Posts Tagged ‘berlinale 2016’

Alone in Berlin (2016)

Director: Vincent Perez |Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Emma Thompson, Daniel Brühl, Mikael Persbrandt |Germany|France| UK

Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson make this rather plodding wartime drama watchable. They play the unhappy married couple at the centre of a piece of German wartime subversion in a flawed adaptation of Hans Fallada’s postwar novel set in Berlin.

This is Vincent Perez’ third film as a director. His ambitious but cinematically lacklustre piece explores how the tragic death of a child can turn an ordinary couple against the state with a petty crime involving the publication of anti-government slogans, printed on postcards and randomly left in public places. “Hitler’s war is the worker’s death”. Whereas nowadays this kind of detritus would be swept away into the trash (or recycling), Surprisingly in 1940 Berlin, due to the powerful grip that Nazism exerted on wartime Germany, most of the cards were actually handed into the authorities and the couple are arrested in a narrative that reflects on the moral and political intricacies of the postwar blame game.

Gleeson and Thompson have German accents – as does German born Daniel Brühl, who plays the most complex character in the film as Escherich, an ardent Nazi police inspector whose fierce doggedness is crushed after he falls foul of an SS officer during the investigation. Initially the whole thing feels forced and unconvincing despite the combined talents of Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson who do their best to deliver some really clunky lines and manage gradually to thaw their characters’ failing relationship through the conspiratorial brio of their joint endeavour, eventually breathing life into a bland but intriguing wartime drama that shines another spotlight on Nazi Germany. MT


Lily Lane (2016) |

Director | Bence Fliegauf | Cast Angéla Stefanovics, Bálint Sótonyi, Miklós Székely, Mária Gindert,, Maja Balogh

90mins  Fantasy Drama  Hungary

Hungarian filmmaker Bence Fliegauf creates a world of fantasy based in the reality of a divorcing couple and their small son. With a few simple devices: a ghostly original score, technical effects such as slo-mo and extreme close-ups as the camera glides over his toys and giving them a otherworldly appeal, while a young woman slowly spins a fairy story. Bence Fliegauf’s mesmerising debut drama slowly emerges like an enigmatic crystalis from its cocoon. By associating simple objects and images – a broken toy, a stuffed animal, a mask, a stormy skyline: a suggestive narrative emerges connecting with our own childhood experiences of fear. Rebeka and Dani face these fears head on – embracing them to create their own fantasy world that drives the narrative forward.

In flashback, Rebeka (Angéla Stefanovics) casts back to happy times when her son was born. Clearly she was loved but now wants a separation from his father, but not a divorce on paper. LILY LANE shifts backwards and forwards; a stream of consciousness that sparks subconscious fears and memories of childhood, life and love.

The story unravels in black-and-white photos, snapshots of the physical intimacy and unique bond between mother and child. Often the camera creeps around at strange angles, giving a voyeurish feel of impending and oppressive doom and building palpable suspense. Angela Stefanovics is well cast: her dark looks are bewitching and she gives the impression of a being a soul from a bygone era. Her sudden emotional outbursts evoke impending tragedy or mental instability brought on by post traumatic stress. Her son asks simple questions: “what happens when we die” yet in the film’s context they often appear ghoulish. Fliegauf’s cognitive dissonance technique is similarly used by Veronika Franz in her debut Goodnight Mommy. Based on montage made with cleverly edited mixed technology LILY LANE is a simple yet highly effective fantasy drama that plays on the senses and remains in the memory. MT



Who’s Gonna Love Me Now? (2016)

Director: Tomer & Barak Heyman; Documentary; Israel/UK/Germany 2016, 84 min.

Tomer and Barak Heyman (Bridge over the Wadi) have always combined the personal and socio-political in their longterm documentaries shot mainly in Israel where Barak produced the award winning Lady Kul el Arab by the Palestinian filmmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana. This was a manifestation of her brother’s political statement showing a divided Israel, trying in vain to come to terms with a permanent war against Palestine.

Saar Maoz, the central figure of WHO’S GONNA LOVE ME NOW? is forty and lives in London. For the past eleven years he has been HIV Positive. An ordinary gay man, he sings in the London Gay Men’s Chorus but his life is ruled by the medication he takes which often has side effects ranging from nausea and muscle cramps to very disturbed sleep patterns. What makes Saar’s life even more difficult is his relationship with the family in Israel, where he grew up on a Kibbutz with six siblings. His father is a paratrooper who tells everybody with pride that all his children served in the same military branch like him, and he parachuted “with all of them, even the girls”.

During one of Saar’s visits; his father, in uniform, shows guests around the military monument “Ammunition Hill”, proclaiming a rather belligerent, un-reflective ideology of Israel’s right to annex Palestinian territories. Prior to this we had witnessed Saar reading a letter from his father, which is insulting on a personal level as his political ravings in Israel. But Saar still craves the love of his family and  blames them for his being thrown out of the Kibbutz, when his homosexuality became apparent: “They should have said, we are all going to leave the Kibbutz, if you exclude our son”. Obviously, this was far from realistic.

The only person who loves Saar unconditionally is his grandfather, who is old and frail, and will die during the filming. When Saar’s mother comes to London later she is helpless and has obviously not come to terms with her son’s homosexuality: “You are like a branch without continuity”. Whilst she loves Saar, she still hopes he will give up s his sexual orientation. During the film, Saar becomes a little more realistic: when walking with a friend round Brompton Cemetery, he remarks sarcastically that the Kibbutz will bury him, but “hey we’ll put that Queer only in the far away corner”.

When his father visits Saar in London he also displays a huge degree of insensitivity: sitting in an outdoor café, he remarks loudly to his son “are these also gay?’ when two young women walk by. Later he asks Saar “who is gay here?” as if the promenading people were so easily classified. But Saar’s parents are not the worst – by far. When Saar finally decides to go back to Israel, working for The ‘Israel Aids Task Force’, his younger brother is openly hostile: he is afraid his small children may get infected “when you move here, the risks are so much greater”.

The great strength of the film is the long-term observation, making the awareness (or lack of it) of the Maoz family much more apparent. Filming in London and Israel, the scale of the different environments is huge: the man employing Saar at the Aids Task Force points this out to him. But Saar is set for a reunion with his family in a country which will not welcome him with open arms: he will be a stranger both at home and in a society geared to male values, needed Israel is a militaristic society. The images are clear and well-0bserved, there is humour here but also overriding sadness for Saar, who wants more than anything to come home, without being really wanted by those he loves and values. AS

ON RELEASE FROM 6 April  2017



A Quiet Passion (2016) Viennale 2021

Director|Writer: Terence Davies | Cast: Cynthia Nixon, Jennifer Ehle, Keith Carradine, | 124min  | Drama | UK

After his sober portrait of Scottish life during wartime, Terence Davies turns his camera back to American life, and particularly that of the reclusive 19th century poet Emily Dickinson, played sensitively here in this illuminating aptly claustrophobic biopic, by Cynthia Nixon. Jennifer Ehle plays Emily’s sister and Keith Carradine her strict but loving Victorian father in an attempt to explore and open up an introspective but hopeful young woman whose poor health saw her gradually regressing into her bedroom as a frustrated spinster. Dickinson had some success at being published at a time when women of her background were considered ill-suited to writing or any other kind of creative pursuit.

Her poetry is sometimes described as elliptical; it is certainly avantgarde but she never blossomed personally or professionally, opting for the closeted atmosphere of her close family rather than one of emotional fulfilment in household of her own. Highly self-critical, Nixon cleverly portrays her own worst enemy, whose inner monologues and negative overthinking continually self-sabotage her success: despite a prodigious output of nearly 2,000 poems, only 11 were published.

Dying from kidney failure at 55, Dickinson endured a maudlin household where, despite Vinnie’s uplifting support and love, the women seemed to teeter perpetually on the bring of anxiety-induced poor health. Her mother can barely get to the end of the day without dissolving into tears of melancholy (often looking like Stanley Baxter in drag).

Shot almost entirely indoors, within the confines of her luxuriously decorated home and flower-filled garden in Amherst, Massachusetts, Davies’ script is suitably coy and wittily crafted; guaranteed to elicit a tittering response of pleasure from its litterary-minded devotees. Played briefly as a young woman by Emma Bell, Dickinson is a sparky and sharp-tongued virago whose pluckiness turns to bitterness in the fullness of time as Dixon takes over the role.

Her God-fearing family is headed by her father who allows her to write at night time and to receive visits from her canny, Dorothy Parker-like friend, Vryling Buffom (Catherine Bailey) who eventually marries. But Emily’s ardour burns only for the unobtainable in the shape of Rev. Wadsworth (Eric Loren). When a good-looking admirer visits one day Emily rebuffs him with vituperative conversation while hiding behind her bedroom door. He never comes again, yet Emily remains desperate to be ravaged by a midnight guest – seen only in profile in a dimly lit fantasy scene. Best known for her antics in Sex and the City, Nixon plays Jane as plain and scathing in contrast to her sister Vinnie’s electrifying smile and brother Austin’s dark good looks.

Terence Davies’ mise en scene is fastidiously crafted as his camera glides stealthily through each shot. Delicate flower arrangement bring freshness to the otherwise crustily powdered and heavily wigged look of the cast whose superb but mannered performances evoke the stiff propriety of the day. A score of appropriate music selections from Schubert to Chopin adds to final touches to this rather twee but beautifully rendered arthouse piece than never quite reaches the emotional heights of House of Mirth or Deep Blue Sea but is nevertheless moving as a portrait of female endeavour and longing.  MT


Quand on a 17 ans (Being 17) | BFI Flare Film Festival

Director: André Téchiné (Les Témoins) Writers: André Téchiné, Céline Sciamma

With Sandrine Kiberlain, Kacey Mottet Klein, Corentin Fila, Alexis Loret

Drama | World premiere | France

Revered writer|director André Téchiné portrays adolescent sexual awakening, loss and love in the snowy landscapes of the French Pyrenees. Wild Reeds will spring to mind here, as will his co-writer Celine Sciamma’s rites of passage films Tomboy and Girlhood. But this is a work of multi-layered subtlety that pictures two rival teenagers at loggerheads in a close-knit community where change comes slowly and in unexpected ways

Poignant upbeat but always real BEING 17 has a searing sense of place and of the local traditions in this farming community as it moves through three seasons winter, spring and summer. Stunningly captured by cinematographer Julien Hirsch’s spectacularly scenic shots of vermillion sunsets and icy mountain vistas, the story opens at the cattle farm where teenage Thomas (Corentin Fila), the bi-racially adopted son of Christine (Mama Prassinos) and Jacques (Jean Fornerod) helps out with the animals while studying at the main lycée several hours ride away in the valley. A loner, he resents the more intelligent Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein), a gawky but sensitive kid who doesn’t hide his talent in the classroom. That prompts Tom to beat him up after school, but Damien is too tough let it worry him. Living in the lcoal town with his doctor mother Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain) he also enjoys boxing, training locally with old family friend Paulo (Jean Corso).

Damien’s father, Nathan (Alexis Loret), is in the French airforce stationed oversees. Marianne treats Thomas’ mother Christine one day and discovers she’s pregnant. Marianne invites Thomas to stay while his mother is resting, unaware that the two boys are sworn enemies and she secretly quite fancies Thomas. The boys’ animosity is pictured in frequent punch ups that somehow start to spark feelings of another nature between them. Klein was pictured in the equally snowy Sister (2012) and has since blossomed developing an raw and piercing sensitivity in his acting which he brings to his role as Damien. As Thomas, Corentin Fila has his own fawn-like sensuously tempered with impetuousness.  The genesis of their relationship is so subtle as to be imperceptable but gradually manifests itself from close contact during their tussles. Drawn together from lonliness and, to a degree, isolation it is bred from a mutual longing for emotional and physical closeness  but is conveyed in bewildered feelings of insecurity and is tenderly moving to watch. There are so many strands here interacting and evolving, yet Téchiné blends them seemlessly together to create a dynamic that feels natural and inevitable as life in village moves on. For her part, Kiberlain lights every scene as a warm and loving mother who is also intuitive, kind and completely natural.

The occasional score is judiciously sparing at just a few points and the tone natural throughout, this is an immersive and satisfying French drama which, along with Things to Come, is sure to go down well with the arthouse crowd.


Zero Days (2016)

Writer| Director: Alex Gibney |  116min | Documentary | USA

Alex Gibney’s new documentary about cyber-warfare is like the inside of a freezer: chilling and done dry. A palpable menace permeated the early scenes as your brain juggles to process endless facts and figures, but the bottom line is cold war fear: are we heading for meltdown through our computer screens? It’s highly likely rather than just possible.

Offering no conclusions, Gibney once again gives us a fast-paced and well-edited, authoritative documentary that is scary and quite bewildering. In ZERO DAYS he claims that cyber-attacks are the next big thing in international warfare; instead of bombs or even chemical warfare, these silent systems can invade at the touch of a button and take over nations – even the whole world. There is something decidedly horrifying and apocalyptic about this form of attack that feels underhand and rather sly: like a silent germ ‘Stuxnet’ a piece of weapons-grade malware developed during the early years of the 21st century by Israeli and US security forces – who gave it the codename “Olympic Games” –  begins rapidly to replicate, like an embryo, imbedded in the cosy comfort of the aptly-named computer software.

By 2010, the cyber weapon had been successfully installed at the Iranian nuclear power plant in Natanz, where it a was able to disrupt the functioning of the underground spinning centrifuges which operate at the speed of light in order the complete the nuclear refinement process. The Iranian Government were aware of the infringement but had no idea it was being caused by the Americans, seemingly under their noses. The Iranians themselves had developed malware systems and they eventually retaliated with attacks of the Bank of America but, like germ warfare, Stuxnet got out of control and began a computer pandemic infecting other systems on a global basis.

American president, Barack Obama has secretly authorised various attacks intended to destroy their enemy’s computer systems running the country’s electricity, communications and even water supply –but it cuts both ways. In future, war will be silent and deadly: suddenly darkness will descend in a universal meltdown.

But there have been so many threats of this kind since time immemorial. Armageddon was mentioned in biblical times in the book of Revelations and, more recently, the Millennium Bug which threatened to strike with the dawn of 2000, wiping out all computer systems. So just how soon is ZERO DAYS  intending the world to end? Not the for the faint-hearted or those looking for light entertainment, this is a film that needs to be taken with a heavy dose of caution, but taken seriously, nevertheless. But don’t dismay – there’s still tomorrow. Take a walk in the park and smell the roses. There’s a lot to be thankful for. MT



Le Fils de Joseph (2016) | The Son of Joseph

Director: Eugene Green

Cast: Mathieu Amalric, Fabrizio Rongione, Victor Ezenfils 

Eugene Green, the American born director continues to explore themes of creativity, family connection and the nature of fatherhood in his latest drama, his most delightful and effective since the Portuguese Nun.

Vincent (newcomer Victor Ezenfils) lives with his loving mother Marie (Natcha Regnier) in Paris, but still feels troubled and let down. Determined to find his father, he sets in a voyage of discovery that the director tackles through a series of five parables relating to the Holy Family entitled: The Sacrifice of Abraham; The Golden Calf;  The Sacrifice of Isaac; The Carpenter and The Flight into Egypt.

Made on a low budget, yet none the worse for it, this satirical drama follows Green’s usual mannered style: the characters talk in perfect diction directly to the camera as if reciting their lines from a book, often moving slowly away from the camera. Cinematographer Raphael O’Byrne’s uses a static arthouse two-shot technique but also captures the beauty of the Parisian skylines and the lush landscapes of the Normandy countryside.

Vincent finally manages to track down his father through a change meeting at a party. Oscar Pormenor (a snarling Mathieu Amalric) is a successful publisher with a wife, three kids and a mistress who also runs his affairs in a small hotel in Paris. Oscar is odious and arrogant; entirely uninterested in his family who he regards with disdain. Copying the front door key to his father’s office, Vincent manages to eavesdrop on Oscar and decides very quickly that this is a man he has no wish to be his father, or any other relation. While hiding under his couch, while Oscar is in flagrante with his secretary, Vincent also discovers that he has an uncle Joseph, and contrives a meeting with him in a nearby bar, where they chat and get on admirably.

Vincent’s hatred of his father grows so vehement that one day he decides to attack him in his office and handcuff him to his chair in exactly the same position as that of his print of Caravaggio’s painting ‘The Sacrifice of Isaac’, which hangs in his bedroom in the flat. Running away, before revealing his identity to Oscar.

Vincent and Joseph (La Sapienza star Fabrizio Rongione), become close as they visit museums and parks in the vicinity. In the Louvre, Vincent admires Philippe de Champaigne’s The Dead Christ and Joseph the Carpenter by Georges de la Tour, and the title of the film becomes clear when Vincent happens to mention that Joseph was not Jesus’ real father but became his father by looking after him.

When Vincent asks Joseph for dinner, the biblical link falls into place in a light-hearted way, without becoming too serious or religious. The humour lies in this constant juxtaposition of the religious and secular elements, always feeling fresh and light-hearted and thoroughly amusing.

The final act takes the trio to Normandy where they visit Joseph’s family home where Oscar is unexpectedly hosting a reception and calls the police when he suspects gatecrashers upstairs in the property.  Religious associations aside, the ensuing beach caper involves the police and a donkey and will go down well with arthouse and mainstream audiences alike with its infectious feelgood appeal. MT



The Dreamed Ones (2016) | DIE GETRÄUMTEN

Director: Ruth Beckermann

Cast: Anja Plaschg, Laurence Rupp; Austria 2016, 89 min.

Vienna born director Ruth Beckermann (East of War), explores the relationship between the Romanian born Jewish poet and author Paul Celan and the Austrian poet and writer Ingeborg Bachmann and the unsurmountable emotional conflicts brought about by different parental influences. Celan was a Jew whose parents were murdered in the Holocaust and Bachmann was the child of a committed Nazi.

Beckermann has chosen an interesting structure: two actors read the letters between the couple, dating from 1948 to 1967; including the ones from Bachmann which she never posted. Between the readings, the actors Anja Plaschg (Bachmann) and Laurence Rupp (Celan) talk and smoke and wander around in Vienna’s “Funkhaus” (Broadcasting House) listening to concert rehearsals and dining in the cafeteria. Their discussions are earnest and give the impression of genuine conflict resolution.

Celan and Bachmann only spent a few months living together in the late 1940s, but they were obsessed with each other. Bachmann had great difficulty committing to any long-term relationships, and Celan’s hesitant nature was no help. But the main stumbling block was their rivalry as poets and writers. Both were writing in German, and as members of the literature circle “Gruppe 47” they were fierce competitors. Celan had written the Holocaust poem ‘Death Fuge’ (Todesfuge) in 1945, which was published in 1948. In 1953 Bachmann won the “Gruppe 47” award for ‘Die gestundete Zeit” (The extended hours), while just a handful voted for Celan’s ‘Death Fuge’. As Celan put it: just six people remembered my name. To make matters worse, Böckler, a critic of the West Berlin paper “The Tagesspiegel”, criticized Celan’s “dead language” and insinuated the poet “ gets away with it, because of his race”. This sort of reaction was not uncommon in West Germany after the war where the majority of Germans, including intellectuals, felt sorry for themselves, and transferred their repressed guilt for the Holocaust into attacks on Jews.

Both Bachmann and Celan had two major relationships during their involvement and avid exchange of letters: Celan was married to the French aristocrat Gisèle de Lestrange, with whom he had a child. Bachmann lived with the Swiss writer Max Frisch in Zurich and Italy. Dominated by hatred and self-hatred, their obsession with each other was to end in tragedy: Celan committed suicide in 1970 drowning in the Seine. Bachmann, addicted to Barbiturates, literally set herself alight with a cigarette in bed, and died three weeks later in Rome.

Their mainly unfulfilled love was typically for the decades after the end of WWII, when the emotional chasm between the victims (or their children) of the Holocaust and the Nazis (and their children) was simply too much of a hurdle to overcome, however strong their feelings for each other. Celan and Bachmann simply stood no chance: history overcoming their love .

DOP Johannes Hammel creates loving close-ups of the ‘couple’, and his matter-of-fact shots of the “Funkhaus”, where broadcasting history has been made for the last 90 years or so, is a reminder that these ordinary-looking places have witnessed a violent and changing history. THE DREAMED ONES is a chronicle of despondency and unfulfilled desires in a time over-shadowed with a past which not only lead to the death of millions, but also poisoned the lives of innocent survivors like Celan and Bachmann. AS



We are Never Alone (2016) | Made in Prague Festival 2016

NIKDY NEJSME SAMI | Director:  Petr Vaclav | Cast: Karel Roden, Lenka Vlasakova, Miroslav Hanus, Zdenek Godla, Klaudia Dudova | Czech Republic/France 116min

Director Petr Vaclav’s latest film is a provincial drama full of passion, violence and mental health issues. The characters could be straight out of a Sartre play and Vaclav certainly asks many existential questions.

Zena (Vlasakova) runs a grocery shop in a small town where he lazy hypochondriac husband is her husband (Roden) is out of work and makes life for Zena and his two sons a living nightmare. He befriends his prison guard neighbour, Zivatem, who is a racist neo-fascist. Driven out of her mind by her husband, Zena falls in love with the local brothel owner (Godla), who himself is obsessed by one of his girls, the pouting Sylva (Dudova) – who in turn is still in love with her husband (and father of her daughter), who is in prison.

To make matters even worse, Zena, after a one-off romp with the brothel owner, decides to become a prostitute herself. The adult characters here are totally out of control and this disturbance filters through to their children: Zena’s oldest son, and Zivatem’s boy (who feeds his father’s paranoia with putting dead animals outside their house). They take great pride in wanting nothing to kill their fathers and discuss this loudly during hikes in the countryside. And when the tension becomes unbearable, violence is the only way out: Zena’s oldest shoots his grandfather, a stingy emotional cripple, and then her husband and his friend Zivatem shoots the brothel owner for having led Zena astray. As a final twist, Zena’s youngest pockets the money from the body of the man his father helped to kill – and sets off on a journey as a blind passenger on a HGV.

We are never Alone is certainly wild and passionate, but the characters are entirely believable: stuck in the middle of nowhere with no love life to speak of, the adults opt for violence, physical and psychologically. And their mostly neglected children follow their ‘role models’. The characters here are always on the move creating a frenetic energy. But they invariably return – even the middle-aged Zena on her Vespa. Whilst Zivatem looks back fondly to communism – he preferred the authoritarian regime to democracy – the other characters – apart from Zena – are totally without any values – apart from wanting to get rich quick. They are soulless materialists, desperate to exploit each other.

DoP Stepan Kucra creates an eerie atmosphere, his images changing regularly from black-and-white to colour and back providing ghoulish world in which the buildings are as decayed as these human souls: the environment mirroring the moribund population, washed-out, bled dry of any colour. The assembled cast is impressive, with Vlasakova’s Zena a towering performance. A brilliant ride on the wild side from the Czech Republic.

UK PREMIER AT THE BARBICAN | 30 NOVEMBER 2016 | Berlinale Review

El Rey Del Once | The Tenth Man | UK Jewish Film Festival

Director: Daniel Burman | Cast: Alan Sabbah, Julieta

70min | Drama | Argentina

In Daniel Burman’s upbeat rites of passage drama EL REY DEL ONCE, Alan Sabbagh plays a typical put-upon Jewish softie returning home to Buenos Aires in the hope of reconnecting with his ageing father. Ariel emigrated to New York and in the intervening years his father Usher has founded a charity foundation in Once, the city’s Jewish district where Ariel spent his youth. But Ariel’s dreams of a father son reunion are drowned in the cacophony of demanding duties that Usher ropes him into while keeping a distinctly low profile himself.

Burman’s film brilliantly conjurs up the close and often stifling nature of the orthodox Jewish community and Once looks very much like old districts of Tel Aviv. The friendly openness of the people and their paranoia and hypochondria seeps through the narrative but also their endless support of one another. In Buenos Aires, everyone is talking and no one’s listening and Ariel feels desperate for a real connection. He’s drawn to Eva, a charity volunteer who also feels cut off from her family. Eva’s strength lies in her silent radiance. An orthodox girl, she nurtures Ariel with home cooking and the precious gift of listening while he reflects on his troubled soul and slowly, unwittingly, he falls in love.

With endless phonecalls from his girlfriend back home creating an oppressive claustrophobia, Ariel re-examines his life. Eva becomes jealous and after submerging herself in the mikveh, (a purifying bath often taken after a period) the two end up in bed and conversation flows for the first time. EL REY DEL ONCE is told as a straightforward narrative; the final act brings a happy ending but not a surprising one as Ariel volunteers to sit shivah as the tenth, vital man at a local funeral.

This is Daniel Burman’s third film at Berlinale where he once more explores the father son dynamic with a lightness of touch that is occasionally moving. As Ariel moves from darkness to light towards his inner strength, he finds himself at the centre of a community where he rightly belongs. Burman’s previous films at Berlin were El abrazo Partido (in Competition in 2004) and Derecho de familia (in Panorama in 2006). MT


United States of Love | Zjednoczone Stany Miłosci| Silver Bear | Best Script | Berlinale 2016

Director: Tomasz Wasilewski (Floating Skyscrapers)

Cast: Julia Kijowska, Magdalena Cielecka, Dorota Kolak, Marta Nieradkiewicz, Łukasz Simlat, Andrzej Chyra, Tomek Tyndyk

Drama | Poland / Sweden 

After the festival success of 2013s Floating Skyscrapers, Tomasz Wasilewski returns with UNITED STATES OF LOVE; which had its world premiere at the 66th Berlinalé. Mining similar themes that include a pessimistic representation of emotional entrapment and the effects of such situations.

The film opens in Poland, 1990. The huge changes are brewing and percolating. The first euphoric year of freedom, but hovering is the idea of the unknown. An attempt to create a state of the nation micro epic, Wasilewski focuses on four women of different ages who ponder the central premise of existential action to please themselves. Agata is a young mother, trapped in an unhappy marriage, who seeks refuge in another, impossible relationship with a young priest. Renata is an older teacher fascinated with her neighbor Marzena – a lonely former local beauty queen, whose husband works in Germany. Marzena’s sister Iza is a headmistress in love with the father of one of her students.

The four stories overlap and intersect at various points but none strikes an emotionally fulfilling enterprise. The film seems a collection of much mocked eastern European art house tropes which we have seen before and been better handled by superior filmmakers. Expertly shot (by ace Romanian DoP Oleg Mutu) and with very strong performances by the four central actresses, you are very much left with the idea that the film is not the sum of its parts.

It is obvious that Wasilewski is attempting to move the big table of Polish art house greats but one comes away thinking that all he has been successful in is strip mining visual iconography and thematic questions and answers of a specific time and place. In all the qualities the film presents the female perspective is the most startling and welcome but again one feels that these female characters are laid naked (both metaphorically and literally) but ultimately for cynical and self-serving reasons.

In the role of Renata (expertly played by Dorota Kolak) we are faced with the one time in the film that Wasilewski gets to a point that passes his rigid distancing devices but typically he manages to drop the ball with an act of doubling that he probably thinks is a coup de cinema but only comes across as yet another international art trope that he hasn’t deserved to present.

UNITED STATES OF LOVE is not a lost cause and for that matter neither is the director. There is plenty here to interest; whether that be an all-encompassing melancholia or the stellar female performances. In retrospect he needs to lose the affluence of influence and head for pastures new that will enhance his obvious talents. D M Mault.




Aloys (2016) | Bluray release

Writer|Director: Tobias Nölle

Cast: Georg Friedrich, Tilde von Overbeck, Kamil Krejci, Yufei Li

91min  | Drama  | Switzerland

Tobias Nölle’s second feature is a coldly rendered exploration of loneliness and isolation made all the more so by its impressive visual style.

ALOYS follows the unusual day to day activities of the eponymous central character, a soi-disant private investigator in an unnamed Swiss town. As the film opens, this hard-edged loner is mourning the death of his father, indicated by graphic images of his coffin and wake. Clearly distraught, Aloys has no interest in sharing his grief, preferring to retreat to his spartanly decorated flat to reflect and seemingly gloat on the footage recorded on his video cameo during the day’s investigations. This suggests he may even be a voyeur, such is his hostility towards the outside world and his clandestine satisfaction derived from these private scenes behind closed doors. Perusing footage of his father fills Aloys with genuine nostalgia suggestive of a close relationship based on filial adoration and respect. Noelle eschews dialogue for the most part, telling his tale visually, building a portrait of a deeply disturbed individual painfully aloof to the world; locked in the past; defensive and controlling of the present; fearful of the future; cloyingly locked in an oppressively dank rural location, oppressed by a ’70s-style palette of insipid aqua and beige.

Clicking backwards and forwards like his dated camcorder, things become increasingly dreamlike and fetishist as yellow tights are added to the motifs of dampness, condensation and foggy morning mists, almost as if Aloys is under the spell of a sickening succubus, he falls mysteriously asleep in a single decker bus where his camera equipment is stolen, including his footage. Phone calls from an anonymous female confound and anger him. He informs ‘the authorities’. They have to deal with it. Whether the thief responsible is the woman he filmed through a keyhole – or a fantasy figure – is unclear. Engulfed by fear and irritation, he retreats again. The stranger on the end of the line then introduces Aloys to the ‘telephone walk’, a method used by analysts in the therapy of reclusive types, whereby they are counselled by telephone in a less visually confrontational exercise in rehabilitation. This episode marks a shift in the tonal vibe from melancholy drama to upbeat fantasy, exploring the human need to reach out and connect intimately with like-minded souls. Sometimes difficult to engage with, ALOYS is a challenging film but visually very rewarding in its inventiveness and certainly one to watch out for in the upcoming season of arthouse releases. MT


War on Everyone (2016)| Berlinale 2016

Director: John Michael McDonagh

Cast: Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James, Tessa Thompson, Caleb Landry Jones

98min | action drama | UK

John Michael McDonagh’s rip-roaringly irreverent cop buddy movie is largely a vehicle for the combined talents of Alexander Skarsgaard and Michael Pena who play the glib twosome and Glen Campbell who provides the musical hits. Short on laughs but long on cinematic scenery, WAR ON EVERYONE is very much a curate’s egg. Crashing cars and waging war on international crims the duo manage to upset everyone, as the title would suggest, but their bad boy blunders all boil down to boredom in a patchy comedy that exposes the police force as a bunch of warm-hearted racist thugs. But there’s nothing new there. WAR ON EVERYONE works best in its filmic scenes where Glenn Campbell’s iconic hits provide golden moments for the starry Skarsgaard (the camera loves him) and his bouncy love interest who have great fun between the sheets and up against walls. Spectacular widescreen visuals of the desert and snowy Iceland provide the background to the duo’s pursuit of a criminal gang of vicious paedophiles. McDonagh’s loose ‘cops and robbers’ narrative stitches it all together with a script that is gloriously politically incorrect; kicking over the usual hackneyed racial slurs in a formulaic plotline. But hey; there’s plenty to enjoy im this blistering britflick if you just switch your mind to autopilot and enjoy the ride. MT



L’Avenir (2016) | Things to Come

Director: Mia Hansen-Løve Cast: Isabelle Huppert, André Marcon, Roman Kolinka, Edith Scob,Sarah Le Picard

100min  | Drama | France Italy

Nathalie is a philosophy teacher in Paris. Happily married to another intellectual, she has a full life with two kids and a possessive mother to take care of. But gradually, in her sixties, her life starts to unravel.

French auteur Mia Hansen-Love’s fifth feature could almost be mistaken for a film by Eric Rohmer with its themes of philosophy, ménage à trois and the infinite cycle of love and life. Appropriately she casts Isabelle Huppert in the leading role which she plays with her usual elegance and panache. Taking life in her stride she encourages her pupils in provocative thought, whisks up a delicious family lunch and rushes to her petulant mother’s bedside to dole out tisanes and sympathy at 5 in the morning.

In all this she suddenly finds herself alone when her husband Heinz (Andre Marcon) announces his departure to leave their airy Parisian apartment to live with a younger woman. Crucially she keeps on going nonchalently; a towering figure of strength and compassion in a world where she is needed but not always valued. Insightfully, Hansen-Love spots she important things she will miss: her husband’s family seaside home where she loves to swim and relax, surrounded by books and beautiful sunsets, but she is still grounded in her Paris home; a salient fact that Hansen Love flags up – a woman’s home is more important to her than an outworn relationship. Nathalie’s ageing mother, Yvette (the immensely attractive, Edith Scob) finally agrees to move to an expensive nursing home and Heinz is seen walking in town with his girlfriend. The tone is upbeat and matter of fact: Hansen-Love and Huppert treat this all with a light-hearted derision.

Sex and romance take a back seat in L’AVENIR and this is the only criticism of the film: to assume that a woman in her early sixties is content to be absorbed into her children and grandchildren at such a young age, is simplistic and questionable but this dimension is glossed over here. Although Nathalie recoils from an approach from a young would-be suitor in the cinema one night; further exploration of her emotional (and sexual) needs, beyond the intellectual ones, could have added further texture to bring this drama into the 21st century. Cleverly Huppert identifies herself as an empowered woman, open to choices, allowing herself moments of grief and laughter at the absurdity of it all. Vulnerability is not dealt with here, although it may be locked away somewhere in her character’s psyche.

If Nathalie’s does have some emotional life it’s will with a good-looking and younger pupil, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), who offers to look after Yvette’s cat whom she visits in the a communal mountainside chalet in the Grenoble countryside. This episode is a clever vehicle for examining alternative ways of surviving financially for those whose passion is to be creative. But those hoping for a sex-fuelled spring /winter romance will be disappointed, and rightly so, this realist and well-crafted vision if about a woman taking control; empowered by force of circumstance, to re-invent herself once her biological imperative ceases to count. MT


Homo sapiens (2016) | Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2016

Director: Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Documentary | Austria | 94 Min.

Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s sci-fi documentary HOMO SAPIENS imagines a world slowly won back from the human race by nature. Tackling topical themes of human fragility it silently explores what it means to be human in an age where humanity has wreaked so much damage on the earth and yet is precariously poised to self destruct. By way of stark visuals depicting abandoned churches, ravaged wastelands and buildings overgrown by nature’s inexorable grip. In this chilling exploration of man’s decline, Geyrhalter poses the inevitable question – What will remain of our lives after we’re gone.

Empty spaces, ruins, cities increasingly overgrown with vegetation, crumbling asphalt: the areas we currently inhabit in the name of ‘civilisation’ gradually disappear. Now abandoned and in varying stages of decay, these urban spaces are reclaimed by nature after emerging from it so long ago.

HOMO SAPIENS is Sci-fact; contempo and post-apocalytic but no human being actually appears in this paean to people. Geyrhalter uses fixed shots to convey this desolate landscapes, buildings, schools and government installations in far flung reaches of South America, Japan and deserted corners of Europe. He never attempts to explain or offer reasons for for their disuse or give any hope that they will be rebuilt or refurbished. This is the end of the line and the tone is morose and unsettling but also positive future for the animal kingdom. The documentary is silent save for Peter Kutin’s soundscape of windtorn and echoing remnants of civilisation where Nature finally holds sway. MT


Depth Two (2016) | Dubina dva

Director: Ognjen Glanovic | Documentary | Serbia/France, 2016, 80 minutes

The serene waters of the River Danube pictured in Serbian filmmaker Ognjen Glanovic’s unremitingly grim DEPTH TWO hide a terrible secret: they have swallowed up the lives of 53 refugees fleeing across the Romanian border. But these are no ordinary refugees; they are victims of ethnic cleansing from the Kosovan town of Suva Reka who met their deaths in a pizzeria in 1999 at the hands of Serbian soldiers. And they were transported some distance from the Serbian capital Belgrade on the orders of Serbian authorities with the utmost secrecy being taken to ensure all evidence was hidden.

Made on a shoestring budget, and none the worse for it, Glanovic’s camera surveys this vast and desolate landscape to convey a faceless, bloodless, and ominous image of devastation while a monotone often droning narration bears witness to the killings that the Serbian government tried to conceal. Grimly poetic images of endless ghostly plastic bags trapped in tree branches are juxtaposed with a ghoulish stream of bullet-strewn clothing and personal effects that are the only surviving remnants of the dead apart from some improvised burial grounds. No faces just facts: a stark reminder of a tragic and brutal past.

After premiering his documentary at Berlinale Forum in 2016, Glanovic intends to film a dramatic reconstruction of the events, once the finance is in place. But somehow this faceless tribute feels all the more potent and effective forcing the viewer to imagine the horror. MT


24 Weeks (2016) | Berlinale Competition 2016 | Edinburgh Film Festival

Cast: Julia Jentsch, Bjarne Maedel, Johanna Gastdorf, Emilia Pieske Director: Anne Zohra Berrached
Screenwriter: Anne Zohra Berrached, Carl Gerbe

Down’s Syndrome is a heart-breaking condition for any parent. But 24 WEEKS brings nothing new in a stultifying storyline which explores the aftermath when a German couple discover their unborn child has even more serious complications than this. Anne Zohra Berrached’s script plods through the tragedy in the most direct way possible despite a strong and committed performance from Julia Jentsch, who plays the stand-up comic in domestic drama that won her a Silver Bear at Berlinale 2016.

Already the parents of a young daughter (Emilia Pieske), Astrid and partner and manager Markus (Bjarne Maedel) until live in an attractive house near Leipzig and have ample support from Astrid’s chain-smoking mother (Johanna Gastdorf). But things become more serious when it emerges their baby also has a heart condition that indicate a possible need to terminate the pregnancy. Mustering all her professional skills to see the humour here is some feat for Astrid and this is made more difficult by Berrached’s seemingly perfect characterisation of the couple up to their tragic discovery leading to mind-numbingly boring scenarios in the strip lit clinic that often make it feel like a docudrama.

Jentsch’s acting skills are stretched to the limit in part that offers little intensity but a great deal of close-up camerawork requiring her to look distraught and strung out for most of the running time. Maedel does not have an easy time either as an insipid and rather hapless sidekick of a partner. Attempts to conjure up poetic elements with Astrid floating in a dreamlike state underwater with her baby in utero feel forced and unconvincing here in what could have been an opportunity to offer something meaningful. MT



A Serious Game (2016) Netflix

Director: Pernilla August

114min Drama  Sweden

Pernilla August fails to convey the passion of her unrequited lovers in this Swedish answer to Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.

Adapted by Lone Scherfig from the 1912 novel by Hjalmar Soderberg, A SERIOUS GAME is another costume melodrama exploring the potent chemistry of sexual desire and longing in a story of sexual obsession. The couple in question, Arvid Stjarnblom (Sverrir Gudnason) and Lydia Stille (Karin Franz Korlof), never quite captivate our attention throughout this initially steamy bodice-ripper but August’s efforts are to laudable in her second feature.

Arvid is a young writer and proofreader for Stockholm’s main newspaper when he meets the daughter of one of Sweden’s most noted landscape painters, Anders Stille (Goran Ragnerstam): “I painted a completely blue canvas once, it’s in the National Gallery”.

This is the third screen adaptation of the story that follows the amorous exploits of starstruck lovers whose enduring ardour for each other is fated never to end in marriage, de-stabilising and upsetting everyone in their wake. Initially engaging, it eventually becomes tedious (along with its monotonous score) but offers a fascinating snapshot of early 20th century life in Swedish publishing and literary circles.

The couple first set eyes on each other at Lydia’s father’s summer cabin on an island near Stockholm. Lydia offering her beau one of her father’s paintings inscribed with the words: “Away. I long to get away.” Sadly Papa is to die leaving her without an inheritance and, without any means of supporting herself Lydia is forced to marry the wealthy, older Roslin (Sven Nordin). The lovers meet again years later when they are both married parents: Arvid has settled for an attractive and wealthy blond (gracefully played by Liv Moines).

This rather drably photographed romantic drama then goes backward and forward as the two make each other, and everyone else, unhappy with their illicit affair; hot-headed Lydia doesn’t quite think things through, deciding to leave her husband to return to the cabin and a rather passive Arvid, who shilly shallys all the way home. With neither character convincing beyond their vapid victim status, the narrative slowly unravels to a disappointing conclusion.

The more interesting characters here are seriously underwritten: Michael Nyqvist, as the charismatic newspaper publisher and Mikkel Boe Folsgaard (A Royal Affair) as the much maligned Lidner, the paper’s froeign correspondent, who Lydia truculently casts aside.

A SERIOUS GAME is indeed serious and rather depressing, the only fire coming from a initial spark of sexual ardour rapidly extinguished by a narrative whose central characters fails to exude any appeal for the audience. They can be forgiven, in part, for being young and aimless, but youth alone does not make for exciting viewing. MT


Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) (2016) | Golden Bear Winner 2016

Director:  Gianfranco Rosi
Documentary | World premiere | Italy France | 95min

Samuele is twelve and grew up on the island of Lampedusa with his family of fishermen, all struggling to survive. But fish are not the only thing in the sea, miles from mainland Italy. For years, his home has been the destination of thousands of people trying to make the crossing from Africa to a better life in Europe. They have paid expensive fares to traffickers but their journey often ends in death. The Italians rescue them and respect their dignity. Gianfranco Rosi’s sober exploration of this human crisis is a tribute to the kindness of strangers who say “we are all in the same boat”.

Rosi’s starkly rendered and absorbing documentary paints a vital and non-judgemental portrait of the situation where both immigrants and islanders are given ample weight. But pictures can tell a thousand words and that’s the way Rosi leaves it: we must draw our own impressions and conclusions of the humanitarian tragedy.

Samuele’s family are decent but poor. Eking out a meagre existence through diminishing returns, they prey to God and drink out of plastic cups at dinnertime, but somehow they are content with their simpe life and its ingrained traditions. His grandmother remembers the hardship during the Second World War when their livelihood was once again threatened by ships that came by with guns rather than immigrants, but they survived.

Amusing himself with a handmade sling Samuele spends his days messing around on the shoreline with pals and gaining his sea legs for when he becomes a fisherman himself. Those who reach the island are often mothers with kids and babies on the way. They have suffered war zones and hardshipin Sudan, Eritrea and Syria. Many have died in the overstuffed, leaky boats and appear like tragic creatures, bedragled from the heart of darkness or a holocaust; their gold plastic insulation blankets giving them an otherworldly appearance of stranded meteors with coal black skin. Patiently the Italian coastguards take them on rescue boats and doctors examine them, expertly offering free medical care.

FUOCOAMMARE is a calm and sobering film that often makes tough and gruelling viewing but its images linger long afterwards: the rugged landscapes, azure coves and bleeding corpses speak for themselves. It’s a bittter pill to swallow, sweetened by Samuele’s chipper vulnerability as we watch him learning English and coping with his own difficulties: asthma and heart palpitations suggest the boy is internalising some sort of inner turmoil or grief. The title is name of the song his granny dedicates on the local radio station to her sailor son who is hoping for better weather so he can launch his rickety boat and earn his living. MT


Miles Ahead (2015) | Berlinale 2016

Director: Don Cheadle | Writers: Don Cheadle, Steven Baigelman

Cast: Don Cheadle, Ewan McGregor, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg, Keith Stanfield

100min | Music Biopic |US

Actor Don Cheadle makes his debut as director of this biopic in which he also stars as 20th century jazz supremo Miles Davis (1926-1991) exploring his lost years during the late Seventies

Cheadle plays it close up and intimate, capturing the mercurial nature of the trumpeter but sadly
his music hardly features at all, instead his co star Ewan McGregor shares most the screen time as a music hack, Dave Braden – purportedly from Rolling Stone magazine – who has been sent to report on the musician’s putative comeback: “If you’re gonna tell a story, man, come with some attitude,” Davis advises him in an early show of feisty bravado. “Don’t be all corny with this shit.”

In the event, Cheadle’s narrative is so freewheeling that it mostly feels unsatisfying in a doc that gives the audience scattergun snatches of music but no full numbers. MILES AHEAD is largely composed of outbursts, memories, flashbacks, and smoke-fuelled musings on Davis’ life. Devotees of jazz or and the celebrated auteur will be disappointed if they are expecting a musical biopic, and if you are hoping for an introduction to his music – look elsewhere.

Co-scripted by Steven Baigelman, who also worked on the James Brown 2014 biopic, Get On Up. Cheadle does succeed in evoking the free-spirited and reclusive nature of a man who preferred to call his music ‘social’ rather than ‘jazz’.  The soulfully-eyed Cheadle also has the wiry frame and sinuous elegance that fits the part.

During the second half of the Seventies, Miles Davis took a break from the limelight due to chronic pain from a hip injury and this is where Cheadle opens his narrative. Apparently there is a hidden session tape that has fallen into the hands of a music producer Harper Hamilton (Michael Stuhlbarg) and the storyline follows Davis’ attempts to recover it. Braden befriends him through the medium of some top drawer cocaine  (supplied by a wealthy student fan (Austin Lyon), and this section explores the greed and opportunistic nature of the record business with the finger particularly pointed at Columbia Records. In flashback the film also revisits Davis’ worldwind love affair and marriage (in the late sixties) to celebrated dancer Frances Taylor – a knockout performance from Emayatzy Corinealdi – and these emotional interludes give the film its best moments cinematically and some much need dramatic heft, as the couple fall madly in love. Cheadle also portrays the unravelling of their relationship (due to his infidelity, drugs and violence) with a piercing poignance.

Music-wise there are excerpts from Sketches of Spain and Kind of Blue played during smoky recording sessions where Davis sports some dapper designs in a vibrant retro palette betokening the respective era. There is a vignette involving a young jazz trumpeter Junior (Lakeith Lee Stanfield), a brilliant young jazz trumpeter whom Harper is cultivating – this may actually be a clever technique for introducing Davis himself as a young man.

All it all, this impressionistic jumble of snatches from Miles Davis’ reclusive period and earlier life captures a maverick man whose musical talent was evident and enduring despite his debilitating illness and drug abuse. Clearly too, Miles Davis’ musical career deserves more extensive treatment but that’s another film. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 22 April 2016

NUNCA VAS A ESTAR (YOU’LL NEVER BE ALONE) | Teddy Award |Berlinale 2016

Director: Alex Anwandter; Cast: Sergio Hernandez, Andrew Bergsted, Gabriela Hernandez, Jaime Leiva; Chile 2016, 82 min.

A tribute to Daniel Zamudio, a Chilean gay man who was brutally murdered in 2012 by neo-Nazis, musician Alex Andwandter’s directorial debut is a tight and claustrophobic study in grief, loneliness and betrayal.

It follows Pablo (Bergsted) a young man still living with his father Juan (S. Hernandez), who manages a mannequin factory. The two have little in common and a poor emotional rapport since Pablo “showed a limp wrist”, indicating a lack of manliness in a society dominated by macho-values and masculine role models.

Whilst his father works long hours, Pablo takes ballet lessons and hangs out with his longterm friend Felix (Leiva) and Lucy (G. Hernandez), who has a crush on him. When Pablo and Lucy are chased by two homophobic young men, who, with the help of Felix, corner Pablo and beat him so severely, that he falls into a coma his father is naturally distraught, but worse is to follow: due to a glitch the health insurance is declared partly invalid. Then an old “friend of the family” admits she asked Felix and the men who beat Pablo up, “to be nice to the gay man, because he is different from you”. Juan loses it and confronts Felix, who denies any wrong doing. Juan, having raised Pablo single-handedly from a boy, can’t take any more. Having been lonely for most his life – after his much younger wife left him – he  decides he has to change his cautious way of life.

Far from being an over-excited melodrama, YOU’ll NEVER BE ALONE is a concise, ruminative and claustrophobic study in grief, betrayal and loneliness. Darkness (literally and contents wise) dominates: in a world of semi-daekness, and all the interiors feel oppressively, particularly the ghostly shop window mannequins factory, which seems to be underground. Juan has retreated into an inner world; his house is neglected, and Pablo’s room, is more like a prison cell. The hospital corridors, where Juan meets a helpful nurse, are more like a morgue than a place for the living. DOP Matias Illanes captures at atmosphere of tension which plays like the endgame of a relentless chess match where the players are slowly and tortuously extinguished. Sergio Hernandez carries himself like an old fashioned hero from a ’40s film noir: beaten already, before the first blows rain down on his son. This harrowing, mournful and forlorn debut is relentless and leaves the audience heartbroken. Far from being an melodramatic meltdown, YOU’LL NEVER BE ALONE  is ruminative and dark in tone and texture, locked down in a world of negativity and isolation. AS


Des nouvelles de la planète Mars (News from planet Mars) | Berlinale | Out of Competition

Director: Dominik Moll (Lemming, Harry, He’s Here to Help)

Cast:  François Damiens, Vincent Macaigne, Veerle Baetens, Jeanne Guittet, Tom Rivoire

France | Belgian | Drama | World premiere – Out of competiton

When Francois Damiens floats in from Space to his comfortable flat in Brussels, we immediately warm to his laid-back character: a philosophical, divorced dad and the star turn of Dominik Moll’s latest (but not weirdest) comedy feature.

As Philippe Mars he makes the best of his tedious life fathering two insolent kids and ocassionally watching his anchorwoman ex wife on the television. Good-natured in the extreme he’s the sort of guy who picks up the dogpoo left by wayward pooches and makes light of it. And when his work colleague accidentally chops his ear off with a meat cleaver, he’s also the sort who lets this colleague overstay his welcome in the spare room, after he breaks out of his mental hospital on the auspices of feeling uncomfortable amongst the other weirdos. But gradually it takes this sort of psychotic psychopath to bring Mars to his senses and say goodbye to his mediocre existence and realise: there’s more to life than this.

Sharply scripted by co-writer Gilles Marchand to highlight today’s more irritating aspects, this surreal and seriously hilarious Belgian French affair will go down well with audiences everywhere. Some poetic realist touches (his dead mum and dad are often beamed up in miniature, offering warm parental advice), and dream sequences where he floats in a spacesuit  add to upbeat absurdity of it all and show that Mars’ life is spiralling seriously out of control, as he rapidly becomes a doormat to all and sundry; including his sister and his unwelcome guest’s new girlfriend Chloe (Baetens), an animal activist who joins in the rampant abuse of his kindness.

Practically everyone in his Mars’ life has personality disorders, but Mars just tolerates them all good-naturedly, allowing them to exploit him at every turn: his precocious daughter Sarah (Jeanne Guittet) tells him to ‘get a life’, his son Gregoire (Tom Rivoire) turns vegetarian and barely congratulates him on his 49th birthday, his sister drops her dog off against his wishes and his boss (Julien Sibre) knows Philippe asks him to share his office with troubled misfit Jerome (Vincent Macaigne/Eden), which leads to the ear incident (he carries the meat cleaver to ‘calm him’ but clearly this fails to work.). And as a final indignity he’s forced to pussyfoot around the courting couple of Peta-style activists in his own home. But when these animal lovers announce they are planning to blow up a nearby poultry-processing plant, Mars puts his foot down.

Moll’s dramady soon descends into a delicious dark comedy with cartoonish moments as the entire crew, including the downstairs neighbour (who used to be Valerie Giscard d’Estaing’s chauffeur), head off to boycott the new factory. NEWS FROM THE PLANET MARS is a cheery crowd-pleaser loud that is all about a decent man retrieving his rightful place as head of his family. MT

BERLINALE 11-21 February 2016 | follow our coverage under BERLINALE 2016

Smrt u Sarajevu / Death in Sarajevo (2016) Bergamo Film Meeting

imageDir: Danis Tanović | ‘Cast: Jacques Weber, Snežana Vidović, Izudin Bajrović, Vedrana Seksan, Muhamed Hadžović, Faketa Salihbegović-Avdagić, Edin Avdagić | Drama | France / Bosnia Herzegovina, 85’

In DEATH IN SARAJEVO Danis Tanovic returns to his roots to pick the festering scab of Bosnia’s bloody past with a film that will have little appeal to those beyond its boundaries, unless devotees of Balkan history.

Punchy and to the point, the Oscar winning director wastes no time in getting down and dirty with a rather dusty and dog-eared snapshot of history taking place on the centenary of the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand, the death that catapulted Europe into the First World War. In a ‘luxury’ debt-ridden hotel, built for the 1984 Olympics but now looking rather tired and hasbeen, the manager Omer (Izudin Bajrovic) is avidly preparing for a VIP dinner. Always on the move, his efficient head receptionist Lamija (Jennifer Lopez-a-like Snezana Vidovic) is strutting around in high heels making sure everything goes to plan, while downstairs her rotund mother Hatidza (Faketa Salihbegovic-Avdagic) rouses colleagues into strike action over unpaid wages.

Loosely adapted from Hotel Europe, a play by Bernard-Henri Levy that was recently performed in Sarajevo by Jacques Weber, the man himself returns as a version of himself, to address the assembled dignitaries. On his arrival, Omer assures the Frenchman of the hotel’s gold plated credentials and illustrious former guests such as Bill Clinton and Angelina Jolie, before the French retires to polish up his oratory. The hotel’s less public areas also harbour a collection of brutal Bosnian gangsters, who are doing their drug-related stuff in basement corridors while upstairs Omer tries to maintain a brave face on impending doom. On a rooftop location, Robert Paxton-style news reporter Vedrana (Vedrana Seksan) is debating Sarajevo’s war-torn history with a Serb nationalist (Muhamed Hadzovic) who oddly has the same name as Ferdinand’s assassion, Gavrilo Princip, but is infact a distant relative. Naturally, Princip was a divisive figure in Bosnian politics and Vedrana lays into the young Serb in a vituperative onslaught. He too is bitter and the pair wrangle, making their scenes together feel like a preachy lecture where sparks fly but attempts to clarify history remain mired in anger and reproach.

Despite the director’s best efforts, this potential noir thriller feels overly didactic, lacking the subtle nuance that could have made it the slow-burning psychological thriller suggested by its edgy posterwork. All the elements are there: intrigue, gangsters, suggestive locations and a sexually predatory lead, but it lacks the dramatic torque to make it really gripping and suspenseful. In the event, it feels tediously confusing rather than satisfyingly complex, seeking to raise a gritty debate without bringing anything new to the table. If you hoped for clarification – none is offered; if you hoped for entertainment – you get a punch on the nose. DEATH IN SARAJEVO entices us to a party but the bouncers send us briskly home. MT


Brothers of the Night (2016) | Berlinale 2016

Director|Writer: Patric Chiha, With: Ebba Sinzinger, Vincent Lucassen | Documentary | 88min | Austria 

Brothers of the Night are just that. In an underworld, against the backdrop of the Danube and Vienna’s skyline, these sultry little leather-clad pixies come from Roma origins in Bulgaria to try their luck and make a fast buck as bisexual prostitutes with over-inflated opinions of themselves and their sexual allure but gathering strength, comfort and a sense of community from their close brotherhood, far away from home. Cigarettes and mobile phones are their props as they coyly toy with the camera in Patric Chiha’s contempo snapshot of the Austrian capital’s underbelly.

Lacking a formal the documentary simply meanders through the various stories of these Bulgarian adventurists who arrive in Vienna in search of ‘normal’ work dreaming of a city paved with gold. But it doesn’t take them long before they realise that there’s easy money to be made in the sex trade and so they quickly slip into a life of nocturnal seduction, selling their bodies to all sorts without a qualm; ‘doing business’ with straight men, gays and the transgender brigade, in a bid to support their kids back home and wives they often no longer love. Klemens Hufnagl’s opening wide angle shots of the Danube give way to more exotic and vibrantly filmed intimate interior scenes where the boys talk candidly to the camera and to each other, recounting their sexual adventures with a certain sense of pride as they trade and exchange tips on how best to leverage their sexual favours and make money ‘between the sheets.’ An eclectic soundtrack of ethnic and classical music elevates this spicy insight into Vienna’s Roma community, but offers little more than mild titillation for the LGBT crowd . MT



Young Wrestlers (2016) | Berlinale 2016


Director: Mete Gümürhan, Documentary; Netherlands/Turkey 2016, 89 min.

Dutch/Turkish director Mete Gümürhan uncovers the disciplined world of young wrestlers between the ages of seven and twelve, housed in a training school where most of them dream of success in Turkey’s Number One sport.

And this is no ordinary sport: the players douse themselves in olive oil – and children also take part in their own tournaments running alongside those of the adults. Apart from their rigorous training sessions, in and out of doors, the weighing procedures take most of the film’s 89 minute running time. Again and again, the boys face criticism either for eating too much (“no more coke and crisps”), or too little (“You have to eat two plates full from now on”.) In the morning, before school, the boys go to the mosque where they are reminded of their religious duties. The coaches are harsh: a boy of around ten is told “childhood is over”. Discouraged from showing pain the boys even fight with dislocation injuries. In the classroom, at RE, they are again reminded not to be weak, not to show their frailties. But on occasional visits, their parents underscore these spartan qualities. “You will have to become a man”, one mother tells her son. But one boy rebels, he is homesick and threatens to the throw himself out of the window. When the coach refuses to let him go, he argues cleverly “I will lose on purpose and then you will let me go”. The film ends on a rather downbeat note: five boys have been selected to fight in a tournament in a provincial capital, but only one of them is victorious. The losers are very self-critical, even naming friends who would have done better.

The doc is impressively shot by cinematographer Andre Jager, also working on his debut feature. Mete Gümürhan’s approach is non-judgemental and detached; audiences can form their own opinions of this unusual sport. YOUNG WRESTLERS is a study in how organised sport, competitiveness, religious rigor and rather outdated male values go together in forming a successful sportsperson and athlete. The gruelling training exercises, interesting only for hardcore fans of the sport, detract from the psychological warfare the boys are exposed to. This is an impressive documentary and an illuminating study of the national game that will appeal to sporty kids and teenagers but little appeal to mainstream audiences. AS



Deadweight (2016) | Berlinale 2016

Director: Axel Koenzen  Writers: Axel Koenzen, Boris Doran, Horst Markgrave

Cast: Tommi Korpela, Ema Vetean, Manuelito Acido, Archie Alemania, Jeanne Balibar, Frank Lammers

78min Finland | Drama 

Axel Koenzen’s debut feature sets sail on the high seas where a Finnish Master steers his cargo vessel into the stormy waters of a crisis.

This realist drama has echoes of two recent marine-based films: Fidelio: Alice’s Journey and Mauro Herce’s documentary Dead Slow Ahead bringing us bang up to date with the harsh realities of life in the commercial shipping industry where time is the essence when meeting cargo delivery deadlines. Tommi Korpela plays the poker-faced captain in this paradoxically straightforward set of events that slowly draws us under its spell. Koentzen has also cast revered French arthouse actor Jeanne Balibar as a medical officer who joins the ship to investigate an accident at sea whose ripples will have increasingly far-reaching ettects in this voyage from Savannah (US) to Rotterdam.

We first meet the hooded Ahti Ikonen as he slinks into view and lingers suspiciously before boarding the vessel, in a scene that cast aspersions on the nature of his intentions. But he soon takes professional charge and we are swept into the daily rigours of life on board: the intricacies of machinery, stock-checking and general workings of this vast vessel. The predominantly Filipino crew are keen to get home and are ready to do overtime to finance their growing family responsibilities. Relaxed; they chat, play draughts and watch TV but it soon emerges that there has been an accident during lashing the large containers on board. This is a task primarily reserved, under union rules, for trained dockers rather than crew, but to make up time and get the vessel to Rotterdam for her deadline, it appears that union rules have been flouted with crew members undertaking the onerous job with and that one of them has suffered a blow to his head. All this emerges in a matter of fact way and low key way and James (Manuelito Acido), the man in question, is calm and lucid but expresses an angry desire to rest. He is later found dead. Judging by his disgruntlement with his wife – expressed in idle conversation in the locker room – it’s assumed this is a suicide rather than an accident but Koentzen leaves it open.

Whether Ikonen is being coldly professional or merely ambivalent is a question that plays on our minds throughout this taught but alienating feature. James’ death will have serious consequences for Ikonen and his second officer Martinescu (Ema Vetean), who initially bear up stoically but are gradually haunted by regret during a boozy evening of karaoke with the other crew members.

Cinematographer Alexander Gheorghiu’s sparkling images play around creatively with some inventive touches including occasional blackouts which serve to further alienate us and ramp up the tension in this slightly unnerving yet remarkable debut. MT



Mahana | The Patriarch (2016) | Berlinale 2016 | In Competition

Director: Lee Tamahori  Writer: John Collee

Cast: Temuera Morrison, Akuhata Keefe, Nancy Brunning, Jim Moriaty, Regan Taylor, Maria Walker

90mins  | Drama | New Zealand

Lee Tamahori’s impressively-crafted Golden Bear hopeful is set in the lush landscapes of 1960s New Zealand. This tale of feuding sheep-farming families, the Mahanas and the Poatas, plays out like Little House on the Prairie meets the Maoris. As worthy as the hills, its theme of tribal justice, family honour and honest toil are as evergreen as the verdant forests of its east island location.

Based on the book by Witi Ihimaera, Once Were Warriors star Temuera Morrison leads the healthy-looking cast as Grandfather Mahana, a fierce bully who frightens everyone but his teenage grandson and heir in the pipeline, Simeon (Akahuta Keefe). The youngster, a keen film buff, must prove himself; and he will, and bring the two families together.

Scripted by John Collee, this is a drama entirely without drama or tension; a saga that rolls on smoothly to its unsurprisingly comfy conclusion; neither frightening the horses, nor delivering any tears of sadness on the way. There is a vaguely twisty plotline but nothing suspenceful or unsuitable for all the family to enjoy. Rather like caramel blancmange on a sunday afternoon, THE PATRIARCH is a film bathed in burnished goodness, extolling the virtues of decent family life until the narrative torpor eventually chugs home to its rightful and cosy climax with lines such as “she’s sixty, how can she be in love?” of Mrs Mahana who is married to Grandfather Mahana. THE PATRIARCH manages to peddle an agenda seeking racial equality while riding roughshod over the sensibilities of every woman over the age of thirty and some men too. A real Hallmark treat. MT


Nakom (2016) | Berlinale 2016

Director: T.W. Pittman, Kelly Daniela Norris

Cast; Jacob Ayanaba, Grace Ayariga, Abdul Aziz; Ghana/USA, 90 min.

NAKOM is the first feature film from Ghana ever to screen in Berlinale and a very worthwhile contribution is it too. Co-director Pittman spent two years collaborating with the US Peace Corp in the village that gave the film its title.

Iddrisu (Ayanaba) is enjoying his medical studies in the big city: his work is promising and he is happy with his girlfriend. But then, out of the blue, he finds out his father has been killed in a motorcycle accident, and being the oldest son of the family, has to return home. A mountain of family debt emerges when going through his father’s affairs and the family farm is run down. Confronted by the old, traditional set-up, Iddrisu finds life at home very problematic. His uncle suggests toughly: ‘I can marry your mother and throw you out of the house, if I want to’. Iddrisu is appalled to see how young women are treated in the village; and he feels himself regressing: he is a newcomer, who is out of touch. Gender roles and a strict hierarchy mean that Iddrisu has to make a big decision.

NAKOM was a challenging film to make. The four month shooting was made extremely difficult for various reasons: firstly, the Kusaal language, spoken in Nakom, has no written equivalent. It meant that the co-producer had to work with the non-professional actors, relying the script orally. Also there was no electricity in the village, so the producers considered moving the set to the nearby town of Pusiga, but finally, the production remained in Nakom, using a generator, which had to be buried underground because of its noise. Casting was a problem due to the scarcity of local actors and the onset of the rainy season which meant that the narrative had to be shot in reverse when the landscape was lush and green.

Cinematographer Robert Geile creates a magnificent sense of the place: the serene, picturesque countryside provides refreshing contrast from the hustle and bustle of the city life, evoking a visual story of Iddrisu’s transit from the modern world to that of deep-seated traditions and old-fashioned customs. The spontaneity of the performances is infectious making NAKOM a fresh-feeling and absorbing testament to neo-real tradition. AS


Boris Sans Beatrice (2016) | In Competition | Berlinale 2016

Director: Denis Côté

Cast: James Hyndman, Simone-Elise Girard, Denis Lavant, Isolda Dychauk, Bruce LaBruce

Drama | Canada 

In upmarket Montreal, Boris Malinovsky is a successful company director and an alpha male. Tall and striking, he struts around his lushly landscaped country house in hand-tailored suits – but something is wrong. His wife isn’t speaking to him: a valued politician in the Canadian government, she has retreated to a darkened room suffering from a mental problem. But Boris doesn’t realise: he is the problem.

Denis Côte’s foray into psychological drama is a stylishly photographed and peerlessly framed affair that gets to the heart of alpha manhood with clarity and aplomb. Telling its simple story in a series of slick tableaux, straightforward narrative is not over-talky or complicated by subplots; but it holds our attention on its macho anti-hero and his bare-faced arrogance, drawing us into the plot by the strength of its compelling visual power and a dynamite central performance from James Hyndman. But like Hitchcock, Denis Cote is masterfully in control of his film, the look and visuals worked out months in advance of filming.

While his wife is on leave, Boris is keeping himself company with a beautiful blond (Dounia Sichov plays Helga) and the bedroom services of his wife’s Russian carer (Isolda Dychauk) until he gets a strange message from a man who wishes to meet him, offering friendly advice. This stranger is none other than Denis Lavant who who appears out of the darkness, like a God from a Greed tragedy, warning him to play fair if he wants his wife back. Haunted by flashbacks of Béatrice (elegantly played by Simone-Elise Girard) in happier times together, Boris has an emotional crisis: but his massive ego won’t let him believe that he’s wrong or that his flagrant flirting is creating distance from his wife, his daughter and his mother. But this uber man isn’t all bad: strength and single-mindedness have helped him achieve success; he badly needs the women in his life and realises that to get the women he really needs back- he must change.

Côté collaborates with a predominently female team: Jessica Lee Gagné’s sparkling cinematography makes this a multi-textured visual feast and Louisa Schabas’ with production design offers a mesmerizing zen like feel to this absorbing character crisis. Combining satirical precision with some elegantly rendered mise en scenes, Côte takes a long look inside the mind of a man who is forced to admit that business success is not the only way to Nirvana. Gradually dismantling Boris’ character, Côté tells a tale of human redemption with acuity and panache. MT


Europe, She Loves (2016) | Berlinale 2016

Director: Jan Gassmann | Documentary 100min | Switzerland, Germany

Jan Gassmann examines the success or failure of the European Union through the lives of four ordinary couples in their respective European cities

In Tallinin, Veronika and Harri make ends meet with their three children and pet dog. Whilst he is a car mechanic, she, a waitress, is supplementing their income as a dancer in a bar. The past makes their live difficult: Artur is Veronika’s son from a former relationship, and Harri has difficulties bonding with him, even though he makes an effort in the end. Harri too has a daughter and will meet the 13year old for the first time. The family spends a lot of time in front of the TV, the atmosphere is often strained, but it is not a lack of love, so much, as the harsh economic the circumstances surrounding them.

Karo and Juan have just met in Sevilla and their sex life is naturally active. But the first signs of jealousy emerge in an argument about his ex-girlfriend. Childless, they spent most of their time in bed, discussing plans to emigrate, which he rejects “because I love to be in Sevilla”. But the economic hardship might make him change his mind. Life for them is discussing, making love and enjoying the outdoor life in this romantic city.

Thessaloniki like the rest of Greece is in turmoil; teetering on open civil war. After a murder committed by the fascist ‘Golden Dawn’, massive demonstrations call for revolution. Penny, and her much older boyfriend Nicolas are constantly arguing: she wants to leave the country with him, whilst he wants to stay. Even the cat, Evita, is used as an object of strife: when Nicolas feeds her gourmet food, Penny explodes, because she believes the cat is getting to fat. Penny also accuses her partner of seeing his ex. But it all boils down once again to economics: she is a waitress, he delivers pizza. The outcome of the emigration debate, one feels, will make or break their relationship.

In Dublin Siobhan and Terry live very much like a retro-couple of the Sixties: drugs and music dominate their life, their lovemaking is often affected by their drug habit. They seem surprisingly happy, treating their cat like a baby and forgiving each other’s transgressions with regularity. Tending their vegetable garden on their roof, where the washing is drying: this is bohemia! Unlike the others, they do everything together, even feeling sick after another drug binge. The most content of the four, though interestingly the poorest. These two have closed the door on reality and the future, living on borrowed bliss in world of their own.

All these couples are interesting in their own right, but Gassmann destroys the narrative momentum by cutting from one to the other, a structural technique that simply doesn’t work in this context. And do we really want to see other couples making love at length in a documentary? These extended sessions simply feel like voyeurism and add nothing to what is otherwise a thoughtful and insightful study AS



The First, the Last (2016) | Berlinale 2016

Director: Bouli Lammers

Cast: Bouli Lanners, Albert Dupontel, Michael Lonsdale, Suzanne Clement, Philippe Rebbot

97min  Drama  Belgium

Under glowering skies in Flanders, two hired bounty hunters, Gilou (Bouli Lanners) and Cochise (Albert Dupontel) set off into a wintry widescreen wilderness on a ‘secret mission’ to track down a mobile phone containg some kind of explosive. More madcap Western, than gritty thriller Bouli Lanners’ fourth feature sets off as a miserable, monosyllabic mission that meanders into gloomy backwaters at the arse-end of progress somehow find redemption through its crisis-ridden yet humane craziness as the argumentative duo brush up against a selection of weirdos and ne’dowells: a deranged young couple (who come imto possession of the mobile unaware of its significance) mendacious cleaners and a crippled carefaker and evangelist priest (a kindly Philippe Rebbot),make strange bedfellows in this cinematically spectacular outing where the tone is slightly tougue in cheek, and the dialogue as off the beaten track as its characters.

But their brazen attempt at being gangsters soon falls by the wayside as Gilou abandons the mission with a dicky heart and takes up refuge with the kindly, crippled caretaker (a suitable soulful Michael Lonsdale). Clara (Suzanne Clement) comes to the Cochise’s rescue offering him sparkling sexual chemistry and a shred of domestic normality in her farmhouse.  Meanwhile the deranged young couple also seek a safe berth with Clara, hotly pursued by another bunch of hoodlums who are also looking in for the phone. Esther (Aurore Broutin) and Willy (David Murgia). It emerges represent Adam and Eve

A metaphor for our loss of faith in society, in each other and with ourselves in general, The First, The Last is a dark and often doom laden affair suffused with welcome bone dry humour. Bouli Lammers finds the he answer in love: love for ouselves, for each other and for the world that we have been given. With the twanging score of original guitar music by Pascal Humbert, Bouli Lanners’ characters all experience their crisis-fuelled epiphanies in this God-forsaken landscape that somehow finds the light at the end of the tunnel reminding us that God is out there somewhere if we look hard enough and keep our sense of humour. MT



Berlinale 2016 | Panorama | First films announced

Já, Olga Hepnarová (I, Olga Hepnarová) – Czech Republic / Poland / Slowak Republic / France
By Tomáš Weinreb, Petr Kazda
With Michalina Olszanska, Marta Mazurek, Ondrej Malý
World premiere

Junction 48 – Israel / Germany / USA
By Udi Aloni
With Tamer Nafar, Samar Qupty, Salwa Nakkara, Sameh Zakout, Ayed Fadel
World premiere

Les Premiers, les Derniers (The First, the Last) – France / Belgium
By Bouli Lanners
With Albert Dupontel, Bouli Lanners, Suzanne Clément, Michael Lonsdale, David Murgia
International premiere

Maggies_Plan copyMaggie’s Plan – USA
By Rebecca Miller
With Greta Gerwig, Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph
European premiere

Maggie’s plan to have a baby on her own falls apart when she meets John (Ethan Hawke), a married man.

Nakom – Ghana / USA
By Kelly Daniela Norris, TW Pittman
With Jacob Ayanaba, Grace Ayariga, Abdul Aziz, Justina Kulidu, Shetu Musah, Esther Issaka, Thomas Kulidu, James Azudago, Felicia Awinbe, Sumaila Ndaago
World premiere

Theo_et_Hugo_dans_le_meme_bateau copyThéo et Hugo dans le même bateau (Paris 05:59) – France
By Olivier Ducastel, Jacques Martineau
With Geoffrey Couët, François Nambot
World premiere

Remainder – United Kingdom / Germany
By Omer Fast
With Tom Sturridge, Cush Jumbo, Ed Speleers, Arsher Ali, Shaun Prendergast
International premiere

A man is forced to rebuild his life when his memory fails after a tragic accident.

S one strane (On the Other Side) – Croatia / Serbia
By Zrinko Ogresta
With Ksenija Marinković, Lazar Ristovski
World premiere

Starve Your Dog – Morocco
By Hicham Lasri
With Jirari Ben Aissa, Latifa Ahrrare, Fehd Benchemsi
European premiere

Sufat Chol (Sand Storm) – Israel
By Elite Zexer
With Lamis Ammar, Ruba Blal-Asfour, Haitham Omari, Khadija Alakel, Jalal Masarwa
European premiere – debut feature film

the-ones-below-still-1The Ones Below – United Kingdom
By David Farr
With Clémence Poésy, David Morrissey, Stephen Campbell Moore, Laura Birn
European premiere – debut feature film

War on Everyone – United Kingdom
By John Michael McDonagh
With Michael Peña, Alexander Skarsgård, Theo James
World premiere

Panorama Dokumente

Don’t Blink – Robert Frank – USA / France
By Laura Israel
International premiere

Hotel Dallas – Romania / USA
By Livia Ungur, Sherng-Lee Huang
With Patrick Duffy
World premiere – debut feature film



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