN (AFP) — Madonna unveiled her directorial debut about starving artists in London at the Berlin Film Festival Wednesday, saying their hunger for stardom reminded her of her own dreams of fame 25 years ago.
"Filth and Wisdom", which got a lukewarm response at a press preview, revolves around a Ukrainian immigrant who finances his dreams of rock glory by moonlighting as a cross-dressing dominatrix, and his two female flatmates.
Madonna said she aimed to capture the uncompromising drive of young, talented people who believe they can make it in show business against the odds.
"If I look back to the beginning of my career, I can recall those moments of struggle like it was yesterday," she told a packed news conference.
"There are aspects of Holly, Juliette and AK's struggle that I could relate to completely and I could access that memory and put it into the story."
Madonna also co-wrote the screenplay and acted as executive producer.
She said she enjoyed directing but at times missed the thrill of being in the spotlight.
"When I direct my stage shows then I get to do them and it's a very visceral experience and directing, you live much more in your head," she said.
"So I was quite jealous -- I had to watch Holly dancing and I got to watch Eugene performing and I do love directing and the experience of it. But that was the one little tiny thing that was missing -- that visceral release that you don't have if you're not performing. So it was an adjustment for me to work from my neck up."
She has been less than timid about her ambitions as a filmmaker, provoking a few smirks among critics at the Berlinale, which ranks among Europe's top three festivals.
"I have always been inspired by the films of Godard, Visconti, Pasolini and Fellini and hope that I may one day make something that comes close to their genius," she said in a director's statement, ticking off some of cinema history's most iconic filmmakers.
"Filth and Wisdom" stars Eugene Hutz, the Ukrainian frontman for a real-life Gypsy punk rock band, Gogol Bordello, as well as British cult star Richard E. Grant.
Hutz plays AK, a self-proclaimed philosopher and poet, whose sideline career sees him assume characters ranging from a Marine drill instructor to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher -- depending on the tastes of his clients.
Grant plays a blind professor and frustrated writer who lives in the same building.
And AK's flatmates are thinly drawn beauties: Juliette, a chemist with a drug problem who dreams of doing aid work in Africa, and Holly, a budding ballerina who becomes a stripper to make ends meet.
"I think from the outside it probably seemed that I could relate to Holly the most because I grew up wanting to be a dancer," she said, recalling "the cold, harsh reality when I arrived in New York only to find that there were thousands of other girls that wanted to do the same thing and that I wasn't so special after all.
"I didn't resort to pole dancing -- I did other things," she added with a smile, lowering her eyes.
The audience at the preview screening broke its stony silence only a few times, during Gogol Bordello's raucous stage shows and stripteases to Madonna's steamy hit "Erotic" and "Hit Me Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears, whom the singer famously French kissed at an awards show in 2003.
The sex scenes are vintage Madonna, involving kinky sadomasochism, outrageous costumes and a heavy dose of tongue-in-cheek humour.
But the script's penny-ante philosophy left viewers shifting restlessly in their seats: "Without filth, there can be no wisdom, without darkness, there can be no light," "Show me a beautiful girl and I'll show you a guy who's sick of f****** her."
Madonna, who will turn 50 in August, has been panned for most of her efforts in front of the camera.
Her acting career got off to a promising start with a starring role in 1985's "Desperately Seeking Susan," but then went into a steep decline with her appearances in major flops like 1986's "Shanghai Surprise" alongside first husband Sean Penn.
Her last celluloid outing was in the widely derided "Swept Away" in 2002, which was directed by her current husband Guy Ritchie.
She said she has already made a second film, a documentary about Malawi where she adopted a child in 2006, and will premiere it in Cannes in May.
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