Posts Tagged ‘Berlinale 2017’

1945 (2017) ***

Dir: Ferenc Török | Cast: Péter Rudolf, Bence Tasnádi, Tamás Szabó Kimmel, Dóra Sztarenki, Ági Szirtes, József Szarvas | Drama | Hungary 2017 | 91 min

Best known for his 2001 comedy drama Moscow Square, Ferenc Török has continued to hone his skills in TV work in his native Hungary. His latest film is an unsettling war-themed drama that takes place on the Hungarian puszta during the blistering heat of August 1945 where the local chemist is getting ready for his son’s wedding. In the sleepy afternoon torpor, two strange men arrive on the scene – and no one is glad to see them. As news of the Sámuels’ arrival seeps through the streets like a bad odour, these orthodox Jewish men dressed in black walk solemnly behind a horse drawn carriage, where their two wooden boxes – like children’s coffins – conceal a mysterious cargo. Clearly something has happened here that has left a sinister whiff of fear for all concerned, not least because of the local’s poor treatment of their Jewish neighbours during the war years. And as they past re-visits the present, the villagers know exactly why they should be scared.

Meanwhile, preparations for the evening wedding are underway. But the bride Kisrózsi (Dóra Sztarenki) is no virgin – she left her good-looking boyfriend Jancsi (Tamás Szabó Kimmel) to pursue a better offer from Arpad, who owns the profitable chemist store. But Arpad’s mother Anna (Eszter Nagy-Kálózy) has rumbled her and is well aware that Kisrózsi and Jancsi are still lovers. This appears to be a community seething in hatred, mistrust and envy, that comes from the outside and from within as they tolerate the constant strain of Soviet occupation.

The tone is very much like that of a darkly comic Midsommer Murders, as the Samuels’ tale intriguingly unfolds amidst a climate of fear and doom. Török and co-writer Gábor T. Szántó base their narrative on Homecoming, a short story where a guilty village serves as a metaphor for national shame, with each character determined to keep their secret in the face of the enemy they have wronged. DoP Elemér Ragályi’s beguiling black and white visuals recreate the 1940s in a mystery that relies on its ominous atmosphere and the strength of its performances, rather than dialogue, to tell a tale of vengeance and dishonour in post war Hungary.MT

NOW SCREENING NATIONWIDE from 12 October 2018

 

 

The Young Karl Marx (2017) ***

Dir: Raoul Peck |France / Germany / Belgium | Drama | 112 min · Colour

Interesting to discover that, according to Raoul Peck (I am Not Your Negro), the young and unemployed Karl Marx lived on the money of a capitalist he despised, while writing his community treaty Das Capital, and fathering two children. This is one of many revealing facts uncovered in this worthy period drama – which is rather pleased with itself despite being about as enjoyable as a wet weekend with Diane Abbott and one of her migraines.

Played convincingly by August Diehl (Salt), the 26 year old lived with his heiress wife Jenny in exile in Paris, where he is pictured as a rather arrogant flaneur habitually in debt and plagued by existential anxieties. Initially dismissing German factory heir Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske) as a dandy, the pair go on to develop a veritable bromance when Marx discovers Engels has just published a study on the miserable impoverishment of the English proletariat, and has distanced himself from his father – despite remaining on the payroll, hence financing Marx.

From then on this becomes a political procedural as the pair, assisted by Jenny and Engel’s factory shop steward wife Mary Burns (Hannah Steele), continue to work tirelessly and admirably to provide a theoretical foundation for revolution and to improve workers’ rights and abolish child labour. Soon their aim is not merely to interpret the world, but to change it with a work entitled Critic of the Critical Critique and subsequently, the Communist Manifesto.

Pascal Bonitzer’s brisk workmanlike script follows a linear narrative; Alexei Aigui (I am Not Your Negro) and animates it with an earnestly dramatic score, with unimaginative visuals conveying the drabness of Victorian England to great effect in a rather lacklustre but informative period drama. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 4 MAY 2018

 

The Wound | Inxeba (2017)


Dir: John Trengrove | Writers: John Trengove, Thando Mgqolozana, Malusi Bengu | Cast: Nakhane Touré, Bongile Mantsai, Niza Jay Ncoyini (Kwanda) | DoP Paul Özgür | Music
João Orecchia |South Africa | 88 min · Colour

Best known for his TV series Hopeville and his short film iBhokhwe (The Goat) that tackled the subject of male circumcision, this is John Trengrove’s feature film debut and explores the experiences of a typical young factory worker in an extraordinary contemporary story that feels as if it could have taken place a hundred years ago. THE WOUND proves that an all-male environment can generate a dramatic range of tender and aggressive emotional expressions, where the taboo of homosexuality and masculinity are concerned.

Xolani (played by singer Nakhane Touré) is from the Xhosa, a South African tribe inhabiting the areas round Cape Town and the Eastern Cape. Every year he travels to a remote region in the mountains to take part and act as a care-giver in an annual circumcision ceremony. Women are not permitted to join the activities where the men paint their bodies in alarming designs using white ochre, as they immerse themselves in a coming of age rites of passage. One of the men Xolani meets is Kwanda, a middle class boy from Joburg undergoing his initiation, sensitive and perceptive, the young man quickly picks up on Xolani’s own homosexual identity.

This a gripping and immersive film that slowly generates tension from the mens’ needs to comply with their traditional environment while also satisfying their own emotional and sexual impulses. It gradually emerges that the melancholy Xolani is also there to cement his rather one-sided relationship with fellow married care-giver Vijami. But contrary to our expectations, Kwanda actually supports Xolani’s secret and idolatrous bond with Vijami rather than exposing him, adding another twist to this textured storyline. The magnifcent scenery, compelling narrative and subtle characterisations make this a watchable drama and a strong directorial debut for Trengrove. THE WOUND would make in interesting companion piece to Ousmane Sembene’s female circumcision story MOULAADE. MT

ON RELEASE FROM 27 APRIL 2018 | NAKANE IS PROMOTING HIS NEW ALBUM ‘YOU WILL NOT DIE’

 

 

 

 

A Fantastic Woman * * * (2017) | Bfi Flare Film Festival 2018

Dir: Sebastián Lelio | Chile / USA / Germany / Spain | Spanish | Drama | 104′ · Colour

A story of love and loss is a wrapped around a gutsy portrait of transgender alienation in Sebastian Lelio’s fifth feature and follow-up to his Golden Bear winner Gloria. It has won him considerable acclaim including an Oscar (2018) since its Silver Bear win at Berlinale 2017.

Suave middle class business man Orlando (Francisco Reyes) has left his attractive wife for a strong-jawed woman 20 years his junior. Marina (Daniela Vega) is a talented singer and transgender. After a romantic birthday celebration together the two return home where Orlando is taken ill and dies on the way to hospital. This is naturally a terrible shock for Marina but nothing compared with what is to come in the aftermath of the tragedy. The whole family are clearly threatened by Marina’s sexual identity and the way Orlando has abandoned them. Soon she is under police scrutiny and vilified by all his family who want her out of his home and barred from the funeral tribute.

Daniela Vega gives an impressive central performance venting powerful expression to the full emotional spectrum experienced by the newly bereaved, as well as humiliation over the treatment she receives from his family. Marina is not a particularly likeable character – the strong and convincing support cast even less so – but she expresses dignity and forbearance given the circumstances and the acts of cruelty that follow. This is a watchable and intriguing drama where once again Lelio displays a natural understanding of female characters who are at odds with mainstream society in contemporary Chile. Santiago provides a lush backdrop to the action and the musical choices suffuse the film with a melancholy that permeates through to the final resonating scene. MT

SCREENING DURING BFI FLARE FILM FESTIVAL ON 1 ST APRIL 2018

Menashe (2017) |

Dir: Joshua Z Weinstein |Documentary | USA / Israel | Yiddish, English | 81 min · Colour

There’s a faint but unintentional whiff of Woody Allen to Joshua Weinstein’s sorrowful cinema verite portrait of a put-upon Hasidic Jew struggling to survive between the modern world and orthodoxy. This is also the first full length feature in Yiddish for 70 years.

According to the Talmud, the definition of happiness is: “a nice wife, a nice home and clean dishes” but Menashe’s Brooklyn home is an untidy flat where he lives with his young son Rieven after the death of his wife Leah. Chastised by the strictures of his ultra religious local community and particularly ‘The Ruv’, an Hasidic overlord, who demands he re-marry according to the Talmudic Laws, Menashe is desperate to keep his son who is his only consolation as he battles to hold down a job in the deli run by an equally unforgiving boss.

In this predominantly male feature, Weinstein paints womenfolk into a dark corner where their ‘kvetching’ (nagging) and overbearing nature is one of the downsides to life rather than a joy, but it’s very much a case of “you can’t live with them, but you can’t live without them” and this adds to Menashe’s rather miserable situation. Infact, the tubby but likeable chap cannot seem to do anything right either at home or work although he prays desperately to his memorial candle and pleads with his brother in law to let him bring up Rieven. But living with his son is not permitted unless he takes another wife, because “man cannot live alone”, according to the scriptures.

Far from downbeat, MENASHE is an enjoyable and fascinating insight into the Brooklyn Hasidic community and Weinstein adds cinematic texture with vivid street life, lively musical interludes of the men singing and dancing and sweeping views over the glittering skyline. Menashe plays himself and comes across as a rather bumbling but sincere and sensitive father who clearly loved his wife despite their early arranged marriage and discord largely arising from difficulties in conceiving their cherished son, and Menashe buys a tiny pet bird and regales Rieven with nature stories complete with sound effects, to give him a break from his uncle’s stern and rather insipid contribution.

The three-handed script is wise and full of local flavour and insight exploring the nature of fatherhood and religious observance, and a palpable tension builds during the preparations for Leah’s memorial service which Menashe hopes to hold at home, despite his brother in law’s objections on the grounds of its general unsuitability. A surprising denouement offers hope in this heart-warming and affecting snapshot of a niche community dovetailing into the contemporary world. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE AT ARTHOUSE VENUES 8 DECEMBER 2017

 

Félicité (2017)

Dir: Alain Gomis | France / Senegal / Belgium / Germany / Lebanon 2017 | Lingala | Drama | 123 min · Colour

Senegalese Auteur Alain Gomis is best remember for Today his striking portrait of a man’s final hours in Dakar. Félicité is another resonant snapshot of a proud and independent woman that gradually opens its focus from an individual to an entire society in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Félicité (Vero Tschanda) works as a singer in a bar in Kinshasa. Singing is her therapy but also the joy she brings her audiences who are seduced by the rhythm of her music and her powerful, melancholy melodies. When Félicité’s son has a terrible accident, she desperately tries to raise the money needed for his operation, heading off on a breakneck tour through the backstreets to the wealthier districts of the Congolese capital. Her friend Tabu offers to help Félicité but she is not keen on the idea due to his often erratic behavioir. Reluctantly, she accepts and Tabu turns out to be the saving of her son’s rehabilitation. has a hard time picking up his old life, but it is lady’s man Tabu of all people who manages to coax him out of his shell. Félicité’s seedy flat then becomes the setting for this well-crafted drama with its plucky central performance by Tschanda.

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 10 NOVEMBER 2017

REVIEWED AT BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017

Call me by your Name (2017)

Dir: Luca Guadagnino | Armie Hammer, Michael Stuhlberg, Timothee Chalamet | 133′

Directed by Luca Guadagnino and based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel of the same name, CALL ME BY YOUR NAME has similar stylishly languorous credentials to its forerunner, I Am Love, as it ravishingly unfurls.

In 1980s Cremona, where the summers are blindingly hot and torpid during the August holidays, one English family make their yearly vacation. Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is the musically gifted and sexually naive teenage son of Jewish parents, an eminent Classics professor (Michael Stuhlbarg) and his wife, who are accustomed to a philanthropic gesture of inviting another Jewish student to stay at their villa to help with research. This year’s intern is Armie Hammer’s rather too sexy and urbane Oliver, who looks more like one of the Greek statues Elio is wont to study, than a budding historian. Elio is smitten in discrete ecstasy as he descends into emotional meltdown. Guadagnino conjures up the heady world of la Dolce Vita that mingles with the sexual undertow and uneasiness of Body Heat and the elegance of a James Ivory classic (he co-wrote the script). And it all looks stunning.

Elio and Oliver grow closer as the Ferragosto shutdown approaches, swimming, sunbathing and sampling the locale ‘by night’; Elio gawping at Hammer’s pecs – as we do too. In return, Hammer treats him with thinly-veiled disdain, coming and going at will and flirting outrageously while rocking a massive Star of David on his tanned and tousled chest. While he is every so slightly brash, the Perlmans are discretion itself, as Elio’s father gracefully points out. Elio doesn’t know where to put himself as his burgeoning sensuality is challenged by his ‘bon chic bon genre’ credentials, he teeters like a Tom cat on a hot tin roof, wanting to howl at the moon, bewitched and bewildered.

When he meets Esther Garell’s girl next door, he is flummoxed by her gamine charm and distracted by his burning desire for someone who is clearly not available, fluffing his own chance at enjoably losing his own virginity in the process. His father misjudges the sexual ambiance -or does he?- coming up with one of the best son/father soliloquies of recent years where he outlines emotional intelligence for his son’s benefit. This is something every teenager should hear.  CALL ME BY YOUR NAME is a thoroughly enjoyable, slow-burning romantic drama which should be savoured more than once. It has so much more to offer than its awkward title belies, and merits its generous running time. MT

NOW ON RELEASE FROM 27 OCTOBER 2017  | BERLINALE REVIEW 2017

The Party (2017)

Dir: Sally Potter. Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Patricia Clarkson, Timothy Spall, Cillian Murphy, Emily Mortimer, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones | UK | DRAMA | 71′

After the lush languor of Orlando comes the sleek satire of THE PARTY: Sally Potter has never done laughs before, but here there are some mean ones but nothing unsurprising. This middle class chamber piece is very much a British affair with a British cast – strangely, the most appealing characters are German and American. Shot in bare black-and-white it certainly strips bare the themes involved: Politics, Love, Sex and Money: but what else is there? Intellect, of course, and that is supplied in spades by Timothy Spall’s lounge hang-dog lizard Bill who is hosting a soirée for six close friends for his wife Kristin Scott Thomas’ Janet, who has just been appointed Shadow Health Minister. This is one of those ghastly evenings where everyone has ‘an announcement’ and no one appears to be particularly in a good mood, apart from Bruno Ganz’ soothing alternative therapist Gottfried who talks in cliches along with the other guests, each saying exactly what you would expect them to, representing a different aspect of the social spectrum. Ganz’ news is announced as their ‘last supper’ by his warm and waspish wife April (a brilliant Patricia Clarkson) as she slumps gracefully into a squashy settee. Very much queen of the back-handed compliment she is also the lynchpin who holds the party together, and by the end announces: “our marriage is not looking so bad, compared to this lot”. Everyone is focused on their own issues in that fashionably distraught way well-known to city-dwellers. The only cheesy smile comes from Janet, not least because of her news, but also because of a secret lover who keeps phoning and texting while she pops the vol-au-vents into the oven like some modern day Fanny Craddock. Tom (Cillian Murphy), is a melodramatic financial type who snorts coke in the loo and carries a gun (yeh Sally all city-types snort coke, and carry guns – if only you knew!). The whole affair is book-ended by Janet pointing a gun from her open front door in a ruse that feels bit too formulaic and trite, in the scheme of things. The problem with THE PARTY is an insistence on toeing the party line: everything is so predictable, and unoriginal. There’s even a lesbian couple played by Emily Mortimer and Cherry Jones, who are expecting triplets, and whose dominant versus submissive shtick is cringeworthy in the extreme. The finale showdown involves interweaving infidelities. THE PARTY is an amuse-bouche, and it certainly doesn’t outstay its welcome. And by the time you’re home you’ll be casting around for that bluray of Orlando. MT

RELEASES ON 13 OCTOBER 2017 NATIONWIDE | Berlinale review

Untitled (2017) |

Dir:  Michael Glawogger, Monika Willi |Austria / Germany 2017 | English, German | Doc | 107 min · Colour

In UNTITLED seasoned documentarian Michael Glawogger fulfilled his final dream of freewheeling round the World for a year just photographing everything he saw, with his cameraman Attila and sound engineer Manuel Siebert. There was to be no narrative or theme, no formal structure, just pure freedom to see what happened, and this is the result – after Glawogger’s tragic death from malaria less than half way though the project – a final unfinished reverie of random footage was put together by his longterm collaborator Monika Willi, and accompanied by notes from his diary narrated by Fiona Shaw.

UNTITLED has a looser more poetic feel that his previous outings Workingman’s Death, Megacities and Whore’s Glory, spooling out with shades of Kirsten Johnson’s recent roundup Cameraperson. The crew travelled south from Austria through the Balkans to and on to West Africa where their ramblings are captured in silent musings and dynamic sequences that unfold in a nonlinear format gliding peripatetically north and south, east and west and not in chronological order. Animals, people and buildings get equal treatment as Boa’s camera often trails behind farmer’s trucks bearing sheep and cattle. In Dakar, coal black muscle bound bodies of Senegalese wrestlers gleam in the hazy sunshine of a dust-up; a vigorous massage on the hard stone floor of a Moroccan Hammam; a fur-coated woman roams through the dilapidated houses of Apice Vecchio in Campania, abandoned since 1962 on the verge of a threatened earthquake when the villagers moved across the valley. Kids and goats rifle through the fly-tipped waste in Erfoud in the Sahara desert and the war amputees’ sports club of Freetown play football on the beach in Liberia. In Kosovo a son and father climb through the structure of a unfinished housing block amid howling wind.

Wolfgang Mitterer’s score is more a patchwork of ambient sounds than formal composition as Monika Willi captures the essence of Glawogger’s previous strands and preoccupations: the injured, oppressed and desolate, particularly animals and children. His desire was for personal freedom and his envy of those who have no agenda but to stare from a window all day is palpable: “the death of freedom is to foresee every possible disaster and plan accordingly. Fear is a terrible companion.” His poignant ending in Harper Liberia seems to echo through all of these images. MT

NOW SCREENING AT KVIFF | BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 |

Of Body and Soul (2017)

Dir: Ildikó Enyedi | Drama | Hungary 2017 | 116′ · Colour

Nearly two decades after My 20th Century (1989), Hungarian auteur Ildikó Enyedi’s returns with an arthouse curio whose compellingly clinical visual aesthetic contrasts bolding with its central theme: love in a Budapest abattoir.

OF BODY AND SOUL is the latest in a string of slaughterhouse-set films: Maud Alpi’s Gorge, Coeur Ventre (2016) and Hassen Ferhani’s 2015 documentary Roundabout in My Head which portrayed the human element in an Algerian abattoir. But Enyedi’s animals are somehow more appealing than their human counterparts, although the striking similarities between man and beast are poetically crafted in this slow-burner with its sleek performances and economical dialogue.

The film opens in a forest where a doe and deer are seen nuzzling on the snowy lakeside. We are frequently reminded of the scene as the story unfolds. Enyedi then cuts to the abattoir where cows are silently led to slaughter peacefully unnaware of their fate and final moments which arrive with a clunk and a gush of blood on the tiled floor. Meanwhile, in the canteen it’s lunchtime for laconic finance director Endre (Géza Morcsányi) and he notices a newcomer to the queue in the shape of icy blond Maria (Alexandra Borbély), a quality control superviser.

The young woman sits silently in the sterile surroundings. Hers is a world of figures and data, and she has no emotional memory, due to a difficult past and a continuing need to return to her childhood therapist. Her much older boss Endre is avoidant but a great deal more forgiving in his approach to human connection. Tentatively, like the woodland animals, they begin a frosty friendship and discover they have the similar dreams at night. A robbery in the slaughterhouse means that Endre has to call in the services of a sultry shrink Klara (Réka Tenki) who gives each member of staff the psychological once-over but what she discovers is shrouded in enigma.

In the privacy of her room Maria is a disengaged porn watcher. She acts out her innermost thoughts with plastic toys still seems dissociated from her feelings, judging by her glacially vacant expressions. Enyedi maintains the film’s tension and cold intimacy of tone with a tinkling occasional score where graphic blood and bone images of the slaughterhouse are counterposed with the hyperrealism of Maria’s antiseptic home-life seen in tactile moments involving food and furry toys, and magic realist sequences in the snowbound forest, courtesy of Mate Herbai’s pristine soft and shallow focus visuals.

This story of two people attempting to discover the realm of the senses, at first apart and then together, threatens with its cold-eyed voyeurism, but the central characters remain too enigmatic to make the film a satisfying experience despite its stringent humour, striking aesthetic and impressive performances from the ensemble cast. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEW BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | GOLDEN BEAR WINNER

Final Portrait (2017)

Dir/Writer: Stanley Tucci Cast: Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Clémence Poésy, Tony Shalhoub, James Faulkner, Sylvie Testud | UK | Drama | 90 min

The sculptor Alberto Giacometti was an eccentric, philandering neurotic and a crashingly self-centred bore. He was also a perfectionist, a sharp businessman and a fool for love. Or so Stanley Tucci would have us believe in his rather idolatrous but witty biopic drama that follows the Swiss Italian artist in his Paris atelier during the 1960s, where he worked with his tolerant brother Diego, also an artist.

In his second feature as both writer and director, Stanley Tucci deftly dovetails themes of creative insecurity and narcissism as he delves inside the intriguing subject of what is it to be an artist. Basing his script on James Lord’s biography ‘A Giacometti Portrait’, Tucci conjures up a chaotic genius who process involves constant over-painting directly on the canvas before finally getting the measure of his subject many hours if not weeks after the initial sitting.

In 1964. shortly before his death, Giacometti’s work was fetching record prices forcing him to squirrel away wads of banknotes in his shambolic studio amongst the many works in process. His wife Annette – who he calls a “petite bourgeoise” – is dismayed by his ongoing affair with his ditzy muse Caroline, not least because he lavishes money on his lover while being tight-fisted with his spouse.

One day, Giacometti asks New York art critic and writer James Lord to pose for him. Initially flattered, Lord has no idea of what he is letting himself in for as the portrait, scheduled to take a week, stretches on for much longer amid constant interruptions for restaurants breaks, setbacks and altercations with his wife and lover. Armie Hammer is perfect for the role of Lord: open-faced, cheerful and uncomplicated he plays the long-suffering Lord, with consummate ease.

Genius Giacometti’s method of working flies in the face of other famous portrait painters who are highly organised, fast-working and diligent, often juggling several projects at a time, beginning with pencil sketching and photographic impressions before finally putting paint to canvas. This depicts a man who was disorganised, scatty and unable to work to deadlines, despite his obvious talent.

With a tour de force performance from Geoffrey Rush in the lead role, and Clemence Poesie perfectly irritating as Caroline, this is a stylishly imagined and richly photographed drama that captures the romantic magic of Paris in its Sixties heyday, but is rather denigrates the memory of Giacometti. Worth watching if you can cut it some artistic slack. MT

ON RELEASE NATIONWIDE FROM 18 AUGUST 2017 | BERLINALE 2017 REVIEW

 

Sage Femme | The Midwife (2017)

Dir: Martin Provost | France / Belgium 2017 | French | Drama  | 117 min · Colour

Auteur Martin Provost is known for beautifully-crafted classically-styled dramas specialising in the intricate interplay between his female characters in Cesar-awarded raphine and Violette (who was a pupil of Simon de Beauvoir).

Catherine Frot and Catherine Deneuve are the stars of SAGE FEMME – a more personal project for Martin Provost and a tribute to the women who brought him into the world after a difficult birth. As well as referring to a midwife, a ‘sage femme’ is also taken to mean one who is well-behaved and wise: Frot’s Claire is such a woman: dedicated, kind and no-nonsense, she comes up against Catherine Deneuve’s self-centred, frivolous, bonne viveuse Béatrice who has always got her own way in life, and is also Claire’s stepmother, whose erratic nature resulted in her husband’s suicide.

This is meat and bread and familiar territory for sophisticated viewers who will savour the delicious friction between the two women that has a surprisingly favourable outcome for them both. THE MIDWIFE also ventures into the less appealing genre of social realism in too many ‘too much information’ birth scenes: Provost would have been better focusing on the fluctuating dynamic between the witty and watchable Deneuve, Frot and her love interest, Olivier Gourmet’s gourmet truck driver. Béatrice initially emerges as a wealthy benefactor who has appeared on the scene to apologise to Claire for her behaviour back in the day, but it soon comes to light that the 70-something Béatrice has been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and is on her last legs. And soon she is also homeless. And guess who picks up the pieces?

There is a serious message here: that bringing the next generation into the world deserves calm, personal care rather than hightec machinery but the fun lies in the story of the older generation and here Provost successfully mines the rich dramatic treasures of this ménage à trois with perceptive characterisations complimented by Gregoire Hertzel’s breezily romantic compositions and the lush local scenery of the Il-de-France in early summer. THE MIDWIFE is less formal than his previous work but equally affecting as intelligent arthouse goes, capturing the rich and sensual pleasures of traditional France MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE | REVIEWED AT BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | IN COMPETITION (OUT OF COMPETITION

Those Who Make Revolution Halfway only Dig their Own Graves (2016) |Transylvania Film Festival | 2-11 June 2017

Dir.: Mathieu Denis, Simon Lavoie | Cast: Charlotte Aubin, Laurent Belanger, Emmanuelle Lussier Martinez, Gabrielle Tremblay | Canada | 183 min.

Directors/writers Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie (Laurentia) have created a daring and innovative portrait of four self-appointed revolutionaries in Quebec, unable to come to terms with the outcome of the ‘Maple Spring’ of 2012, when students striked and protested for months after the government hiked up tuition fees – but returned to studies and their mostly privileged life after the climb down of the authorities. These four mistook the uprising for the first step of a popular revolution, and barricaded themselves into a dingy bungalow, covering all windows hermetically.

Whilst fictional in its approach, the unfolding narrative stays true to real events. After the end of the 1968 uprising in Europe, both Germany (Baader-Meinhof Group) and Italy (Red Brigades) witnessed what a small group of committed urban guerrillas could achieve: although neither movement reached a membership of treble figures, it created a hostile atmosphere that affected whole countries and had, like the abduction and killing of the Italian Premier Aldo Moro, political repercussions for decades to come.

The directors develop their characters slowly: what starts with long speeches and walls full of revolutionary slogans (“Revolutionaries believe in people – what a flaw!), clearly shades of Godard’s La Chinoise, escalates into confrontations with friends and families. Roxanne (Aubin), who calls herself Giustizia, knifes her father during a family dinner, after he has given her another lecture on how they all had great ideas when they were young, but that hard work and reality put pay to their illusions. It emerges that Tumolto (Belanger), the only male of the group, is also clearly intellectually at odds with his own father. Asking about his health,  Tumolto is greeting with a barrage of bleats about work, which clearly stresses him out.

Karine (Lussier Martinez) adopts the grandiose ‘nom de guerre’ Ordine Nuovo, and is saved by her mother from prison, but, petulantly goes on to mock her in court, and later, when the ‘revolutionary’ cell has run out of money, robs her of her savings with the support of the three others. Thea (Tremblay), re-named Klas batalo (Class Fight), is a transgender prostitute, from whose earnings the comrades live, and has a client who finds a Rosa Luxemburg text in the room. Thea disowns the ownership of the book, but the client is insistent, quoting from the book (“a revolutionary should also love the beauty of the clouds”), and confesses to having been in love with these ideals – after which Thea breaks down in tears, resigns from her job and  participates in the robbery of Karine’s mother.

The four of them spend their days mooching around naked – but denying themselves sex, since they are ‘at war’ – with the world, their aggression turning inward. Tumolto has been discovered watching a video from previous political demonstrations, where police brutality is evident. In reaction to watching this ‘nostalgic’ fare, Tumolto throws a Molotov cocktail into a restaurant. He will never know that his actions killed a family of four, who lived about the restaurant, since Karine is the only one who checks news on the Internet (the hide-out has no phone or TV) and withholds the news from the group. Finally Karine decides on the ultimate self-punishment at the doorstep of her mother’s house.

The atmosphere in the bungalow is claustrophobic with undertones of a fascist death cult. Despite all the revolutionary rhetoric on display, the salient fact is that the four people are really using the political background as an excuse to inflict sadistic pain: mainly on each other. Clearly their profile and approach is infantile. Desperate to ‘get back into the womb’,  they have re-created it in the penumbral gloom, where their ‘wailing’ wall is the only significant piece of substance.

DoP Nicolas Canniccioni (Gerantophilia) creates a maudlin atmosphere of negativity and self-destruction and there are some brilliant performances from the ensemble quartet.  The film takes its title from a Saint-Just quote, and is a brilliant study of a collective rush into psychosis, where the Real Self is deprived of any contact with reality, leaving only (self)destruction as a solution. A brave and singularly unique effort. AS

BEST CANADIAN FILM TIFF 2016 | SCREENING DURING BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 |

 

The Other Side of Hope (2017)

Dir: Aki Kaurismäki | Finland / Germany | Finnish, English, Arabic | Drama | 98 min · Colour · 35 mm, 2K DCP

The grass is always greener on the other side especially when your business is failing or you live in a war zone. Aki Kurismaki’s latest film is an unapologetically upbeat story of dystopia in modern day Helsinski where two lives converge – that of Khaled, a Syrian refugee and stowaway on a coal freighter and Wikström, a Finnish travelling salesman peddling ties and men’s shirts. Treating his characters with even-handed sympathy and understanding Kurismaki evokes a realistic picture of the local refugee crisis as well as the economic malaise affecting contemporary Finland.

When Khaled claims asylum at the government offices, he is bathetically told: “you are not the first”. This is the start of many telling observations that give THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE its spry and ironic humour. Meanwhile Witstrom leaves his wife and his business and, after a win at the poker tables, buys a local restaurant business. When the authorities turn down Khaled’s application, he decides to remain, going underground in the Finnish capital where he gets duffed up by the ‘Finnish Freedom League’ before some friendly street musicians offer support. And soon Wikstrom offers him a job in his new concern where the classic Kaurismaki community muddle along with the waitress, the chef and his friendly Jack Russell.

Starring regular collaborators Sakari Kuosmanen, Kati Outinnen and Ilkka Koivula, THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE is witty and watchable and never takes itself too seriously in showing how the kindness of strangers goes along way to making the world a better place. MT

ON GENERAL RELEASE 26 MAY | SILVER BEAR WINNER BERLINALE  2017| BEST DIRECTOR

Requiem for Mrs J (2017) | Berlinale 2017

Dir: Bojan Vuletić | Drama | Serbia / Bulg/Mac/ Russ Fed/France | 94 min · Colour

Living in a state of flux is complicated, but dying is even harder, as Mrs J finds out when she tries to commit suicide, in this dark but beautifully captured comedy from Serbian New Wave filmmaker Bojan Vuletić (Practical Guide to Belgrade)

Jelena has reached her early fifties with nothing to look forward to. The loneliness of her newly widowed state is amplified by her selfish daughter’s active sex life with her fiancé Milan, who shares their comfortable suburban flat along with Jelena’s elderly mother-in-law. We first meet Mrs J nonchalantly assembling a gun and silencer at the dining room table in a scene that is not only shockingly deadpan but also mildly hilarious. The whole film is embued with ironic moments like this, where gentle humour comes from the Kafkaesque task of simply sorting out her affairs, before she pulls the trigger and ends the abject pointlessness of it all.

Many will empathise with this universal portrait of a woman who is resigned to die, simply because the rest of her life seems to stretch before her as an emotionally arid desert, where her own modest but worthwhile life experience is regarded and reflected back on her as superfluous and even downright irritating by the younger generation, compounding even further the dejection she already feels. This is an incredibly difficult role played with nuanced subtlety by Mirjana Karanovic (When Father Was Away on Business) who captures without rancour or bitterness the utter despondency of a woman’s middle-age cast adrift in a country that offers no certainty, swinging back and forth between torment and transition. The authorities are unable to cope, Jelena’s former employers are now bankrupt and the remaining staff are just killing time.

Expertly framed and filmed by Jelena Stankovic; this is a quiet gem of a film that carries a small but delightful message of hope in the final scenes proving that nothing is ever quite as bad as it seems when family and friends rally in support. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 9 -19 FEBRUARY 2017 | PANORAMA SECTION

 

Ana, Mon Amour (2017) | Berlinale Competition

Dir.: Calin Peter Netzer; Cast: Diana Cavallioti, Mircea Posteinicu, Adrian Titieni, Igor Caras-Romanov; Rumania 2017, 125 min.

Calin Peter Netzer won the Golden Bear in 2013 with his mother son drama Child’s Pose. Ana, Mon Amour is another thoughtful, persuasive portrait of shifting power within a relationship, this time between a man and woman in love.

Ana (Cavaliotti) and Toma (Posteinicu) meet at university. Their intense relationship suits the rather introverted Ana, who is suffers from childhood trauma. And Toma,, whose last girlfriend cheated on him, is pleased to be the only person in Ana’s life and openly admits that one he loves for her ardent faithfulness. But soon dark secrets start to come to light and it emerges that Ana’s father Igor (Caras-Romanov) is in reality her stepfather, and highly possessive of his stepdaughter. When Igor dies a year later, Ana is grief stricken and takes medication for her anxiety only to discover she is expecting. After the birth of her son Tudor, Ana goes back to work and gradually changing the dynamic in her relationship with Toma, who regresses into a hypochondriac recluse. Ana starts to enjoy the buzz of her workplace, gets a divorce, while Toma tries, with the help of the analyst, to come to terms with his past: his mother did not love his father, and concentrated her affections on him.

His father, much more in need of his mother than the other way round, is living a lie: pretending that he only stayed with the family for Toma’s sake. Toma is left with explanations, but no way out: he has become an amalgamation of the old Ana and his father: a hypochondriac recluse, who pretends he cares for Tudor, but really only wants to win Ana back. He even spies on Ana, and accuses her of being unfaithful with a man, who is in fact her birthfather, who helps her to come to terms with her past and emancipation from Toma.

Calin Peter Netzer’s slow-burn character drama is almost a clinical study of the phycology of a relationship, savours and lingering over each meticulous detail and development. DoP Andrei Butica, who also shot Child’s Pose, finds innovative angels to keep the audience engaged in the story but Cavallioti, is the real star of Ana: her metamorphosis from doormat to liberated woman is full of nuances, both moving and infuriating at the same time. In spite of its length, Ana is a watchable, intense and intimate portrait of female liberation. AS

ANA, MON AMOUR | BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | IN COMPETITION

Atlantic (2017) | Berlinale

Dir.: Risteard O’Domhnaill; Narrator: Brendan Gleeson; ROI/Canada/Norway 2016, 80 min.

Once upon a time, fishing was seen as rather a precarious and romantic existence traditionally passed down through families who supplied local needs around the coasts and later further inland when fresh fish could be sent by train packed in ice to the large cities. But this all changed radically in the latter part of the 20th century: first multi-national companies, then globalisation ushered in a new era – not only for the work force, but also for the environment. ATLANTIC is a tale of three fishing communities in Ireland, Newfoundland and Norway. The stories vary from country to country, but they all share a gloomy outlook in common.

On Newfoundland, fisherman Charlie Kane speaks about the changes in his village, Renefs: Once 650 citizens lived here, surviving with 52 fishing boats. But in the early 1990s, the cod dried up, due to environmental circumstances and the appearance of Super-trawlers, forcing the local fishermen to struggle for an existence. Now Kane has a quota of just two tons of fish – as much as the family consumed in the winter months. His sons had to change professions: and now work for a multi-national oil drilling company in shifts of 21 days on and 21 days off. The money is good, but when they go fishing, now just a hobby, they think about the lifestyle they never had: videos from their childhood show them on the boats “being more in the way than helpful”. Charlie Kane died in 2014, and his sons are threatened with redundancy, after the oil price collapsed last year. After a long fight with Denmark, who are the de-facto rulers of Newfoundland and Labrador, the local population is ready for change, brought, again, from far away from their field of influence.

Jerry Early from the West Coast of Ireland, has just been found guilty of fishing outside Irish waters. He is going to appeal at a higher Court, but his chances are small. Ever since Ireland joined the EU in 1973, foreign vessels from Span, France, Germany and Portugal are allowed to fish, the Irish government sacrificing its fishing industry for access to the Common Market. But worse was to come: after oil was found in the Irish Sea in 1975, the government had learned from their mistakes and made the oil companies share their profits with the Irish Free State. Minister Justin Keating looked to the successful Norwegian model, and signed a contract where the profits were split equally, and the companies would pay a 50% tax rate. But this all changed again in 1987, when Minister Ray Burke re-negotiated the contract, very much in favour of the multi-national companies. The same Ray Burke, was later sentenced to six month in prison for tax fraud. Little can be done about the ‘super trawlers’, who seem to break all laws. On one of them, the Jan Maria, the logbook stated that 9000 tons of herring was caught. But it later transpired that only 5000 tons arrived at shore, the ship releasing 4000 tons of smaller fish back in the water. But the fine was more symbolic: the captain had to pay a laughable sum for false bookkeeping.

Bjorn Nicolaisen might be the luckiest of the trio because Norway has invested the wealth from its oil boom into a modern and wealthy society, making sure that the companies did pay their fare share to the nationally owned Statoil company, and the last incoming government set up a moratorium of four years for further drilling in the Norwegian waters – but the fishing industry has suffered considerably, since the companies started exploring the waters with a blast technique, which, as Heike Verter, a marine biologist explains, makes the fish disappear for hours. Already Skate have completely vanished. Further changes for the worse are expected, when the government moratorium comes to an end later this year.

Narrated by Brendan Gleeson, ATLANTIC would make a great pairing with Leviathan (2012) that shares its grim message: between the profiteering companies, weak governments and environmental threats, an old industry is dying. It is not just the fishermen who lose their jobs and homes: we are losing a valuable natural resource that feeds our population because the way it is run now is totally unsustainable.

BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | CULINARY SCREENINGS

Masaryk: A Prominent Patient (2017)

Dir: Julius Ševčík | Cast: Karel Roden, Hanns Zischler, Oldřich Kaiser, Arly Jover, Paul Nicholas, Dermot Crowley, Milton Welsh. Eva Herzigová, Emília Vášáryová, | Czech/Slovak Republic | Czech, English | 114 min ·

Philosopher Tomas Masaryk became the first President and founder of Czechoslovakia in 1918 and was an advocate of Czechoslovak independence during the First World War. He also championed the country’s Jewish population knowing how hard it was to build a sense of pride in a people with a history of subjugation. Of his two sons – one died of typhoid – this is the story of Jan Garrigue Masaryk (1886-1948), a mentally unstable bon viveur whose engaging cynicism served him well as Czechoslovakian Ambassador in London’s Hampstead in the run up to the Second World War.

Directed by Julius Ševčík this gripping and lushly-mounted imagined drama focuses on a tight window in wartime politics alternating between historical and fictionalised plotlines as it sashays suavely between London, Prague and a New Jersey sanatorium, where after the death of his father in 1938, Masaryk (a convincing Karel Roden) is supported by German psychiatrist Dr Stein – a saturnine Hans Zischler – and a charming American journalist Marcia Davenport (played gracefully by Arly Jover).

As a result of diplomatic tactics and the signing of the Munich Agreement, Britain and France condone Nazi Germany’s invasion of his country – bringing Europe one step closer to the Second World War. Masaryk believes he has failed as a diplomat, lost credibility in the eyes of the powers that be, and brought shame on the legacy of his father, Tomas.

A PROMINENT PATIENT follows Masaryk closely during his time as Ambassador showing how the tense political and social ambiance played tricks with his delicate mental disposition. Martin Strba’s agile camera glides impressively over Prague and London often tracking top secret negotiations in the privacy of fast moving vehicles, hurtling along the beaches of the South Coast. Ševčík plays fast and loose with the facts and political purists will no doubt throw their hands up in horror at some of the scenes, but this is nevertheless an enjoyable romp that will appeal to arthouse audiences with its elegant settings, engaging performances and terrier-like pacing contrasting with more languorous scenes such as those between Masaryk and his married English lover, Lady Anne Higgins (Gina Bramhill).

Whether or not Masaryk did indeed receive treatment in America is uncertain, but the idea that he was mentally unstable is the conceit on which Ševčík and his scripters Petr Kolečko and Alex Königsmark base their narrative. And it is certainly a ploy that serves this drama well offering a sinister and unsettling undertow to the recognised uncertainty of the political climate on the cusp of the Second World War. MT

BERLINALE 2017 PREMIERE | HISTORY TODAY

Newton (2017) | Berlinale Forum | CICAE Award

Dir.: Amit V Masurkar; Cast: Rajkummar Rao, Pankaj Tripathy, Anjali Patil; India 2017, 106 min.

Director/co-writer Amit V Masurkar’s second feature is a light-hearted critical analysis of the limits of personal endurance and the validity of elections in an India divided by class and plagued by civil war.

In central India, civil servant Newton (Rao), sees himself as the advocate of a modern country. Unfortunately for him, not many agree with him least of all his parents, who want him married to an under-age bride, who left school at the age of thirteen. Newton (who constructed his name from two Indian names he was given at birth) is understandably angry, clearly his parents just want to benefit from the bride’s generous dowry, at the expense of his future happiness and satisfaction. A strong – but equally naïve – believer in democracy, Newton is sent out as the Returning Officer in a jungle voting polling station where Maoist guerrillas are putting the local inhabitants under pressure not to vote. Newton soon collides with the commander of the military unit, Aatma Singh (Tripathy), who is in charge of security, and does not want to risk the lives of his men in a battle for 76 votes, which he sees as a charade – which is more or less true. But Newton is supported in his zealous efforts to get the village population to vote by the local schoolteacher Maiko (Patil). She is much more realistic than Newton and is able to speak the Ghondi dialect of the region, since the local villagers do not understand Hindi. Whilst Singh charms the clueless UN observers, Newton and Maiko bring the majority of the voters to the ramshackle polling station. There, the ultra modern voting machines – clashing very much with the dilapidated environment, are a challenge too great for the voters – but Singh, eager to please the observers, tells them to “use the machines like toys”, which they do. Newton is still not happy; he wants to wait for the remainder of the local electorate. Losing patience, Singh pretends that Newton and his polling station helpers are under fire from guerrilla forces, and evacuates everyone. Newton, who is not fooled, challenges the commander and the unit with extreme measures.

Newton is a stubborn anti-hero. His achilles heel is a disregard for his better informed friends (Maiko) and foes (Singh). A foreigner in this part of his own country, he is totally unaware of the power positions. The villagers are as much under threat from the guerrillas as the local militia, it does not matter to them which side burns down their houses and steals their food. Their understanding of democracy has nothing to do with the countless names presented on the voting machines – the village elder simply tells Newton that he is “selected to speak for them in the parliament in Delhi”. Newton’s one-man stand may be honourable, but he helps nobody, his pride bordering on arrogance. Still, he is preferable to the opportunists of all colours he encounters, and is rewarded in the end with a personal happy-ending.

Masurkar very clearly shows the limits of parliamentary democracy in a country like India where feudalism and religious bigotry are still the most potent pillars of the state. Newton fails not because of his lack of courage, but because he too believes in a democratic process, which is unachievable under the circumstances. He fails to acknowledge that the poor villagers are the victims of both factions fighting on their behalf. DoP Swapnil S Sonawane creates a real war zone in the jungle, contrasting very much with the city atmosphere Newton is accumstomed too. Rao is convincing as the prickly anti-hero, and Patil’s Maiko is calm and collected – qualities none of the men achieve. AS

BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | FORUM 

Beuys (2017) Free online at the Goethe Institute

Dir: Andres Veiel Germany 2017 | German, English, Doc | 107 min: English/German

The 12th of May would have been Joseph Beuys’ 100th birthday. To mark the centenary and shed light on the German artist’s legacy The Goethe Institute is offering a free screening of Andreas Veiel’s documentary about the artist.

Beuys attempts to capture the essence of one of Germany’s most famous conceptual artists, blending previously unpublished archive footage and informative interviews with the artist and his friends and collaborators, such as British art curator Caroline Tisdall.

The artist and visionary ‘man with the hat’ was, and still is, ahead of his time – thirty years after his death in 1986. He was the first German artist to be given a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, while at home his work was often still derided as the ‘most expensive trash of all time’. Once asked if he was indifferent to such comments he retorted: ‘Yes. I want to expand people’s perceptions.’ Beuys also later reveals that his art was ‘a weapon against the enemy’; his felt piano is considered by many to be one of his most accessible pieces. But the most memorable is his dynamic living multi-location sculpture that embodies his Green credentials – 7000 oak trees with stone pillars beside them, creating a constantly evolving art piece that aimed to be an international ‘method of communication’ or ‘Gesamptkunstwerk’ – the Japanese intended to contribute financially to the project, but have sadly failed to do so, as yet.

Andres Veiel lets the artist speak for himself allowing his cheerful, warm charisma to surface, hiding a difficult traditional upbringing in a well to do industrialist background in Cleves, where he was expected to take over the family business. The secret of his hat is revealed to be the result of a war wound while parachuting from his plane. Although he is no longer with us, his expanded concept of art feeds directly into today’s social, political and moral debates. Beuys will be Beuys. MT

GOETHE INSTITUTE 12-15 MAY 2021 | BERLINALE  2017 COMPETITION

Return to Montauk (2017) Bergamo Film Meeting 2021

Dir: Volker Schlöndorff | Cast: Nina Hoss, Stellen Skarsgard, Niels Arestrup | Ger/France/Ire | English | 106 min · Drama

Nina Hoss and Stellan Skarsgard grace Volker Schlöndorff’s elegantly chilled cocktail of literary lives and romantic recidivism that premiered in at Berlinale several years ago, then disappeared before coming to Amazon Prime

Stellan Skarsgard is Max Korn, a seasoned writer who knows how to project romantic illusions of love in his relationships, but whose fame has taken him to a place of unreality, and who’s totally unaware of it. During his life, he has moved through a series of female conquests without really engaging with anyone. In New York to promote a book with his latest – much younger – partner (Susanne’s Woolf fawning ‘creative’ groupie), he reconnects, via a business associate (a sinister and alluring Niels Arestrup) with Nina Hoss’ glamorous Rebecca.

Rebecca is another brief fling from the past who appears aloof at Max’s reappearance, scarcely concealing a troubled secret behind her own sophisticated persona. These central characters make a fascinating couple – much in the style of After Midnight: Max is accessible yet empty inside; Rebecca’s outward frostiness conceals a romantic but disillusioned idealist . An impromptu trip to the tip of Long Island to view Rebecca’s putative holiday home is the catalyst for a tender eruption of feelings that flood back when she confesses her troubles to the now enraptured Max.

Shot on a handheld camera in the slick Manhattan venues and limpid platinum beaches of Montauk, on the tip of Long Island, this an engrossing and emotionally moving story of lost opportunities and dreams that asks the question: do we settle for the ordinary or the life less ordinary? MT

SCREENING DURING BERGAMO FILM FESTIVAL’S Volker Schlöndorff. RETROSPECTIVE | ALSO ON AMAZON PRIME

somniloquies (2017| Berlinale Forum

Dirs: Verena Paravel, Lucien Castaing-Taylor | UK,France,USA | Doc | 77 min

Songwriter Dion McGregor became famous in the 1960s for narrating his dreams in his sleep. These often amusing reveries are the focus of Leviathan directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel in a documentary that conjures up the revealing reveries of our deep subconscious that float around when we fall into dream sleep.

McGregor is so far the world’s most prolific recorded sleep talker and his dreams have long been analysed by psychiatrists who claim that he speaks from his motor cortex. His softly spoken voice invites us into his dreamscape “come-on in, I said I would grant an interview”. He talks about his imaginary town for midgets where there are baby animals too. “Did you ever sea a midget twist? It’s the cutest thing”

Some of it is gibberish but other times his monologues verge on the semi-pornographic where he talks about a rape in a hijacked ambulance and creates imagined scenarios with neighbours and acquaintances such as Mrs Evelyn Dangerfield and her “platinum bush” and her butler Carver: “deep in the bowels of his room I think he’s really a carver”; and the lady who cuts elastic out of people’s underwear. McGregor also muses over “supervised conception” that takes place in a “fuckwaggon” on Fridays and the “watchwaggon” of Wednesdays: “we’re just a nation of voyeurs”. In the final moments of this intriguing visual experience McGregor grows agitated: “let’s go to future land, the present is squalid”. And that was only the Sixties.MT

BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017

Loving Pia (2017) AT ELSKE PIA | Berlinale Forum

Dir.: Daniel Borgman; Cast: Pia Skovgaard, Celine Skovgaard, Jens Jensen, Putte Jensen; Denmark 2017, 100 min.

Filmmaker Daniel Borgman (The Weight of Elephants) has achieved an astonishing hybrid between documentary and feature: his portrait of Pia, an intellectually challenged woman in her sixties, is a cinematographic declaration of love, not only for Pia, but for everyone who life difficult each day without help.

Pia Skovgaard lives with her mother Guittou (Celine Skovgaard) in a farmhouse on the Danish island of Langeland. Guitto is a translator in her eighties who grew up in France. Pia is fond of their goose Lola, whom she treats like an equal. We first meet her declaring she wants to marry Jose, who lives in Lusac. Her mother later tells her that she has picked up this person from the TV, and that she should look for a real person to marry. Pia goes every day to the day centre, where she enjoys occupational therapy and gymnastics. Guittou is worried that she won’t be around for much longer and tries to prepare Pia for a life on her own. On the way to visit a care home, Pia meets Jens tending his boat in the small harbour. Jens’ wife has left him, and he only has the occasional company of his sister Putte. The two begin a tentative relationship and Guittou hopes it might work out. But after Pia talks Jens into visiting the Den Bla Planet Aquarium in Copenhagen – both of them are fascinated with fish – the relationship flounders: Jens feels that Pia’s conversation is too lightweight: “you just want to make jokes”, dumping her on their return to the island far away from her house. At home, and we leave the two women as we met them: Pia trying to keep reality and fiction apart for her daughter.

The lyrical, poetic film language is underlined by the images, which are shot on 16mm with very long and fixed shots (shades of Manoel de Oliveira), which are different from the shot/counter shot and edit of the conventional narrative film. Whilst segments of the story are fictional, they are embedded in the real life story of Pia. LOVING PIA has a languid quality, which makes the audience part of Pia’s life: it works like waves washing up to the shore, leaving strong emotions behind. AS

BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017

Spoor (2017) | Berlinale Competition

Dir: Agnieszka Holland | Drama | Poland|Germany|Czech Republic|Sweden|Slovak Rep 2017 Polish | 128 min · Colour

Agnieska Holland returns to Berlin with a harebrained environmental thriller that gets off to a glorious start but gradually wanders way off piste in the snowy mountains east of Wroclaw, on the Polish Czech border.

It follows the exploits of a retired construction engineer turned eco-warrior who has nestled down to a cosy retirement in a pretty wooden chalet where she lives with her two collies, campaigning for animal rights and teaching part-time at the local primary school. .

One day her beloved dogs disappear. On a snowy winter’s night shortly afterwards she discovers the dead body of her neighbour next to some deer tracks. More people die in a similarly mysterious way. All of them were pillars of the village community, and all were passionate hunters, so Janina turns detective to find out what happened.

Initially the kind and cuddly Janina Duszejko’s efforts are laudable but gradually we start to take her less seriously as she degenerates into a tubby troublemaking Miss Tiggywinkle whose emotional outbursts do her cause a great injustice, despite her worthy efforts to find clues. This is a society that glories in killing animals, regales in the hunting season and even celebrates it in the local church, so a careful campaign is clearly needed sensitively to get to the bottom of things.

Ms Holland has been making award-winning films since the 1970s and SPOOR is spectacularly crafted on the widescreen as the camera sweeps across snowy landscapes where scampering wild boar, deer and badgers glory in their native setting. Summery flower-filled meadows and verdant hillsides glow with lush vegetation. This is a feast for the eyes.

So why does she ruin this marvellous opportunity to support animal rights and the anti-hunting campaign with a film based on an unstable earth mother who turns into a nutter, going into battle with her fellow villagers like an unguided missile?. The locals are an unsavoury bunch who delight in skinning animals alive, hunting out of season and gamble and whore openly. To shame them would be as easy as falling off a pine log.

Holland’s script is a collaborative effort based on Olga Tokarczuk’s novel. Clearly Agnieska Mandat relishes the thorny central role and avidly conveys the deep sympathy and anguish animal lovers feel when they witness cruelty. The support cast is poorly underwritten: Boros (Miroslav Krobot) the bug-hunting wayfarer who she beds and bonks; Dyzio (Jakub Gierszal) a young computer guy who suffers from seizures, and the subplot of a girl who is clearly being abused is never explored satisfactorily. All go to make this a sadly missed opportunity for something really resonant and meaningful. What a shame the animal kingdom has been let down. Antoni Komasa-Lazarkiewicz’s sinister score attempts and succeeds in initial gravitas. MT

BERLINALE 9-19 2017 | IN COMPETITION

Just like our Parents | Como Ossos Pais (2017) | Berlinale

 

Dir/scr. Laís Bodanzky. Brazil. 2017. 102 mins

Brazilian director Lais Bodansky’s domestic drama is an upbeat but fraught and female-focused affair that brings nothing new to the familiar theme of mother-daughter conflict and ineffectual fathers and husbands.

In a leafy upmarket part of Sao Paulo a pleasant family lunch on the terrace ends in a tears after a devastating revelation rocks the family foundations leaving a put-upon working wife and mother to re-evaluate her marriage, her career and even her origins

There is no easy answer when Rosa (Maria Ribeiro) discovers that her father is not the man who brought her up but a key member of the Brazil’s government. Her self-centred mother Clarice delivers the brusque announcement that she conceived her only daughter during a business trip and is not about to apologise for the affair which contributed to her own marriage breakdown. Hurt and saddened, Rosa terminates all contact but soon the two are talking again with Clarice delivering another bombshell:that she has terminal cancer. Rosa reacts to all this by turning her energy inwards to examine her own situation and decides to contact her real father.

Rosa’s husband Dado (Paulo Vilhena) is a lightweight environmentalist who flirts iwth his colleagues, avoids the chores then wonders why they don’t have sex anymore when leaving Rosa to do the lion’s share of school runs and cleaning.

This is a breezy and natural film with plenty of drama and shouty scenes leavened by shrewd insights. The lighter moments emerge when Rosa becomes close to another parent, Pedro, on the school run. The love hate relationship between mother and daughter is dramatically rich and certainly more mature than the resentments that poison Rosa’s turgid marriage in this decent but unmemorable Sao Paulo snapshot. MT

BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 |

 

 

 

Discreet (2017) | Berlinale Forum

Dir.: Travis Mathews; Cast: Jonny Mars, Atsuko Okatsaka, Bob Swaffar, Jordan Elsass; USA 2017, 80 min.

Writer/director Travis Mathews (Interior. Leather Bar) relies very much on atmosphere in this moody drifter/road movie, set in a desolate Texas, where the anti-hero is alienated and caught in a diffuse past.

DISCREET starts and ends in a setting alongside a stream where in the opening scene a black body bag is thrown into the water, but hardly moves. It is Alex (Mars), the main character, who throws the body bag into the river, and, throughout the film, he is in communication with Mandy (Okatsuka), who runs a website called ‘Gentle Rhythm’. It’s content is always introduced by image of flowery wallpaper, through which Mandy tries to communicate her peaceful mantra.

But Alex is anything but at peace: he seems to be traumatised by an enigmatic past, and is constantly driving around in his car. After we watch two men in a porn booth masturbating, Alex arranges a meeting in his bedroom between homosexual men, coaxing them into absurd sex games. But most of his time is spent with his grandfather John (Swaffar), who lives in a dilapidated cottage in a fenced in property, where Alex is questioned extensively before being allowed to enter. Soon Alex picks up the young boy Zack (Elsass), who might be his younger Alter Ego. The grandfather is suffering from Parkinsons and Alex employs Zack to feed John. Whilst Alex visits the porn booth again, Mandy declares that she “is ready for the day”. Finally we learn the secret of the body bag – but even this throws up more questions than answers.

Mathews was clearly trying to evoke alienation and displacement for an American male who has not freed himself from his childhood, reliving it is constantly whilst driving aimlessly in an hostile environment. Unable to have any meaningful relationships, he uses Mandy’s website as a form of outlet, dreaming of a better future, without being able to envisage it clearly.

But Alex’ fragmentation is duplicated in the film’s structure, which allows the audience not vey much insight. Whilst certain segments are interesting, they do not really form a cohesive narrative together. Doing away with a narrative structure is fine, but one has to replace it with something, not just impressions and repetitions. The male lead is too weak to drive proceedings forward in a meaningful way. DoP Drew Xanthopoulos has the thankless task of holding everything together. He tries his best and succeeds with some disturbing images, particularly in the claustrophobic world of the porn booth. But overall DISCREET fails to make an impression as a gay interest piece or a mainstream arthouse title – even at eighty minutes.AS

BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | Forum

Vazante (2017) | Berlinale Panorama Special

Dir: Daniela Thomas | Adventure Drama | Brazil / Portugal 2017 | 116 min · Black/White

This languorously seductive lush-mounted arthouse piece is the feature debut of Walter Salles’ regular collaborator Brazilian director Daniela Thomas. It explores transitional race and gender relations sixty years before the end of slavery, in 1820s Brazil, with a tantalising drama that focuses on a group of charismatic performances rather than adopting the more traditional approach of highlighting colonial myths.

composed on the widescreen and in intimate close-up in glowing black and white, her gorgeously teasing linear narrative slowly unfolds relying on atmosphere and a series of sparsely dialogued episodes which unspool against the backdrop of the glorious meadows and mountains of the Chapada Diamantina, that runs north and south through Bahia.

Mine owner Antonio has been forced to turn his back on diamond mining and switch to cattle and crops, in a remote estate where he lives with his black slaves and a group of indigenous retainers. Returning home from a trip he discovers his wife has died in childbirth, he decides to marry her pubescent niece Beatriz, who is a feisty tomboy who is unemotionally unprepared for a relationship with a man, and is still playing barefoot in the fields. Preoccupied with survival Antonio makes frequent forays to re-build his fortune and while he’s away, Beatriz is bored and lonely in their large home with only her taciturn grandmother for company with tragic results for all concerned.

Exuding a heady atmosphere of palpable racial tension intensified by its steamy steamy exotic setting VAZANTE is an impressive debut that will entrance cineastes with its gripping plotline, visual allure, feminine perception and captivating acting from a largely unknown cast. In pacing and ambience VAZANTE echoes Embrace of the Serpent. MT

BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | SPECIAL SCREENING

Django (2017) | Berlinale Competition

Dir: Etienne Comar | Cast: Reda Kateb; Cécile de France (Louise); Beata Palya, Bim Bam Merstein; Gabriel Mirété; Vincent Frade; Johnny Montreuil, Raphaël Dever | 117 min · Colour

Etienne Comar (Of Gods and Men) sadly fails in his attempt to bring the jazzy verve of Belgian-born Romany Django Rheinhardt’s music to the rescue of this rather earnest biopic, although it cleverly carries the undertone of Nazi persecution of his people during wartime France during 1943, based on the fictional novel Folles de Django by Salatko, who co-wrote the script.

After a thrilling opening in Paris where the musician entertains enraptured audiences while German officials set up a propaganda initiative against his ‘degenerate’ jazz, a narrative torpor sets in despite a game and committed lead performance from Reda Ketab as the charismatic and carefree strummer with Cecile de France seductively sinuous as his agent, who enhances his publicity value to the top brass, while remaining in cahoots with them. Django thinks his popularity will give him protection from the Nazis but wisely refuses to go on tour in Germany after pressure from the powers that be, taking refuge with his wife Naguine (the Hungarian singer Beata Palya) in a village near the Swiss border, where he reconnects with other members of his family, composes a classical work “Requiem for the Gypsy Brothers”, and makes a crafty bid for freedom via Lake Geneva into Switzerland, the Nazis hot in pursuit.

Despite its drawbacks DJANGO offers decent entertainment and is certainly worth a watch for its colourful cinematography and historic footage, but Colmar’s studious and rather stodgy narrative flies in the face of the cherished allure of the musician who captured our collective imagination and fondness with his effervescent brand of jazz. MT

BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | IN COMPETITION

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City of the Sun (2017) ****

Dir: Rati Oneli | Georgia / USA / Qatar / Netherlands 2017 | Georgian | Doc | 104 min · Colour

Up to 50 percent of the world’s manganese, a vital metal across the globe, used to be mined in Chiatura, in western Georgia. Today, it resembles an apocalyptic ghost town. Mzis qalaqi portrays a few of the remaining inhabitants. Music teacher Zurab dismantles ramshackle concrete buildings and sells the iron girders to make some money on the side. Archil still works in the mine but his real passion is the local amateur theatre group. Despite being malnourished, two young female athletes still train stoically for the next Olympic Games.

In his documentary debut, director Rati Oneli provides fascinating insights into a living environment whose bleak industrial ruins appear at once colossal almost like a film set. A jumble of clapped out electric wires and ageing cable cars runs through the city like the clogged-up arteries of an ailing organism that resists the flow of life in untiring fashion. Mzis qalaqi brings home the ephemeral nature. In a city where the sun never shines, only the inhabitants generate warmth. Oneli succeeds in achieving far more than the mining companies are capable of: His camera brings that most valuable of resources to the surface – humanity.

SCREENING DURING BERLINALE 2017 | Panorama section.

 

In the Intense Now (2017) | Berlinale Forum

Dir: João Moreira Salles | Doc | Brazil | 127 min · Black/White & Colour

In 1966, whilst on a cultural tour of China, the director’s mother captured on film her impressions of the country and its people. Forty years later, her son discovered her material. He comments on the images taken by his enthusiastic mother by quoting the impressions of Italian author Alberto Moravia, who also travelled through China and was able to closely observe Maoist policies. His mother’s journey during the first year of the Cultural Revolution also provides a starting point for João Moreira Salles’ exploration of other societies in the midst of upheaval. Making use of archive images, he dissects and analyses the Brazilian coup of 1964 and the end of the Prague Spring in August 1968. He also returns – repeatedly – to the Parisian riots in May which found a ‘star’ revolutionary and mediator between Paris and Berlin in the shape of Daniel Cohn-Bendit. An essayistic and at the same time personal exploration of the parallel stories of revolution in Prague, France and Brazil – and their failure. By juxtaposing amateur footage and archive material the film succeeds in pointing out connections between the sources of these images and their political contexts. Mind-blowing stuff and recommended viewing.

SCREENING DURING BERLINALE 2017 |

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