Posts Tagged ‘Berlinale 2019’

MS Slavic 7 (2019) ***

Dir.: Sofia Bohdanowiez; Cast: Deragh Campbell/co-dir, Aaron Danby, Elizabeth Rucker; Canada 2019, 64 min.

MS Slavic 7 is an intriguing title for a film. It refers to the catalogue number of a collection of 25 letters archived in Harvard University’s Houghton Library, and written by the director’s great-grandmother, the Polish poet Zofia Bohdanowieczowa, to her fellow poet Jozef Wittlin during their exile after the Second World War.

This melancholic essay film is a paean to poetry and displacement, and the filmmaker Sofia Bohdanowiez and co-director/lead actor Deragh Campbell do their best to bring the correspondence  to life. Wittlin (who lived in NY City) wrote between 1957 and 1964, first from Penrhos in Wales, then later from Toronto, Canada. Sofia is the literary executor of her great-grandmother’s output, and in this function she visits Houghton Library, meets a Polish scholar (Danby) and has a few contretemps with a Polish lady (Rucker), whom she has meets at a get-together of elderly Polish exiles. 

The trauma of permanent exile is documented in Zofia’s letter to Wittlin after she arrives in Toronto: “I still don’t write, I am still exhausted by the change, and feel like a fish out of water. I have always been terribly provincial and sedentary. Even in Poland, each trip to Warsaw terrified me, and only when coming back to Grodno where the crew changed and a train inspector had asked me melodiously: ‘tickets, please’, it felt like home”. In another letter she thanks him for sending her a photo comparing his gesture “with Polish bees”. Late she sends him “a hastily and confused letter” after the sudden death of her husband; with hopes that Wittlin “would be spared from parting and loneliness”. Later, she still complains about alienation in Toronto: “I sense a hostility in the grey city. The movement of the people and the traffic feels at once absent and menacing. Still, I hope that my stupid and sterile period is going to end soon”. When they meet for the first time “it is like an apocalypse”. 

Sofia is rather less expressive when it comes dealing with her great-great grandmother’s letters, her discussions with the scholar (who ends up in her bed – both of them reading the letters) show her difficulty in grasping the poet’s personality – Sofia can only imagine what exile meant for ‘Zofia’.

One of Zofia’s last letters to Wittlin is very much like a testament: “Still, you are right indeed. There was a veil of sadness over our meeting. That might have been because Toronto (in my opinion) is a sad city. Or even because everyone has sadness in themselves – how could it be otherwise for people without their homeland nor families?. And then came this meeting along with the uncertainty if we would ever see each other again”.  

Although the director’s own input is somehow hit-and-miss, Zofia’s letters provide compulsive reading with their thoughts from one permanently displaced person to another, piecing together their musings on a new place that is alien to both of them. Their homeland becomes a distant and poignant fading memory as they waste away slowly in the cold climate of exile. A valuable and worthwhile film that will offer comfort and context to all those living forced to live away from their families or in exile.AS




A Russian Youth (2019) *** on Mubi

Wri/Dir: Alexander Zolotukhin, Russian, 72 min | with: Vladimir Korolev, Mikhail Buturlov, Artem Leshik, Danil Tyabin, Sergey Goncharenko, Filipp Dyachkov

A poetic and lyrical First World War trench memoir set to a live orchestra playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Op. 30 (1909) and Symphonic Dances Op. 45 (1940).

A Russian Youth sees its freckled hero blithely setting out for the ‘Great War’. But the pastural romance of the early scenes soon gives way to the terrors of trench warfare. Our vulnerable hero loses his accordion, and then his sight. But his keenness to continue the battle keeps him at the front and deployed to listen out for enemy planes at the giant metal pipes that form a kind of early-warning system. Talk about using the difficulty!

Capturing the evocative poignance of Wilfrid Owen’s poetry, especially his keen ear for sound and his instinct for the modulating of rhythm, this small gem certainly conveys the “pity of war”. Its faded images transport us back to the greatest tragedy of the early 20th century: life would never be the same again. But there’s also a stylised, abstract quality to the grainy sepia-tinted footage. The camera follows the febrile action with an atmospheric, jerky quality, so reminiscent of the age. Cutting away frequently from the action slightly spoils the narrative flow of this delicate fragment of yesteryear, re-ignited by contemporary relevance. MT


Shooting the Mafia (2019) ***

Director: Kim Longinotto | With: Letizia Battaglia, Maria Chiara Di Trepani, Santi Caleca, Eduardo Rebulla, Franco Zecchin, Roberto Timperi | UK, 94′

Kim Longinotto chronicles the work of the very much alive photojournalist Letizia Battaglia in this moving but rather hagiographic affair. 

A Sicilian to the core, Battaglia has a visceral connection with Palermo where the Mafia was particularly active during the 1970s and ’80s. Her keen eye for a poignant picture captures everyday life in the impoverished capital. But she is best known for her photos of the Mafia’s brutality and, crucially, the affect it had on the victims concerned. Shocking snapshots reveal dead women and children bathed in their own blood; the startling aftermath of a street shooting, the victim’s wife tortured in agony at the scene of the crime. The documentary particularly highlights those fighting for justice, retribution and an end to the reign of terror: Judge Giovanni Falcone and his successor Paolo Borsellino who both lost their lives.

English documentarian Kim Longinotto won the World Cinema Directing Award at Sundance 2015 for Dreamcatcher her illuminating film on prostitution in Chicago. Clearly she is impressed with Battaglia, now 83,  who comes across as confident, hard-bitten and down to earth. Pink-haired and smoking her way through her story Shooting the Mafia is enlivened by TV footage, archival material and her own photographs. The film culminates with the important Mafia trial in 1986. The judge Giovanni Falcone was blown to bits in 1992. She talks of his fearless honesty and dedication. In some ways he is the hero of the piece.

Battaglia’s early life took place behind closed doors, her highly protective father shielding her jealously from the gaze of his friends and associates. This was quite normal back then. And so was an incident where a man exposed himself to her, leaving her bewildered and bemused. She married at 16 to the first man who asked, and had two daughters. Her story is interwoven with clips from Italian films the ’50s starring a blond Silvana Magnano, adding an upbeat vibe to an otherwise depressing tale of poverty, corruption and violence. Divorced in 1971, Battaglia fell into journalism, preferring to take photos rather than write for the liberal newspaper L’Ora. Her job was her life and she gradually worked her way through a series of impressionable – often much younger – lovers attracted by her earthy nonchalance and solid sense of self.  Two men, in particular, take part as her long term partners, both of them photographers who worked alongside her. And these men seem to feature more heavily in her world than her family: “I could talk about it but I don’t want to,”

There’s an impression that photography was a given rather than an ambition, almost as a default position due to her being employed by the paper. Mafia violence was an everyday occurrence in Palermo and someone had to go and record it for the paper. Although competently captured, there’s no evidence of any aesthetic behind the pictures. Indeed, she soon drifted from journalism and into politics as a Green Party local councillor, which is where she came across Giovanni Falcone. She felt too connected to the killing to take photos after his death, but this is the only time she discusses the equivocal nature of the photographer’s role. Her only relevant comment is personal: “When I look at my photos, I just see blood, blood, blood.”

The sensationalist nature of the subject matter is clearly the compulsion here. We experience a certain detachment to the photos of Mafia killings, and this is due in part to our familiarity with a theme that is so much a part of cinema history, with films like Goodfellas, The Godfather and Once Upon a Time in America. The most affecting segments of the film are those featuring the real victims and particularly the clip where the wife of one of Falcone’s bodyguards breaks down during the funeral. That said, this is a surface affair that often lets the peripheral life of its protagonist dominate the important nature of her work. MT





Tremors | Temblores (2019)

Dir: Jayro Bustamente | Cast: Juan Pablo Olyslager, Diane Bathen, Mauricio Armas Zebadua, María Telon, Sabrina de La Hoz | Drama, Guatemala. 102′

The wrath of God comes down on a Guatemalan financier who tries to leave his wife in Jayro Bustamente’s gloweringly oppressive sophomore feature. There is a definite touch of Garcia Lorca to this fraught affair that sees Juan Pablo Olyslager as the good-looking husband to Isa (Diane Bathen) and father of two in a prominent Evangelical family where the matriarch still rules the roost with fire and brimstone. Not quite as enjoyable at the Guatemalan director’s first feature Ixcanul (2015) this will certainly be popular with the LGBT+ crowd and arthouse audiences who have tuned in to the creative wealth coming out of South and Latin America at the moment.

Guatemala City looks strange and exotic in the brooding widescreen images of cinematographer Luis Armando Arteaga, who also lensed Ixcanul. And to complete the atmosphere Julien Cloquet has devised a haunting soundscape that compliments the tremors of the film’s title. It appears to be the rainy season adding to the gloom of this sombre story with its emphasis on machismo and the importance of holding onto your man – if you’re a woman, that is. But also if you’re a gay man. The LGBT+ community are really having a tough time of it in the bars and spas where Pablo (Olyslager) runs into tousled haired loose-limbed Francisco (Mauricio Armas Zebadua), who inhabits these haunts with an air of world-weary nonchalance knowing full well the competitiveness of his game.

Meanwhile behind the tight security of Pablo’s upmarket family citadel a battle rages to get him to see sense and realise the shame he is bringing on the family, particularly his parents, with a scandalous revelation that comes to light in the opening scenes. So serious is the situation that Pablo is also forced to resign his post amid accusations of paedophilia, leaving him a rather sorry figure as he hangs around the spa where Francisco offers neck massage.

His wife is being supported by the family housekeeper (Maria Telon) as she goes about her day trying to gain comfort from her girlfriends who urge her to focus on getting Pablo back, at any cost. This is further emphasised by the overt community prayers at the family’s Evangelical Christian church where the pastor (Rui Frati) and his brisk sidekick  (Sabrina de la Hoz) exhort the congregation into loud praying. There are some flaws in a script that focuses on the atmosphere of dread and wrong-doing rather than the exact nature of Pablo’s wrongdoing and why he agrees to submit to the church’s “conversion therapy programme” – a highly contemporary sounding measure in the traditional and devoutly Catholic country. As a result it all becomes rather telenovela-ish and histrionic. What does emerge from this striking feature though is the vehemence of the community against sexual deviation of any kind. MT


Normal (2019) ****

Dir.: Adele Tulli, Documentary; Doc, Italy 2019, 70 min.

Tulli makes a real visual impact with her sophomore feature that examines gender specific behaviour through a series of vignettes picturing everyday scenes in Italian life. Normal asks the question: how is male and female determined? Is it built on childhood expectations, or does it arise out of a need to confirm to society’s rules.?

Certainly, obedience is expected from females from an early age onwards: a little girl has her ears pierced and earrings inserted, whilst the man performing the task calls her brave, because she does not cry. Her mother confirms expectations: “Now you have earrings like Mummy”. Images of underwater gymnastics for pregnant women and girls keeping fit, contrast with little boys copying the “Alpha Male” role model on their mini motor-cycles, and encouraged by instructors not to show any fear. On the toy production line, pink plastic is formed to make irons, sold with iron boards for the girls. Much later a woman lectures brides-to-be: “there will be a big change in their lives after marriage: they will have to do the cleaning, cooking and shopping themselves.” And a warning to mothers with children not to neglect their husbands, or themselves. “This must NEVER happen”, the stern lady makes it clear.

Meanwhile, little boys play war games in the arcades, and semi-army instructors tell teenage boys that “the gun is an extension of your body”. A young man tells a younger male how to interview females. “Always lead the conversation, alpha males bite back, particularly with women who are bitter, you have to be able to stand-up to a woman”. In a church, the message for young brides, which we’ve already heard from a woman earlier, is reinforced by a priest: “Virginia, take care of him and yourself every day”. At a CD signing, the artist Antony has his hands full with under-age girls, overly enthusiastic to snog him. And at the ‘Miss Modena’ competition om the beach, twenty-year olds have learned to give the right answers, whilst parading in mini-bikinis and high heels. We watch two very different weddings: Illiana in her early twenties has a raucous party, with the wedding cake in the shape of a penis, whilst enormous dildos are everywhere. In contrast, a middle age couple marries in a beautiful theatre in Ferrara, in a retro 1950s affair. And finally, young mothers, pushing their prams while doing gymnastics to stay fit – are all heeding the warning given to them, not to neglect themselves or their hubbies. Ever.

Normal keeps a cool distance from its subject, playing out as a candid collection of images. In an interview Tulli said: “I consider documentary to be a “performative act” between images and the reality that they are supposed to represent. My approach to non-fiction does not necessarily pursue objective truths, but instead subjective perspectives. In other words, for me, documentary forms can be used to provoke a critical interpretation of the reality they observe. In my film, I aim to present a disorientating portrait of accepted ideas of normality, and to generate critical and open-ended perspectives to counter heteronormative narratives.” So there. AS


Bait (2018) ****

Dri/Wri: Mark Jenkin | UK 89′ | Format 4:3

Mark Jenkin’s seething seaside drama addresses several burning issues at the heart of British life. A poignant paean to the nation’s piscatorial traditions it also tackles the demise of our struggling countryside villages and coastal towns which have increasingly seen an influx of second home buyers inflating local property prices but bringing nothing tangible to locals outside the summer months. Even the sea is being invaded: Fishing quotas have seen British waters plundered and our once thriving fishing industry decimated. There are primitive issues at stake here about territory and human dignity and survival. And Jenkin handles these with a blunt simplicity that also manages to be evocative and darkly amusing. Like a Picasso sketch.

Being a Cornishman himself, Jenkin clearly knows what he is talking about in this taut and tight-lipped realist portrait of a coastline in crisis. Cornwall is very a much a character here: the soft burr of the local dialect, the traditional seafaring customs, even the sailors’ knots and lobster pots are key motifs throughout.

The film follows Martin (Edward Rowe) a glowering and surly fisherman who finds himself without a boat. His brother Steven (Giles King) has recommissioned it for pleasure cruises. They have also had to sell the family cottage to a wealthy couple Tim and Sandra (Simon Shepherd and Mary Woodvine), who have done it up as a holiday cottage cherry-picking from the vernacular to give it a twee nautical feel. (portholes, ropes etc). To add insult to injury they are letting out their neighbouring property on Airbnb.

Calling Tim a “prancing lycra clad c**t” Martin resents the couple’s financial clout when he is struggling to make ends meets, and parks his clapped out van infant of their cottage to drive the point home in an ongoing battle. He also dislikes Tim and Sandra’s daughter flirting with Steven’s son Neil (Isaac Woodvine). Despite his gruffness we really feel for him but Jenkin remains impartial, judiciously painting Sandra as a sympathetic character.

Bait brings to mind Soviet Montage, the strong-faced actors conveying their feelings with expressions rather than words, as they stare into the camera. Shot in black and white with a 1970s wind-up camera Bolex, there’s a crude grainy feel to the film making it feel rooted in the distant past but the radio broadcasts bring it right up to date. Jenkin often uses metaphors to replace unpalatable truths. Jenkin completely avoids melodrama even when tragedy looms. And when Martin finally confronts Steven, disbelief and sadness is expressed with evasive but significant words: “They got rid of mother’s pantry”.

But despite the hostility between residents and ‘tourists’ there’s also a salty humour at play throughout and a formal rigour. Bait is a quintessentially English creation that sees a small community determined to keep triumphantly afloat in stormy seas. MT

BAIT won the Grand Prix and the Audience Award of the 19th edition of the Polish New Horizons Film Festival | CINEMAS NATIONWIDE FROM 30 AUGUST 2019

Die Kinder Der Toten | Children of the Dead (2018) **** Berlinale 2019 | Forum

Dir: Kelly Copper/Pavel Liska | Horror | Greta Kostka, Andrea Maier, Klaus Unterreider | Austria 2019, 90′

Based on the mammoth ghost novel by Austrian author and Nobel-prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, Kelly Cooper and Pavol Liska direct, write and shoot this Super 8mm moral tale of Zombies, transposed to a contemporary Austria still haunted by its Nazi past and neo-Nazi present.

The filmmakers cleverly conflate a migration satire with a ‘herimatfilm (or homeland film) a style popular in Germany, Switzerland and Austria from the 1940s until 1970s, radically rejecting classical cinema to create instead a moody meditation on contemporary Austria, co-produced by the National Theatre and The Steirischer Herbst ensemble, The disonnant sound of the brass band is as disturbing as the mannered acting, reminiscent of silent cinema, and logically complimented by Inter-titles, whilst the macabre actors mouth their words.

At the ‘Alpenrose’ guesthouse in the Austrian region of Styria, Karin Frenzel (Meier) and her mother (Kostka) are eating dinner. The two are bitter enemies, and make no secret of it, their animosity overheard by the other guests. Suddenly a group of Syrian refugees appear asking if this is a Syrian restaurant, but are turned away by the fiercely nationalistic landlord and his wife.  Soon afterwards, Karin and her mother die in a road accident. But this is not the only tragedy to occur. A distraught forester (Unterrieder) has lost his two sons, and is scouring the woods in search of them, to no avail. This home-movie horror immerses us in the universe of the text – and somewhere else at the same time. The parade of zombies in the supermarket recalls the genre films Jelinek herself mentioned as an inspiration, only giving greater credence to the sense that this blend of text, performance, and film, was a terrific idea. Meanwhile the Syrian refugees are seen transformed into zombies, along with Karin, who is chasing her double. Whilst Karin and her double fight, the innkeeper’s wife falls prey to the Syrian Zombies, who speak in lyrical verse. Back at the Alpenrose Inn, now transformed into a gastronomic Michelin star restaurant by the Syrians, Karin and her mother have it out for the last time.

An understanding of Austrian history is somehow necessary to appreciate the finer details of why the Zombies wear yellow Jewish Stars, and other emblems of the Third Reich. The inter-titles are crafted in old fashioned German script which contrasts with   banal mise en scene. Somehow, Jelinek’s anger is channelled into a bluntly outrageous film language by the debut filmmakers in their startling unsettling fantasy horror, which leaves no room for compromise. The duo are from the Nature Theater of Oklahoma, and it’s no accident that their producer is Ulrich Seidl.

Children of the Dead won the Fipresci Prize for the Forum section of the 2019 Berlinale.






Grâce à Dieu (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Silver Bear Grand Jury prize

Dir/Wri: Francois Ozon | Cast: Melvil Poupaud, Denis Menochet, Swann Arlaud, Eric Caravaca, François Marthouret, Aurelie Petit, Amelie Daure, Bernard Verley | Drama, France 137′

François Ozon is known for his satirical wit and his relaxed views on sexuality. His Grand Jury Silver Bear winner By the Grace of God takes on the theme of abuse in the Catholic church and its affects on three men. But no matter how hard-hitting their experiences may be there is always a flinty glint of Ozon’s brand of dry humour peeping though to light the dark clouds of its heroes’ despair.

Grâce à Dieu is based on the real case of Father Bernard Preynat who in 2016 was charged with sexually assaulting around 70 boys in Lyon, François Ozon portrays the victims as mature men but reveals the lifelong wounds they have sustained. At the same time, the film criticises the church’s silence on paedophilia and asks about its complicity. As of January 2019, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin is standing trial for ‘non-denunciation of sexual aggression’.

Ozon casts three actors at the top of their game to play the trio: Melvil Poupaud is Alexandre a wealthy Lyonnais banker who has found success with his wife Marie (Petit) and five kids. He appears to be the one least damaged by the Preyan but when it emerges the priest is still working with kids, Alexandre decides to risk jeopardising his own settled existence and blow the whistle. His parents never gave credence to his feeling back in the day, and are still making light of them, but he goes ahead with a difficult confession to the Catholic authorities. It then turns out that happily married François is the next victim, and Dénis Menochet is less cautious about his confessions, bringing his explosive emotional potential to the part. Perhaps the worst affected is Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud) who claims his whole life has been traumatised by what happened, making it difficult for him to deal parent’s divorce and destroying his ability to connect emotionally with women, and this is played out in some incendiary scenes with his partner (Daure). Gradually others join the cause and we learn how each is struggling with their private demons while creating the self-help organisation ‘La Parole Libérée’ (The Liberated Word) is just the first step.

Some of the confessions are explicit and we’re never quite sure how far Ozon tipping the balance between salaciousness and pure honesty. This is also noticeable with reference to Lyon’s gourmet traditions and fine wine and there are frequent allusions to food which is considered as important as upsetting matter in hand when the men meet up, often leading to amusing non-sequiturs: (“anymore quiche anyone”?).

The magnificent Basilica Notre Dame de Fourvière dominates the impressive opening scene as the Cardinal Barbarin hoists a golden cross over the city, almost as a blessing for what is to come in this meaty, affecting and enjoyable saga that richly chronicles a true story whose implications and repercussions are still unfolding in the present. MT





Delphine et Carole (2019) Mubi

Dir.: Callisto McNulty; Documentary with Delphine Seyrig, Carole Roussopoulos; France 2019, 70 min.

Director/co-writer Callisto McNulty throws new light on the remarkable career of French actress Delphine Seyrig (1932-1990), who together with filmmaker Carole Roussopoulos (1945-2009) was one of the most noteworthy feminists in France from the late Sixties onwards. With Iona Wieder they founded the video collective Les Insoumuses (neologism, in translation Disobedient Muses) in 1975.

Seyrig’s directional debut was Ines (1974), a short documentary calling for the release of Ines Romeu, a Brazilian activist, who was incarcerated in the infamous “House of Death” of the Military Junta. she survived after years of torture and rape. And went on to meet Seyrig in the mid 1970s, when they bought one of the first Sony Portapak video cameras in France – the first was purchased by Jean-Luc Godard.

The duo staged and filmed a protest at the grave of the Unknown Soldier, pointing to the repressed fate of the even more unknown soldier’s wife and celebrating her with a massive arrangement of flowers. Seyrig also signed the ‘343 Manifesto’, admitting to have had an abortion, which was illegal until 1975 in France. Her apartment was the setting for a short film about the technique of abortion. But her first film project with Roussopoulos was Maso et Miso go Boating (1975), an ironic innuendo for Rivette’s Celine et Julie go Boating, in which different generations of women talk about their sex lives.

One woman in her sixties actually accused the younger generation of being lazy: “When it was over, I jumped up and down, I never needed an abortion”. Seyrig was also a member of the MLF (Movement de Liberation de Femmes).  

There are some illuminating TV clips from the mid-Seventies with the then Minister for Women, Françoise Giraud, former editor of Vogue and later co-founder of L’Express. Giraud supports a male journalist who states, “misogynists make the best lovers.” Later, Giraud sent a delegation to the filmmakers, urging them not to use her comments in the documentary. “Sois Belle et tais toi” (Be Pretty and shut up, 1981) followed, the two interviewing famous actresses like Jane Fonda who had been victims of “the male gaze”. Fonda reports“I did not recognise myself after my first make-up session in Hollywood – I was one from a long production line. They even asked me to have my jaw broken, so that I would have hollow cheeks. Oh yes, and a nose job too, because ‘my nose was too long, to be taken seriously in a tragedy”.

Maria Schneider makes reference to the friendships between male directors and actors on the set; whilst women often had nobody to engage with. Francois Truffaut confesses that “women end up scaring men”. There is also an amusing clip with a well-known chef seen declaring that there are no woman chefs or food critics, because women “are unsuitable” for these professions. In a short video, Seyrig and Roussopoulos filmed the protestations of sex workers who had to hide in a church to avoid being imprisoned by the police. The filmmakers were also part of the many groups who filmed the famous LIP strike, where women openly challenged the male Union for the first time.

In 1976 the two filmmakers produced “Scum’, the radical manifesto of early feminist Valerie Solanas from 1967. But the greatest achievement of Wieder, Seyrig and Roussopoulos was the foundation of The Centre Audiovsiuel de Simone de Beauvoir in 1982, an institution which has grown since to be one of the leading centres of Feminism worldwide.

Clips from many of Seyrig’s most famous features enliven this informative film that celebrates the founders of French Feminism. An excerpt from Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai de Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” is particularly relevant AS



Synonyms (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Golden Bear | FIPRESCI prize winner

Dir: Nadav Lapid | Cast: Tom Mercier, Quentin Dolmaire, Louise Chevillotte | 120′ Israel

Israeli auteur Nadav Lapid’s third feature is an incendiary portrait of psychological trauma. The trauma of a man on the run from himself. It also works as a migrant’s story, and follows an exiled Israeli soldier who fetches up in Paris determined to forget the past and forge a new future. There’s nothing new about the expat-in-Paris plot line but Lapid brings a refreshing physical energy to his drama making it absurdist and at times exasperating, but ultimately entertaining and watchable, though slim on plot lines and a bit too long. 

Tom Mercier is the unpredictable hero in this chaotic affair and exudes a high octane energy that propels the film forward though its highs and lows. Some scenes are engaging, others ridiculous and banal. Mercier’s physical presence alone is a force to be reckoned with, well-muscled and lean he conveys violent unrest and also vulnerability, best in the scenes when he takes his clothes off, as he often does. In one burst of action, he jumps up on a table and does a striptease to Technotronic’s club anthem “Pump it Up”. In another he endures a humiliating nude photo shoot for an off-the-wall artist, who pays him cash. 

 We first meet Yoav making his way into in an empty apartment in the fashionable Rue Solferino. where he strips down and has a bath before realising his stuff has mysteriously disappeared in the night. Passing out in the cold, he is revived by wealthy bon-chic bon-genre neighbour Emile (Quentin Dolmaire) and his musician girlfriend, Caroline (Louise Chevillotte). They provide him with clothes and money, and become entranced with his exploits taking him under their wing. Yoav immerses himself in the French language, desperately seeking work and surviving on a spartan daily diet of pasta and tomatoes. The characters of Emile and Caroline are never really explored in great depth and are just there serve the narrative representing the ennui of the classic French upper class. Their bourgeois inertia contrasts with the young Israeli’s emotional turmoil. He’s a character straight out of the holocaust: a scalded cat who’s jumped out of a fire. And we feel for him, despite his unease. The film’s entire focus is on Yoav and his maniacal attempts to make something of himself, and obliterate the past. You can take the boy out of Israel, but you can never take Israel out of the boy, and his homeland remains very much a part of his subconscious, especially when he secures a job in security at the Israeli consulate, where the memories of past trauma are re-lived. It seems that Yoav can never escape from himself, and that’s the crux of the film. Wherever we go to find happiness and freedom, we will always come full circle to meet ourselves again. Yoav seems hellbent on raging a war against his own demons. But by finale sees him finding a modus vivendi in the French capital, so the film does have a happy ending of sorts. DoP Shai Goldman, heightens the frenetic energy in long medium close-ups and handheld camera sequences that push things to the limit making this a challenging watch. Lively music choices, high fashion and Paris itself all contribute to this daringly vibrant displacement drama. You may feel bewildered, but you will not feel bored. MT


Systeme K (2019) **** Berlinale 2019

Dir/Wri/DoP: Renaud Barret | Doc | French, 94 min

The ‘Satan of Light’ is up to his tricks in the dusty streets of Kinshasa. Kids run away at the sight of horned head and ghastly grimace. 

Award-winning documentarian Renaud Barret (Victoire Terminus) records his encounters with Kinshasa’s street artists who entertain, shock and delight passers by with their quirky brand of street art using anything they can lay their hands on. This quirky and compelling film explores the very nature of creativity and ponders: Where does art begin? And where does it end?”

Known as Freddy, Béni, Kongo Astronaute, Strombo, Majesktik, Kokoko! and Geraldine among others, these people are creating sculptures, paintings, performances and installations in public spaces. Their work is not dissimilar to that found in the Tate or Saatchi galleries of London or MOMA, New York. They have yet to capture the attention of the international art world, but its only a matter of time. Their resourcefulness and passion to create is staggering to behold and reflects an extraordinary will to survive and a restless exuberance that is visually arresting and commendable, one of them explains: “living in Kinshasa is a performance in itself”

Materials include disused bullet cases, plastic waste, electronic scrap, smoke, monkey skulls, wax, blood, machetes and even their own bodies. This is not art for art’s sake but ground-breaking, urgent and politically satirical. Their themes are relevant, important and contemporary: exploitation, the privatisation of water, personal and national trauma and also, as a constant, the fascinating history of the Congo. 

Mastering his hand-held camera to brilliant effect in a stylish tour de force Barret shows us Kinshasa, a poverty-stricken metropolis where art is an unaffordable luxury and the location of a passionate and vibrant subculture claiming the city as its stage.


Breve Historia del Planeta Verde (2019) *** Berlinale | Panorama 2019

Dir: Santiago Loza | Drama: Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Germany | 90′
Santiago Loza was born in Cordoba, Argentina in 1971 where his edgy, award-winning dramas such as La Paz, Lips and Strange go down well with the arthouse crowd. There’s a Lynchian quality to his latest, a stunningly surreal story that revolves around Trans woman Tania who discovers her favourite grandmother has died peacefully after spending her final years with an alien. With two friends in tow Tania sets off across rural Argentina to bring the creature back to its origin. But when they arrive at Granny’s home in the depths of a petrified forest, the reality is even more bizarre than expected. Powerful childhood memories come flooding back to Tania. And the alien being is not the only surprise they encounter.
There are echoes of Amat Escalante’s 2016 feature The Untamed and even cult classic ET to this thrilling road movie that also works as a lyrical horror mystery. We never know what to expect. And Loza achieves this sense of discombobulation and dislocation with a mixture of magic realism, slo-mo camerawork, photo montage and an eerie electronic and ambient score that wafts us into the unknown depths of the dark continent, blending the commonplace with the utterly absurd, strange and uplifting: literally and metaphorically. Loza’s unique cinematic language and delightfully delicate visual style make this an ethereal experience. MT

Flesh Out (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir.: Michela Occhipinti; Cast: Verida Deiche, Amal Oumar, Aichetou Najim, Sidi Chiglay; Italy/France 2018; 94 min

Governments in the Western world are desperately urging people to lose weight. Not so in Africa. In her second feature Italian filmmaker Michela Occhipinti (Letters from the Desert) travels to  Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott where it turns out that Islam is at the root of the situation. And once – as in FGM – the matriarchs are in control. Occhipinti uses a non-professional cast to explores the conflict between Verida and a repressive tradition with lyric poeticism.

Young beautician Verida (Deiche) is expected to gain a great deal of weight so she will meet the requirements of her arranged marriage to Amal. Verida’s husband-to-be Amal (Oumar), is well off and drives a Mercedes, the usual car in North Africa. Her best friend, Aichetou (Najim) dreams of going to Cairo, and is proud of her rudimentary English, which includes phrases such as ‘good-bye’ and ‘fuck-off’. Both young women are clearly enjoying their life in the 21st century, and Verida is readying .Bonjour Tristesse’. But three months before the wedding, Verida’s mother Sidi (Chiglay) makes her gain weight, as is customary in the region. The intention is to gain a more imposing stature, and lend gravitas to their new family. Verida is totally against the idea and starts taking pills to counteract the gain – but to no avail. She finally challenges her mother, kicking over a bowl of food. Her mother reacts by taking her off into the desert, where she is force fed a mixture of milk and cereal, the same method for producing foie gras. When Verida spews out the brew, the women force her to eat her own vomit, and Verida’s mother condones their actions. After arguing with Amal, she decides to take charge of her life.

Flesh Out has a languid pace, Occhipinti takes her time introducing the main protagonists. Verida and Aichetou are very close, they daydream and have pillow fights, and although work is the centre of their life, but the family elders think differently, the men’s wishes enforced by the senior women in their community. A worthwhile and well-crafted experience, enlivened by DoP Daria d’Antonio fabulous desert scenes. AS


Out Stealing Horses (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir/Wri: Hans Petter Moland | Cast: Stellan Skarsgard, Bjorn Floberg, Tobias Santelmann, Jon Ranes, Danica Curcic | Norway, Drama, 122′

Stellan Skarsgard has retired to the Norwegian woods after the death of his wife, when the past comes back to visit him in Hans Petter Moland’s overwrought but enjoyable coming of age drama that revolves around a circle of guilt.

Nature and breathtaking-taking landscapes dominate a tale that opens in the small cosy cabin where Trond spends his days reflecting on the past and the fragility of memory and loss. Leavened with gentle humour this complex and evocative story sashays back and forth from the 1940s until 1999, adapted from a novel by renowned Norwegian writer Per Pettersen.

Trond’s rural idyll soon ends when he comes across his neighbour Lars (Bjorn Floberg), and he  recognises him from his youth. In flashback the teenage Trond (Jon Ranes) is spending the summer with his timber merchant father (Tobias Santelmann) in another remote part of the woods. Trond also strikes up a friendship with a troubled boy called Jon (Sjur Vatne Brean) who feels responsible for the death of his young brother, killed in a freak accident the previous day. His adolescent curiosity provides the subtext for a sexual awakening that permeates this visually stunning film. And this comes to a head when he meets Jon’s mother (Danica Curcic) at the family funeral, and later at a local event. But his fantasies are interrupted when he discovers, to his chagrin, that his father is having a full blown affair with Jon’s mother, and has been since the two were in the resistance movement together. Another tragedy then takes place during a logging session on the river. Moving the freshly cut timber downstream to be sold in Sweden, Jon’s father is badly injured. From thereon the two men’s animosity towards each other seethes in a drama more interested in atmosphere and surroundings than in creating a dramatic and suspenseful storyline.

Trond is the only character whose arc feels developed and convincing. And Skarsgard and Ranes really flesh out his character in a meaningful way, both bringing a brooding  intensity to this thoughtful but troubled man. The scenes they inhabit are meaningful, the rest if just pretty pictures for over two hours. MT




Buoyancy (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir.: Rodd Rathjen; Cast: Sarm Heng, Thanawut Kasro, Mony Ros; Australia 2019, 94 min

Rodd Rathjen’s feature debut has a worthy but not always convincing narrative. A teenage boy from Cambodia tries to find work in Thailand, but ends up being one of 200,000 boys from South- East Asia to ‘contribute’ six billion $ for unpaid work in the fishing industry of Thailand. More often than not, they will never see their homeland again.

Fourteen year-old Chakra (Heng) slaves away in the rice fields with his father and brother Kravaan, who is being groomed as the heir. Chakra only wants to find a girl friend, but is rejected because of his low social status. Fed up with the whole set-up he finally snaps and travels with smugglers to Thailand.  There he will have to work a month for free, to pay for the cost of the transport. But on the ramshackle trawler, where the catch is substandard seafare (to be processed into dog food), Chakra soon find out this is a life sentence of hard work. One of his fellow workers tells Chakra they “they are already” dead. The ship’s captain, Rom Ron (Kasro) and his second in command punish the crew mercilessly for any disobedience, and bind them in chains, before throwing them into the sea. Chakra’s neighbour, who is losing his mind, is bound with ropes and thrown into the water, whilst the captain brutally manhandles Chakra at the so the propellers catch Kea. More tragedy will follow.

Rathjen keeps strictly to a one-to-one realism, and DoP Michael Latham catches the doomed atmosphere on the trailer in moody images. But somehow the ending undermines what has been said before, leaving the audience with a muted reaction. MT


A Tale of Three Sisters (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Wri/Dir: Emin Alper | Cast: Cemre Ebuzziya, Ece Yuksel, Helin Kandemir, Kayhan Acikgoz, Mufit Kayacan, Kubilay Tuncer, Hilmi Ozcelik, Basak Kivilcim Ertanoglu | Turkish, 108’

A tale of Three Sisters seems like a step backwards for Emin Alper who started his career with the outstanding psychodrama Beyond the Hill. Frenzy followed promisingly, an Istanbul set story of political turmoil.

This folkloric family fable sees him back in another rural part of Turkey, in an Anatolian mountainside village cut off from the modern world. Here three daughters are trying to escape to the capital Ankara, but are thwarted by their poor skillset and the domineering men in their lives.

Almost like a Grimm’s fairy tale the feature is imbued with a mythical quality tethered in old world customs and beliefs. There is even a village idiot who somersaults down the valley with a macabre grin – and teeth to match. But the lack of a gripping storyline sees the film rambling on for nearly two hours without a strong dramatic arc to keep us engaged.

Life goes on as it always has in this village unable to learn by its mistakes. The men drink coffee while the women look after the home. The eldest sister Reyhan (Cemre Ebuzziya) has just had a baby boy and is married to Veysal (Kayhan Acikgoz), a superstitious, embittered loser who we first meet tending his sheep on a cold winter’s night. He soon abandons the herd when confronted by two men looking to buy the fold. And his cowardly nature is the key to the second of the film’s minor tragedies unfolding in the underwhelming finale. Death, birth and illiteracy are the main setbacks for women in this patriarchal set up

Havva (Helin Kandemir), the youngest, and the middle sister Nurhan (Ece Yuksel) seem unable to be trusted with kids and have been dismissed from their care-giving jobs in Ankara by wealthy urbanite Mr Necati (Kubilay Tuncer) who controls everyone’s lot in the village. They have taken part in the Bessemer tradition whereby girls from poor families go to wealthier ones. But due to State changes these girls often never get away again and are abandoned forever in old world poverty. Their kindly widowed father, Sevket (Mufit Kayacan), is determined to find the girls other positions although they are semi-illiterate. 

Before going back to Ankara, Necati enjoys an hilltop raki picnic with Sevket and the village chief. But an unfortunate contretemps develops with Veysal ending in a punch up. Angered and resentful, the herder goes home where he also upsets Reyhan with tragic consequences.

Shot on the widescreen the magical mountain panoramas dominate along with the hostile terrain and climate. DoP Emre Erkmen works wonders with the glowing interiors where dramatic colours compliment the girls’ heightened emotions echoed in the lilting tunes of folk singers and a tremulous violin score. MT


Ghost Town Anthology (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Interview

Dir/Wri: Denis Côté | Fantasy Drama | Canada, 97′

Auteur Denis Côté explores the aftermath of tragedy in remotest Quebec where the supernatural coalesces with the everyday lives of a blighted rural community.

Well known for his off-piste forays into Canadian backwaters Ghost Town most reassembles his Locarno Golden Leopard winner Curling (2010). There are also tonal echoes of his debut Drifting States, and even Xavier Dolan’s Tom a la Ferme, which was visited by a similar existential angst. Cote bases his story on the novel by Laurence Olivier, who also co-wrote the script. Silence reigns throughout the film apart from an occasional droning sound which adds to the doleful sense of gloom.

Ghost Town Anthology is an unremittingly bleak affair scratching at the edges of horror but settling instead for a mournful mood throughout; its dysfunctional characters stuck in the icy grip of inertia. When Simon Dubé drives his car at full throttle into a wall of cement, the entire population clings together, while a vortex of wind and snow rages through their flatlands home of Irénee-les-Neiges, a place of 200 odd people.

And odd is the operative word. After the crash a handful of kids play around the wreckage, wearing masks reminiscent of Edvard Munch’s Scream. They are the recurring human motif throughout the film, their identity revealed in the finale. At the funeral chirpy mayor Diane Smallwood (Diane Lavallée) fronts up vehemently despite the mood of despair, determined to raise the morale of her townsfolk with a firm belief in allegiance. “my door is always open”. But in vain. Angered by an offer of bereavement support from the local council, she reacts with thinly veiled hostility when the Muslim therapist arrives in the shape of Yasmina (Sharon Ibgui).

Simon leaves behind a family of three: his mother Gisele (Josee Deschenes) and father Romuald (Jean-Michel Anctil) are numbed by the grief and gradually go their own separate ways, suffering in silence. Simon’s look-a-like brother Jimmy (Robert Naylor) is left in state of shock. A coy George and Mildred style couple – Louise (Jocelyne Zucco) and Richard (Normand Carriere) – offer tea and sympathy to timid live-alone single Adele (Shelley Duvall lookalike Larissa Corriveau) who Richard describes as “a few lightbulbs short of a chandelier”. But her fears seem valid enough: she heard thuds and whispering voices in their house, and ends up suspended by own disbelief. Pierre (Hubert Proulx) owns the village bar and wants to keep his partner happy by offering to do up a dilapidated house at the end of the street, until they discover it was the scene of a brutal murder years earlier. And soon the regular appearances of random figures in the gloaming seem to point to the existence of ghosts from the past. A handheld camera conveys the unstable nature of the experience, but also the ephemeral quality of life.

Jimmy actually sees Simon at close quarters by the ice hockey pitch. Yet he has visited his embalmed body in its temporary morgue, awaiting burial, come the thaw. Romuald picks up a hitchhiker who bears a striking resemblance to his son. Adele also sees one of the masked children surrounded by static figures in the distance. There’s nothing baleful or malevolent about these people, lending them further credibility in the scheme of things. And their low key presence seems to lend credence to the Christian belief that the dead are always amongst us. Despite the bleakness that’s a comforting takeaway. MT






God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya (2019) ** Berlinale 2019

Writ/Dir: Teona Strugar Mitevska | Drama, Macedonia 100

Teona Strugar Mitevska’s fifth feature sets off with an intriguing concept and title but gradually peters out unable to maintain its initial momentum. All the themes are worthy and in place: Petrunya is overweight, unmarried and still living at home with her parents in her late thirties. Her masters degree in history is no help to finding a proper job.

Petrunya is not short of gutsy self-belief , largely due to her indulgent father who always supports her. But her traditional mother wants her to marry, and even serves her breakfast in bed. The possibilities for romance seem thin on the ground in this rural backwater and her meeting with a young police office also fails to ignite. 

Virginie Saint-Martin captures the grim realities of modern life in the drab riverside location of Štip, to the south east of capital Skopje, where Orthodoxy dominates – along with the men of the village. When Petrunya secures an interview at a local factory the owner first makes a pass and then insults her when rejected. On her way home she dives into the river to retrieve a wooden cross that conveys luck when caught as part of the religious men-only ceremony. Petrunya then makes off with the cross and the ensuing ruckus plays out in a skimpy narrative that turns on the question of whether religion or law is more important in Macedonia.  But this debate quickly loses steam – and our patience – due to an underdeveloped script, making promising lead Zorica Nusheva’s role all the more difficult. MT


37 Seconds (2019) *** Berlinale 2019 | Panorama

Dir.: Hikari; Cast: Mei Kayama, Misuzu Kanno, Shunsuke Daito, Makiko Watanabe, Minori Hagiwara; Japan 2019, 115 min.

Award-winning short-filmmaker Hikari has directed, written and co-produced her first feature 37 Seconds, a passionate but sometimes cloying portrait of cerebral palsy sufferer Yuma. Confined most of the time to a wheelchair, she is at the mercy of an over-protective mother who is afraid of being left behind, should her daughter gain independence.

Yuma (Kayama) is a gifted Manga artist whose work is exploited by her cousin Sayaka (Hagiwara), passing Yuka’s drawings off as her own and paying her a pittance in return. Yuma’s mother Kyoko (Kanno) is only interested in keeping her daughter under her own control, giving her no room to develop. Yuka’s father is absent, we learn later, when Yuka is visiting her twin sister Yuka in Thailand, that Kyoko has burned his letters and drawings to Yuma. She rebels and sends her portfolio to another publishing house where she is advised by the female editor, to have a sexual experience first if she wants to draw her Manga adventures. Yuma sets off to the Red Light district of Tokyo, hiring a male prostitute to have sex with – an experiment which goes wrong. She then meets sex workers Mai (Watanabe) and Toshiko (Kumashino) who take care of her, the latter travelling with her to Thailand to meet Yuka. Although Kyoko has tried to cut Yuma off from everyone but Sayaka, she has gradually come to terms with her daughter being a successful, independent human being, despite her disability.

The acting is impressive, particularly Kayama (who in real life is a social worker for cerebral palsy sufferers), and Kanno, who excels in her portrait of an overbearing mother, interdependent with her daughter. DoPs Stephen Blahut and Tomoo Ezaki enlivens the film with some impressive panorama shots of Tokyo and the Thai countryside, and always finds new angles to show Yuma’s fight for independence. But Hikari’s script is often too simplistic and far-fetched in her portraits of the altruistic sex workers. 37 Seconds (the time Yuma failed to breathe after being born) suffers also from a self-indulgent running time, but the rosy-coloured happy ending would have made Hollywood proud. AS




Hellhole (2019) **** Berlinale 2019

Dir.: Bas Devos; Cast: Alba Rohrwacher, Willy Thomas, Hamza Belarbi, Lubna Azabal, Mieke de Grotte; Belgium/Netherlands 2019, 87 min.

Bas Devos is back with another hybrid feature, a vision of urban anxiety and alienation. The feature works as an installation where actors represent Brussels’ lost souls, very much like his 2014 Berlinale winner Violet. 

Inspired by the Brussels’ subway bombings of March 2016 Devos shows us a world out of synch. Often the images break down totally: we get a black screen. Other intervals include long shots of the skies. We watch young immigrants from the Middle East, at school and playing football. “Brussels is called the Jihadi capital of Europe. It would be better to bombard us”. One of the youngsters is Mehdi (Belarbi). He lives with his parents and two younger siblings on a council estate. His older black sheep of the family Ahmed Ahmed puts him in a no-win situation: stealing their grandmother’s jewellery, so he can pay his debts. Mehdi resists. Another bewildered soul Samira (Azabal) makes the only spoken statement of the entire feature the rest are elliptical images: “Violence for me used to be pixels on TV, now I can feel that I can touch it”.  

Meanwhile, Wannes is in a permanent state of angst, unable to get hold of his son Boris, a fighter pilot stationed in the Middle East. He tries to reach him via Skype, but the connection always breaks down. In the Mall, the brutalist architecture and cement walls close in on the shoppers creating a claustrophobic hell. Wannes has a sister, Els (de Grotte), whose husband is dying. The doctor alleviates his last hours of life. The siblings share an unspoken closeness. But closer still is his German Shepherd, who sleeps on his bed. 

Alba (Rohrwacher) is convincing as a vulnerable woman with an eating disorder. Working as a translator with the EU, she is having a break from her fiancée who lives in Rome. Alba picks up a one-night stand on a strobe-lighted dance floor, and sends him away after sex. She knows her fiancée will do the same. When she has faints at work, the fear of something sinister leads her to ask Wannes for advice, but is not convinced she has brain tumour. “The internet says so”. 

It turns out that Mehdi couldn’t find the jewellery – or at least that’s what he tells Ahmed in the Mall. He sits down depressed as two armed soldiers tell him to “keep his backpack close to his body”. At the end Wannes gets a long message from Boris explaining his job: “All images are stored and filed away. There is nothing more to it”. The camera circles a fight plane, like a commercial.

Hellhole unfurls in the city’s drab interiors. Often we get still photos – humans, seem secondary, mostly talking behind glass, in disjointed conversations. Breath-taking and original, Hellhole is like the portrait of a space station, run by aliens, as humans become more and more impersonal. AS



Ringside (2019) *** Berlinale 2019 | Generation plus

Dir.: Andre Hörmann; Documentary featuring Kenneth Sims jr. and Destyne Butler jr.; USA/Germany 2019, 95 min.

Chicago’s South Side is notorious for its gang warfare and shootings. But for some whose only strength is in their fists, there is salvation. Andre Hörmann (Seanna – Alone in Hollywood) follows two young boxers from the notorious South Side of Chicago from their youthful exploits at the turn of the century to their professional dream of the present. The way their lives developed could not be more different.

Born in 1993, Kenneth Sims was trained by his father Kenneth sr, and both aim for the Olympics in 2012 via the US trials. Destyne Butler jr., two years younger than Kenneth, has the same dreams, and and shares them with trainer Nate Jones, a close friend of his father Destyne sr. The fathers are the impetus behind these young men: When Kenneth jr. wants to stop boxing, Dad tells him he can only do it, when he’s good enough. But once success is in the bag, the young man gets the taste of the sport, but he loses a decisive trial fight, and it all ends in tears, the dreams of Olympic glory gone.

But worse is to come for Destyne: charged with a minor offence he ends up spending the next four years in prison, failing to get an early release in “Bootcamp”, where the instructors punish him for ‘showing off’. Destyne sr. was no angel himself: dealing in drugs he managed to earn up to $10 000 a day – getting out before he was caught. “At least I got a house, a car – and you just have a few clothes” he berates his son. Nevertheless, he forgives him, after the young man writes him a letter apologising. Meanwhile, Kenneth jr., supported by his father and mother Norma Alexander, celebrate their son eventually becoming a professional in 2014, the boxer calling himself Bossmann, his  parents will be part of his team. To date he has won fourteen out of sixteen fights, and the family moved out of their one-room flat into a bigger apartment in a better part of town. When Destyne jr. is released from prison in 2018, his boxing skills seems to have suffered terminally, but with the help of his father and trainer he finally makes his successful debut as a professional fighter, going on to win his first bouts. Boxing seems to be the only ticket to get out of the South Side, as Destyne remarks at the end. But the sport also has its casualties: both men having seen several of their competitors die in the ring.

Andre Hörmann develops a close rapport with his protagonists, and DoP Tom Bergmann’s hand-held camera underlines that intimacy. Ringside is an upbeat story with a happy ending, but the director leaves us with no illusions about the fate of the not-so-lucky ones –or indeed the future of Kenneth and Destyne when their boxing careers are over.   

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019 | Generation 14 plus

Baracoa (2019) *** Berlinale | Generation 2019

Dirs: Pablo Briones, Sean Clark, Jace Freeman | Writer: Pablo Briones | Docudrama: 89′

This freewheeling cinema vérité portrait of Cuban boyhood soft pedals around the stamping ground of two fresh-faced youngsters in the sultry side-streets and playgrounds of Pueblo Textil. Exotic birds croon and dogs bark but the boys chatter has no urgency as they hand out together and idly shoot the breeze.

Free from mobile phones, computers and even football play is important for heathy brain development. And Baracoa serves as a refreshing look at how kids use their creativity while experimenting and developing their imagination, physical and emotional dexterity. Language develops as they learn to engage and interact with each other in the world around them, letting their minds run free. Sometimes their banter is full of insults: “you actually look like a lizard” says Antuán. “You actually shaved your legs, like faggots do” retorts Leonel. Clearly they have a rich inner life and are not as innocent as they look. And these amusing interludes and Jace Freeman’s fluid camerawork and limpid visuals make this an enjoyable watch for any audience.

Antuán and Leonel are roughly the same age, 13. Lithe and tanned by sunny days in the Cuban outdoors, to our sophisticated eyes they seem much younger. Antuán is the dreamer and Leonel his loyal sidekick. They discover a dead blackbird, and experiment with fire, quite literally – in the abandoned ruins of a disused swimming pool, dreaming of a day on the beach, but not quite sure how to get there. Theirs is a simple, impoverished life – but rich in adventures and wonder. And infinitely preferable to some rain-soaked gaming arcade in the Northern hemisphere. At the end of the summer Antuán will move to Havana, so these holidays may be the last they spend together. MT




Monsters (2019) *** Berlinale | Forum 2019

Dir: Marius Olteanu | Drama, Romania

In a digitalised age of social media reality and perception drift further and further apart. In his feature debut Romanian writer-director Marius Olteanu challenges our perceptions by questioning the gap between who we really our and the persona we project onto others. It’s a fascinating and timely premise and one that Olteanu treats cinematically and quite inventively in this often claustrophobic drama that follows a married couple during 24 hours in the capital Bucharest. It also explores the clash between traditional social values in this predominantly Catholic country and individual needs, particularly sexual desires. And the increasing intolerance of minorities.

Dana and Arthur are a popular couple who have been together for almost 10 years. Yet individually they struggle with their inner demons and have few close friends. It’s almost as if they can only function by keeping up a strict facade of togetherness when what they really want is something quite different. And accepting this with tolerance and understanding might actually be a greater form of love than that defined by sexual expression.

Using the academy ratio and filming in intimate close-up, often from the confines of tight spaces, such as the taxi where Dana spends the night while Arthur wanders around the city and pursues various encounters, this is a drama that focuses closely on its lead characters and doesn’t let them get away from their own, often uncomfortable feelings of angst, frustration, ennui and even coiled paranoia. Structured in three parts: one focuses on Dana, one on Arthur and the third examines their joint dynamic. The first two parts play out on the same night, when the couple, avoid going home, preferring to spend the night in the company of strangers. Dana goes to the length of paying a taxi driver to stay with her in the car for the night, while Arthur wanders around the city and decides to meet a man through a dating app. However, the following day, as much as they have tried to avoid it, they must now face reality. There is a voyeurish quality to this arresting first feature that allows us space for our minds to wonder what is means to love and to be free to explore and find satisfaction, while quietly contemplating a couple in a crisis of their own in  contemporary Romania. MT

BERLINALE 2019 | Forum Section | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

A Colony | Une Colonie (2019)

Dir: Geneviève Dulude-De Celles | Cast: Émilie Bierre, Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie, Robin Aubert, Irlande Côté, Noémie Godin-Vigneault, Cassandra Gosselin-Pelletier

Life isn’t easy, as two sisters soon find out in this impressionistic French Canadian coming-of-age drama about teenage angst and sibling rivalry in the outskirts of Quebec. The film also deftly raises the more provocative profile of Canada’s colonial past, without making a meal of it.

It all begins when the youngest girl Camille (Irlande Côté) sees a chicken being pecked to death in the field behind the family’s new home. She is visibly upset by the animal’s suffering, but rather than offering sympathy and support, her new school friends mock and taunt her for her sensitivity towards animals. Later, her older sister Mylia (Émilie Bierre) explains it away as ‘the law of the jungle’. And this metaphor plays out as the delicately drawn story unfolds.

Ironically Mylia emerges as the more introspective of the two girls, discovering boys in her new school and experimenting with clothes and make-up. Looking a bit like a teenage Dakota Johnson, Bierre is convincing as the diffident teen who strikes up a rapport with a slightly older school friend Jacinthe (Cassandra Gosselin-Pelletier) — who encourages her to push the boundaries with alcohol and boyfriends. But Mylia’s not quite ready for all this and finds her thrills in other directions. Soon she meets Jimmy (Jacob Whiteduck-Lavoie), a thoughtful and creative boy who lives with his grandmother in a local Indigenous community, and through whose character the director touches on Canada’s Euro-centric view of history in a feisty classroom encounter.

With remarkable performances from its young cast, particularly the two sisters, Une Colonie doesn’t try to find easy or schematic ways of portraying growing up, and shows that teenage fun doesn’t have to rely on rampant sex and drugs, especially when home life is unsettled and bewildering. Instead, she offers a poetic riff on so-called ‘rainbow parties’, classroom antics,  and amorous encounters, showing how girls really think, talk and interact at this adolescent time of life. And there are some genuinely moving scenes throughout this cinema vérité gem. An easy-going score of contempo beats and some glowing camerawork completes this teen arthouse package which is suitable for audiences of 13 upwards.


Hormigas (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Forum


Dir.: Antonella Sudasassi Furnis; Cast: Daniela Valenciano, Leynar Gomez, Isabella Moscoso, Avril Alpizar, Kyrsia Rodriguez, Carolina Fernandez; Costa Rica 2018, 94 min.

Antonella Sudasassi Furnis has embellished her short film El Despertar de las Hormigas exploring the gradual emancipation of a seamstress who lives with her blokeish husband and two daughters in small town Costa Rica where the family is everything.

There’s pressure on all sides for Isabel (Valenciano) to have a third child – husband Alcides (Gomez) and his domineering mother talk of nothing else at a family gathering. But Isabel has enough on her plate: daughters Valerie (Moscoso) and Nicole (Alpizar) are demanding, and since Alcides is not much help, Isabel has to cater single-handedly for their needs. Then there is granny, who takes off with children one day, without letting Isabel know. She is livid, but Alcides sides with his mother: she only means well and wants to help. Still under the maternal cosh, Alcides is not a great provider: his casual work doesn’t  feed the family, and only Isabel’s skills with the sewing machine makes it possible for them to survive. Nevertheless, Alcides wants a son (sic!) and dreams about building a house for them all, despite not enough enough for the bare essentials. He life revolves around a macho group of men: when Isabel watches him playing football with relatives at another family event, she might as well be watching her own son. Best friend and client Mireya (Fernandez) is on the pill, because her doctor told her it would sort out her gynaecological problems. So Isabela follows suit, without telling Alcides. After a vivid dream where she runs her own business, she decides to make some changes.

Most interesting here are the family dynamics: and it’s the other women who are constantly on at Isabel to Isabel is procreate. Women are socially competitive, and vying with each other for children and wealth. But the couple’s sex life is dire: Isabel prefers to masturbate whilst her husband sleeps next to her, and when she is having sex with him, she looks at the ceiling, waiting for him to finish. Her great love – for the moment – is dealing with fabrics and designs, hoping to one day run her own shop.

DoP Andres Campos lets the camera follow Isabel every step, she is at the centre of every colourful scene, the panning shots capturing her very basis surroundings and transforming them into something special, a she dreams about her future. This might be a simple story, but the director has created a passionate and intense portrait of a young woman trying to break away from a suffocating family life. AS


The Golden Glove (2019)

Dir: Fatih Akin | Drama | Germany, 2019 | 102’

There are brief echoes of Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul in the opening scene of The Golden Glove. This schlocky sortie into the squalid life of a serial killer also brings to mind Ulli Lommel’s cult thriller The Tenderness of Wolves. But that’s where the comparison ends. These films offered another string to their bow. Akin’s thriller just revels in its own ghastliness, descending into a desolate world of bars and pick-up joints where in 1970s West Germany, Fritz Honka was a voracious sexual predator, butchering his victims at will.

Chilling it is not, nor remotely terrifying. The true story plays out as a pointlessly gory procedural recording each death with sensationalist fervour. Blood, gore, body parts and disgusting lavatories – you’ll laugh and shake your head at the mindless depravity of it all. 

Rather than explore the psychological profile of this demon, Akin just pictures the gruesome daily grind of Fritz Honka, a Hamburg psychopath who kept dismembered body parts of prostitutes in his attic flat in the red light district of St Pauli. When visitors complained about the smell, Honka blamed his Greek Gästarbeiter family that lived downstairs “and didn’t work”. There’s no attempt to humanise the murderer or to probe his inner life or backstory. Honka remains a cypher from beginning to end.

This is a film that doesn’t serve anyone – least of all its victims. It takes a swipe at racism and ageism but forgets to condemn misogyny. But as the credits roll, the films suddenly turns sentimental offering up poignant portraits of the real women who died – as if suddenly coming to its senses in a bid to do the right thing. We go home without understanding or clarification. A tawdry tribute to those who died.@MeredithTaylor



The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir: Syllas Tzoumerkas | Cast: Angeliki Papoulia, Youda Boudali, Hristos Passalis, Argyris Xafis | Drama | Greec | 120′

There is a sisterhood in Greece, according to Tzoumerkas. This hysterically overwrought melodrama takes place in a swampy eel-farming backwater in the west of Greece, where two woman live out their own personal trauma. Elisabeth is an alcoholic single-parent police chief, Rita (co-writer Boudali) is the subdued soul sister of a local ‘rock star’. They are brought together after the tragic death of a lounge singer. Worn out and world-weary Elisabeth is neverless as sharp as a nail. Drinking heavily she smokes like a chimney throughout this lagubrious eel-themed affair.

Rita’s bullying brother Manolis (Hristos Passalis) is a slippery eel of another kind. He runs a nightclub where he uses her as a hostess to deal drugs through his establishment. Close to his mother he is also a pampered narcissist with dreams of international stardom. But his mistake is also to mock Mesalonghi in a song he sings at the club one night.

And it all ends in tears on the beach in the small hours. But not before bizarre bacchanalian orgies involving drugs, drinks and multiple orgasms enjoyed by Manolis and his friends. Rita is sadly drawn into this dysfunctional debacle and somehow Elisabeth tunes into her pain and decides to help her in the intense finale. Heavy stuff. MT


Who you think I Am (2019) **** Berlinale Special

Dir: Safy Nebbou Writer: Safy Nebbou, Julie Peyr | Cast: Juliette Binoche, François Civil, Nicole Garcia, Marie-Ange Casta, Guillaume Gouix, Jules Houplain, Jules Gauzelin, Charles Berling, Claude Perron | French, 101′

A little bit late to the party comes another film about female sexuality post forty. Bright Days Ahead started the trend. And Claire Denis and Juliette Binoche did a great job with Let the Sun Shine In (2017),. Now Binoche lends her talents as a similar woman in Who You Think I Am, a much darker and more introspective look at the loss of sexual power and identity in late middle age. And about the aching void this leaves in a woman’s life affecting her wellbeing and confidence.

As Bryon once wrote: “Man’s love is of man’s life a part; it is a woman’s whole existence”. Not satisfied with being a mother or a literature professor in Paris, 50- year old Claire (Binoche) misses being desired, touched and lusted after. Abandoned by her husband, and keen to understand why her younger lover has also left, she idly delves into Facebook for a solution. And soon she’s inventing a fake profile and befriending his assistant Alex, 29, masquerading as 24-year-old Clara, and Alex takes the bait. Conversations with her shrink intense (Garcia is masterful as Dr Boormans) and the two women become enthralled in the story that Claire is creating, Boormans finding it hard to remain professional.

As their flirty chat intensifies on social media and phone calls, Alex is soon in thrall to the woman of his dreams. Claire does the maths and reality bites. Lacking the confidence to meet Alex in person, she has meanwhile grown accustomed to his online attention, feeding her feelings of lust and longing. And she knows how to keep him onboard. But not for ever. As she deludes Alex, she is also deludes herself and this feeling sends her spiralling back into desperation. If she looked young again, she could be having real sex with this guy. But if she was confident, maybe he wouldn’t mind her ageing body, as he already loved her mind. And his feelings were real.

Based on the eponymous novel by Camille Laurens, Safy Nebbou convincingly probes Claire’s drift into virtual reality exploring it from different perspectives. Juliette Binoche delivers an incredible portrait of a woman struggling to cope with the wounds inflicted by loneliness and growing older. MT



Waiting for the Carnival (2019) | Berlinale 2019 | Panorama

Dir.: Marcelo Gomes; Documentary; Brazil 2019, 86 min.

Writer/director Marcelo Gomes has studied in the UK and his – mostly documentary – features show the influence of Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. In contrast to his last Berlinale film Joaquim which explored Brazil’s national hero, Waiting for the Carnival, is a personal journey into his past: His father, a tax collector travelled with young Marcelo in the north eastern Agreste region of Brazil: poor and dominated by agriculture. Father and son spent many days in the sleepy town of Toritama, where “people were waiting for time to go by”. 

Today Toritama is the “Jeans Capital” of Brazil. Twenty million pair of jeans, or twenty percent of the national output are produced in this town of 40 000 inhabitants. Apart from the big factories, local workers have founded their own ‘factiones’, where the owners have taken neo-liberalism to heart: they work round the clock – from six a.m. to ten p.m. with generous meal breaks. They all own their own machines, producing up to 1500 jeans a day. Often, family members help,  even the children. For example, you get paid $1,000 to sew zips into the fabric. A far cry from the pay structure Marcelo’s father was used to half a century ago, when local workers earned a mere three to four US$ a week, working on the land, dominated by sugar cane, or pulling out tree stumps, as one elderly worker remembers.

When Gomes challenges the workers mildly for ‘self exploitation’, he is sternly rebuffed: “There are people in Africa starving to death”. Nobody starves to death in Toritama today – flat screen TVs and fridges are part of every household. Huge advertising boards proclaim the industry’s dominance, but not everyone is happy with the way things are. Pedro is building a house for his friend. As a reward, he will have a work place in the ‘factione’ to be established in the new building. But Pedro misses spirituality, he dreams of becoming a prophet, but is resigned to the fact that he won’t reach his goal, largely due to alcohol. Meanwhile, an old goat herd still lives the life Gomes experienced as a child. The man is adamant that the younger generation have sacrificed everything for consumer good. He reminds the director of times gone by, when the pavements were full of people in their rocking chairs – today the same pavement is used to clean the threads. Young women model jeans, and then there is “Gold Man”, a jeans manufacturer, who produces ‘luxury’ jeans, costing exorbitant amounts of money. 

But when the Carnival arrives it’s a different story. Everyone who can, sells their TVs and fridges, to spend a week at the beach. Then Gomes is left alone in the city, as peaceful as he remembers it in the past. His father called Toritama “land of happiness” – and for one week a year that’s how it is. Afterwards everything is geared to “365 days to Carnival time”.

Pedro Andrade , Gomes shows a clash of two different cultures divided by half a century –  held together by the yearly festivities. The director might not like the new way of life, but it is here to stay – until something new comes to town. As



Acid (Kislota) (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Panorama

Dir: Aleksandr Gorchilin | Drama: Russia 97′

Russian actor turned director Aleksandr Gorchilin (The Student) steps behind the camera for this boldly cinematic and uncompromising look at contemporary Russia through the eyes of a group of friends in the capital, Moscow.

Don’t be misled by the title being a reference to the drug-infused times of the last century. The Acid of the title refers the corrosive liquid used by one of the group in his art sculpting studio. By way of experimentation, one of them idly decides to take a gulp of the substance  and ends up in hospital with a nasty burn. The acid in question also provides a nifty metaphor for the moral bankruptcy amongst these sybaritic young things, who are literally being eaten away from inside by their decadent lifestyle that indulges in a freewheeling, non-committal lifestyle – and of course, they blame their parents. As one of them quite rightly points out: “Our problem is that we have no problems”. Their days consist of a bit of yoga, computer work and aimless sex or dancing in the city’s ubiquitous nightclubs.

Gorchilin’s debut feature is more impressionist that narrative-driven, but there is a loose and engaging plot line at work: Sasha and Petya are your average young Muscovites drifting through their twenties dabbling in drugs, music and casual relationships. Sasha in particular feels disempowered by his lack of potential in any direction, and his recent break-up with Vika has left him diminished. He comes under more pressure when his mother comes to stay in the high-rise flat he shares with his grandmother. Naturally she knows better – and is also vegetarian – and she tries to instil confidence in her son while maintaining the moral high ground. But the suicide of one their friends provides the wake up call for them to wake up and smell the coffee, and make some definite plans for the future.

Pleasantly scoreless and elegantly framed and shot around Moscow, making great use of the city’s urban panoramas and stylish domestic interiors. Performances are strong, and Filipp Avdeev (Leto) makes a convincing Sasha bristling with indignation one minute and bewilderment the next. ACID provides another worthwhile snapshot of modern Moscow, not as bleak as the one we experienced in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless but quite desperate nevertheless, but a far cry from the gritty realism of Alekesy Balabanov. MT

BERLINALE 2019 | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019  | Winner of the debut concourse at the 2018 Kinotavr festival.

My Extraordinary Summer with Tess (2019) **** Berlinale | Generation Kplus 2019

Dir: Steven Wouterlood | Anna Woltz, Laura van Dijk | Cast: Jennifer Hoffman, Hans Dagelet, Terence Schreurs, Guido Pollemans, Sonny Coops Van Utteren |

South Holland (Zeeland) has some fabulous islands and white sandy beaches and provides a sun-baked summer setting for this coming of age story based on the book by Anna Woltz and directed by Steven Wouterland, one of Variety magazine’s 10 Europeans to watch.

Young teenager Sam (plucky newcomer Sonny Coops Van Utteren) arrives with his family and gets to know Tess who is slightly older than him, and on holiday with her feisty mother. The two will spend more and more time together after Sam’s older brother Jorre is confined to a wheelchair on day one of the summer holidays, with a broken leg.

Wouterlood and his cinematographer Sal Kroonenburg create a terrific sense of place in the glorious soft dunes and wide-open windswept seascapes of Zeeland. It’s a back to nature sort of place where cycling, wind-surfing and horse-riding are the order of the day. And the the two muck about on the beach, getting to know each other, Sam is a thoughtful young teen and clearly more emotionally mature than Tess gives him credit for, when he warns her not to flirt with his brother, who has a girlfriend back home. But the mood soon becomes more introspective when Tess lets on that her father is no longer on the scene, and she’s not sure where he is. For his part, Sam admits that he worries about being alone and outliving everyone else, as the youngest in his family. For that reason, he’s practicing being alone and developing a sense of sell-reliance he calls “aloneness training”. But Tess soon cheers him up with her very own madcap scheme involving a quiz. This appeals to Sam who is a mine of useless information. And suddenly being alone is not an option anymore. But despite all this Sam makes a drastic decision that puts his close friendship with Tess in jeopardy. It will change Tess’s life forever.

With an original score that very much sets the tempo for this footloose adventure, MY EXTRAORDINARY SUMMER is an upbeat film that handles its tonal shifts with dexterity and is not afraid to explore more serious themes such as loneliness, love and even death. There are moments of fun, frivolity and sadness too in a well-crafted story suitable for the over 10s. MT


Earth | Erde (2019) **** Berlinale | Forum 2019

DIR: Nikolaus Geyrhalter | Austria | Doc, 115′

Austrian documentarian Nikolaus Geyrhalter explores man’s monstrous impact on our planet by examining seven places particularly under siege.

Geyrhalter is a deep thinker who takes a world view and paints on a grand canvas to convey his weighty themes. And although his topics are not always palatable or easy to digest. His concerns are basic yet far-reaching: migration (The Border Fence), Nature vs. Man (Homo Sapiens); health (Danube Hospital); food prodcution (Our Daily Bread) and the 24 hour society (Abendland). Standing back from his subject matter and quietly recording the facts, his ambivalence allows us time and space to consider and form our own ideas.

EARTH is his eighth feature length film in ten years. Divided into 7 chapters, it is another ambitious, immaculately crafted, high end experience, yet the people who inhabit the film are practical, sharing mundane thoughts and experiences as he films them in long takes in the centre of the frame. Then the screen opens up to vast panoramas and then aerial views of mines and construction sites in California’s San Fernando Valley, Fort McKay, Alberta); the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy; Gyongos, Hungary; Carrara, Italy where the white marble comes from; Rio Tinto copper mines in Spain; and Wolfenbuttel, Germany. Gigantic machines crawl like behemoths on the face of the earth, digging and puncturing – not to mention the occasional explosion. It’s a hostile and even frightening sights as man plunders and probes.

Artistically and logistically bold, and ecologically troubling, the film is a mammoth endeavour. And non of the workers and experts who enliven this ecological study  with their comments admit to being largely ignorant of what they will find next as they scour and delve deeper and deeper into the earth’s core. An Italian worker in Carrara expresses his sorrow for taking giant blocks of marble away from its mountain home commenting:. Soon there won’t be anything left and our ancestors will have to move on the Moon.

The doc, divided into seven chapters of roughly fifteen minutes each, examines man’s devastating impact on the fabric of the plant Earth, endlessly chipping away and scar the landscape, Earth sees man taking over the natural environment, in contrast to Homo Sapiens that sees man’s claiming back its territory. But as the film wears on the ethical issues raised become more and more critical: “Are we a good species”? asks one expert. And one feels that the answer if possibly a clear “no”. We have fetched up on the planet and largely abused it for our owns ends. In the ‘Anthropocene’ era, our incessant intrusion on the natural environment seen through deforestation, mining and construction, together with the use of deleterious man-made materials such as plastic have no doubt led to climate change and pollution of the seas and nature.

There’s a surreal, rhythmic feel to this non-ruminative film. Geyrhalter acknowledges it all with a distant non-judgemental eye, more concerned with the labouring workers whose feint grasp of the apocalyptic enormity of their imprint often beggars belief in the scheme of things. MT


Öndög (2019) **** Berlinale 2019

Dir: Wang Quan’an | Cast: Dulamjav Enkhtaivan, Aorigeletu, Norovsambuu Batmunkh, Gangtemuer Arild | Mongolia 2019, 100′

Wang Quan’an has been developing his astonishing cinematic style since his Golden Bear success with Tuya’s Marriage in 2007. This slow-burning detective eco-thriller also plays out as a love story for the wide open spaces of Mongolia; for the animals that roam there and the people caught between their traditional rural existence and the birth of the digital age and growing industrialisation.

Öndög is a visual masterpiece that glows and mesmerises. Each frame a jewel box of resplendent colours and wild scenery in a tale touched with the same cheeky humour as his previous films, and enriched with inventive compositions: a dromedary appears like a burning alien set against a campfire in the obsidian darkness, a peasant woman on horseback shares her landscape with the far distant funnels of a factory, puffing smoke into the gloaming. The narrative, too, is compelling but the characters never take themselves, or their existence, too seriously, as we learn through their spare but insightful views on live in this distant outpost.

A naked woman is found dead in the middle of nowhere, in the Mongolian steppe. Overnight, a young and inexperienced policeman has to secure the crime scene. Since he is not familiar with the dangers on site, a local herder is sent to guard him and the body. This determined woman is known locally as a ‘dinosaur’ for her single status approaching her mid thirties. But she’s no fool and can handle a rifle – and scare away wolves from harming her herd: “Hunting is instinctive” we are told in the opening scene where the police car creeps slowly through a curtain of corn, the only traffic a herd of wild horses. The woman herder lights a fire and offers alcohol to the young policeman to keep him warm, and they grow closer. This is a vast, exotic and remote place but the habits and motivations are no different from our Western ones. Especially for the women. Öndög is a unique tale full of comic and awesome scenes  and surprising twists and turns; it also handles existential themes in an offhand but ravishing way. MT


Querência (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Forum

Wri/Dir: Helvecio Marins Jnr | Drama, Brazil, 90′

Helvecio Marins’ ravishing debut plays out in the style of a cinema vérité Western imbued with the unique customs and flavours of its picturesque locale in Minas Gerais between Brazilia and Rio de Janeiro on the Rua Urucuia.

Working with a cast of locals, Marins takes great pleasure in creating an atmosphere of bucolic bonhomie in a tale that unfolds langorously in the burnished landscapes of the pampa where God-fearing farm-manager Marcelo Di Souza has grown up raising his Nelore cattle – and he knows them all by name. Their characteristic boney hump and ability to resist blood-sucking insects is particularly suited to the arid planes of Brazil. Marcelo’s other love is the Temme Terra rodeo, where he often announces the competing riders with the ditty: “White, Black, Indian, we are all Brazilian”. This rural community prides itself in solidarity, and there’s little trust for the country’s political leadership. Marcelo is proud of his upbringing but sadly other members of his family have been tempted away by more lucrative work in Rio and Brasilia. And slowly it emerges through casual conversation with his friend Kaic Lima that not everything is as perfect in this rural idyll as Marcelo would have us believe. While he was at the rodeo one night, robbers broke into his  farm and around 100 of his precious cattle were stolen.

In Querência, director Helvécio Marins shows a melancholy hero whose life is in disarray, but who still remains true to himself. Directed with mature confidence and style Marins’ refrains from being overly dramatic and focuses on the textural richness of his subject matter who enjoy an attractive traditional lifestyle in the countryside, and one that’s fast disappearing. It’s a portrait that connects with the narrative of small communities threatened by survival all over the world. And like a fine garment Marins’ film is embellished and decorated with loving textural references and anecdotes that make the journey more involving and pleasurable that the rather enigmatic open final. Long takes and fluid camerawork captures elegant vignettes silhouetted against the darkness or a glowing campfire. And moments of loneliness often contrast with the hurly burly of the rodeo, scored by O Grivo’s award-winning music and bathed in the lush richness of the warm South.  MT


*Nelore were originally brought to Brazil from India, where they got their name from the Nellore district in Andhra Pradesh.

Fourteen (2019) **** Berlinale 2019 | Forum

Dir: Dan Salitt Dir:Tallie Medel, Norma Kuhling, Lorelei Romani, Mason Wells, Dylan McCormick USA 2019 | 94’

Mara and Jo go back a long way. They were at school and together and now meet up regularly in Brooklyn where live a  precarious urban existence much as any young women in their twenties, Jo more so than Mara. Boyfriends drift in and out of the picture and their sexual lives are gracefully hinted at with some glowing bedside vignettes. 

Dan Salitt’s thoughtful and accomplished character is compulsively watchable well written and elegantly framed with a meditative quality that pays tribute to its slow-emerging subject matter: Jo deteriorating state of mind. Norma Kuhling’s tour de force as this fragile, fractious young soul is one of the more nuanced and engaging performance of the year so far, She combines the poise, elegance and authority of a modern day Marlene Dietrich,  capturing the wit of Dorothy Parker in some her choice lines. And we don’t take on board her crumbling state of mind until the film is well into its second half, where the tonal darkens, denting avoiding histrionics apart from one remarkable scene where Jo gradually dissolves into a well of desperation. And we feel for her as her sate of mind implodes. Tallie Medel (Mara) is a fine counterbalance in this richly satisfying portrait of modern womanhood. Her job as a junior school teacher allows her to demonstrate her gentle kindness tempered with integrity. She tries to be there for Jo. Their friendship is a wonderful thing that avoids sentimentality or seething outbursts, drawing gracefully and poignantly on the nature of friendship that will be familiar with all of us in our in our relationships, particularly female ones. .  

There are long resplendent frames where Salitt delicately lingers on a landscape sketching out the slowly unveiling plot line – such as the once the at the station where Mara arrives to visit Jo and her family after a difficult time for them both. Comparatively compact but redolent in thought and detail this is an impressive fourth feature for Salitt (All the Ships at Sea). But it’s the performances that resonate and will stay with you for a long time after the curtain falls. MT


The Stone Speakers (2018) **** Berlinale 2019 | Forum

Dir: Igor Drljača | Doc, Bosnia Herzegovina | 91′

Ranked second in the world for its salt lakes, Bosnia Herzegovina is desperate to re-invent itself after the last century’s tragedy. The result is success – for the most part. 

Igor Drljača’s bring a refreshingly comic approach to this cinematic foray into his homeland that doesn’t beat about the bush by being over-talkie but explores with a calm, straightforward narrative the process of regeneration through four war-torn towns. The Stone Speakers plays out as an informative wide screen travelogue showcasing this vast now peaceful forested corner of the world and taking stock of its touristic potential, with concise contextual commentary by the people who have lived through the country’s time of change. Amel Đikoli’s fluid camerawork glides gracefully through a river in Visegrád; a series of long takes reflects luxuriant countryside: tree-covered rolling hillsides and vineyards give way to flowery pastures under the bluest of skies,

Meanwhile, classical churches stand alongside derelict buildings and thriving cityscapes in what emerges as a predominantly Christian country that now attracts a wealth of pilgrims from Ireland to China. There’s Medjugorje, the most famous of the four because it becomes a United Nations of Catholic pilgrims. Said pilgrims sing songs that sound more like they’re from a Protestant youth group. There’s Visegrad, celebrating both the river Drina and the man who wrote about it, Ivo Andric. Tuzla celebrates Josef Tito but ambivalently.There is a tour of the town built in honour of Nobel-winning writer Ivo Andrić. There’s Medjugorje, best known for its Catholic pilgrims. And a monk in full-length regalia also shares his religious thoughts. And although the live speakers often express their experiences and consumer bleats with pent-up anger and plaintiveness, Drljaca maintains his distance, floating over his protagonists with a serene sense of laissez-faire. Let the people have their say but let the facts and images speak for themselves. MT


Berlinale Competition films announced | Berlinale 2019

The full competition line-up and special films for this year’s Berlinale have now been announced. The festival opens with Lone Scherfig’s THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS and runs from the 7th February until the 17th. 

Vying for the Golden Bear, there are three Asian films: Zhang Yimou’s One Second, (China) Farewell My Son Wang by Xiaoshuai (China) and Öndög by Wang Quan’an (Mongolia). From Canada, festival regular Denis Côté wiIl bring his latest drama Ghost Town Anthology Israeli director Nadav Lapid brings his world premiere: Synonyms. The rest are from all over Europe. 

There are 20 world premieres this year in Berlin, and 16 films vying for the Golden Bear of which 6 are directed by women.

BERLINALE GOLDER BEAR – hopefuls and Competition films:

The Kindness of Strangers by Lone Scherfig (Denmark / Canada / Sweden / Germany / France) – Opening film. Andrea Riseborough, Caleb Landry Jones and Bill Nighy star in Scherfig’s 20th film exploring the lives of four people in crisis.

The Ground beneath My Feet, by Marie Kreutzer (Austria)

Kreutzer’s first film The Fatherless won her an honourable mention at Berlinale 2011. Her latest drama follows a high powered woman has everything under control until a tragic event forces her life to unravel.

So Long, My Son (Di jiu tian chang) by Wang Xiaoshuai (People’s Republic of China). Once again the social and economic changes in China from the 1980s until the present day are pulled into the spotlight through the experience of two couples.

Elisa y Marcela (Elisa & Marcela) by Isabel Coixet (Spain), The first recorded lesbian marriage is the subject of this black and white biopic from Catalan director Isabel Coixet.

The Golden Glove, Der Goldene HandschuhFatih Akin was born and grew up in Germany from Turkish parentage. His first literary adaptation is a crime thriller that traces back to Hamburg in the 1970s where a rampant serial killer was at large. (Germany / France) God

Exists, Her Name is Petrunya, (Gospod postoi, imeto i’ e Petrunija)  by Teona Strugar. The  male population of a Macedonian seaside town is scandalised when a young local woman decides to enact a traditionally men-only religious ceremony, but Petrunya holds her own in this unusual drama from award-winning director Teona Strugar Mitevska. Brings to mind Sworn Virgin. (Macedonia / Belgium / Slovenia / Croatia / France)

Grâce à Dieu (By the Grace of God) by François Ozon (France). French provocateur Ozon is back in Berlin with this portrait of three men who decide to challenge a Catholic priest who abused them many years previously.

I Was at Home, But by Angela Schanelec (Germany / Serbia). Franz Rogowski is the star of this Germany drama that revolves around a teenager whose brief disappearance changes the lives of his local community.

A Tale of Three Sisters (Kız Kardeşler)by Emin Alper (Turkey / Germany / Netherlands / Greece). The knock-on affects of unsuccessful adoption is the thorny theme of this drama from Emin Alper, whose award-winning, incendiary thrillers Frenzy and Beyond the Hill have delighted previous Venice and Berlinale festival-goers.

Mr. Jones by Agnieszka Holland (Poland / United Kingdom / Ukraine). Two years ago Polish director Holland won the Silver Bear with her eco-drama Spoor. She’s back in the competition line-up with a thriller about the Welsh journalist who broke the news to the Western media about the 1930s famine in the Soviet Union. Vanessa Kirby, James Norton and Peter Sarsgaard star.

Öndög by Wang Quan’an (Mongolia). Wang Quan’an is no newcomer to Berlinale. In 2010 he  won the Silver Bear for his drama Apart Together, and the Golden Bear for Tuya’s Marriage in 2006.

La paranza dei bambini (Piranhas) by Claudio Giovannesi (Italy). A gang of teenage boys terrorise the streets of Naples in this thriller based on Robert Saviano’s novel Gomorrah.

Répertoire des villes disparues (Ghost Town Anthology) by Denis Côté (Canada). It’s always a pleasure to see Denis Côté’s films – this inventive Canadian maverick was last in town with Boris Without Beatrice. Here he’s back with a fantasy drama set in the aftermath of a tragic incident in a small isolated town

Synonymes (Synonyms) by Nadav Lapid (France / Israel / Germany), with Tom Mercier, Quentin Dolmaire, Louise Chevillotte. Lapid follows his 2014 drama The Kindergarten Teacher with a story about a young Israeli man who absconds to Paris with his trusty dictionary as companion.

Systemsprenger (System Crasher) by Nora Fingscheidt (Germany) a drama focusing on an unruly kid who terrorises everyone around her, not least the child protection services.

Ut og stjæle hester (Out Stealing Horses) by Hans Petter Moland (Norway / Sweden / Denmark). Moland brought his politically incorrect thriller In Order of Disappearance to Berlin in 2014. His latest, Out Stealing Horses also stars Stellan Skargard as a grieving widow whose past comes to the present when he moves out to the depths of the Scandinavian countryside.

Yi miao zhong (One Second) by Zhang Yimou (Red Sorghum) People’s Republic of China ). Always extravagant and visually alluring, Zhang Yimou’s stylish films win awards across the board. Fresh from Venice 2018 and the Golden Horse Festival where his latest Shadow won the top prize. He tries his luck again at Berlinale 2019 with this story that sees a film buff befriending a homeless female.

Berlinale Special at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele

Peter Lindbergh – Women Stories – Documentary
by Jean Michel Vecchiet (Vies et morts d’Andy Warhol, Basquiat, une vie, 6 juin 1944, ils étaient les premiers)
World premiere

Berlinale Special Gala at the Friedrichstadt-Palast

India / Germany / USA
by Ritesh Batra (The Lunchbox, Our Souls at Night, The Sense of an Ending)
with Nawazuddin Siddiqui, Sanya Malhotra, Farrukh Jaffar, Geetanjali Kulkarni, Vijay Raaz, Jim Sarbh, Akash Sinha, Saharsh Kumar Shukla
European premiere

You Only Live Once  – Die Toten Hosen – Tour 2018 Documentary – World Premiere
by Cordula Kablitz-Post and concert director Paul Dugdale (Taylor Swift)

In Competition – Out of Competition

L’adieu à la nuit (Farewell to the Night) by André Téchiné (France / Germany) – Out of competition with Catherine Deneuve, Kacey Mottet Klein.
Amazing Grace realised by Alan Elliott (USA) From 1970s Warner footage – Documentary, out of competition

Marighella by Wagner Moura (Brazil) – Out of competition

The Operative by Yuval Adler (Germany / Israel / France / USA) – Out of competition

Varda par Agnès (Varda by Agnès) by Agnès Varda (France) – Documentary, out of competition

Vice by Adam McKay (USA) – Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell, Tyler Perry – Out of competition

Berlinale Special films:

ANTHROPOCENE: The Human Epoch by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier, Edward Burtynsky (Canada) – Documentary
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by Chiwetel Ejiofor (United Kingdom)
Brecht by Heinrich Breloer (Germany / Austria)
Celle que vous croyez (Who You Think I Am) by Safy Nebbou (France)
Es hätte schlimmer kommen können – Mario Adorf (It Could Have Been Worse – Mario Adorf) von Dominik Wessely (Germany) – Documentary
Gully Boy by Zoya Akhtar (India)
Lampenfieber (Kids in the Spotlight) by Alice Agneskirchner (Germany) – Documentary
El Norte (The North) by Gregory Nava (USA 1984)
Peter Lindbergh – Women Stories by Jean Michel Vecchiet (Germany) – Documentary
Photograph by Ritesh Batra (India / Germany / USA)
Watergate – Or: How We Learned to Stop an Out of Control President by Charles Ferguson (USA) – Documentary
Weil du nur einmal lebst – Die Toten Hosen auf Tour (You Only Live Once – Die Toten Hosen on Tour) by Cordula Kablitz-Post, concert director Paul Dugdale (Germany) – Documentary


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