Hundreds of fans lined barriers around Berlin's Zoo Palast movie theater on Wednesday evening, waiting for Madonna to walk the red carpet before the worldwide premiere of "Filth and Wisdom," her first film as a director.
The pop star showed up around 9 p.m. and was greeted by a deafening chorus of elated shrieks. But the mood among the diehard Material Girl devotees turned sour when she spent just four minutes signing autographs. As she disappeared into the cinema, she was trailed by loud boos.
Inside, she fared better -- fans lucky enough to land tickets to the premiere gave her a standing ovation even before the film began. The film, which is showing as part of the Berlin International Film Festival, had sold out quickly, and on Wednesday tickets were going for 70 euros ($102) on the online auction Web site eBay.
But back to the film. "Filth and Wisdom" is a simple take on the classic storyline of young people trying to make their dreams come true as they struggle to make ends meet in London. Ukrainian musician A.K. (played by Eugene Hutz) is hoping to make it big with his folk-inspired punk band, but he earns his keep as a sort of male dominatrix. His roommate Holly (Holly Weston) wants to become a serious dancer but has trouble progressing past the next strip joint. Juliette (Vicky McClure), meanwhile, dreams of saving African orphans but instead makes a living working in a pharmacy. It doesn't take any stretch of the imagination to find parts of Madonna's autobiography sprinkled throughout the film.
For a handful of Berlinale critics who previewed the film, though, the self-referential cinematic vessel comes up short.
"The consensus before the first press screening ... was: is the film just bad, or truly atrocious," writes SPIEGEL's Daniel Sander, before going on to make a more tempered assessment of the film. "Madonna's first effort, about a comical three-person apartment in London, is not a masterpiece. It is, rather, the work of a beginner."
"You don't need to be a hardcore fan to recognize the plot's similarities to Madonna's own public persona. The film is full of little self-referential allusions. In essence, Madonna has made a film about Madonna."
"As a film director, Madonna may not become a star of the genre. But it will be fun to watch her try. She could have potential."
A review in the daily Die Tageszeitung is less forgiving: "Madonna is super. Her music, her shows, her story, her yoga, her kabbalah and her husband -- it's all super. She just can't do movies. She can't act, and now we know that she can't direct either ... Every plotline in the film is meaningless, and all the actors are rather bad."
Die Welt's review is similarly lukewarm:
"Madonna has an unfortunate relationship with the cinema. Time and again she thrusts herself onto the big screen, and each time she is spurned and ridiculed by audiences and critics alike."
"Madonna does not do much better with 'Filth and Wisdom.' But after music, music videos, dance, photography, children's books and fashion, it was inevitable that she would work in the medium. ... The film isn't a total disaster, though that has been the tone of its reception. The plot is rife with cliches. ... Madonna's 80-minute movie comes across as flashy, implausible and hastily produced. One has the urge to call out to her with one of her own songs: Mama, don't preach!"
After the premiere, Madonna partied at Kaffee Burger, a nightclub in Berlin's Prenzlauer Berg district famous for its Russian Disco parties. The theme might have pleased Eugene Hütz, who in addition to staring in the film and attending the after party, also fronts the "gypsy punk" band Gogol Bordello in real life.