AUTHOR: linda TITLE: Der Junge ohne Eigenschaften DATE: 12:35:00 PM ----- BODY:
Huddled in the hard seats at the cold Castro Theater, the sparse crowd had listened numbly as one woman couldn't help herself enough to the microphone.

"She had plenty of class to be a factory worker; I should know -- I was one!"

Dressed in red sweats with matching red loafers, with salty hair and coke-bottle glasses, she had the sympathy of a divorced high school principal.

"Let's ask all the women in the theater here what they think about the sympathy of (the low-life boyfriend) Rolf!"

Talking about The Boy without Qualities (Der Junge ohne Eigenschaften) and the Q&A session with director Thomas Stiller afterward, was more interesting than watching the movie itself. Congregated in the Khawand's Castro flat with a bunch of other international-intellectuals and - philes on a Sunday evening, sipping Becks over the finer points of German versus American film making, on San Francisco life, and even exchanging a few perverse views of the world, has become an annual event around the local Berlin & Beyond film festival.

Stiller had repeatedly deflected any kind of significant answers: No, he had no inspiration for the script; no idea where it came from. German films have a problem getting funded? This German film was funded (though at only $100,000 and the actors worked for free). Was there a lack of real-life context for the character because it's his story? No, no comment on whether this was a manner of storytelling or if it had anything to do with the $100,000 budget.

"I have arrived at an interesting observation," our hostess said. "That German films are all documentaries, following the day in the life of somebody -- like that guy there." She gestured to someone crossing ahead of us on 18th Street.

"Right," I quickly agreed. "As opposed to American films, which are full of helicopters exploding and ridiculous stories."

We were both immediately accused of being wrong -- generalists -- and a heated discussion ensued about how this low-budget film portrayed the too-grim life of a Hamburg youth, complete with suicide tendencies and a fantasy view of the world to which the other one-dimensional labeled as retarded.

The best thing about the evening is that I walked away with a contemporary comparative structure for German versus American films. And, that one answer to the trans-Atlantic violence versus porn problem is latent mother issues.