The Big Eden: Berlin Review

Documentary about shameless self-promoter Rolf Eden does not penetrate the 80-year-old playboy’s surface.

Director Peter Dorfier chose to focus on octogenarian Rolf Eden for his documentary, screening at Berlin, but his subject's lack of a worldwide public persona proves problematic.

BERLIN — Octogenarian Rolf Eden is probably the opposite of an enigma, since his life receives constant coverage in Germany’s tabloids and on television. Since the nightclub-owner and real-estate king entered Berlin’s consciousness in the ‘50s, he’s been known to party hard and bed hundreds of women -- something that, according to his claims, has not changed half a decade and three facelifts later.

Director Peter Dorfler, who has already made two documentaries about ego-driven individuals (Der Panzerknacker andAchterbahn), chose Eden as the ideal subject to end his trilogy, but his protagonists impenetrable glibness and lack of public profile outside Germany’s capital should ensure that the film does not travel well in other territories.

The main problem here is articulated by Eden himself, when he says that he was always very lucky, never experienced any lows and never knew any trouble -- a statement that, if true, makes for a very nice life to have but does not produce enough drama to sustain a documentary. If Eden’s life story indeed ever provided a few bumps in the road, the film’s subject does not let on. Nor do any of the other people interviewed by Dorfler: Eden’s brother, a colorful assortment of his former girlfriends, his current trophy wife and his friend Menahem Golan, for whom he played bit parts in a number of exploitation films.

The only light to be shed on Eden’s personality comes from his illegitimate children, but even they can mostly wonder what he would be like if he wasn’t always “on camera,” with none of them being able to supply even a hint of an answer.

Instead of digging for some elements of contention, Dorfler gives Eden center stage, allowing him to control the film’s narrative, a decision that puts him at the mercy of his subject’s charm. While this can work wonders, as Nanette Burstein and Brett Morgen proved with their Robert Evans documentary The Kid Stays in the Picture, Eden is no Evans in the charm and storytelling department.

Technical credits are high, with Dorfler delivering crisp images that fit his subject’s glitzy lifestyle. But in the end, The Big Eden pays homage to its subject in a different way — by being all surface and providing no substance.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Panorama)
Production company: Rohfilm GmbH
Director/screenwriter/director of photography/editor: Peter Dorfler
Producer: Benny Drechsel, Karsten Stöter
No rating, 90 minutes