Afire (2023)

Dir.: Christian Petzold; Cast: Thomas Schubert, Paula Beer, Langston Uibel, Enno Trebs, Paula Beer. Matthias Brandt; Germany 2023, 103 min.

German writer/director Christian Petzold (*1960) won the Grand Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival 2023 in for Afire, his tenth feature film. This award is well earned: Petzold can be called the chronicler of recent German history, illuminating past and not so present transgressions. Hot on the heels of Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog he is the only German director regularly featuring at international festivals. His minimalist style always cuts to the chase with a lean but substantial body of film.

Petzold’s first feature Innere Sicherheite/The State I’m In (2000) set the standard for what would follow: Petzold tells the story of a teenager whose desperate need for freedom jeopardises the security of her terrorist parents who have so far successfully avoided capture. In the 2001 he began what was to be an enduring collaboration with Nina Hoss and continued with FIPRESCI prize winner Wolfsburg (2003) and this continued with Yella (2007) and Jerichow (2008). In Barbara (2012) Petzold investigates Germany’s immediate 1945 past, and Transit (2018), an adaption of the Anna Seeghers’ novel of the same name, featuring the life of German immigrants during the first years of the Nazi regime, saw him replacing Hoss with Paul Baer who won the Best Actor prize in Berlin for Undine (2020).

Afire is the second part of a trilogy about the artist in society in Germany. Set in an imagined time span after the fall of the wall in the advent of the computer age, this is a feature nonetheless dominated by human emotions with a dose of dark humour .

On the way to a summer getaway on the Baltic Coast friends Leon (Schubert) and Felix (Uibel) are waylaid when their car breaks down. Then Felix’s mother, the owner, has also promised Nadja (Beer), a post graduate student, one of the rooms. Nadja has a boyfriend, coastguard Devid (Trebs), and Felix and Leon have to listen to the couple’s lovemaking. This is quickly reversed, with Nadja and Leon having to listen to Devid and Felix getting it on.

Leon, meanwhile has just finished writing a second-rate novel and is behaving like a stroppy teenager, secretly in love with Nadja. Leon’s editor Helmut (Brandt) turns up and tempers flare, with catastrophic results.

All this fits into Petzold’s general overview of German men who still seem better at living than dying. Helmut discusses the director’s pet theme with Heinrich Heine’s poem “The Asra”.

DoP Hans Fromm puts a documentary spin on his images, catching the protagonists like fish in a deadly net. Schubert simmers quietly but effectively as the spoilt child would be author, and Beer does her best with a tricky role. But true to Heine himself, Petzold stays the course, and no one’s prepared for what’s in store.

Afire might not be Petzold’s greatest achievement, but he once again proves to be head and shoulders above his German peers. This is another sad tract on Germany’s guilt complex – played out by a new generation of males. AS


No U-Turn (2022) Berlinale Film Festival

Dir.: Ike Nnaebue; Documentary; Nigeria/France/South Africa/Germany 2022, 92 min.

In 1995 filmmaker Nnaebue made a gruelling and abortive journey from his hometown of Lagos, Nigeria to Tangier in Morocco, ending up in Bamako, Mali. Now twenty years older, and wiser, he retraces his steps to discover what makes today’s migrants risk life and limb for an uncertain future in Europe.

The way back is teeming with his disenchanted compatriots who are prepared for the dangers awaiting them – thanks to social media that never enlightened them back then. “Nigeria has not enough to fulfil their dreams”. NO U-TURN keeps up a poetic rhythm in the face of the harsh realism of migrant life. For Nnaebue story-telling has been a primary motivation since childhood, when he ‘fell in love with the moon’: “I thought he was following me, and I knew I had a friend for life”. He also at a young age that stories influence people, and this is what led him to become a filmmaker.

Most of the arduous journey takes place by bus – apart from the last leg from Mauritania to Morocco, where Nnaebue resorts to a plane, Moroccan authorities forbidding him to film. On the first leg of the trip he meets a plucky Nigerian woman called Anita, who relates her rough time in  North Africa where the Algerians were hostile towards West Africans, beating up the men and raping the women. But Anita is undeterred, and is positive she’ll make it to Spain to join her sister, this time around.

Few women travelled alone back in the 1990s. Nowadays, women, particularly minors, are prey to sex traffickers. A Nigerian at the border of Togo and Burkina Faso tells horrific tales about the young Nigerian women’s fate: “They are being fooled, some under-aged girls are raped to death”. Women are particularly vulnerable having left their kids back in Nigeria, promising to send money back to their families once in Europe.

Reaching his previous turning point in Bamako, Nnaebue is filled with nostalgia but also determination: this time there will be no u-turn. Back in the 1990s he remembers doing a six-year car mechanic apprenticeship in the city, and although he fell out with his boss, who was supposed to give him the start capital for his own business, it opened the door to his filmmaking career.

At the last stop of his trek in Tangier, Nnaebue meets two young women, Sandra and Laura, who are begging on the streets to save money for a fibre boat to get them to Spain. The film crew accompanies the duo on their reconnaissance mission at the beach. Their plans are hazardous to say the least: the marines will chase them, and hopefully fish them out of the water if they capsize. But they are undeterred, they will try until they succeed – tracing the data of the shipping forecast will help.The migrants all share the ethos of “a journey of no return”. Home and family will be left behind, along with of way life and their culture, tempted away by the dream of a better life. But the grass is rarely greener, just different. DoP Jide Akinleminu’s lively and impressive images of this mammoth trip, often belie the sobering reality. AS



Robe of Gems (2022) Berlinale Film Festival | Silver Bear Jury Prize

Dir/scr: Natalia López Gallardo. Mexico/Argentina/US. 2022. 118 mins

A visually striking, thought-provoking and disquieting feature debut from Natalia López Gallardo who joins a talented array of female filmmakers such as Tatiana Huezo (Prayers for the Stolen)and Fernanda Valadez (Identifying Features) in bringing more intriguing stories from Latin America.

Isabel (Nailea Norvind) and her family live with her mother (Monica Poggio) in a rambling estancia where the threat of gang violence seems a million miles away from their languorous existence, although for their housekeeper, Maria (Antonia Olivares), it is very real and possibly the reason for the recent disappearance of her sister. Isabel is going through some kind of emotional trauma of her own after a potential marital disagreement. At a loose end and in empathy with Maria, she decides to make some discrete but ultimately ill-advised inquiries of her own.

In a bid to be enigmatic Robe of Gems loses its impact drifting around nebulously between a police thriller and a stylistic arthouse drama until finally gaining some shape in the second hour. The connections between the characters are never fully explained, their lives gradually fading into view in the woozy heat of a Mexican summer, the focus on mid-shots and close-ups only adding to the air of mystery in a drama where a great deal happens off-camera, in a series of episodes. Beyond the artistic flourishes though, few clues are given to enable understanding or feeling for the rather buttoned-up characters. That all said, López Gallardo must be applauded for telling a sinister story with such a lightness of touch and without resorting to violence; the final scene is quietly devastating. MT



Mutzenbacher (2022) Mubi

Dir.: Ruth Beckermann; Documentary; Austria 2022, 100 min.

After her much lauded 2016 film The Dreamed Ones that centred on correspondence between poets Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan, Mutzenbacher would make a better radio play than a feature film. The Austrian writer/director invites a group of men from all walks of life to read excerpts from the pornographic 1906 novel “Josefine Mutzenbacher” by Bambi author Felix Salten.

Banned as a novel, with its authorship contested in court. Mutzenbacher tells the story of a down at heel Viennese sex worker who, according to the author, revelled in being abused from an early age.

The men are invited to share their thoughts on the novel, the majority viewing the “olden days” of the 20th century in a positive light in contrast to today where women are viewed as the ‘victims’ rather then the welcome recipients of unsolicited sexual attention, more so if they are minors. Most of the men fail to take into account that the author was a male, middle-class white man who skews the narrative from his own perspective claiming his heroine enjoyed his advances, even her own father makes her out to be horny at the tender age of ten: “Women had fun with men back in the day, now the focus is always negative, like toxic masculinity.”

For Josefine, even being examined by a doctor is purportedly sexually arousing – especially when her father is in the same room. Only a few of the men point out that children like Josefine were in fact made to feel guilty, questioning whether they were at fault in the first place. It appears that fear and lust make for arousing bedfellows. Even incest is described by Salten as an overwhelmingly pleasurable experience. Josephine’s resume says it all: “We are pounded, they pound us, that’s all there is to it.”

A shame then that such an important and timely debate should be undermined by Beckermann, who must have thought that reducing everything to a stripped down version of text would somehow enhance the audience’s understanding. A hundred minutes of verbal battering in a single room is in the end self-defeating: instead of revealing the “male gaze”, the lack of any structure or aesthetic concept simply diminishes the argument, levelling everything out into a repetitive experience. AS


Nelly and Nadine (2022) Berlinale, Panorama Dokumente (2022)

Dir/Wri: Magnus Gertten | with Nelly Mousset-Vos, Nadine Hwang, Sylvie Bianchi, Anne Coesens, Bwanga Pilipi | Sweden/Belgium/Norway 2022, 92′

A year in the making, Magnus Gertten’s sumptuously beautiful documentary is as much a love story as a testament to holocaust survival for two women. Nelly Mousset-Vos was a spy working against Nazi Deutschland and Nadine Hwang brought refugees over the border into safely.

Nelly and Nadine met each for the first time at Christmas in 1944, in Ravensbruck concentration camp. They would come across each other again after liberation and would stay together for the rest of their lives.

Today, Nelly’s granddaughter Sylvie unveils her grandmother’s surprising story in a collection of revealing images. The photographs, Super 8 footage and audio recordings as well as the poignant diary entries, recall her grandmother’s lesbian love affair with fellow concentration camp inmate Nadine. Like many relationships back in the day the explicit nature of their love was glossed over by the rest of the family and even close friends. But it soon becomes clear that it was far more than just a friendship.

With Gerrten’s lyrical compositions and artful editing Nelly’s story gracefully reveals its secrets, her granddaughter Sylvie uncovering more and more detail and exposing some surprising home truths. The archive material also sparks memories for Sylvie herself that go some way to explaining her mother’s behaviour and her deep understanding of the nature of love, but also her bouts of melancholy that emerged after the war. Many survivors chose not to talk about their wartime lives to loved ones and this extraordinary film once again confirms the saying “a picture tells a thousand words”. MT

Magnus Gertten wins Jury Award | TEDDY AWARDS 2022, one of the most prestigious queer film awards in the world | BERLINALE PANORAMA DOKUMENTE 2022

Axiom (2022) Berlinale: Encounters 2022

Jöns Jönsson  | Cast: Moritz von Treuenfels, Deniz Orta, Marita Breur, Ben Plunkett Reynolds | Sweden, Drama 108′

Moritz von Treuenfels is the captivating presence at the centre of Jöns Jönsson’s unconvincing drama that wants be intriguing but grows less so as it unfolds. Cutting a swathe through his friends and colleagues Treuenfels is Julius a suave young German from an aristocratic background who is working in a museum before taking up a scholarship in Tokyo.

But there’s something bogus and hollow about this tousle-haired cypher who lords over his friends and colleagues with his intellectual pretensions and glib repartee: Julius is not what he seems to be, yet he fills every frame with a hypnotic charisma luring us into a drama that  speaks volumes about outward appearances and the emptiness of surface charm. There’s nothing remotely interesting or likeable about any of these people; his one dimensional opera singer girlfriend Marta (Breuer) or her tutor Mr Langley (Plunkett). Julius’ friends are there to serve the narrative but do not stand out in any way.

This kind of drama is tricky to pull off successfully and sadly Jöns Jönsson is hoisted by his own petard: in creating a story about the vacuousness of modern ideals of self-reinvention, he axiomatically ends up with a film that feels as empty and unsatisfying as its premise and goes into a dead end. MT



Northern Skies Over Empty Space (2022) Berlinale Panorama

Dir.: Alejandra Marquez Abella; Cast: Gerardo Trejoluna, Paloma Petra, Dolores Heredia, Mayra Hermosillo, Francesco Barreiro, Juan Daniel Garcia Trevino, Raul Briones; Mexico 202, 115 min.

After her first feature, The Good Girls, a superficial comedy of manners, Mexican director/co-writer Alejandra Marquez Abella, comes up trumps with a hard hitting neo noir Western, a stylish, epic tale of violence and spurned love. Brilliantly shot by DoP Claudia Becerril Bulos, this is a mixture of Italo-Western and soap-opera, with an ending like Rene Clement’s late feature La course du lièvre à travers les champs.

Don Reynaldo (Trejoluna) is a ranch owner near the city of Monterrey. Ranch and owner are decaying, and family life is more than complicated. Suffering from prostate cancer and failing eyesight, Reynaldo (‘Rey’) can’t even hunt any more – his greatest hobby, as documented by the many trophies in the mansion, which has seen also better times. He is married to long suffering Sofia (Heredia), whose life is dominated by the menopause. Rey’s best (and only friend) is Rosa (Petra), the dominant manager of the state, who even shoots a deer for her master, after he has muffed the shots. Apart from her, everyone in the family wants to inherit the ranch, even though nobody takes any responsibilities, leaving Rey to mis-manage the property, whilst still pretending to be a great hunter. He has an ambivalent relationship with his son Elias (Barreiro), who is going through a divorce, and might lose custody of his children. Elias wants nothing more than be loved by his father, and Sofia reminds her husband to show some affection. Daughter Lily (Hermosillo), once dad’s favourite, is now distancing herself from the once proud patriarch. Then, one the day, Rey is celebrating the founding of the ranch by his father, a stranger, calling himself Guzman (Briones), appears and asks for ‘Protection’ money. Rey sends him away, but we all know, that the man, or even worse characters, will appear again. Rey, obviously having a death wish, sends everyone of his his family away. Only Rose, pregnant after having been gang-raped, will fight Rey to the bitter end – but not before she makes the most astonishing confessions.

There’s enough going on here in to sustain our attention for the two hours running time. Petra carries the film and the conflicting interests of Rey and his family, as well as the few employees left. The atmosphere is maudlin from the beginning, and amid the escalating violence and betrayals, Rey gradually loses control while the family run for cover. Rosa and Rey seem to be the only couple with mutual feelings – until the former’s disclosure seems to pull the rug from underneath what Rey and the audience assumed to be the truth in this impressive spectacle of class conflict, opportunism, greed, shattered illusions and death. AS


Terykony (2022) Berlinale Generation 2022

Dir.: Taras Tomenko; Documentary with Anastasia Danilova, Yaroslav Kuzin, Arseniy Malkov, Anton Danilov, Miroslava Malkova, Olhan Danislova, Nina Malkova; Ukraine 2022, 79 min.

After making not one but two films about the famous artists’ residence Slovo House in Kiev, Taras Tomenko explores another part of Ukraine with this timely dystopian look at the eastern city of Toretsk. Here children have to wade to school every morning through mountains of debris and bombed out buildings, just 500 yards from the front line between Ukrainian and Russian troops. Misha Lubarsky’s camera is relentless in its hyper-realistic style – with Tomenko avoiding a ‘talking heads’ approach in a visual tour-de-force.

Anyone reading the papers will know that a ‘hot’ war has been raging in the region since 2015.
Homes have been razed to the ground and the few which are still habitable have been reduced to shell-marked hovels. Nearby, in the countryside, only the shaft towers of disused mines still stand. And this is a ‘playground’ for fourteen-year-old Anastasia (‘Nastia’) Danilova whose father was killed by a bomb that decimated their home. Fending for herself amongst the rubble she teaches a boy to cry without blinking. “Boys usually don’t cry” says Nastia. Arseny, a few years younger, has found a “step father” after his parents split up, a grave digger in a Stars Wars tee-shirt who buys him clothes. Arseny and Nastia scavenge for scrap metal and finally find a dealer who gives them 30 hryvina for their collection of 30 kg. The kids roam around unsupervised; there is always something new to discover, like an old theatre with its stage still standing.

At ‘home’ they watch DVDs on an age-old computer, or play games or their handheld game consoles. “Life is not an SIM game”, one of the few father remarks, but this does not impress the youngsters who have to fight off wild dogs while unearthing scrap metal. We watch Anastasia on her train journey to the big city to visit the archaic passport office – she must apply before the age of 15 – or she will “be in trouble”.

The nearby mall advertises “European Quality” goods, a huge map of Asia hangs on the wall, with the old USSR dominating in red. Later one of the children will find volume one of Lenin’s writings; hoping that it will fetch a good price. Nastia then visits a church where the orthodox priest gives a sermon. The adventure ends with her trying on make-up and eye-liners in a club where she dances on the strobe-lit stage. Terykony leaves the audience with no doubt about the future of the children of the debris mountains, even though they look out for each other the squalid childhood will haunt the rest of their lives. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | Generation Plus 2022

1341 Frames of Love and War (2022) Berlinale 2022

Dir: Ran Tal | Israel, Doc 82′

The career of renownd Israeli photo reporter Micha Bar-Am (1930-) is the subject of this new documentary from Ran Tal who makes use of the copious archive material, cleverly counterposing images of love and war as the film title expressively suggests.

Stark and staggeringly powerful in its simplicity each frame tells a story for Micha Bar-Am who admits (in voiceover): “not everything is worth remembering, sometimes you have to forget and move on”. As Micha takes us through 1341 iconic photos that form the bulk of his life’s work, his wife Orna, the assiduous curator of his archive, or one of his sons chips with comments or questions, and inevitably voices are often raised. Micha explains how as a young man it felt entirely natural just to grab a camera, some clothes and a rucksack and set off to capture Israel in 1960s and 1970s. after arriving there as a small boy of six.

A native German speaker Micha Bar Am spent his early childhood in Berlin under the name of Michael Anguli, and later moved to Israel. His family were never close or emotionally expressive, but he was happy to be there with them and Israel soon became his natural home, as it is for all Jews from the Diaspora: “I never felt like an immigrant and wanted a Hebrew name”. So soon he became a Zionist and took the name he still has today. After 20 years of reportage in Israel Micha returned to Germany where he became ‘an emissary at a dramatic point in time for the nation’ taking part in some scientific projects for the government.

Away from Israel his images took on a freer dimension, “the reality wasn’t so intense” – a swan in a park, people enjoying a picnic or a trip to the mountains, or a kibbutz`. Back in Israel his photos were more serious: a fire engulfing an office building in Tel Aviv; IDF soldiers guarding a checkpoint. One of his first photography awards proved that success can come out of someone else’s tragedy. The still showed army officers holding up a little girl who had been kidnapped and drowned in the river by her neighbour.

He would go on to document the history of Israel with his camera, including Adolf Eichmann’s trial in 1961, The Six-Day War in 1967, the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the massacre of Sabra and Shatila in 1982. The 1967 war had given him a chance to cut his teeth at combat photography yet these images are accompanied by a light-hearted folk song about Rabin and Nasser. The Yom Kippur War also gets its moment with the terrible symmetry of the bodies of POWs bound and gagged and thrown into a ditch. Although he was not proud of these images, he knew it was his duty to record them: “you seek out danger to feel alive”. Another image shows a brief moment of triumph when an Israeli flag waved for five minutes in history over the Dome of the Rock; another sees a soldier wearing a string of bullets just like a prayer shawl that, on later reflection, seemed to represent religion and power, Micha grew to hate the image, along with one picturing desperate refugees carrying their suitcases away from their homeland.

These carry the same emotional freight as the birth of his son Barak in 1967, Orna is seen during labour (with baby Barak) and these intimate pictures were the first of their kind to published in a newspaper in Israel. The scenes are accompanied by cries and a heartbeat. Barak later complains of his embarrassment when the images were shown on television. But Micha was intensely happy at creating life, rather than capturing war or death in his lens. In stark contrast, the ‘bananas’ crater moment’ was a low point for him. The tortured images of ambushed PLO fighters lying dead in the road, made him feel ashamed: “it’s an ugly sight….of the hunters and the prey”. 

Lighter but no less meaningful shots picture Marlene Dietrich in a cafe in Tel Aviv’s Dizengof Street, and a high school trip across the mountains where Micha expressed his love for his new girlfriend Orna “by carrying things”. But behind the scenes, son Barak regrets the lack of family life when growing up, recalling how his father was often irritable rather than warm or emotional – his parents lived for their work and never had a family holiday, “you raised children incidentally as you rushed along”. A sentiment that most creative people will be familiar with. Orna complains that her husband never stopped taking photos even when he came home: “I tried to salvage the family-focused footage from the work-orientated stock, but eventually gave up”. But whether documenting family life or the horrors of conflict, Israel is always in the background, a land without peace. MT

1341 FRAMES OF LOVE AND WAR is supported by yesDOCU.


Waters of Pastaza (2022) Berlinale Generation 2022

Dir: Inez T Alvez | Doc, 62′

Deep in the Amazonian rainforest between Ecuador and Peru, a community of kids live in harmony with nature learning through play and collaboration rather than formal education in this hypnotic first feature from Inez T Alvez.

The banks of the Pastaza River is home to exotic wildlife monkeys and birds that provide a wordless ambient soundscape to an ethnological portrait of a world on the cusp of change. In this remote natural setting children are left to their our devices to develop self-reliance seemingly and discover the world for themselves seemingly without parental intervention.

Dressed in the lightest of clothing and protected by rubber boots the indigenous Achuar children make their way along the river and through the jungle armed only with machetes surviving on a variety of fruit, fish and whatever they can lay their hands on. What a shame then that despite their outward vestiges of poverty and simplicity, they also rely on smartphones to keep them apace with the 21st century. Seems like the whole world – however remote – is now in touch with technology. Is this wonderful thing or another inexorable march towards progress. MT



Return to Dust (2022)

Dir: Li Ruijin | Cast: Renlin Wu, Hai-Qing | China, Drama 131′

“Love is not about staring at each other, but looking in the same direction”

The sun shines and each frame glows with painterly charm in this modest but momentous story of love and adversity for two people rejected by their family after an arranged marriage, and forced into a humble existence on their isolated homestead in rural northwestern China, 

Return to Dust is the latest from Chinese independent director Li Ruijin who scores subtle political points behind his perfectly pitched storyline that speaks volumes about the China’s rapid urban shift. The focus is farming couple Ma (Renlin Wu) and Gui (Hai-Qing) as they face the odds together in the rugged landscape with only their livestock for company. Tenderness contrasts with dark humour as Ruijin depicts the crass materialism of modern China with the poetic honesty of the past: one scene features their donkey alongside a flash new BMW signalling that time, inevitably, must move on. 

Each day a new challenge presents itself and Ma and Cao seem to cope without drama fronting up placidly seemingly unsurmountable hardship in the haunting beauty of the remote setting. Li Ruijun – best known for his 2015 feature River Road – focuses on the growing strength of their relationship as it transforms from initial diffidence to enduring love. MT



Concerned Citizen (2022) Berlinale | Panorama 2022

Dir.: Idan Haguel; Cast: Shlomi Bertonov, Ariel Wolf, Ilan Hazan; Israel 2022, 81 min.

Israeli writer/director Idan Haguel tries hard debunk a few urban myths with an uninvolving drama that ends up as a farce.

Gay couple Ben (Bertenov) and Raz (Wolf) have moved to a downmarket part of Tel Aviv where they’ve have more space for themselves and their new baby. The hope is the kid will knock their relationship into shape and bring them closer together; they’ve paid a woman in a catalogue thousands to bear their bundle of joy, but somehow this detached approach to life seeps through the rest of the film.

For Ben and Raz the focus is on fitness, and they prance around their swanky new place wizzing up healthy drinks and exercising. “In five years, this will be a different area” is their positive take on the multi-cultural set up, which is still in its rather wild infancy.

As a gesture of neighbourly goodwill, Ben has planted a tree in the street below their apartment and takes a dismal approach to the two immigrants from Africa using it as a leaning post. Ben asks them politely to respect nature, but to no avail. The police respond to his complaint – and beat up one of the young men, who subsequently dies. Ben – the concerned citizen – then makes a call to the security forces. It turns out the victim lived below and Ben, rather at odds with himself, joins his grieving family at mourning along with his therapist (Hazan).

All the prejudices and latent racial tensions soon emerge at a therapy group session.

We are also watching some animation of happy people in the midst of new apartment blocks, mixing joyfully. But we do not need this reminder to learn about the ideological conflicts in existing in Israeli society, caused by the ‘polite’ racism of a so-called progressive middle class, pretending to be in Sweden or Norway. DoP Guy Sahaf succeeds very much in showing the emptiness of modernity, trying to hide the real conflict. But the structured, overly didactic approach never lets the feature flow, and leaves the audience emotionally disconnected. AS


Beautiful Beings (2022)

Dir/Wri: Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson | Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, The Netherlands, Czech Republic – 2022 – 123 min – Icelandic Cast: Birgir Dagur Bjarkason,, Snorri Rafn Frimannson, Blair Hinriksson, Askar Einar Palmason.

Life-threatening violence and magical realism make for an imaginative feature that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality in modern day Iceland. Beautiful Beings is the latest triumph from awarding winning Icelandic auteur and producer Gudmundur Arnar Gudmundsson (Heartstone) whose distinctive lyrical style makes him one of the most impressive talents on the international indie film scene.

Addi (Birger Dagur Bjarkason) is the charismatic boy at the centre of it all. Raised by a clairvoyant mother, he takes pity on a bullied misfit Balli (Askell Einar Palmason) in an impressive debut) and brings him into his gang of teenage hooligans. And the relationship will be the salvation of both of them in this full-throttle character drama that explores teenage-hood in all its dimensions from aggression and violence to loyalty, love and sex.

As the boys behaviour escalates from horseplay to murderous violence, Addi – under the influence of his quietly inspirational mother (Anita Briem) – is touched by series of enlightening dreams that sees him evolve into a sympathetic light-bringer rather than the destructive force he has ground into, along with his friends. But the director avoids simplistic solutions in a subtle narrative that uses its ample running time to explore every single chink of the boys’ developing personalities and how they react with each other, Addi’s dark side is fully fleshed out in a captivating performance from Hinriksson showing how his newfound intuition will have transformative effects on the rest of the gang, not least the most troubled boy Siggi (Snorri Rafn Frimannsson). Silver Bear awarded DoP Starla Brandth Grovlen (Victoria) works wonders with his camera to make Iceland into a summer paradise that provides the luminous backcloth to this human vision of Hell. MT

Signature Entertainment presents Beautiful Beings on Digital Platforms 19th December


The City and the City (2022) Berlinale 2022

Dir.: Christos Passalis, Syllas Tzoumerkas; Cast: Alexandros Vardaxoglou, Vassilis Kanakis, Angeliki Papoulia, Niki Papandreou, Vasillis Karaboulas; Greece 2022, 96 min

Actor and director Christos Passalis (Dogtooth) and Syllas Tzoumerkas (A Blast) get behind the camera for this incendiary expose revealing in six scenarios how Greece was complicit in the genocide of thousands of Jews from the city of Thessaloniki during the German occupation of the Second World War.

Even during the war the repression of Greek Jews was not a new thing: it started in 1927 with the foundation of the “Nationalist Union of Greeks” (EEE) and their newspapers that set out to fight the Jewish community for the low paid jobs. “Separate Jews from the Natives” was one of their slogans. “The Jew must go” – this one became reality under German rule; teaching the Jews a lesson was the edict of the times: “Jews must learn to do things with their hands other than counting money”. And “The time has come, for the yellow star people to pack their bags and go”.

Jews were lined up and put into the Baron Hirsch ghetto, whence they were deported to the death camps. Early in 1943 Sarina writes an imploring letter to her son Maurice, who has taken refuge with relatives in Athens. Concerned for his wellbeing she says: “Dear Maurice, we are all confined in the ghetto. This all seems to be the work of an experienced sadist. What we fear most are the deportations. Some trains have already left. On the day of the deportation, people burn money, documents and furniture. They abandon their whole life.”

Epanomi, 29 km from Thessaloniki, serves as a transit camp for the city’s Jews. Some are executed, others sent to German camps and a few are released after ten days. In an interlude, we watch the burial of Sarah, Sarina’s home help, who was treated like a daughter. Nina (Papandreou) is told to stop her brother chanting. Normality is soon replaced by reality. The 500-year old Jewish cemetery of the city, housing half a million tombs, is demolished by the Germans with the help of the local Christians during the second year of occupation. The broken marbles of the graves are used for the re-construction of several buildings, among them the St. Demeter cathedral. The bones of the dead are ground into sand for construction sites. In 1950, after litigation, the administration of the State of Greece builds on the top of the ruins of the Jewish cemetery the new part of the Aristotle University. In 2014 the government installs a memorial stone at the University campus.

Only 4% percent of the Jewish population will survive. Nina’s (Papandreou) report from the Hirsch ghetto: “Arriving at the Hirsch Ghetto, we are pushed into a room with German soldiers. They lifted our skirts, stripped us naked and used their fingers to probe our privates for hidden jewellery. This included my ten-year old sister. When they found nothing, they started slapping my mother. Hasson, one of the Orologas brothers, cut her hair with a pen knife, injuring her scalp. The son of our local butcher got so angry he tried to kill Hasson, but he failed and was shot on the spot. My mother was put into a cell under ground, we never saw her again. Our Rabbi, 70-year old, had to clean the ghetto with a broom for a whole day.”

After liberation, Hasson was executed, but the bigger names survived. In 1957, Max Merten, the butcher of Thessaloniki, visited Greece and was arrested. After eight months he was let go, the West German government had offered a loan. SS Captain Dr. Alois Brunner, Eichmann’s ‘right hand’ died peacefully in 2010 as consultant to Syria’s Hafez el-Assad.

After a dreamlike meeting between Nina and Mauricein the old city, we learn that the city’s brothels had been destroyed after the war. Some of the business was done in the old railway station of Stravrapouli, where  the Pavlos Mecas camp had been.

The last part is a surrealistic collage that sees one of the surviving members of the family trying to get government compensation, meanwhile, on the beach, the last peaceful years of Sarina’s family play out with a competition to find the ‘most moronic’ winner of a fancy dress event.

Reality bites again: In 1943, after the deportations ended, thousands of Jewish businesses were again sequestered, snapped up by local entrepreneurs and state institutions. After the war, hundred sought the return of their property. Not even half of them were successful, the main reasons for denial were “Abandonment by the former owners” and “the lack of death certificates for the victims in the death camps”.

Cinematically brilliant and thematically relevant The City and The City once again proves that the Holocaust was not an isolated event. Before, during and after WWII Jews were the victims of state-organised pogroms, supported by a majority of the population who they thought were their neighbours and friends. AS



The Passengers of the Night (2022) Berlinale 2022

Dir: Mikhaël Hers; Cast: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Quito Rayon-Richter, Megan Northam, Emmanuelle Beart, Noée Abita, Thibault Vinçon; France 2022, 111 min.

Charlotte Gainsbourg plays a single mother in this rather one note 1980s domestic drama from La Fremis graduate Mikhaël Hers and his regular scriptwriter Maud Ameline.

It’s June 1981 and Mitterand’s socialist government has come to power ushering in an era of change with refreshing implications for all the family: not least for Elisabeth (Gainsbourg) whose life will never be the same after she lands a job on a late night chat show.

Newly divorced and now in her early forties, Elisabeth is living in a spacious modern apartment in Paris with her unruly teenagers Judith (Northam) and Matthias (Rayon-Richter). And while her kids are caught up in the wave of positivity sweeping though the city, Elisabeth is not feeling their joy: suffering the after affects of a mastectomy, she’s struggling to make ends meets without any maintenance payments, but after a few near misses she finally lands a much needed job with Emmanuelle Beart’s agony aunt ‘Madame Dorval’ and the two get on like a house on fire. Dorval is sweetness and light to her listeners, but a tyrant to all her staff.

Things look up on the romantic front when Elisabeth meets Hugo (Vinçon), but life then becomes more complicated when she finds herself ‘adopting’ a ‘third child’ in the shape of young junkie Talulah (Abita), who has a brief fling with Mathias. With the family flat then having to be sold soon, major changes are suddenly on the cards.

Sébastian Buchmann creates imaginative, idyllic images that capture the infectious positivity of the era but what Passengers needed was a few hard edges, contrasting the rough with the smooth. Elisabeth comes over as plucky and endlessly driven along with her benign father who never complains despite his ill health. Beart’s Vanda Dorval is the only one (apart from the off- screen husband) allowed to be unlikeable in a drama that often crosses the line between emotion and sentimentality. AS


Berlinale – Isabelle Huppert Tribute 2022

Homage and Honorary Golden Bear for Isabelle Huppert at the 2022 Berlinale


The Homage section of the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival will be dedicated to French film and stage actor Isabelle Huppert, who will be awarded an Honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement. In conjunction with the Award Ceremony on February 15, 2022 at the Berlinale Palast, the festival will screen as Berlinale Special Gala À propos de Joan (About Joan, dir: Laurent Larivière). Huppert is one of the most versatile actors in the world, and has played an impressive range of characters in almost 150 cinema and television productions. 

Isabelle Huppert has been closely linked with the film festival for many years and starred in seven Competition films to date. She was first a guest in Berlin with La vengeance d’une femme (A Woman’s Revenge, dir: Jacques Doillon). Director François Ozon cast her in his dark musical comedy 8 Femmes (8 Women) as an unprepossessing woman who emerges in the end as a confident beauty. The ensemble cast was awarded a Silver Bear for outstanding artistic accomplishment. In L’Avenir (Things to Come), she also plays a woman re-discovering her freedom as a philosophy teacher in a failing marriage. Director Mia Hansen-Løve won the Silver Bear as Best Director for the film.


“We are proud to welcome Isabelle Huppert back to the festival,” say Berlinale directors Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian, “the Honorary Golden Bear may seem like a natural progression in a career without equal, since Isabelle Huppert is one of the few artists recognised with acting awards at all major film festivals. But Isabelle Huppert is more than a celebrated actor — she is an uncompromising artist who doesn’t hesitate to take risks and flout mainstream trends. Awarding her our most prestigious prize is to accentuate cinema as an art form, independent and unconditional. We often see actors as tools in the hands of filmmakers, but Isabelle Huppert is a clear example that the dynamic can be a true exchange. Actors can be the true engine of creating not only emotions, but also concepts of cinema.”


Isabelle Huppert began studying acting at the age of 14, and later attended the Conservatoire nationale supérieur d’art dramatique in Paris. She began her career on stage  and made her screen debut with Faustine et le bel été (Faustine and the Beautiful Summer, dir: Nina Companeez).Huppert’s first appearance in an international production was in the film Rosebud (dir: Otto Preminger). Two years later, her starring performance as the shy young woman Béatrice in Claude Goretta’s La Dentellière (The Lacemaker) won her the BAFTA as Most Promising Newcomer.


Huppert early on came to the attention of a  host of top filmmakers, such as Jean-Luc Godard and Bertrand Tavernier. Her first turn for Godard was as the star of his Sauve qui peut (la vie) (Every Man for Himself).  Other world-renowned directors soon seized on Huppert’s diverse acting talents, including Olivier Assayas, Catherine Breillat, Patrice Chéreau, Claire Denis, Andrzej Wajda, and Joachim Trier, as well as American filmmakers such as Curtis Hanson, Hal Hartley, Ira Sachs, and David O. Russell. Italian filmmakers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani gave her the lead in their film Le affinità elettive (Elective Affinities) and she was part of the ensemble in Marco Bellocchio’s Bella Addormentata (Dormant Beauty).


French acclaimed director Claude Chabrol cast Isabelle Huppert in a total of seven films, with each character as mutable and complex as the next,  beginning with the title role in Violette Nozière. That garnered her her first Palme D’Or for Best Actress at the Cannes film festival. Huppert and Sandrine Bonnaire played a pair of homicidal friends in the director’s La Cérémonie, a role that won her a César. Huppert’s final collaboration with Chabrol was her complex portrayal of a powerful judge in L’ivresse du pouvoir (Comedy of Power), which premiered in Competition at the Berlinale.


The actors film career has also been shaped by her work with Austrian director Michael Haneke, with whom she has made four movies.  Her outstanding lead performance in his controversial 2001 drama La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher) brought her accolades as Best Actress in Cannes and at the European Film Awards, among others. Beginning with her appearance in Brillante Mendoza’s Captive, shown in Competition in Berlin, Huppert has increasingly worked with Asian directors. That same year, she was in Hong Sang-soo’s Da-reun na-ra-e-seo (In Another Country), playing three different women who all have the same name.


Huppert has also made successful films with other German-language directors and actors. She appeared alongside Hanna Schygulla in Storia di Piera (The Story of Piera) directed by Marco Ferreri. And she took on the lead as the nameless writer who increasingly loses touch with reality in the film adaptation of Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina (dir: Werner Schroeter), winning the German Film Prize. She was top-billed in Swiss director Ursula Meier’s Home.


Isabelle Huppert has been nominated for the French film prize César more than any other actress in France, and has twice won one.  Her virtuoso acting style has also brought her two Palmes D’Or at Cannes. She has appeared in more than 20 films shown in competition there — yet another record. She won a Golden Globe as Best Actress for her work in the thriller Elle (dir: Paul Verhoeven). That role as a successful businesswoman who takes revenge on her rapist also resulted in her first Academy Award nomination.


In addition to her successful onscreen career, Isabelle Huppert also continues working on stage and has been awarded the Europe Theater Prize, among others. After premiering the French version of Orlando, she took to the stage under Robert Wilson’s direction once again as the glacial marchioness Merteuil in Heiner Müller’s Quartett. She was equally brilliant in Sarah Kane’s play 4.48 Psychosis staged by Claude Régy. A guest performance of that play in Berlin marked the first time that Huppert appeared on a German stage, entrancing audiences with her intense portrayal.


The French-German-Irish co-production À propos de Joan (About Joan) directed by Laurent Larivière, which stars Huppert alongside Lars Eidinger, will be released in Germany in 2022.


The Homage films:


La Dentellière (The Lacemaker), France / FRG / Switzerland, 1977, Claude Goretta

Sauve qui peut (la vie) (Every Man for Himself), France / Switzerland / FRG / Austria, 1980, Jean-Luc Godard

La Cérémonie, France / Germany, 1995, Claude Chabrol

La Pianiste (The Piano Teacher), France / Austria / Germany, 2001, Michael Haneke

8 Femmes (8 Women), France / Italy, 2002, François Ozon

L’Avenir (Things to Come), France / Germany, 2016, Mia Hansen-Løve

Elle, France / Germany / Belgium, 2016, Paul Verhoeven


The Homage is mounted under the aegis of the Deutsche Kinemathek.

The Last Forest | A Ultima Foresta (2021) Berlinale Panorama 2021

Dir.: Luiz Bolognesi; Documentary with Davi Kopenawa Yanorami and members of his indigenous community; Brazil 2021, 75 min.

The Yanomami tribe have lived in the Brazilian Rain Forest for over a 1000 years. Survival is the focus of this indigenous tribe, who are extremely smart, despite their primitive way of life. In his ravishing docudrama Luiz Bolognesi dives deep into the jungle on the borders of Venezuela and Brazil to uncover their story.

Bolognesi has already filmed the Yanomami back in 2018 gaining the trust of a group with the help of their Shaman and elder Davi Kopeneva Yanomami, who reveals the history of a tribe whose existence predates Brazil as a nation, by 500 years. But there is a new strand to their struggle. Since taking power in 2019, right-winger Jair Bolsonaro has sanctioned continuing deforestation of the Amazon encouraging gold prospectors who dig up the land occupied by the Yanomami, polluting the waters with Mercury and bringing disease, including Covid-19, into the community.

Above all this is a film to watch and marvel at, its enchanting images show an atavistic tribe unalloyed by the march of time, both men and women contributing to their daily subsistence by hunting with bows and arrow and poisoned darts. But there is an important message in Bolognesi’s narrative, and that’s the real thrust of his film.

Legend has it that there were two brothers, Omama and Yoasi who purportedly dug up the forest ground creating rivers and lakes. But the bothers were lonely and longed for women. Then Omama met the water goddess Thuëyoma, who came out of the river to join him, later admitting she had also slept with Yoasi who had treated her badly. Omama found his brother, rubbing his miss-shaped penis against a rock and banned him from the land to the other side of the ocean. “You are not my brother any more”. And Yoasi went away for good, and created death. Yoasi became the spirit of evil, whilst Omama buried the gold deep into the earth, so that Yoasi’s spirit could not be awoken to bring back the smoke of disease, which made us mortal.

Davi has lived with the ‘white men’, but he was lonely, and their ‘products’ put a spell on him. Making use of modern technology, he looks out of place making a phone-call, but this is all for the good of the tribe to organise resistance against the gold prospectors who have already made their negative presence known: In 1986 over 45000 gold prospectors forced the Yanomami deeper into the rain forest, killing between 1500-1800 natives. Six years later, despite of a change in the law granting this territory to the Yanorami. During the infamous Haxima massacre sixteen people lost their lives at the hands of the ‘white people’.Meanwhile back in the village, one woman mourns the loss of her husband: she believes the water goddess has taken him into the river with her, and begs the Shaman to help retrieve her husband.

Despite their primitive credentials the women here are very enterprising and have formed a co-operative to improve production of baskets which they can barter for food from the men, making them less reliant. Davi too is highly intelligent, demonstrating nous and a grasp of capitalism: “Gold prospectors dream a lot, but only about money. But it is the business men who keep the money, the ones who come here, the workers stay poor. It is all about greed”. He also remembers the plight of his relatives’ further north, whose water was poisoned with mercury.

The Yanomami are savvy and sociable people. DoP Pedro Márquez, who also photographed Ex-Shaman (2018), talks of their willingness to facilitate the making of the film, but ensuring they never looked into the  camera, believing it would steal their souls. The filmmakers’ hope is that they can persuade investors who work with the Bolsanaro administration, upholding the 1986 law so that the Yanomami can return to their way of life. AS



Introduction (2021) Best Screenplay Berlinale 2021

Dir: Hong Sang-soo | South Korea, Drama 66′

Hong Sang-soo serves up his first slice of suggestible social drama for the year, at Berlinale’s 71st edition. Along with his muse (Kim Min-he) the usual sympathetic suspects join the party, the title has us hoping there may be a sudden dramatic epiphany but we’re not surprised when no such breakthrough occurs as the narrative soft-peddles enjoyably through to the end.

This is another short and sweet story, running at just 66 minutes, but make no mistake, the script is rich enough to stretch along for much longer, although the welcome brevity will always keep us coming back for more. No film festival would be complete without the South Korean master’s lightness of touch and teasing humour, and Introduction is no different.

Korean society is so coy and polite reflected once again in this delicate intergenerational piece, that will see the lowkey conflict play out between mother and son, and son and father. In one early scene a young couple meet again ever so formally after spending the previous one together. Maybe they are playing some sort of seductive game by adding an air of detachment to the rendezvous, a ploy that is always guaranteed to add a frisson of sexual tension to each new meeting. They are obviously in love. We have become accustomed to these winsome moments which are part of the director’s idiosyncratic cinema language but why this is called Introduction remains an enigma, and it could just be for no reason at all.

The film drifts peripatetically from South Korea to Germany. But one of the most interesting interludes involves the likeable Young-ho (Shin Seok-ho) who we first meet visiting his father (Kim Young-ho) at his acupuncture clinic in Seoul. The two clearly don’t see eye to eye and his father is under great emotional stress as he desperately tries to take a moment to relax in his private office, before placing strategic needles in one of his patients, famous actor (Ki Joo-bong), who, it soon emerges. dated Young-ho’s mother (Cho Yun-hee), and could be the reason for their marriage breakdown.

Meanwhile Young-ho’s timid girlfriend Ju-won (Park Mi-so) is off to study fashion in Berlin where she stays in a flat owned by a leading artist, and a friend of Ju-won’s mother (Seo Young-hwa), another rather fraught character who wants the best for her daughter in the rather controlling way mothers often do. Young-ho is also at odds with his own mother over his choice of acting as a career. Clearly she disapproves.

The film is full of these moments of tension that are so delicately appealing in their self-containment and so deftly handled with the director’s usual lightness of touch. MT


Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021)

Dir: Radu Jude | Drama, Romania, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Croatia 2021 | 106 min| Romanian | Cast: Katia Pescaru, Claudia Ieremia, Olimpia Malai, Nicoldim Ungureanu

The moral of Radu Jude’s latest film is simple: don’t put anything incriminating on film. But Bad Luck Banging addresses far wider concerns that its title suggests: hypocrisy, misogyny, tyranny, racism and of course sex are the elements of this intoxicating, indigestible cocktail – you may even feel sick by the end. If not, you’ll be left with a real mouthful to chew over. This thematically thorny Golden Bear winner is not for the timid, and unfolds in three distinct parts.

Known for his unbridled dramas, snide social satires and several sombre documentaries, the Romanian provocateur delivers a mordant social satire laced with his usual brand of dark and irreverent humour and set in a crumbling Bucharest. Jude describes his treatise as a sketchbook, a work in progress, an unedited collage of ideas. It’s demanding, aggressive and visually stimulating – and opens, appropriately, with a bout of raunchy sex, between school teacher Emi and her partner Eugen.

Emi, (Katia Pescariu, who ironically last played a nun in Beyond the Hills), finds her career at stake when a video of her carnal encounter, shared on an adult only porn site, ends up on the general Internet. Discovering her flirty faux-pas Emi flees through the streets of Bucharest. And this febrile odyssey fuels the film’s extensive second part which starts as an enlightening architectural tour of the centre, its crumbling facades and landmarks such as the Roman Orthodox cathedral and Nicolae Ceausescu’s Palace, but soon widens into an opportunity for the director to air his outspoken views on the state of the nation in a piquant pot-pourri of archive footage that reeks of subversion with its salacious snapshots and facts from the capital’s colourful past. These include Jewish and Roma atrocities, Orthodox Christian ceremonies, folklore and fables. As images flash before us – a row of pigs heads and a woman performing fellatio contrast with icons and ancient texts – and more or less anything the director could lay his hands on to back up his view that society as a whole is hypocritical, pornographic and deeply misanthropic.

The third act takes us back to Emi who must now face the music in a socially distanced kangaroo court of teachers, religious officials, random citizens, and a man in an unfeasibly large teacosy, who all watch the tape – some quite attentively (especially the males) before holding forth with their vehement views in raucous and melodramatic debate on the rights and wrongs of Emi’s behaviour, working up to the film’s over-excited finale. This is an exhausting film to watch, but one that presents Romanian society as intelligent, fervent in its beliefs and proud to stand by them. And although we never really get to know – or even like – Emi as a woman, she serves the narrative as a fearless self-determining female of the future who refuses to take things lying down. MT




The Wheel of Fantasy and Fortune | Guzen to Sozo

Dir.: Ryusuke Hamaguchi: Cast: Kotone Furukowa, Katsuki Mori, Kyohiko Shibukawa, Ayumu Nakajima, Hyunri, Shouma Kei, Katsuke Mori, Aoba Kawai, Fusoko Urabe; Japan 2021, 121′.

Director/writer Ryusuke Hamaguchi (Happy Hour) weaves three short stories into an emotionally powerful and visually alluring film with narrative that could easily spin out into three more full length dramas, if desired.

In chapter One, ‘Magic – Or Something Less Assuring’, two actresses, Meiko (Furukawa) and Tsugumi (Mori) drive home in a taxi after a shoot. Tsugumi tells Meiko all about a guy called Kazu (Nakajiima). She’s has clearly fallen in love. She also tells Meiko about his emotional trauma with an ex who cheated on him. Little does Tsugumi know that her friend Meiko is the woman in question. And once Tsugumi has got out of the taxi, Meiko goes straight round to Kazu’s office. Clearly things are not over for the couple. When Tsugumi and Kazu meet up in a cafe Meiko casually walks by the window. She is invited in, and the audience are invited to choose one of two alternative endings.

Episode Two – Door Wide Open – follows a humiliated college student, Sasaki (Kei) take revenge on his professor, Segawa (Shibukawa) with the help of his lover Nao (Hyunri) also a ex-student of the professor, and  now married with a daughter. Together they hatch a plan that sees Nao walking into Segawe’s office at the university with the aim of securing incriminating evidence of the professor’s unseemly behaviour. She reads him a pornographic excerpt from his prizewinning novel, but despite his reluctance to be drawn into the trap the poor man ends up becoming involved in a salacious encounter, Nao taping the incident and sending the evidence to Segawe’s university mail address, losing hum his job. Nao and Sasaki meet by accident five years later, and all has changed.

The third – Once Again – is by far the most intriguing segment that sees three characters involved in a lose love triangle originally meeting in college and going on to live their lives before becoming involved again in a drama of mixed identities and role play. Natsuko Higuchi (Kawei) meets up with her class of 1998. She is obviously an outsider, hardly bothering to socialise. Next day in Tokyo she meets Aya Kobayashi (Urabe). Natsuko is convinced Aya is really her ex- Mika Yulli, a girl she wanted to spend her life with, but who decided to marry a man. It takes Aya ages to convince Natsuko she is not Yulli. Aya is married with two children before the virus Xeron ruined electronic communications, and sent the world back to mailed post and telegrams. Aya is helpless, before she decides to participate in a role play in which she plays Yulli. Natsuko tells ‘Yulli’ how much she was hurt by her decision to leave her. Now Natsuko regrets the past, she has never fallen in love again. After the women re-bond Aya agrees to play the role of a girl in her class, Nozumi, a boyish girl, on whom Aya had a crush. Aya and Natsuko part as friends, having created a romantic past.

The is an elegantly crafted romantic drama full of twists and turns, a mature masterpiece, with Hamaguchi effortlessly playing all emotional nuances in a satisfying trilogy of different passionate styles. Apart from being a master class in narrative structuring, Wheel is also full of ambiguity and ambivalence: human emotions being shown as destructive as well as healing. Outstanding. AS


Fabian: Going to the Dogs (2021) Berlinale Competition 2021

Dir: Dominik Graf | Cast: Tom Schilling, Saskia Rosendahl, Albrecht Schuch, Petra Kalkutschke, Elmar Gutmann, Aljoscha Stadelmann, Meret Becker, Michael Hanemann; Germany/Austria 2021, 176 min.

Fabian: Going to the Dogs is the second big screen adaptation of Erich Kästner’s 1931 novel Fabian: Die Geschichte eines Moralisten, and much more successful than Wolf Gremm’s rather facile 1980 attempt.

Directed and co-written by German veteran director Domink Graf (The Invincibles) it does justice to the novel and its author. Erich Kästner (1899-1974) best known for his children books, which often found their way into screen versions, like Das Doppelte Lottchen, filmed as The Parent Trap in 1961. Fabian was his only mature adult novel. His poems and lyrical texts are rather whimsical in their romanticism echoing the of his contemporary Kurt Tucholsky, who emigrated to Sweden where he committed suicide in 1935

But Kästner stayed in Nazi Germany, even though he was present when his books (with many others) were burned as ‘Entartete Kunst’ by the Nazis. The author visited exiled colleagues, but “wanted to remain in Germany as a chronicler”. Unable to write anything but children books, he was not even allowed to join the ‘Reichsschriftstumkammer’, the global Nazi organisation for writers, but nevertheless managed to write (uncredited) the scripts for Munchhausen (1943) and the adaption of his own novel ‘Der kleine Grenzverkehr’ as Salzburg Comedy, also in 1943, under the pseudonym of Berthold Burger.

Kästner was an individualist not given to joining groups in the post-war Federal Republic, he nevertheless remained true to his pacifism demonstrating on the ‘Easter Marches’ against re-militarisation and nuclear weapons, and later against the Vietnam War. Fabian‘s two leading male characters correspond quite closely to the author’s personality .

Fabian is set in and around Berlin in the final years of the Weimar Republic, where Dr. Jacob Fabian (Schilling), in his twenties, works in an advertising agency, enjoying a nightlife of sexual escapades. He meets Irene Moll (Becker) whose husband pays other men to sleep with his wife – if he approves of them beforehand. Fabian will meet Irene on two more occasions: on the first, she gives him work as her assistant in a brothel offering female sex workers for heterosexual men. Later on in a train to Dresden, she offers to take him to Budapest for another sexually charged enterprise. Fabian’s close coterie of male friends includes Dr. Stephan Labude (Schuch) an emotionally unstable intellectual champagne socialist who is writing his post-doctoral thesis on Lessing. Fabian, on the other hand, avoids politics, devoting his time to his lyrical writings. All this changes when he meets meets the young Cornelia Battenberg (Rosendahl), an aspiring actress.

The two fall in love, and their magical nighttime foray in Berlin is one of the film’s highlights, before the two return to the cheap pension where they both live. But money will be their downfall, and after visiting Labude at his posh family estate, Fabian finds himself dismissed from the agency on the grounds of his lack of focus. Enter Cornelia’s more illustrious suitor, the film producer Markart (Stadelmann). At a lunch with Fabian’s mother, Cornelia leaves her lover and sits at Markart’s table. This is the beginning of the end for their relationship, and both struggle to maintain contact.

But worse is to come for the romantically inclined pals who are both subsumed by their political and amorous ideals. Labude falls foul of a prank at the university where the Nazi Germany had considerable support: far from being the party of the underdog the Nazis were a major contingent of the intellectual establishment.

Meanwhile Fabian returns to his parents in Dresden where he continues his life supported by regular phone calls with Cornelia, who visits their favourite cafe every afternoon to wait for him. Having ignored countless public posters of “Learn to Swim”, Fabian ignores them, and goes to the rescue of a boy who jumped from a railway bridge into a river. The boy survives and uncovers Fabian’s bag, full of writings and personal memorabilia.

The is a visually alluring drama despite some tricksy multi-screen images which feel out of place in the period setting. DoP Hanno Lentz and PD Klaus-Jürgen Pfeiffer recreate the era with avantgarde flair. Schilling and Rosendahl have chemistry and make for a believable couple caught in the midst of a ‘coup de foudre’.

But it’s Graf’s direction that really wins the day, creating a German epos full of contradictions, but with universal appeal. Yes, the running length is questionable, the overbearing sex scenes are filmed with the male gaze, women are either total victims or scheming traitors (like Cornelia), – but overall Graf comes close to Bernhard Wicki’s 1989 masterpiece of  Spider’s Web, set in the same period in Germany, and based on the novel by Joseph Roth who, like Kästner, was an immigrant with addiction issues. Graf pulls off the “double-suicide” of two romantic idealists unable to face a world that did not reflect their longings. AS



What Do We See When We Look at the Sky (2021)

Dir/Wri: Alexandre Koberidze | Cast: Giorgi Bochorishvili, Vakhtang Panchulidze, Ani Karseladze, Oliko Bakradze and Giorgi Ambroladze | Georgia, drama 126

Love at first sight is one of those strange human miracles. And this serendipitous occurrence lights up everyday life in a Georgian city in this whimsical sophomore feature from Georgia’s Alexandre Koberidze.

The lovers in question – Lisa and Giorgi – meet in their home town of Kutaisi (north west of Tbilisi) agreeing to see each other the next day – someplace, same time – without exchanging numbers. But a stranger has cast the evil eye on their happiness, completely changing their appearance.  When they finally get together, the feelings of passion are still there under the surface, but they desperately try to recapture the magic of that first flirtatious flight of fantasy. They are still the same people, but they look completely different.

Koberidze keeps the action light-hearted and playful, making use of magic realism to show how the lovers (now played by different actors) both fall into new jobs in a local cafe. Meanwhile, we get a glimpse of life in this cathedral city on the banks of the Rioni River, in a series of vibrant vignettes that spill out one after the other, anticipating the excitement of the forthcoming World Cup. There’s an intoxicating feeling of camaraderie but also a hint of wistfulness in the air giving the film a gently poetic feel. We never get to know the protagonists and so they remain distant, locked away in this modern fairy tale.

Intoxicated by its own joie de vivre the bittersweet docudrama tries hard to keep us engaged but rather overstays its welcome at well over two hours. DoP Faraz Fesharaki does his best to entertain and delight with glowing images, using a static camera to enhance the film’s more sober final sequences. In a world with so much tragedy, conflict and seriousness, Koberidze shows us there is still room for dreams if we let our imagination loose. MT



Jack’s Ride | No Táxi do Jack (2021) Berlinale Forum 2021

Dir: Susana Nobre | Cast: Joaquim Calcada | Portugal, 87′

Portuguese director Susana Nobre won the prestigious La Femis Scholars’ Award with her short film Provas, Exorcismos. She comes to Berlin with her unusual first feature No Táxi do Jack which is part road movie part ethnological portrait of small-town rural Portugal but there’s a sting in the tale to the concentric narrative.

Jack’s Ride seems quite straightforward at first as we follow the main character Joaquim Calçada, 63, now semi-retired and back home in his village after spending his working life as a taxi driver New York. Joaquim’s day is full of the usual chores, organising his pension arrangements and shopping for food. Nobre establishes the milieu of this rural backwater with its industrial outcrop and traditional neighbourly values, more 1970s in feel than the present day, and this is reflected in the film’s rather florid visual aesthetic, Joaquim is locked in a time warp looking like a character from Scorsese’s Taxi Driver with his dyed black hair, leather jacket and lifts. That said he is a decent, respectful man who cares for his wife, his long-dead parents, and his blind friend, a wheelchair user with diabetes. Nobre paints a portrait of a contented but rather backward place where traditional values still matter.

The rather mundane daily drama plays out against the more intriguing narration by Joaquim – and here there is a dramatic trip over New York’s skyline, provided by archive footage, as he reminisces about his old emigrant days in New York’s mean streets where life was tough as he struggled to make it in the urban jungle, particularly when the law of the jungle saw him challenging someone he thought was his friend. MT



Social Hygiene | Hygene Sociale | Best Director | Berlinale Encounters 2021

Dir: Denis Cote | Maxim Gaudette, Eve Duranceau, Eleonore Loiselle, Larissa Corriveau, Kathleen Fortin, Evelyne Rompre | Drama, Canada,

Singular, original and always refreshing Canadian auteur Denis Cote continues to push cinematic boundaries with a body of work that avoids convention in its freedom of expression.

His latest film – screening in this year’s Berlinale Encounters section – is another curio that defies categorisation, it is certainly highly individual it its style. In a bid to fly in the face of Covid restrictions the film is appropriately set in the wide sweeping landscapes of Cote’s verdant homeland of Canada, this beautiful bucolic setting very much playing a leading role of its own.

Dressed up as a filmed play, the characters pronounce their lines at the top of their voices competing with ambient birdsong in the forest setting, and the dialogue itself is delivered like a piece of 17th century French theatre – in the sonorous style of Racine or Molière – it could almost be Le Misanthrope (with Antonin being the philander Philinte), its characters each representing a distinct point of view. Some members of the cast wear period costume, but not always. Essentially a series of long shots like scenes in a play are broken by an interlude where a young man walks aimlessness across the screen, ‘the play’ then continues its story about a hapless loser Antonin (Gaudette) who looks to his female friends and consorts for guidance and savvy advice.

His sister Solveig (Corriveau) wears modern dress most of the time, whereas Antonin’s ex-wife Eglantine (Rompre) is dressed in period garb. And although the play is delivered in a 17th – or even early 18th – century style the content is very much contempo with its social media allusions and references to the present day.

Eglantine, it turns out, is now involved with another man, but flirts with Antonin suggesting she is opens to rekindling their relationship, on condition that he mends his ways. Meanwhile Antonin still carries a candle for another love, in the shape of Cassiopee (Duranceau), although she has apparently moved on to pastures new. Various other characters highlight Antonin’s crimes and misdemeanours: Rose (Fortin) claims he has not paid his taxes and Aurore (Loiselle), that he has stolen from her car.

Social Hygiene will certainly be remembered as a film made during the time of Covid. But what this comedy of manners is satirising is open for interpretation. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2021| Best Director Ex-AEQUO with The Girl and the Spider.

District Terminal (2021) Berlinale Encounters 2021

Dirs: Bardia Yadegari/ Ehsan Mirhosseini | Drama, Iran/Germ 117′

In the near Tehran future will be reduced to a broken down backwater. At least that’s the view envisaged in District Terminal a rather stylish but overlong social and political drama from first time Iranian filmmakers Yadegari and Mirhosseini, screening in the Encounters strand in this year’s 71st edition of Berlinale.

This vision of dystopia and existential angst is seen from the perspective of a mother and her junkie son Peyman (played by Yadegari) who are struggling to make sense of their daily lives as they face a grim and uncertain future in a pokey flat near Tehran’s eponymous transport hub. A lethal virus, possibly the result of environmental pollution, has brought the city to its knees and their local neighbourhood has been placed under round-the-clock surveillance by quarantine officers.

The film’s premise is universal, especially in these Covid times, but District Terminal feels distinctly Iranian in flavour, making use of use of his exotic poems written (and he often chants them in hushed tones in Farsi) on the peeling walls of his bedroom. The junkie moments are given an artful spin by the cinematographer.

There’s nothing unusual about this doom-laden scenario. While his long-suffering mother gets on with the business of running the domestic side of his life, the self-obsessed loser Peyman spends his time shooting up and listening to jazz; over-thinking the status quo (and these moments are envigorated by menacing archive footage of ecological disasters); attending his alcoholics support group; and Skyping a skanky-looking woman in the USA who he has married to get a visa, and who is hoping for great things from this ‘marriage’. Meanwhile Peyman is desperately learning English, while his teeth are falling out one by one.

Sometimes his daughter swings round to see him, chanting Amy Winehouse songs and rocking a beanie – rather than a headscarf – she confesses to her father that she loves dating “assholes” and promptly leaves in a white Mercedes.

His two closest friends Ramin and Mozhgan seem the most edifying companions but Peyman is also in hopelessly involved in an illicit love affair. There’s absolutely nothing appealing about these any of these characters who are locked, almost contentedly so, in their aimlessly existence. After a while living in lockdown does induce people to settle for the lowest common denominator, but there’s also something deeply irritating about the way these characters refuse to aspire to anything more than their days of emptiness, drug-taking and navel gazing. MT



Bloodsuckers – A Marxist Vampire Comedy (2021) Berlinale

Dir.: Julian Radlmaier; Cast: Aleksandre Koberidze, Lilith Stangenberg, Alexander Herbst, Corinna Harfouch, Andreas Döhler, Anton Gonopolski, Daniel Hoesl, Mareike Beykirch; Ger/France/Switz 2021, Drama,125 min.

A tour de force of German cinema of the 1960s and 70s slips through the cracks in this riotous summer seaside sortie that sees a penniless Soviet refugee in thrall to an exotic vampire and her love-sick manservant a decade after the First World War.

Gloriously set on the verdant Baltic coast in 1928, Bloodsuckers channels the wacky humour of Woody Allen’s Love & Death with a touch of Bruno Dumont’s Slack Bay thrown in. Just falling short of self-parody in a bizarre two hours, this is high-octane stuff intellectually-speaking; a nuts and bolts grasp of Marxism or the ins-and-outs of Soviet film history will partly explain Radlmaier’s arcane comedy caper and third feature. That said, you’ll either love it, or hate it – to death.

The film unfolds in three chapters with incomprehensible titles but the settings are sumptuously photographed, although not always in keeping with the era costume-wise – occasionally striking a bum note that gives the film the amateurish look of a high school production. Another scene featuring modern Mercedes cars also sticks out like a sore thumb.

Breaking away from an earnest beachside chat between members of a Marxist study group we witness a more intriguing rendezvous taking place between rich heiress Octavia (Stangenberg) and the ‘soi-disant’ Count Ljowushka (Koberidze), who shares his sob story of starting life as a poor factory worker before being discovered by filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein (Gonopolski), who cast him as Trotsky. (Unfortunately, the real Trotsky fell out with Stalin and Ljowushka’s part ended up on the cutting room floor, along with his budding romance).

The Countess invites the young man to stay in her lushly appointed villa where Jakob (Herbst) serves a supper of snails, before they repair to bed. In the dead of night the impoverished Count attempts to crack open the safe but is nipped in the bud by Jakob, and the Countess graciously excuses him – in the spirit of true Marxist values – before the two hatch plans to make a film together in the villa’s ample grounds. Unknown to the Count, Octavia is a vampire (not the only one) and Jakob does the honours with daily supplies of his blood.

Various characters join in the fun including a Chinaman whose stock in trade is a healing ointment for vampire bites, that naturally none of the workforce can afford. The exploitative factory owner turns out to be one Dr. Humburg (Döhler), whose own father is rather tight-fisted with the family purse strings, and is being egged on by his aunt Erkentrud (Harfouch) to marry Octavia and get his hands on her money. Meanwhile Rosa falls for Jakob who isn’t the slightest bit interested and is too taken up with Octavia, desperately trying to impress her by reading Proust, (quite apart from offering her his own fresh blood).

A certain Bonin (Hoesl) then fetches up at the villa, Ocatvia and Auntie had met him on a skiing holiday in St. Moritz. Filming gets under way with Jakob behind the camera and Octavia and the (false) Count cast as the lovers, where the jealous Jakob eats a poisonous mushroom and dies.

Chapter Three  (A Wrong Life cannot be Lived Rightfully) brings the feature to a close with Döhler, who is also a vampire, attempting to tap the Russian ‘Count’. Döhler invites Octavia to come on a capitalist-themed jaunt to Budapest, to invest in a sort of early television. A costume ball provides a showcase showdown, with Jacob coming back to life, remembering that famous day in 1917 when the revolution set him free from his serfdom. The Study Group makes a re-appearance, but their leader is shot dead by some fascists, after everyone has watched the Vampire film.

There are some interesting ideas to be had in this ambitious third feature for Julian Radlmaier, who doesn’t quite pull off the comedy element in a film that’s more weird than funny. Performances are game and high-spirited throughout, DoP Markus Koob successfully conveying the painterly feel of the Baltic seaside in summer. AS



Tabija – The White Fortress | (2021)

Dir.: Igor Drljaca; Cast: Pavle Cemerikic, Sumeja Dardagan, Jasmin Geljo, Kerim Cuyana, Bilal Halilovic, Irena Mulamuhic, Farah Hadzic, Ermin Bravo; Canada/Bosnia and Herzegovina, 85 min.

Writer/director Igor Drljaca follows his 2018 feature The Stone Speakers with another from his native Bosnia-Herzegovina, an alluring and bitter-sweet teenage love story showcasing the elegiac beauty of Sarajevo in lush widescreen images. The White Fortress is an intensive character study, the social background playing a major role.

Teenage Faruk (Cemerikic has the same soulful fragility as Christopher Walken), scratches a living collecting scrap metal with his uncle Mirsad (Geljo). At night he works with his neighbour Almir (Kerim Cutura) ferrying sex workers around for the big boss Cedo (Bravo), who fancies himself as a star gangster, making the two boys bark like dogs in a cafe, to bolster his ego.

Sharing a home with his grandmother (Mulamuhic) who spends her days in bed, revisiting recordings of Faruk’s mother, a concert pianist with the Sarajevo Philharmonic. She died when he was very young, and having never known his father, the young man is at a loss, sleeping with different girls to try and make up for the emotional deficit and hiding his vulnerability with bombastic behaviour.

When he meets Mona (Dardagan) in a shopping mall, it seems like another casual encounter, but the slightly older Mona falls for Faruk. After one of Cedo’s girls (Minela/Hadzic) dies of an overdose after he drove her to a gig, Faruk decides he’s done with the overbearing boss. Mona too is getting tired of her parents, both work as ‘bureaucrats for hire’ for any party who wants them. Mona moans her parents only live together for professional reasons, shouting at her Mum, “you don’t even know where he spends the nights.” Later Mona tells Faruk that her parents have formed a sort of company, where they exchange favours for feelings they do not have at all

Meanwhile the ongoing election campaign echoes along in the background seemingly making no impact on the locals. The reason for Mona’s anger is her parents’ intention to make her move to live with relatives in Toronto. This plan for next year has been forwarded, and deep down Mona knows that she will go. Faruk, whose Hawaii posters on his bedroom wall signal his romantic wanderlust, is also a romantic and both wander around the countryside, on bright sunny days, Mona expressing a desire to live deep in the woods where Faruk will hunt for her with a pack of wild dogs .The romantic leanings of the couple seem to crash with the social reality in a crumbling Sarajevo caught between crass materialism and poverty. But Faruk’s own future looks likely to be dismal, inheriting his uncle’s van, and taking over his business. Meanwhile the pragmatic Vreco wants Faruk to continue pimping for Cedo ,

Backlit nightscapes create a dreamy poetic setting in a Sarajevo that echoes and glows in perpetual twilight, the long poetic panning shots in the streets of the city unfurl like a love letter to a wartorn victim, on its last legs, but with so much still to tell. One can only hope one day the Sarajevans can rediscover laughter and happiness, like in The Book of Fairytales the young lovers are drawn to. Scored by delicate occasional piano music often by Schumann, this elegiac, languid love story, filmed with a fine eye for detail and a magical finale is a gleaming gem.



Berlinale Specials 2021

Best Sellers – Canada / United Kingdom
by Lina Roessler
with Michael Caine, Aubrey Plaza
*World premiere / Debut film

Courage – Germany
by Aliaksei Paluyan
with Maryna Yakubovich, Pavel Haradnizky, Denis Tarasenka
*World premiere / Documentary form / Debut film

French Exit – Canada / Ireland
by Azazel Jacobs
with Michelle Pfeiffer, Lucas Hedges, Valerie Mahaffey, Imogen Poots

Je suis Karl – Germany / Czech Republic
by Christian Schwochow
with Luna Wedler, Jannis Niewöhner, Milan Peschel *World premiere

Language Lessons – USA
by Natalie Morales
with Natalie Morales, Mark Duplass, Desean Terry
*World premiere / Debut film

Limbo – Hong Kong, China / People’s Republic of China
by Cheang Soi
with Lam Ka Tung, Liu Cya, Lee Mason, Hiroyuki Ikeuchi
*World premiere

The Mauritanian – United Kingdom
by Kevin Macdonald
with Jodie Foster, Tahar Rahim, Shailene Woodley, Benedict Cumberbatch

Per Lucio (For Lucio) – Italy
by Pietro Marcello
*World premiere / Documentary form

Tides – Germany / Switzerland
by Tim Fehlbaum
with Nora Arnezedar, Iain Glen, Sarah-Sofie Boussnina
*World premiere

Tina – USA
by Dan Lindsay, T. J. Martin
with Tina Turner, Angela Bassett, Oprah Winfrey, Katori Hall
*World premiere / Documentary form

Wer wir waren (Who We Were) – Germany
by Marc Bauder
with Alexander Gerst, Sylvia Erle, Dennis Snower, Matthieu Ricard
*World premiere / Documentary form



Photograph (2019)

Dir:Wri: Ritesh Batra | India, 110′

See Mumbai and slowly fall in love. Seems like a dream but it’s a dream come true in Ritesh Batra’s latest drama that sees two worlds collide and then gradually come together. The Mumbai-born director is back with a slowburn snapshot of this ancient city making its way into the modern world and beyond.

Here a photograph taken one summer afternoon in the Gateway to India forms a tenuous link that will unite two people across the barrier of religion, class, and culture as poignant impossibilities gradually becoming certainties due to education and entrepreneurial spark. 

Street photographer Rafi (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) gets by snapping tourists. He has a simple sales pitch: but one that’s captured the imagination of his punters and will one day serve him well. Or at least that’s what’s we’re led to believe in this leisurely look at contemporary India, and the power of possibility that had motivated the nation into the fast lane. But the detailed world around Rafi is what makes this languid romantic comedy so richly enjoyable.

Miloni (Sanya Malhotra) is a timid intelligent student training to be a chartered accountant. One day she comes across Rafi and has her photo taking in a chance meeting that provides the starting point to fragrant possibilities. Rafi is silently struck not her gentle presence, but is pressurised by his social status and his grandmother to marry. Miloni agrees to pose as his potential bride when his grandmother arrives and gradually this delicate date becomes a lasting connection that sees them meeting every day while the old woman stays in Rafi’s modern accommodation he shares with a motley crew of unmarried men.   

The films glows on the widescreen where DoP Ben Kutchins captures the chaotic cacophony and sun-dappled boulevards of Mumbai and its delightful street carts selling all kinds of cuisine and produce. Ambient sounds transport is into the centre of this action making this a tangible and highly visual, sensual travelogue

Batra gives us time – and many may say too much time – to get to know his characters; to glory in the sensuousness of it all. And this sensitivity is part of the drama’s lushness. Rafi and Miloni are quietly beautiful to look. Even her housemaid’s  jewellery russles as she pads barefoot to serve dinner and assure Miloni of her discretion when she sees the two of them waking in the square. This attention to detail makes the film pleasurable along with its languorous dramatic arc.

There are long affectionate glances but few words as the couple’s relationship takes shape. And Batra luxuriates in the rich textural influences of the characters around them: Miloni’s teacher and her parents. But most of all Rafi’s grandma whose wise words and chiding bring the film its comic moments. Batra judiciously doesn’t allow these two the power of touch until the the final scenes, and even then we’re left expectant but convinced there can be a future. But that is left to our own imagination with the tangible facts in place. And this slowly looms into perspective in the final act when we become more attuned to the directors modus operandi. 

The class distinctions are subtly alluded to through comments on skin colour. Rafi is refered as a “black raisin,” according to his grandmother, due to his street job. Other class tags are noted in the way the higher castes interweave English into their conversations. When Miloni goes to meet a potential marriage partner who immediately talks about international locations for setting up home. Miloni – not keen on him at all – hints at her desire to ‘live in a village and farm before taking a nap in the afternoon’.

The desire for a concrete culimination to their union has left some unsatisfied with the film. But that is the very nature of the piece and why Batra doesn’t need to spell it out for us. The ending is fully formed by what has gone before in subtle gestures and intimations. It is what it is. A mature and ravishingly rewarding experience MT

NOW ON BFI Player |


Copyright © 2024 Filmuforia