Posts Tagged ‘berlinale film festival’

Love, Deutschmarks and Death (2022) Berlinale 2022

Dir.: Cem Kaya; Documentary with Ismet Topçu, Yuksel Ozkasap, Cem Karaca, Ferdi Tayfur, Hatay Engin, Nellie; Germany 2022, 96 min.

Sixty years of Turkish music comes to life in this joyful documentary from Cem Kaya (Arabeks) taking us back to the early 1960s when the first trainload of migrant workers set off from Turkey for a foreign, mainly hostile, ‘guest’ country. Through their music these newcomers forged a collective identity which rapidly raised a red flag against the arrogance they met from the ‘Master Race’ ideology, still alive and kicking despite the withering defeat of the Second World War.

After the heart-wrenching scenes at Istanbul Central Station, where wives and children bade tearful good-byes to their departing menfolk (echoing the Italian neo-realist portrayals of those Italian ‘guest workers’ leaving), Kaya interweaves clips from a German documentary and TV/film archive clips showing the Turkish men gathered in a huge hall, ready to meet local doctors, who will sort the ‘wheat from the chaff’. “We are not looking for Olympic athletes here” says the commentator benignly, “but for reliant, capable workers”. And so it goes – the able-bodied are separated from the unfit. And then, the lucky ones get little numbers stuck on their wrists. No surprise that the Turks will have to learn basic German (the French are still putting their British post-Brexit resident hopefuls through the same ordeal in 2022!).

The first phrase they learn is: “Ich bin ein Ausländer (“I am a foreigner”), it will come in handy – as the voiceover narration nonchalantly declares – since 60% of Germans want nothing to do with these guest workers, two-thirds having a negative opinion of the newbies, viewed as “sub-humans” during Germany’s Fascist dictatorship.

Metin Türkoz was one of the first stars of the immigrant music scene. He sold millions of records. Yüksel Ozkasap was next, listened to not only in the Turkish villages, but by immigrant workers all over Europe, and selling more than 315 singles. In 1973, the Global Oil Crisis hit the German economy, and the Turkish immigrants were told to leave. Despite the solidarity between German and Turkish workers, the German Unions declined their support. Chancellor Willy Brandt made it clear in an interview “that our own workers come first”. The answer came loud and clear from “The Kanaken”, who performed without microphones. Their star was lead singer Cem Karaca, who had been exiled by Turkey for political reasons. But he got homesick, and returned after seven years of German life. There were odd figures in the Berlin Turkish scene, like Ferdi Tayfur, the star of the “Gazino’ culture, which flourished in Oranien Strasse in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Turkish culture was at that time centred around the Turkish Bazar, which was set up in the then-disused over-ground Tube-Station ‘Bülow Strasse’ close to the wall. Zeki Mühren and Oztürk Serengil featured heavily; as did Hatay Engin, a trans-singer who flirted openly with the audience. Female artists had a hard time, even though they abandoned their Burkas and head scarves. Derya Yildirm, a Baglana virtuoso, was one of the successful exceptions.

Xenophobia was on the rise in the mid 1980s, but when the Wall came down in 1989, violence against foreigners exploded in Germany. The outsiders were literally burnt to death in their flats, and jokes like “What’s the difference between Jews and Turks? Jews take it from behind”, were common. Turkish rap was a way in for young people who suffered parental neglect, roaming the streets from the age of ten onwards, while parents kept their noses to the grindstone. They are neither Turkish nor German – but very angry. “Islamic Force” from Kreuzberg was one of the early groups, followed by “Cartel” who only recorded one album, after their lead singer, Boe B, died of a heart attack at 28. Nowadays, Turkish rap music can still be found in German stores, six decades after its pioneers started selling their cassettes which are now collectors items amongst the older generation – together with the cherished old Deutsch Mark banknotes!

Informative and entertaining, this history of music as an identifier and political weapon is a joy to watch; full of irony and odd-ball characters who made life for themselves and  kept the faith: “Kanak for Life” declares Ismet Topçu, leading us through the decades of wild musical adventure. AS

Panorama Audience Award Winner –Panorama Dokumente 2022:| BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 2022

Terykony (2022) Berlinale Generation 2022

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

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

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

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

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | Generation Plus 2022

Berlinale Award Winners 2021

Berlinale 2021: The Award Winners of the 71st Competition

The first part of this year’s BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL has drawn to a close and the following winners announced.

Golden Bear for Best Film:

Babardeală cu bucluc sau porno balamuc (Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn) by Radu Jude

Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize: Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy by Ryusuke Hamaguchi

Silver Bear Jury Prize: Herr Bachmann and His Class by Maria Speth

Silver Bear for Best Director: Dénes Nagy for Természetes fény (Natural Light

Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance: Maren Eggert in Ich bin dein Mensch (I’m Your Man) by Maria Schrader

Silver Bear for Best Supporting Performance: Lilla Kizlinger in Rengeteg – mindenhol látlak (Forest – I See You Everywhere) by Bence Fliegauf

Silver Bear for Best Screenplay: Hong Sangsoo for Inteurodeoksyeon (Introduction) by Hong Sangsoo

Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution: Yibrán Asuad for the editing of Una película de policías (A Cop Movie) by Alonso Ruizpalacios

Berlinale 2021: Awards of the Encounters Section

Best Film: Nous (We) by Alice Diop
Special Jury Award: Vị (Taste) by Lê Bảo
Best Director (ex-aequo): Das Mädchen und die Spinne (The Girl and the Spider) by Ramon Zürcher, Silvan Zürcher
Best Director (ex-aequo): Hygiène sociale (Social Hygiene) by Denis Côté
Special Mention: Rock Bottom Riser by Fern Silva

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL PART II | JUNE 2021

Petite Maman (2021) Berlinale Competition 2021

Dir: Celine Sciamma | Cast: Nina Meurisse, Margot Abascal, Josephine Sanz, Gabrielle Sanz, Stephane Varupenne | Drama France, 72′

Petite Maman shows France’s Celine Sciamma at the height of her powers with an enchanting ghost story contemplating loss and longing through young eyes.

In competition at this year’s Berlinale, the French auteuse once again evokes the subtle sensibilities of human dynamics through her cast of child performers capturing naiveté but also resilience in the wake of a family bereavement.

The director showed a keen appreciation of childhood dynamics in her 2011 film Tomboy. Here the focus is little Nelly and how she copes in the aftermath of her grandma’s death as the family clears out the home so familiar and comforting in the first years of her life.

Avoiding sentimentality Sciamma maintains a pensive ambiguity for most of this almost spellbound drama that sees solemn 8-year-old Nelly (Josephine Sanz) wondering into the nearby woods where she meets  Marion (played by identical twin sister Gabrielle), the two striking up a tentative friendship as they build a tree house. These two are so po-faced they almost resemble the couple in Kubrick’s The Shining with their chilly demeanour, but we are far removed from any horror story here in a style that is best described at fantastical realism.

Mature beyond her years Nelly views her bereft mother with detatchment although she cares for her in the days after her own mother’s death, doing chores around the house with her father (Varupenne) who she regards with scepticism chiding him over his chain-smoking smoking. Sciamma gradually abandons enigma in the second half but also keeps us guessing as the story gradually unfolds in an eerie and suspended moment in time.

Building a gentle but detached camaraderie throughout the Sanz sisters give captivating debut performances that evoke confidence but also vulnerability. Meurisse is full of sensitivity as Nelly’s mother carrying her grief with a doleful dignity. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2021 |

 

 

The Girl and the Spider (2021) Best Director Ex-aequo | Berlinale Encounters 20201

Dir: Ramon Zürcher, Silvan Zürcher | Cast: Henriette Confurius, Liliane Amuat, Ursina Lardi, Flurin Giger, André M. Hennicke, Ivan Georgiev, Dagna Litzenberger Vinet, Lea Draeger, Sabine Timoteo, Birte Schnöink | Switzerland 2021German 98’

The Girl and the Spider is an ambiguous puzzle of a film exploring the anatomy of a messy break-up. Dreams and anecdotes keep us entertained, while pets – a cat and a dog – steal the limelight.

This second feature from Swiss twins Ramon and Silvain Züricher (Das merkwürdige Kätzchen) sees Lisa (Amuat) leaving Mara (Confurius) to stay in their polyamorous flatshare. Chaos reigns throughout, Lisa’s mum (Ladri) flirts with removal man Jurek  (Hennicke) while overseeing the move. Mara swears “Fuck you!”, with Lisa answering “Later, first I move out”. suggesting that all may not be lost.

Clearly though the relationship has hit rock-bottom when Lisa insists on taking the dishwasher, telling Mara “you will never leave this dump, you’ll kick the bucket here”. To complicate matters Jan (Geiger) and Kerstin (Litzenberger-Vinet) also share this female centric ‘love-in’. Jan seems to be keen on Mara. Then there is Nora (Draeger), who spends a great deal of her time in bed asleep.

A young boy and a girl, possibly neighbours, add to the mayhem. And  Mrs. Arnold (Schoch), who stole the neighbour’s cat (who is now biting through cables), but has since returned it. The piano will stay in the flat as it belongs to the chambermaid (Schnöink), who once owned the place and is now working as a cleaning supervisor on a cruise ship – not that her short story makes anything clearer.

DoP Alexander Haßkerl conveys the general claustrophobia of this polyamorous set-up that takes place entirely within the confines of the cramped scenario, an obvious nod to the pandemic age, its residents and relationships in continual flux. The titular Spider story creates a constant formal tension in an aesthetically convincing, jumbled mayhem, but the lack of a satisfying narrative arc leaves us wanting more. AS

BERLINALE | SILVER BEAR | Best Director Ex aequo | ENCOUNTERS

 

 

Berlinale Competition – Golden Bear contenders 2021

The Berlin International Film Festival announced a line-up with a distinctly European arthouse flavour for its 71st online edition, taking place during an industry market event from 1-5 March 2021, later that its usual February slot.

Festival regulars Dominik Graf, Hong Sangsoo and Radu Jude will bring their films to Berlin this Spring, and they are joined by French director Celine Sciamma’s latest feature Petite Maman, and newcomers from Georgia, Hungary, Iran and Mexico – as well as homegrown talent from Germany.

From June 9 to 20, 2021 the Berlinale will launch a “Summer Special” for the public with indoor and outdoor cinema screenings all over the German capital whose much awaited new airport will welcome guests flying in.

The competition also features the usual sidebar sections such as Berlinale Special and Berlinale Series, Encounters, Berlinale Shorts, Panorama, Forum & Forum Expanded, Generation, Perspektive Deutsches Kino. The Retrospective showcasing films of Mae West will screen during the summer edition.

GOLDEN BEAR COMPETITION 2021

 

Albatros (Drift Away)
France
by Xavier Beauvois, with Jeremie Renier (pictured)

 

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Babardeală cu buclucsau porno balamuc) 
Romania/Luxemburg/Croatia/Czech Republic
by Radu Jude

 

Fabian – Going to the Dogs (Fabian oder Der Gang vor die Hunde)
Germany
by Dominik Graf

 

Ballad of a White Cow (Ghasideyeh gave sefid)
Iran/France
by Behtash Sanaeeha, Maryam Moghaddam

 

Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Guzen to sozo)
Japan
by Ryusuke Hamaguchi

 

Mr Bachmann and His Class (Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse)
Germany
by Maria Speth

 

I’m Your Man (Ich bin dein Mensch)
Germany
by Maria Schrader

 

Introduction 
Republic of Korea
by Hong Sangsoo

 

Memory Box
France/Lebanon/Canada/Qatar
by Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige

 

Next Door (Nebenan) 
Germany
by Daniel Brühl

 

Petite Maman
France
by Céline Sciamma

 

What Do We See When We Look at the Sky (Ras vkhedavt, rodesac cas vukurebt?)
Germany/Georgia
by Alexandre Koberidze

 

Forest – I See you Everywhere  (Rengeteg – mindenhol látla)
Hungary
by Bence Fliegauf

 

Natural Light (Természetes fény)
Hungary/Latvia/France/Germany
by Dénes Nagy

 

A Cop Movie (Una Película de Policías)
Mexico
by Alonso Ruizpalacios

BERLINALE | PART ONE 1-5 MARCH 2021

Berlinale 2021 | Jury Announced

Six Golden Bear winning directors will head up this year’s Berlinale main competition jury and decide on the prizes in Competition at the 71st Berlinale.

The festival’s Aristic Director Carlo Chatrian announced there would be no president this year. But expressed his gratitude to the jury members:

They express not only different ways of making uncompromising films and creating bold stories but also they represent a part of the history of the Berlinale. In this moment in time, it is meaningful and a great sign of hope that the Golden Bear winners will be in Berlin watching films in a theatre and finding a way to support their colleagues“,
The members of the 2021 International Jury:

Mohammad Rasoulof (Iran)
Director of the Golden Bear winning-film There is No Evil, 2020

Nadav Lapid (Israel)
Director of the Golden Bear winning-film Synonyms, 2019

Adina Pintilie (Romania)
Director of the Golden Bear winning-film Touch Me Not, 2018

Ildikó Enyedi (Hungary)
Director of the Golden Bear winning-film On Body and Soul, 2017

Gianfranco Rosi (Italy)
Director of the Golden Bear winning-film Fire At Sea, 2016

Jasmila Žbanić (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Director of the Golden Bear winning-film Grbavica, 2006

Summer Special

From June 9 to 20, the festival offers a Summer Special featuring numerous physical cinema screenings and the opportunity to experience a large portion of the films in the presence of the filmmakers themselves. The start of the Summer Special on June 9 will be celebrated with a festive opening event.

BERLINALE 2021 | MARCH & JUNE 2021

The Woman Who Ran (2020) Silver Bear for Best Director Berlinale 2020

Wri/Dir: Hong Sang-soo | Cast: Kim Min-hee, Lee Eun-mi, Song Seon-mi | 77′ S Korea Drama

Love and attraction is explored through the eyes of three very different women in this quirky but sage domestic drama from prolific South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo.

Once again his muse Kim Min-hee (as Gam-hee) is the focus of this female centric affair that revolves around a get together with old friends while her husband is away travelling. The tentative conversation is pleasant and banal occasionally spiced by a quirky humour unique to this veteran filmmaker. Gradually the pleasantries and layers of her character’s quiet neuroticism are stripped away to reveal serious concerns for her marriage. What emerges is unexpected but also amusingly familiar.

The Woman Who Ran is not as funny as his best drama In Another Country (2012) that had Isabelle Huppert in a lost in translation merry-go-round in a beachside resort. Many find these films tedious but others thrill to the subtleties of the writing and the hidden depths in the seemingly slight encounters.

Each new meeting involves Gam-hee divulging her marital secrets until gradually she’s answering her own questions. Her feelings are at odds with husband’s needs and desires but she has unwittingly submitting to his rather controlling behaviour, until gradually the penny drops.

The various encounters feel slightly awkward and gauche, the parties retreating to safe ground at the first sign of potential conflict, and this is particularly the case with the first visit. Gam-hee is invited to supper at the house of recent divorcee Young-soon (Seo Younghwa) and her roommate Youngji (Lee Eunmi). The three women discuss the topic of eating meat, and discuss Youngji’s grilling skills before finally exploring the possibility of going vegetarian. There is a difficult doorstep discussion with a neighbour who comes round to address the issue of their feeding his cat. They all pussy foot around the subject before elegantly stepping away from any slight contretemps, the neighbour backs off gracefully having achieved nothing, but making it clear he not best pleased.

Gam-hee then goes to visit her slightly older friend Suyoung (Song Seonmi) who talks about a potential new boyfriend in the flat above. Later she confesses her fear of him finding out about her one night stand with another neighbour, who is now pestering her for more. But it is the final meeting that leaves us in the dark as to the film’s title. Woojin (Kim Saebyuk) says she has something important to tell Gam-hee but she never reveals what it is. The film’s enigmatic approach feels rather unsatisfactory, appearing to have been given a random title. The Woman Who Ran is engaging while it lasts but ultimately forgettable once we have left the cinema. MT

The Woman Who Ran is out Friday CURZON curzoncinemas.com/bloomsbury/films

 

Persian Lessons (2020) ****

Dir: Vadim Perelman. Russia/Germany/Belarus. 2020. 128mins

A war of attrition plays out between Belgian Jew and Nazi in this clever and darkly amusing ride to hell and back from Ukrainian born director Vadim Perelman (House of Fog).

Set in occupied France in 1942 and based on a short story by Wolfgang Kohlhaase, a young Belgian prisoner of war is forced to change his nationality and invent an entire language – pretending to being Persian – in order to escape the clutches of an ego-driven commandant who saves him from the firing squad – simply because he has a penchant for learning the lingo (Farsi).

The physical tortures of war are one thing, but the psychological effects can be equally painful, and this film makes a nonsense of the popular saying: “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. The young Belgian is played with considerably aplomb by (man of the moment) Nahuel Perez Biscayart. As Reza he not only has to lie but also remember the lies. The payback of these mental gymnastics comes in the film’s stunning reveal that is almost as moving as the final scene in Polanski’s The Pianist.

These were the tortuous hoops that people had to jump through during the Second World War. And Persian Lessons is another astonishing angle on conflict, and another tribute to our collective memory of the Holocaust. Meanwhile the gruelling tension of the folie-a-deux between Commandant and POW is lightened by a deliciously salacious undercurrent of flirtatiousness that burbles away between the Nazi staff running the camp. And although there is a slight longueur towards the final stretch in a story that requires a leap of faith, the strength of the performances and of Ilya Zofin’s brilliant writing combined with the impressive mise en scene blow these minor flaws away.

Reza is an extremely smart young guy and while he quivers in his boots, he also works out how to massage Commandant Koch’s fragile ego. And Lars Eidinger – in one of the best performances of his career – is deeply sinister as the vain and deeply insecure Commandant, who has no access to the internet or even a smart phone to check the Farsi words and phrases, so the plot pivots between his desire to trust Reza and his deep fear of leaving himself exposed to ridicule by his peers and his young teacher, who is living his life on a knife edge.

Elegantly framed and lit by DoP Vladislav Opelyants, the only flaw is the irritating score that incessantly needles away when silence would occasionally be preferable. But even that can’t detract from this really gripping and intelligent wartime thriller. MT

On DIGITAL 22 JANUARY and DVD on 8 FEBRUARY

 

 

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Pinocchio (2019) ****

Dir: Matteo Garrone | Fantasy Drama, Italy 122′

Matteo Garrone’s enchanting version of Carlo Callodi’s 1883 classic has appeal for adults and pre-teens with its endearing characters and sharp social commentary.

Best described as a bedtime cautionary tale in the dark style of the Grimm or Hoffman, Garrone’s latest has shades of his 2015 Tale of Tales in the extravagant costumes. But here animals pose as humans and vice versa, although clearly it’s not salacious, veering more into terrifying territory in warning of the disastrous consequences of childhood misbehaviour in an exaggerated way.

This Pinocchio stays faithful to the page, Roberto Benigni is the woodcutter Geppetto, who begs a trunk of wood from his friend and crafts a puppet to replace the son he never had. But Garrone keeps Benigni under control – his weird 2002 adaptation in which he also starred clearly came to mind – and he’s gone after the first couple of scenes, 8 year-old Federico Ielapi’s Pinocchio running away to seek his fortune armed with 5 gold coins, as a naive but disobedient wooden puppet child. But not before burning his feet by the fireside, in one of the film’s more sinister sequences.

The ancient fishing villages near Bari and the baked landscapes of Sienna provide the vivid backdrop to a story that is certainly compelling, and the Berlinale press audience looked on with a childish fascination and very few walk-outs.

Pinocchio and some of the other puppets have authentic looking wood-grained faces and eyes that are living behind them. A tiny talking cricket (Davide Marotta) is particularly cute and so is the money-like judge (Teco Celio) who sends Pinocchio down “because the innocent always go to jail, and the guilty go free”. This is the tenor of its social satire. In one delightful scene, Pinocchio’s nose grows out when he lies, serving as a branch for starlings to peck at.

Garrone and Massimo Ceccherini collaborate on the script that is essentially as series of adventures showcasing how Pinocchio refuses to do his homework, and keeps making mistakes, as all boys do, eventually turning into a donkey sold into a life of slavery. He is also almost eaten alive and falls prey to a pair of feline fraudsters (played by Ceccherini and Rocco Papaleo), desperate to get their paws on his money. Enter the famous “magic money tree.” well known to Jeremy Corbyn, although that particular fantasist doesn’t have a part in this fairy story. The Blue Fairy does, however, and she grows into a beautiful woman (Marine Vacth) who looks after Pinocchio, assisted by her snail-like housekeeper. And eventually the boy comes good, and his reward arrives in a moving and magical finale that drags its heels but finally delivers the classic happy ending. MT

OUT ON 14 August 2020 | premiered at BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 20 February – 1 March 2020

Last and First Men (2020) *** Bfi On Demand

Dir: Johann Johannsson | Wri: Olaf Stapledon | Sci-fi Iceland, 70′
Narrated by Tilda Swinton and shot in stunning 16mm black and white by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen (Silver Bear winner for Rams),  Last and First Men is the cinematic sole feature directed by the late Johann Johannsson who composed striking soundscapes for films such as Sicario, Mandy, Arrival and The Theory of Everything. The film transports us into a surreal world of phantasmagorical monuments where a future race of humans finds themselves on the verge of extinction. Overlaid by the dulcet tones of Tilda Swinton telling a tale of crumbling future civilisations based on the classic 1930 sci-fi work by British writer Olaf Stapledon, the spectral presence of an entity attempting to communicate with us slowly emerges.
Icelandic composer/director/writer Johan Johannsson (1969-2018) had been working on this eerie, apocalyptic and at times enigmatic passion project for almost a decade. The brilliant  16 mm black-and-white visuals were shot in former Yugoslavia and feature old bunkers and war-glorifying monuments. They are as impressive as Johannsson’s score, which was added separately at The Barbican in 2018.

In Stapledon’s cult novel, the First Men are humans. In the twenty-first century, a war breaks out in Europe, leaving the USA and China as super-powers. In the 24th century, the USA and China go to war, culminating in the First World State. Four millenniae later, humans have depleted the planet of fossil fuel, and civilisation as we know it collapses. Later, a riot occurs at a mine resulting in a subterranean explosion, making earth uninhabitable for millions of years. Thirty-five humans at the North-Pole survive, they later split with another species, the sub-humans. The Last Men are the 18th Men, the most advanced model of humankind, mainly consisting of philosophers and artists with very liberal sexual morals. “Superficially we seem to be not one species but many”. Sub-genders exist, variants of the basic male and female patterns. The units, the equivalent of families, have the ability to act as a group mind. They do not die naturally anymore, only by accident, suicide or being killed. In spite of this all, they practice ritual cannibalism. After a supernova infects the Sun, making it expand and consume the entire solar system, Mankind cannot find a way to escape. This last species of men create a virus to spread life to other planets and cause the evolution of a new species in the galaxy. The first and last Men communicate, the latter trying to warn their predecessors and teach them survival tactics.

Johannsson was a prolific composer and clearly a decent filmmaker. Producer Thor Sigurdjonson has completed the work Johansson left behind, and the result is in many ways, a unique and passionate eulogy. AS

On demand on BFI Player on 30 July 2020 | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 2020

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

NOW ON MUBI 4 JUNE 2020 | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | FORUM 7 -17 FEBRUARY 2019

 

 

Eeb Allay Ooo (2020) **** We Are One Fest

Dir.: Prateek Vats; Cast: Mahinder Nath, Shardul Bhardwaj, Nutana Sinha, Sahsi Bhusan, Nitin Goel, Naina Sarffin; India 2019, 98 min.

That well worn phrase “I don’t know whether to laugh or cry” best describes Indian filmmaker Prateek Vats’ feelings about the current state of his homeland. Monkeys have holy status in Delhi, just like the cows, and the local authorities certainly know how to handle their growing  population with kid gloves, as we find out in this impressive and whimsical comedy.

Eeb Allay Ooo follows Vats’ 2017 documentary A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings (about a hundred-year old bodybuilder), which won him a Special National Film award. And he uses his documentary background to great effect in this story about a young migrant in Delhi.

Anjani (Bhardwaj) has recently arrived in the capital and is living with his pregnant sister Didi (Sinha) and her policeman husband Shasti (Bhusan) in a ramshackle flat on the outskirts. Anjani is one of the many unskilled workers looking for a job. But soon Shasti finds him work keeping the herds of monkeys away from government buildings. All this requires training, and this comes from expert monkey handler Mahinder (Nath) who teaches Anjani how impersonate the monkeys’ arch enemy the langur, by shouting “eeb-allay-ooo” which scares them away. But Anjani is actually quite scared of the monkeys, and on the quiet, he uses a sling shot to chase them away. He also dresses up as a langur, but this doesn’t go down well with his boss and he nearly loses his job as a result. Tragically, locals don’t respect Mahinder’s methods either, despite her gentleness, and she is killed by a mob defending the monkeys..

Meanwhile things are not going well for the family. Shasti has been given a rifle in a promotion at work, but is afraid to use it, hiding it under his clothes when he cycles around on patrol. It comes in handy during a major row with one of Didi’s contractors Narayan, and he chases the guy away. Depressed about his work situation Anjani sinks into a clinical depression, and gives Shasti’s gun away. The last sequence sums up everything that has taken place before: there is something fundamentally wrong in a society where monkeys roam free and are protected due to their holy status, while humans are trapped by economic circumstances.    

DoP Saumyanda Sahi’s impressive camerawork creates a fabulous sense of place, particularly his long shots showing Anjani’s arduous journey home. The majestic elegance of the government palaces, contrasts starkly with the poverty in the outer suburbs. The social realism here is poetic rather than didactic, always keeping a fine balance between comedy and social commentary, making Eeb Allay Ooo an enjoyable but bittersweet satire. AS

WE ARE ONE FESTIVAL | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020

 

 

The Metamorphosis of Birds (2020) **** Berlinale 2020

Dir: Catarina Vasconcelos | Doc, Portugal 97′

The first feature of Portuguese filmmaker Catarina Vasconcelos is a stylish and fadoesque meditation on memory, home and longing. We all have a family, however distant or dysfunctional, and this nostalgic memoire is an intensely feminine one flooded with fondness for her forebears. The film also serves as a history of Portugal itself seen from a female point of view, marking pivotal events in the nation’s history such as the death of Portuguese dictator Salazar, seen splashed on the front cover a women’s magazine.

The Metamorphosis of Birds opens in reverie mode transporting us back to the pre-war world of the filmmaker’s grandparents Beatriz and Henrique, who was a naval officer.  Back on dry land, the plant-loving Beatriz is grounded by pictures, photographs and objets that furnish the comfortable home she shares with their six children while her husband is away at sea.

The voiceover is provided by a series of female and male voices as the camera luxuriates over the lavish surrounding where we also meet the children. The oldest son Jacinto (her father Hyacinth) is seen climbing out of a cupboard at the start of the film. Meanwhile, couped up in his naval quarters on board ship, Henrique looks at the sea from his porthole window and communicates with Beatriz via romantic billets doux: “I miss putting my face through the curls in your hair”. But this romantic idyll ends abruptly when Beatriz suddenly dies. In common with her father, the filmmaker lost her own mother when she was only seventeen. So early maternal death is something she has in common with her father: “When my mother died, my father and I found each other in the absence of the word “mother”.

As the film moves on the images become less personal, nostalgic and lyrical, and more existential in the style of Dali or even Magritte. This reflects Vasconcelos’ own personal crisis that collides with Portugal’s economic slowdown sending her to find a new start in London. Soon afterwards she finds out her grandfather wanted to burn those love letters he shared with her grandmother Beatriz. And this film is a tribute to them both, and a reflection on changing times for women

Conversations with her family members attract more and more textural references to the narrative as it develops into a vibrant tapestry of Portugal itself and the people she grew up with: “about my father’s mother (Beatriz). My mother. Mothers’ mothers. Mothers’ mothers’ mothers”. This memoir also explores a moment in history she had not experienced: an era where women struggled to have a voice:. “This was a time we have a duty not to forget. It is a great privilege to be able to live in Freedom”.

The Metamorphosis of Birds distils the essence of Portugal through word associations, evocative locations and flora and fauna. A judiciously lowkey classical score heightens moments of emotion making this a vivacious and surprisingly moving memento of her family and homeland.  “The dead don’t know that they are dead. Death is a question for the living”. This sumptuous film is a home for  ghosts and their memories, but also the present that lives on and on. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020

FIPRESCI Prize Winner Encounters 2020

A metamorfose dos pássaros (The Metamorphosis of Birds) by Catarina Vasconcelos

 

 

Mare (2020) *** Berlinale 2020

Dir.: Andrea Staka; Cast: Marija Skaricic, Goran Navojek, Gabriel Vidak, Mateusz Kosiukiewicz, Mirjana Karanovic, Karmela Vidak, Marin Vidak; Switzerland/Croatia 2020, 84 min.

Swiss writer/director Andrea Staka, who won the Locarno Golden Leopard with her feature debut Das Fräulein, comes to Berlinale with an ambiguous mood piece that sees a middle-aged mother trapped by financial constraints in modern day Dubrovnik.

Mare is very strong on detail, the grainy 16mm images making a more intense sense of place and atmosphere in the summery seaside setting of this ancient port than could ever be achieved with digital. Mare harks back fondly to the time in Switzerland during the 1991/2 war. But her father wanted her back to what had become Croatia, to help him with the hard work in the mountains. Her husband Duro (Navojek) also played a big part in the war, but tries to put it all behind in with flippant attitude. He works at Dubrovnik airport, the planes literally taking off over the roof of the family home. At home Duro is the old-fashioned tyrant who tells his daughter Karmela (K. Vidak) she has to eat meat, if she wants to stay under his roof. A new neighbour Piotr (Kosiukiewicz) moves in next door. Mare is instantly attracted to this young man but she still has the three kids to look after, particularly teenager Gabrijel (G. Vidak), who is bullied at school and feels isolated. In one heart-breaking scene he talks about running away from home, enforcing Mare’s feelings of desperation when she realises any kind of new life is impossible for her, at least at the moment. .  Mare’s mother (Karanovic) belongs to the older more obedient generation and can’t offer her any support, and with rising costs she sees a return to full-time employment inevitable.

The ensemble acting is impressive, and Marija Skaricic is particularly convincing in the central role. The only critique is a lack of a dramatic arc, the feature petering out without any real conclusion – just resignation on Mare’s part: the Piotr relationship is a fantasy rather than a possibility.AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020

   

Shine Your Eyes | Cidade Passaro (2020) **** Berlinale 2020

Dir.: Matias Mariani; Cast: Oc Ukeje, Indira Nascimento, Paulo Andre, Ike Barry, Chukwadi Iwuji; Brazil/France 2020, 115 min.

Brazilian director and co-writer Matias Mariani has had a distinguished career as a documentary maker and this feature very much reflects the form: particularly in the long panning shots of his hometown of Sao Paolo that give us a strong sense of what is it like to live there. There are echoes of Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ memorable The Last Time I Saw Macao and both features have a magistrate’s realist qualities. DoP Leo Bittencourt had to convince Mariani to chose an old-fashioned 4:3 ration, but is has certainly paid off: The towering buildings dwarf the protagonists, and the subjectivity of Amadi’s ambivalent feelings are well-served by this format.

Musician Amadi (Oc Ukeje) has arrived in Sao Paolo from the Nigerian capital Lagos in search of  his older brother Ikenna (Iwuji), who has got “lost in transition”. Amadi’s motives are purely self-serving: if he doesn’t find Ikenna the mantle of the eldest son and the responsibility for the entire family will fall on his shoulders; and his own freewheeling lifestyle will be over. His uncle Andre is also keen to track down the “lost son”. But it soon emerges that Ikenna is not the famous mathematician he claims to be – and the institute where he was supposedly working doesn’t even exist. Amadi follows the steps of his brother, seemingly always arriving too late on the scene. It also comes to light that Ikenna was working on a way to transform Brazil over-night into a wealthy country, ending poverty for good, but losing him a great deal of money in the process. . He eventually meets up with his brother’s ex-lover Emilia (Nascimento), and she eventually provides the key to tracking down his enigmatic sibling.

Working of several levels, Shine Your Eyes is about settling family scores but also wider ranging themes of displacement and cultural identity. Amadi feels a need to turn the tables on his favoured old brother but he also lacks the confidence to struggle on alone in this endeavour. There are long, languid sequences that see Amadi walking the streets, his inner dialogue audible. Mariani has succeeded in showing how much the lure of the “other” is equally strong in both siblings. But the focus is always Amadi and his journey of self discovery amid a disconcerting landscape that echoes his own inner turmoil. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020   

     

Charlatan (2020) Digital release

Dir Agnieszka Holland | Wri: Mark Epstein | Cast: Ivan Trojan, Juraj Loj, Josef Trojan | Drama Czech, Irish, 118′

A talented self-taught Czech herbal physician fights discrimination during the totalitarian 1950s in this lushly inspired drama that also tells a convincing gay awakening story.

Agnieszka Holland really finds her groove in this fascinating film about Jan Mikolasek (1889-1973) a mercurial master of alternative medicine who treated a wide range of illustrious patients including Nazi Martin Bormann and leader Antonin Zapotocky, but eventually fell from grace when homosexuality was still a crime. The film opens during the political turmoil of 1957 that sees the 70-year-old Mikolasek suffering under the draconian cosh of the post-Stalinist era when the death of his ally Zapotocky ushers in president Antonin Novotny.

Czech actor Ivan Trojan gives a mesmerising performance as the maverick medic in this elegantly realised period piece that makes appealing use of its picturesque settings in the verdant Czech countryside. Award-winning scripter Mark Epstein admits to playing fast and loose with the sketchy historical facts in giving life to this slightly mysterious man who railed against the febrile Eastern European political system despite his outwardly pucker credentials and dapper demeanour.

Mikolasek grew up with an interest in plants and their medicinal properties, and we meet him as a young man (played by the main actor’s feisty 18-year old son Josef Trojan) who learns to read bottled urine samples by holding them up against the light. The young Mikolasek is prone to violent outbursts at one point threatening his father with an axe and then bashing a bag of newborn kittens against a tree instead of drowning them. In flashback we see him as a young soldier traumatised by his orders to execute a comrade. All this serves the main story well and is seamlessly interwoven into the narrative.

The doctor’s arcane abilities to cure the sick were endorsed by a long line of locals who queued for hours to received a diagnosis of their ills. And soon his successful practice allows him to move into more luxurious surroundings in a countryside manor which also serves as his clinic. He hires an assistant in the shape of Frantisek Palko (Juraj Loj) who lacks training and experience but desperately needs a job to support his growing family and is prepared to offer his undivided time and loyalty.

The men develop a bond that extends beyond the professional and these scenes feel convincingly natural, their sexual tension ramped up by the illicit nature of an affair that culminates in a heart-stopping finale.

Scored by Dvorak and other Czech composers, Holland’s accomplished filmmaking is showcased in this illuminating work that sheds light on a little known episode of the nation’s history. The past and present comes together gracefully, delineated by the entrancing camerawork of DoP Martin Strba that contrasts sun-filled outdoor scenes with stylishly subdued interiors and black-and-white archive footage of the Communist era offering a really enjoyable experience. MT

NOW ON PREMIER DIGITAL PLATFORM AX1 from 7 MAY 2021. Berlinale FILM FESTIVAL premiere 2020

 

Siberia (2020) * Berlinale 2020

Dir. Abel Ferrara. Italy/Germany/Mexico. 2020. 92 mins

Willem Dafoe runs a bar in a remote and snowy Siberia in his latest film directed by Italian veteran Abel Ferrara. As Clint he occasionally ventures out by means of a sledge and five eager huskies. But we first meet him offering welcome sustenance and a sympathetic ear to the locals who talk to him but never get a response. His visitors are an old man covered in furs and an old woman and her young pregnant daughter, who opens her coat to reveal a voluptuous body. Later Clint is seen sleeping with her in a sensual reverie. This may be wishful thinking on his part, or even that of Ferrara whose female characters are merely cyphers there to serve the menfolk. But Dafoe, to his credit, presses on giving a performance of dignified integrity convincing us that Clint is clearly a troubled individual, wrestling with his past and his not too shabby present.

The night-time lovemaking sequence is just one of the fantasies enjoyed by the raddled old bartender who has retreated from life for this bout of soul-seeking, possibly borne out by a dissatisfactory relationship with his father. The failed primary relationship is hinted at in flashback sequences that picture his father, dressed as a surgeon, looking back at the camera with an air of disdain bordering on resentment.

During Clint’s daytime forays on his sledge he comes across a cave full of naked people who approach him with an air of desperation. The snowbound terrain then transforms into a rock-face whence Clint tumbles into a desert setting where the huskies seem equally energetic, Ferrara ignoring the crucial fact that the creatures find high temperatures challenging.

Quite why the film is in the Berlinale main competition section is another anomaly. Essentially a series of random widescreen sequences of varying quality (some high res others grainy), Siberia is a drama without any meaningful dramatic arc, let alone any drama. It attempts to address the self-indulgent and rather cliched premise: old man looks back on his life and concludes nothing from his navel-gazing.

Clearly trading on his strong reputation – Mary, Bad Lieutenant, Pasolini – the highlights of his sustained career, Ferrara is now clearly having a bit of fun with Siberia. He must be chuckling to himself all the way to the bank having managed to get this film in the prestigious competition lineup. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 2020

Roads Not Taken (2020) ** Berlinale 2020

Wir/Dir: Sally Potter | UK Drama 92′

Making mental illness the main subject of a feature film is a dangerous gamble. And Sally Potter fails to pull it off in this tortured and disappointing melodrama which is neither moving nor pleasant to watch, making the illness a dramatic device in a story sadly lacking subtle nuance and delicacy. To make matters worse the affliction in question has turned the main character into a state of near catatonia and his close family members are forced into painful efforts to communicate with him, even at the best of times. This situation will be familiar to many of us and certainly doesn’t make for decent entertainment, and at times even feels more like exploitation.

In a noisy New York backwater, Leo is bedridden and needs constant chivying from his daughter (Elle Fanning) who is the best thing about this claustrophobic film. His ex wife Laura Linney also offers a breath of fresh air when she arrives in the hospital during routine tests. But she turns out to be bitter and belittling towards him, not an easy performance to watch, but at least it breathes life into this airless trial.

The problem here is not only the lack of delicacy but the under-developed characterisation. Leo – by dint of his dementia-like illness is basically a cypher. Fanning, a loving and genuine person whose well-concealed anger at losing more and more work, is conveyed in a really convincing way, and she gives the best performance her. In sun-filled Mexican flashbacks we meet Leo’s long lost love Dolores (Salma Hayek) who Linney then informs us is ‘the one that got away’. These flashbacks are interwoven into the storyline which flips backwards and forwards between the US and Mexico, but so frequently they almost destabilise the cohesion of the storyline. A third strand sees him floating around in Greece as a writer who has lost his mojo, and is desperately trying to hit on two young female travellers. Am echoing urban-fuelling soundscape is supposed to represent the noise in Leo’s head due to his inner turmoil and he expresses this to a the Greek bartender who asks if he’s taking the day off: “The writer is always working, my friend”he responds. As a troubled artist he is certainly up there with the best, if not the most intriguing.

There is clearly some sort of reference to Greek tragedy here with Bardem, who emerges in these flashbacks as a rather self-focused and selfish man who by admission has abandoned his first daughter on account of the noise she made when he was trying to write. Performances and production values-wise the film is decent but as a piece of entertainment it gets ‘nul points’.

Sally Potter is one of England’s best directors. We remember Sally her fabulous filmography— the visionary masterpiece Orlando, the caustically witty social satire The Party and hope for better things to come. MT

BERLINALE 2020 | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020 

 

 

 

Speer Goes to Hollywood (2020)

Dir/Wri: Vanessa Lapa | Doc 97′

Vanessa Lapa follows her expose on the life of Heinrich Himmler The Decent One with another illuminating Nazi portrait, this time of ‘Hitler’s architect’, ally and facilitator Albert Speer.

The Israeli filmmaker’s project came into existence via a chance meeting in a hotel which, on further examination, uncovered an eye-watering treasure trove of archive news footage, audio sources and photographs most of which have never seen the light of day until the present day.

In Lapa’s film Albert Speer (1905-1981) comes across as a cultured but rather narcissistic character who enjoyed a glamorous and comfortable existence as the Third Reich’s Minister of Armaments and War Production in the final years of the Second World War (1942-45). Hitler had wanted to be an architect himself but hadn’t the talents that Speer clearly possessed, so he used the charming and debonair designer as a conduit for his own ideas in constructing the built environment of his Nazi regime. Speer’s subtle charisma saw him through the Nuremberg Trials, convicted but bizarrely escaping the death sentence, this high-ranking official is pictured on the steps of the prison, after serving a two decade sentence, without a shred of remorse but with the victorious words: “See, I’m still good-looking after 20 years”.

During his confinement Speer re-imagined his life and re-wrote his own story claiming not to have been responsible for the overseeing of the gas chambers that led to Third Reich’s worst horrors. He also penned his 1970 best-selling memoir ‘Inside The Third Reich’ which captured the imagination of Hollywood. But on later scrutiny his self-whitewashed story emerged as ‘fake news’, according to the indomitable Lapa who sets out to debunk his version of events in this sleek, compelling and utterly fascinating film.

And not before time. Speer’s specious story is clearly ripe for re-examination. This suave and sinister man still remains unchallenged nearly forty years after his death. Lapa choses a buzzy and effective narrative device to showcase her study: Speer’s 1971 meetings with Jane Birkin’s brother, the scriptwriter Andrew Birkin (apparently a protégé of Stanley Kubrick) who was selected by Paramount to scope out the narrative for a putative film which was later abandoned, largely due to British director Carol Reed’s dubiety. Their informal discussions add subtle but sensational context to the photos and archives, as do the ‘fireside chats’ with Reed who offers his own critique on Speer’s version of the events as the two British film pros plough through 40 hours of Birkin’s recordings with the Nazi, in preparation for his script.

Reed is clearly sceptical, pouring scorn on Speer’s glib technique of painting himself as another ‘decent one’ despite his nefarious Nazi activities that led to the deaths of millions, not to mention the slave labour of the concentration camp victims who were used and abused in Hitler’s efforts to rebuild Berlin. On an equally sinister note, it also emerges that many of these high-ranking officials slipped off the radar and were re-deployed in other parts of the world where their specialist knowledge gleaned in the field of forced euthanasia (Aktion T4) became invaluable.

The film flips between the mind-boggling discussions between Birkin, Speer and Reed; the extraordinary recordings inside the courtrooms of the Nuremberg Trials; the archive footage on parade with the Nazis featuring Hitler and his henchmen, not to mention Albert Speer at leisure with his wife Margarete Weber in their soigné country villa. MT

PREMIERED AT BERLINALE 2020

 

 

 

Hope (2020)

Dir: Maria Sodahl | Drama, Norway/Sweden, 122′

Tragedy proves the turning point for a woman and her long term partner in Maria Sodahl’s raw and resonant semi-autobiographical second feature starring Andrea Bræin Hovig and Stellen Skarsgard. No fireworks here just good, well-crafted storytelling.

Sodahl started her career as a casting director before turning her talents to writing and directing and this stylish film which has a way of making the morbid subject appealing and somehow full of hope, as the title suggests.

The story revolves around Anja (Hovig) who runs a dance company and has just returned from a successful international tour to spend Christmas with her extended family. A meeting with her doctor suggests a need for further investigation which reveals an inoperable brain tumour, possibly connected to the lung cancer she had overcome the previous Christmas. Anja is faced with only months to live. Stellan Skarsgard once again provides solid ballast finding new expressions for his concern, supported by the couple’s various kids and Anja’s likeable father. She gradually works her way through the trauma in a way that is compelling and full of insight, humour and courage. Maria Sodahl drew on her own life experience of the disease which she faced with her husband, Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland (Out Stealing Horses also starring Stellan Skarsgard). The couple’s grief has a transformative affect on their relationship and the ending is surprisingly moving and well thought out. MT

In CINEMAS FROM 10 DECEMBER 2021 | Berlinale Premierr

The Trouble with Being Born (2020) Mubi

Dir: Sandra Wollner | Fantasy Drama, Austria 2020

Women filmmakers are intrigued by Sci-fi and futuristic films at the moment. Claire Denis and Alice Winocour explore Space travel in their films High Life and Proxima. Carol Morley looks into black holes in Out of the Blue and Lucile Hadzihalilovic and Jessica Hausner have scoped out marine regeneration (Evolution) and plant development (Little Joe).

Meanwhile, Austrian filmmaker Sandra Woollner explores the future through our preoccupations with loneliness, guilt and loss. Her sinister second feature imagines a future with robot companions in the suburbs of Vienna where the main character, ten-year-old Elli, lives with a man she calls “Daddy”. But the two seem rather too close for comfort and there is also something strangely sexual about their relationship.

In balmy evenings by the swimming pool Elli plays with her so-called father (Warta). He has programmed her to say all the right things, in a parody of romantic love (there  is nothing smutty here). He also takes her to bed. And although the words mean nothing to the android, she says them with glazed conviction. It’s an unsettling performance from the under-age newcomer Lena Watson (accompanied during the shoot by her parents who were on board with the process). And we soon realise Elli is not real, she is simply her owner’s answer to the perfect partner.

Things have really moved on since blow-up dolls, but the few nude scenes here were all created via VFX with the young actress wearing a special suit suit and a silicone mask and wig which help conceal her real identity and her likeness to another character who will appear later in the film. One evening man and ‘daughter’ become separated while rambling around in the nearby woods and Elli stumbles onto the highway where she is picked up by strangers.

Ensconced in slightly less glamorous surroundings, Elli assumes a new identity, a new ghostly existence linked this time to a child who disappeared and was never seen again. Once again the humans project their longings for their dead loved ones, and the lost paradise of their childhood. But this time the narrative is more unsettling, melding reality with fantasy in a way that discombobulates the survivors as they try to piece together memories and unresolved trauma that is possibly best left buried in the past.

Sandra Wollner’s stylishly provocative film feels visually and tonally similar to Veronica Franzen’s (Good Night Mommie, but thematically she has struck out in a daring new direction mining the rich potential of groundbreaking science in a feature that explores memory, loss and loneliness in both past and contempo states of mind. And she discovers that sometimes the past is best left well alone.

Her first feature The Impossible Picture examined memory and its unreliability in a narrative set in the past but projecting into the future. With this second feature she develops the storyline from a complex base (not the other way around) and reconstructs families that never existed. And so the robot becomes a mirror of human emotion, and the film an intriguing pathway into virtual and psychological realities.

The final twist leads us forward even further to the future – although some scientists say it already exists – to a time where robots get the upper hand. Time Kroger’s pristine visuals and Pia Jatos’ set design create this world in a way that feels both contemporary and strangely retrospective, but always surreal and alienating. The contrast between robots and real characters is eerie but seamlessly realised, creating an extraordinary fantasy feature that scratches at the edges of sci-fi and horror but is firmly underpinned by reality. MT

Running on Empty | Jetzt Oder Morgen (2020) **** Berlinale

Dir.: Lisa Weber; Documentary with Claudia, Daniel Gabi Gerhard, Marvin; Austria 2020, 89 min.

Video games and mobiles have had a corrosive effect on one Austrian family. Lisa Weber follows them as they struggle to make ends meet drowning in debt and an addiction to TV and computer devices which dictate the daily lives of this dysfunctional bunch.

Four years in the making the film centres around twenty-year old Claudia and her son Daniel (five), who live with Claudia’s mother Gabi and her brother Gerhard in a cramped Vienna apartment. Running on Empty is all about  over-whelming interdependence, the four characters have simply lost the plot and any kind of initiative, mentally or physically. Gerhard and Gabi are obese sofa-loungers who are either stuffing their faces with junk food, or burying them in their devices. Even the cat lolls around comotose.

Claudia has split with Marvin, Daniel’s father, who is looking for a flat for the family. Claudia has no secondary school certificate, having left school when pregnant with her son. They all live off welfare, fighting about the distribution of their spoils. Claudia is slim, and her brain is more lightweight, as she sinks in debt. When the siblings discuss emigration, Claudia questions why Muslims get a Christmas bonus when they don’t believe in God. Gerhard is a little more politic, not wanting a re-run of fascism. Hoping to celebrate his birthday in a posh restaurant, he is disgruntled about his mother and sister showing no inclination to finance it. The only car he will ever drive is the racing version on his console. Daniel’s fifth birthday ends with his parents having an row.

This is a torturous watch largely due to the family’s near catatonic way of life. Weber and DoP Carolina Steinbrecher are literally in the faces of their protagonists, who do not seem to mind: they are oblivious of anything and seem to spend their days sleeping or ‘chilling out’, a rolling camera doesn’t make any impact of their lack of decorum. Running on Empty is a decadent study of total stasis: A group of people who have given up on life, just vegetating along, letting the world go by, and they survive on state handouts. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020   

The Woman Who Ran (2020) Silver Bear for Best Director Berlinale 2020

Wri/Dir: Hong Sang-soo | Cast: Kim Min-hee, Lee Eun-mi, Song Seon-mi | 77′ S Korea Drama

Hong Sang-soo comes to Berlinale for the third time with another disposable drama concealing sharp observations about the nature of love and attraction. Once again his muse Kim Min-hee is the focus of this female centric story. She plays Gam-hee who meets up with three friends and runs into an old acquaintance, while her husband is abroad. Nothing really happens but the tentative conversations have a quirky humour unique to this veteran South Korean filmmaker, as gradually the layers of Gam-hee’s quiet neuroticism are peeled away.

The Woman Who Ran is not as funny as his best drama In Another Country (2012) that had Isabelle Huppert in a lost in translation merry-go-round in a beachside resort. Many find these films have a banal quality but others see hidden depths in the seemingly slight encounters.

Each new meeting involves Gam-hee divulging her thoughts about her marriage. How her husband thinks they should spend every day together, although this is the first time in their five year marriage they have been apart: “He says that people in love should always stick together,” Eventually we get the impression she is hinting at some hidden concerns about her love life although nothing is divulged along those lines.

The various encounters always feel slightly awkward and gauche, the parties retreating to safe ground at the first sign of potential conflict, and this is particularly the case with the first visit. Gam-hee is invited to supper at the house of recent divorcee Young-soon (Seo Younghwa) and her roommate Youngji (Lee Eunmi). The three women discuss the topic of eating meat, and discuss Youngji’s grilling skills before finally exploring the possibility of going vegetarian. There is a difficult doorstep discussion with their neighbour who comes round to address the issue of their feeding his cat. They all pussy foot around the subject before elegantly stepping away from any slight contretemps, the neighbour backing off having achieved nothing, but making it clear he not best pleased.

Gamhee then goes round to visit her slightly older friend Suyoung (Song Seonmi) who talks about a potential new boyfriend in the flat above. Later she confesses her fear of him finding out about her one night stand with another neighbour, who is now pestering her for more. But it is the final meeting that leaves us in the dark as to the film’s title. Woojin (Kim Saebyuk) says she has something important to tell Gam-hee but she never reveals what it is. The film’s enigmatic approach feels rather unsatisfactory, appearing to have been given a random title. The Woman Who Ran is mildly engaging while it lasts but ultimately forgettable once we have left the cinema. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 2- FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020

A Fish Swimming Upside Down (2020) ** Berlinale 2020

Dir.: Eliza Petkova; Cast:  Nina Schwabe, Theo Trebs, Henning Kober, Anna Manolova, Marton Nagy; Germany 2019, 108 min.

In her second film for Berlinale Bulgarian filmmaker Eliza Petkova tries her best to be enigmatic – flirting with Hitchcock’s Rebecca – but ends up with a creaky Oedipus-themed story where she shows no empathy for her characters who swim round like fish caught in an aquarium. Hitchcock would have admired her detached voyeurism – but nothing else.

The focus is femme fatale Andrea (Schwabe) just moved into a stylish house in Berlin  to live with boyfriend Philipp (Kober) and his Down’s syndrome son Martin (Trebs), whose mother has died suddenly in her sleep. Philipp is desperate to move on from the past but teenager Martin seems to resent Andrea called her the “fish swimming upside down”, for her habit of moving round on her stomach. When Philipp is away on a business trip Andrea moves into Martin’s bed. Meanwhile, housekeeper Nadeshda (Manolova) plays a suitable Mrs. Danvers, witnessing the couple’s sexual shenanigans until she written out of the script, and the house, Martin accusing her of pilfering. His deepening obsession for Andrea even sees his accusing his friend Jens (Nagy) of sleeping with Andrea when the three of them go on a trip to Sächsische Schweiz that ends in tears.

Petkova lacks experience in her direction and this shows particularly in the few action scenes which as as awkward as the title suggests. DoP Constanze Schmitt creates a summery feeling with her suffused palette of colours, as if life has seeped out of the characters and their environment. Enigma is always welcome, but Petkova over-complicates the narrative, leaving us perplexed to the very end. Petkova is clearly talented, but her inability to decide what sort of a film she wants to create becomes the stumbling block here.  The actors, particularly Schwabe, are over-extended, and have to fall back on silent-film gesturing. Overall, A Fish feels like a failure, albeit an honourable one. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | FEBRUARY 2020 

       

  

Servants | Sluzobnici (2020)

Dir.: Ivan Ostrochovsky; Cast: Samuel Skyva, Samuel Olakovic, Vladimir Miculcik, Vladimir Obsil, Vlad Ivanov, Martin Sulik, Vladimir Strnisco; Slovakia/Romania/Czech Republic/Ireland 2020, 78 min.

Slovakian director/co-writer Ivan Ostrochovsky creates a Bresson-like study of resistance set in a religious seminary in 1980 Bratislava (which back then was the capital of the Slovak Socialist Republic in  Czechoslovakia).

Shot in luminous black-and-white by DoP Juraj Chipikin in the old-fashioned 4:3 ratio, The Servants is a tightly-scripted Noirish portrait of temptation and belief.

The 1980s was a tough time for the Catholic Church whose religious freedom came under threat from the draconian cosh of the continuing communist regime. The clergy was divided into the regime-critical “catacomb church” which maintains contact with the Vatican and Western media, and the “ecclesiastical hierarchy” which cooperated with those in power and was represented by the state-sponsored priests’ association Pacem in Terris. (1971-1989).

Two young seminarians, Juraj (Skyva) and Michal (Polakovic) enter the Catholic institution in Bratislava to take the priesthood. Each must decide whether to collaborate with the regime or whether to remain faithful to their idealist views, and submitting to the surveillance of the secret police.

Most of the priests in the seminary are members of the Pacem in Terris group. Unfortunately for the two newcomers, their confessor is even worse: not only has he killed a man in a hit-and-ran accident, he is also an informer for the local Secret Service, led by Frantisek (Sulik), a medic who is in league with the Dean, Tibor (Strnisco).

Coufar (Obsil) meanwhile has been disciplined by the authorities but still organises secret meetings with scholars in his house and reports incidents to Radio Free Europe. Frantisek kills him, making it look like a road accident. But nobody is fooled and Michal joins the resistance group. Juraj is then threatened with being drafted into the army by Frantisek, but withstands the temptation. Michal, who does not know that Juraj has been interrogated, posts a leaflet on the noticeboard asking the seminarians to join a hunger strike in support of Coufar’s murder.

Ostrochovsky and his co-writers are particularly scathing about the collaborators in Pacem in Terris. The Dean and Frantsisek have a relationship founded on mutual collaboration – as Frantisek puts it: “if we fail to find the ringleader of the revolt in the seminary, both our heads will roll”. Coufar is the more cynical of the two: he produces Michal’s Secret Police File and tells him “You need to understand that we are not here to be happy”.

This is an austere but laudable drama enhanced by its stunning visual allure: there are astonishing shots of the inner courtyard of the seminary, showcasing an arena which serves both as a football pitch and a place for collective punishment. The Noirish atmosphere prevails, underlined by the protagonists’ long shadows, the night scenes artfully shot with one single light source. Servants is true to the spirit of Bresson whose hero Francois Leterrier from Un Condamne a Mort s’est Echappe is recreated in the resisters. AS

On Curzon Home Cinema on May 14th. As a virtual cinema screenings at HOME Manchester and ArtHouse, Crouch End as well as IFI@Home in Ireland | BERLINALE premiere in 2020

                                    

       

Amazon Mirror | O Reflexo do Lago (2020) **** Berlinale 2020 Panorama

Wri/Dir: Fernando Segtowick | DoP Thiago Pelaes | Doc Brazil 80′

As nations expand and populations grow governments have to make provision: England’s HS2 railway is a case in point. This serenely contemplative arthouse film explores the human side of expansion: a necessary fact of life in paving the way for change. But the ongoing destructive exploitation of Amazonia, caused by the construction of the Tucuruí reservoir, leads Brazilian filmmaker Fernando Segtowick to go back into the past and examination his homeland’s history of environmental devastation.

In this hypnotic feature debut Segtowick relies on a rich ambient soundscape, illuminating archive footage and the informative input of those affected by the project to provide calm, non-judgemental insight in the aftermath to the installation of his country’s mammoth hydroelectric power plant that was built in the vast exotic landscapes of Amazonia by the 1980s military government  to create the new reservoir in Tucuruí. The electricity generated by the behemoth supplies the energy-hungry aluminium industry, but nearby inhabitants are still waiting for their needs to be met by solar panels to provide them with electricity. This is parlous on a human level. Just like HS2, this large-scale project was beset by time pressure and excessive demands; the rainforest was not cleared before the flooding, and neither animals nor people were properly resettled. The dead trunks of gigantic primeval trees protrude from the water as a memorial. Inspired by Paula Sampaio’s book of photographs “O Lago do Esquecimento” (“The Lake of Oblivion”) and shot in high-contrast black and white, the film brings us closer to the ordinary modest lives of those who live here. Segtowick also uses this an opportunity to examine his own work as a documentary filmmaker and analyses moments of failure. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 27 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020

Delete History (2020) ** Berlinale 2020

My Little Sister (2020)

Sisters Apart | Im Feuer **** Berlinale Festival 2020

Dir.: Daphne Charizani; Cast: Almila Bagriacik, Zübeyde Bulut, Maryam Boubani, Caroline Krebsfänger, Christoph Letkowski; Germany/Greece 2020, 93 min.

A woman is torn between her Kurdish roots and her German identity as a Bundeswehr soldier in this compelling drama from Greek born director Daphne Charizani whose script makes this exciting drama a real winner: the characters are well-fleshed out in a story that is fresh and inventive with surprising twists and turns.

We first meet the main character Rojda (Bargriacik) entering a camp for displaced Kurds where she attempts to get her mother Ferhat released into her custody. Her German passport finally overcomes the camp’s administrators suspicions, and the mother and daughter return home to Cologne. But Ferhat is anything but grateful, she longs for her daughter Dilan (Krebsfänger), who is fighting in a Kurdish battalion of women soldiers against ISIS. Despite safe sanctuary in Germany, Ferhat would much rather be back in her homeland and supports the local Kurdish leader, who sells forms for visa applications, even though they are all free to move around.

Rojda is a soldier in the Bundeswehr, the German army, and in this capacity she is sent off to support Kurdish fighters on the ground, acting as an interpreter. With the help of Staff Sergeant Alex Breitmeyer (Letkowski), who has crush on her, she gets brownie point and a great of freedom when working with the Kurdish women, who, to the astonishment of the German soldiers, refuse to have a leader. Nevertheless, Rojda strikes up a friendship Berivan (Bulut) who eventually leads her to Dilan. But their re-union is short-lived.

Charizani avoids type-casting in conveying the psychological vulnerability of these women fighters; fear is always the dominant factor despite their intense training. A fiercely fought football match brings some relief in the highly charged atmosphere for the male soldiers. But the women are not amused by these antics, and Rojda tells Breitmeyer: “I haven’t come here to play football”. Although this is a film about war, the battlefield is inventively filmed in intense close-ups, avoiding the usual widescreen set pieces. DoP Falko Lachmund films in intensive close-ups putting the individual at the forefront rather than the usual massed male mayhem. Bargriacik’s Rodja is a study in dispossession, whatever the outcome of the mission, she has so much to lose. There is nothing superfluous, everything plays with the utmost efficiency. Shot on a small budget and none the worse for it, Sisters Apart is a strong example of how clear-sighted ideas trump  production design. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | PERSPEKTIVE DEUTSCHES KINO

        

Goddess of the Fireflies | La Déesse des Mouches à feu (2020) Berlinale Generation

Dir.: Anais Barbeau-Lavalette; Cast: Kelly Depeault, Caroline Neron, Normand d’Amour, Eleonore Loiselle, Robin L’Houmeau, Antoine Desrouches, Marine Johnson; Canada 2020, 105 min.

Canadian director Anais Barbeau-Lavalette and writer Catherine Leger have adapted Genevieve Pettersen’s novel for the screen. But despite their best efforts to bring something fresh to a teenage addiction story the result is lacklustre despite a spirited central performance from Canadian actress Kelly Depeault.

Catherine (Depeault) comes from a dysfunctional middle-class background not helped by the usual competitive boyfriend problems at her co-ed school. On her sixteenth birthday a vicious fight breaks out between her divorced parents (Neron/D’Amour) and Catherine takes refuge in the woods where her gang of friends are heavily into mescaline. She dabbles with the drug and also drifts into more promiscuous behaviour, sleeping with Pascal (Desrochers) who was dating her friend Melanie (Johnson), and then the guitar playing Keven (L’Houmeau) who makes love to her in an overlong cringeworthy scene. The story gradually unravels in a series of tragic events that lead to an unconvincing denouement for all concerned. Lively visuals from DoP Jonathan Decoste convey the high-energy febrility of this lost and emotionally volatile youth. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020

       

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Undine (2020) Curzon

Dir/Wri: Christian Petzold | Cast: Paula Beer, Frank Rogowski, Maryam Zaree, Jacob Matschenz, Anne Ratte-Polle Germany|France German | 90’ Colour

Paula Beer and Frank Rogowski are united as star-crossed lovers in Christian Petzold’s Golden Bear hopeful which reworks the myth of Undine the water nymph in a contemporary fantasy that also offers a potted history of Berlin.Water has long been a metaphor for powerful emotion. And it’s one of the overarching themes in this eventful, erotically-charged and often hilarious love story, based on the 1811 novella by German romanticist Friedrich de la Motte Fouque – a supernatural water nymph must marry a knight in order to gain a soul. Not only does some of the film take place under water, but an exploding fish tank provides the clincher for this modern day version where Undine (Beer) falls for diving engineer Christophe (a soulful Rogowski) after she is jilted by her ex, Johannes (Matschenz).Undine works as a museum guide in Berlin and knows the architectural history of the capital off by heart, giving a spiel to visitors everyday. She is an attractive and intelligent woman but somehow her world implodes when Johannes calls time on their relationship. Later in the nearby cafe, she is disarmed by Christophe who praises her on her museum spiel. Soon the couple are madly in love, the chemistry between them incendiary due to Rugowski’s potent magnetism and her gamine charm. But no one can escape fate, even in modern day Berlin, and Undine must act out her tragic story.

Petzold establishes a spooky weirdness from the opening scene when Undine threatens Johannes in the cafe: “If you leave me, I will have to kill you” she says. and although this seems rather bizarre and radical at the time, the threat actually informs the finale, giving us the first clue that proceedings are heading for a supernatural conclusion. Undine is no ordinary woman, in line with the ‘do or die’ romanticism of the original. And Hans Fromm’s camerawork conveys this sorrowful mystery with surreal hyperrealism. This is one of Petzold’s most accomplished films to date and a gripping and ravishing love story.

The original novella went on to inspire Wagner, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky and Ravel. The London publication of the novella was illustrated by Arthur Rackham, and gave rise to a 1958 ballet, choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton. Filmwise, American director Henry Otto made a silent film of the story in 1916; Andy Warhol interpreted the nymph as a gay man in The Loves of Ondine in 1968, and Neil Jordan’s adaptation Ondine (2009) sees a Irish fisherman finding a mermaid in his nets. MT

NOW ON CURZON World

 

Gunda (2020)

Dir: Victor Kossakovsky | Wri: Ainara Vera | Doc, Norway 93′

ON RELEASE FROM 4 June 2021 | GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL |BERLINALE 2020 PREMIERE |

Persian Lessons (2020) **** Berlinale Special

Dir: Vadim Perelman. Russia/Germany/Belarus. 2020. 128mins

A war of attrition plays out between Belgian Jew and Nazi in this clever and darkly amusing ride to hell and back from Ukrainian born director Vadim Perelman (House of Fog).

Set in occupied France in 1942 and based on a short story by Wolfgang Kohlhaase, a young Belgian prisoner of war is forced to change his nationality and invent an entire language on the pretence of being Persian, in order to escape the clutches of an ego-driven commandant who saves him from the firing squad – simply because he has a penchant for learning the lingo (Farsi).

The physical tortures of war are one thing, but the psychological effects can be equally painful, and this film makes a nonsense of the popular saying: “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. The young Belgian is played with considerably aplomb by (man of the moment) Nahuel Perez Biscayart. As Reza he not only has to lie but also remember the lies. The payback of these mental gymnastics comes in the film’s stunning reveal that is almost as moving as the final scene in Polanski’s The Pianist.

These were the tortuous hoops that people had to jump through during Nazism. And Persian Lessons is another astonishing angle on the war, and another tribute to our collective memory of the Holocaust. The gruelling tension of the folly-a-deux between Commandant and POW is lightened by a deliciously salacious undercurrent of flirtatiousness that burbles away between the Nazi staff running the camp. And although there is a slight longueur towards the final stretch in a story that requires a leap of faith, the strength of the performances and of Ilya Zofin’s brilliant writing combined with the impressive mise en scene blow these minor flaws away.

Reza is an extremely smart young man and while he quivers in his boots, he also works out how to massage Commandant Koch’s fragile ego. And Lars Eidinger – in one of the best performances of his career – is deeply sinister as the vain and deeply insecure Commandant, who has no access to the internet or even a smart phone to check the Farsi words and phrases, so the plot pivots between his desire to trust Reza and his deep fear of leaving himself exposed to ridicule by his peers and his young teacher, who is living his life on a knife edge.

Elegantly framed and lit by DoP Vladislav Opelyants, the only flaw is the irritating score that incessantly needles away when silence would occasionally be preferable. But even that can’t detract from this really gripping and intelligent wartime thriller. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 20 February 2020 – 1 MARCH 2020

 

 

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Pompei (2020) *** Berlinale | Generation 14Plus

Dir.: Anna Falgueras, John Shank; Cast: Garance Marillier, Alioche Schneider, Auguste Wilhelm, Vincent Rottiers; Belgium/France/Canada 2019, 90 min.

French first-time writer director Anna Falgueras and Belgium-American writer/director John Shank have created a feature which looks stunning, but the palpable atmosphere of loss and abandonment cannot make up for an under-worked script, in an unspecified time and place.

Twelve-year old Jimmy (Wilhelm) older brother Victor (Schneider) are orphans, their only sanctuary is a cement bunker they call home. A crowd of younger children hang out with Victor and his older mate Toxou (Rottiers), the pair are small time criminals eking out a paltry existence digging for old coins in the nearby hills, and selling them on to a middleman. Then along comes Billie (Marillier), who once tried to gas her parents after seeing a warning about the end of the world on TV. She carries a gun and, not surprisingly, has been expelled from school. Billie and Victor fall for each other, and the gang pay good money to watch them making out, through holes in the wall. Victor and Toxou spend most of their time repairing their banger. When Victor and Jimmy find a valuable bronze bust, the latter wants to sell it, cutting out the middleman. Jimmy is torn between loyalty to his brother and the criminal code, but Victor asks Billie to elope with him, before selling the bust. Toxou finds out about Victor’s treachery, and beats him up. Billie finally runs away from her parents, but it all ends in tears.

DoP Florian Berutti conjures up images that echo early Malick features, and PD Alina Santos creates a world worthy of Mad Max. Schneider and Marillier have palpable chemistry, but Wilhelm’s Jimmy often steals the show. This is an impressive debut, but the writers leave the audience with too many unanswered questions. It may be cool to be enigmatic and opaque, but even a minimalist approach needs proper building blocks to set the narrative on fire. AS

BERLINALE GENERATION 14PLUS | 2020

 

First Cow (2020)

Dir: Kelly Reichardt | Writers Jon Raymond, Kelly Reichardt | Cast: John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Ewen Bremner, Scott Shepherd, Gary Farmer, Lily Gladstone, Alia Shawkat, Rene Auberjonois, Jared Kasowski | Drama US 121′

“The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.” William Blake

Kelly Reichardt’s eighth film takes us back to the old West in a timeless and fabulously crafted story of two men finding friendship as they wander the sylvan landscapes of the 19th century Oregon Trail trying to survive off the land.

This lyrical and richly textured film lulls us with a hypnotic narrative that slowly catches fire in the final stretch. The mutually compatible souls come together from different corners of the earth. Bonded by their hopes and dreams they develop a miniaturist cottage industry: the Chinamen King Lu (Orion Lee) has the business acumen, the diffident American is Boston baker “Cookie” (aka Otis Figowitz, a sensitive John Magaro) and what emerges is a painterly rendering of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: first there is hunger but gradually sophistication and greed come into play, as the smouldering story unfolds.

It all starts with the arrival of the first cow in the region, an amiable dairy heifer seen drifting gracefully along the river in a boat from San Luis Obispo. Once firmly on dry land she is encouraged by Cookie to provide the vital ingredient for his buttermilk buns. And these provide for the men’s needs in the short term. Lu suggests they sell them at the nearby market, and soon they have regular customers for their fare. Lu points out their “window” will not last for long. But before competitors catch on to their bakery bandwagon, something tragic happens.

And this comes with the arrival of the cow’s owner, Toby Jones’ Chief Factor, a wealthy English sea merchant who lives in a supposedly grand clapperboard house, with his Native American wife (Lily Gladstone). His observations on how to incentivise workers, and his sophisticated social commentary on London fashions spike this gentle story with a vein of subversive humour. We learn the buns have a subtle taste of “South Kensington” and that the ‘Empire Line’ is no longer in vogue, but canary yellow is the now the colour ‘du jour’ for ladies couture. Also that his humble cow is actually descended from the highly prized ‘Froment de Leon’ breed, crossed with Isigny in Brittany, ensuring exceptionally rich grass for grazing, hence the quality of its milk and cream. So when Factor visits the market to sample the famous buttermilk buns and orders a ‘blueberry clafoutis’, the penny starts to drop, but not into the baker’s hands.

Reichardt’s regular cinematographer Christopher Blauvelt creates painterly images that glow like Rembrandt Old Masters, enhanced by the use of the silent era’s 4:3 aspect ratio. The animal connection here is tender rather than sentimental, once again showcasing Reichardt’s relationship with animals: her well known dog Lucy has been cast in her films – notably Wendy and Lucy (2008), and Old Joy (2006) which share Reichardt’s regular writing partner, who also wrote the book on which this arthouse treasure is based: The Half Life. MT

ON RELEASE IN THE UK & IRELAND and on MUBI | 28 MAY 2021 | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 PREMIERE

 

 

 

Paris Calligrammes (2020)

Dir.: Ulrike Ottinger; Documentary; France/Germany 2020, 129 min.

German painter, photographer and filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger (Joan of Arc of Mongolia) a “Berlinale Kamera” in 2020 for her oeuvre. The  biographical documentary Paris Calligrammes is a lively inventory of her artistic roots, starting in 1962 when she left her hometown of Konstanz at the age of 21. In Paris she meets other German artists forced to emigrate due to the Nazi scourge. 

Ulrike arrives in the French capital as a hitch-hiker after her car breaks down, Paris in the Sixties providing her with enough creative inspiration to drive her own ambitions. And where better to start an artistic journey than the second-hand bookshop run by Fritz Picard in rue de Dragon in the Sixieme? She helped curate his book collection from street vendors. These were traded along with other works acquired from German emigrants of the 1930s and 40s who had been forced to travel light.

It was here that Ottinger discovered the titular Calligrammes: Poemes de Paix et de la Guerre by Apollinaire. Dada and the surrealist movement were her next discovery, she also met authors and artists including Anne Kolb; Hans Arps; Erich Jünger and Franz Jung – all of them had been forced to leave Germany, for their part in the Weimarer Avantgarde. The filmmaker Hans Richter and the writer Walter Mehring were also  acquaintances, the latter bemoaning the death in exile of Ernst Toller, Kurt Tucholsky, Joseph Roth, Ernst Weiss, Walter Hasenclever and Carl Einstein, whose books were still sold by Picard.

Back in Konstanz, Ottinger’s paintings were gaining repute. Meanwhile in Paris, in the atelier of Johnny Friedländer, she mastered the art of eau-forte, aquatint and etchings. Living in a small unheated attic in Saint German des Pres, she joined more famous artists: Simone Signoret, Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. They worked in well-heated cafes, where a cup of coffee was enough to buy a place for a whole day. She also met Jean Rouch who was shooting Chronology of a Summer. On the streets Ottinger talked to the “Universal genius” Raymond Duncan, who wandered around in his toga telling everyone to “make everything you need, yourself.” She also visited the “temple of books” La Hune. 

But it wasn’t all rosy. Back in Konstanz she had met some French soldiers who had deserted the army so as not to serve in Algeria. She had stolen a suit from her father and given it to one of the deserters. On the night of the 17th October1961 the Parisian police, under the control of Maurice Papin (who had led the deportations of Jews to the death camps) butcher over three hundred Algerians near the Grand Rex Cinema. The government stopped the news reaching the headlines, even opposition newspapers failed to report the killings.

Jean Genet brought the carnage to life in his 1964 play The Screens. It was finally allowed staged in 1966, directed by Jean-Louis Barrault. By this time, Ottinger had moved to the Latin Quarter, near the many art-house cinemas, and Pop Art was now her thing, making Comic strip paintings in 3D. She also visited the American galleries showing Warhol, Rauschenbach and Wesselmann. But all the time she was confronted with the history of her homeland, bumping into the painter Lou-Albert-Lasard, whose pictorial tribute of the Gurs camp reminded her of her own internment past.

Ottinger did not overlook the bloody French colonial history, visits to the Musee Colonies or the Jardin Colonial were a sight for sore eyes. With Jean Rouch she toured the Musee d’ Homme, while he was preparing his films on ethnographic developments. Ottinger found a home, at least three times a week, in the Cinematheque Francaise, which had just moved to the Palais de Chaillot under its director Henri Langlois. Opened by Pompidou and Malraux, the new home had a film museum where Langlois showed off the Mummy from Psycho, donated by Hitchcock. But the German connections always re-surfaced: well known Berlin film critic Lotte Eisner talked about the founding of the Cinematheque, when Langlois was young and slim. Finally, Ottinger reports from her visit to a Goya exhibition which inspired her feature film Freak Orlando.

An extensive and exhaustive documentary about the artist as a young woman – always haunted by the Germany of her childhood. The theme of displacement would continue to feature in many of her films. AS

PARIS CALLIGRAMMES will open on 27 August 2021at Bertha DocHouse, Ciné Lumière, ICA Cinema and JW3 in London and at independent cinemas throughout the UK and Ireland.

PARIS CALLIGRAMMES celebrated its world premiere at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival. where the director was awarded the Berlinale Camera by the festival.

 

 

         

Uppercase Print (2020) Mubi

Dir.: Radu Jude; Cast: Serban Lazarovic; Ionna Iacob, Bogdan Zamfir; Romania 2020, 128 min.

Director/co-writer Radu Jude won the Silver Bear in 2015 for his 19th century adventure drama (Aferim!) and his 2018 satire I Don’t Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians won the Crystal Globe at Karlovy Vary. He is back in Berlin with another episode from Romanian history, a biopic of the famous Botosani teenager Mugur Calinescu (1965-1985) who chalked anti-state slogans all over the town and was hounded down by the feared Securitas, and crushed by president Ceausescu’s secret police.

Uppercase Print is based on Securitas files and the play by Gianina Carbunarius, and adapted for the screen by Jude and the playwright himself. Jude interweaves the narrative with police re-enactment sequences during the time of the case and after the fall of the regime, and domestic scenes featuring Mugur (Lazarovic) and his parents (Iacob and Zamfir). These are enriched by  newsreel and short films from Romanian State Television, giving the docudrama a convincing historical perspective.

In September 1981 Mugur was disenchanted by things in his native town of Botosani, and expressed his concern by chalking relatively harmless messages on the walls of the Cultural Centre: “We can’t take the injustice any longer… I consider we should remove it”.  Often commenting on developments in Poland, where Solidarity and Rural were formed – Mugur wanted this progress for Romania. He continued to raise awareness about long food queues in the shops and called for an end to “the filth and injustice in our country”. The messages were written in the upper-case letters, hence the film’s title. On the kerb Mugur wrote “We want Freedom” At the same time, TV images were mildly misogynist showcasing women’s beauty, all thanks to the regime.

Mugur got caught by the Securitas, and ended up in a file, code name “Pupil”. Policemen bugged the flat where he lived with his mother – his father had left the family. The secret police accused him of asking state enemies for help. And despite his efforts to apologise, the police closed in on him and his friends, his mother was pressurised in her workplace. All during this time young men were being conscripted: the Fatherland was worth any sacrifice. The class enemy in the West was accused of Human Rights violations. Mugur told the authorities be believed Romania to be a backward country, even compared to other the socialist nations.

In November 1981 school and security services got together to rule in the “Pupil” case. Mugur was regarded an enemy of the state and the Securitas cross-examination continued. A thoughtful re-enactment of his funeral ensues, his old case officers in attendance and now living happily in Bucharest, shrugging off any guilt about his fate. The authorities stated: “Ceausescu did not want political cases any more. In 1964 Mugur would have got 15 years in prison”. Mugur left the world with a dim opinion of his fellow countrymen:” My friends betrayed me, that’s the worst. I confessed so Securitas could not act indifferently. Among cowards you can’t do anything”.

Radu Jude’s sensitively crafted biopic drama pays heartfelt homage to a young man who tried to make the world aware of the social injustice in his homeland, illuminating a little known snapshot of history outside the confines of the Totalitarian State. Today Mugur is remembered as a hero by all Romanians, and it’s thanks to Jude that we all now know his story. AS

NOW ON MUBI | BERLINALE 2020 PREMIERE           

Goddess of the Fireflies | La Déesse des Mouches à feu (2020) Berlinale Generation

Dir.: Anais Barbeau-Lafalette; Cast: Kelly Depeault, Caroline Neron, Normand d’Amour, Eleonore Loiselle, Robin L’Houmeau, Antoine Desrouches, Marine Johnson; Canada 2020, 105 min.

Canadian director Anais Barbeau-Lafalette and writer Catherine Leger have adapted Genevieve Pettersen’s novel for the screen. But despite their best efforts to bring something fresh to a teenage addiction story the result is lacklustre despite a spirited central performance from Canadian actress Kelly Depeault.

Catherine (Depeault) comes from a dysfunctional middle-class background not helped by the usual competitive boyfriend problems at her co-ed school. On her sixteenth birthday a vicious fight breaks out between her divorced parents (Neron/D’Amour) and Catherine takes refuge in the woods where her gang of friends are heavily into mescaline. She dabbles with the drug and also drifts into more promiscuous behaviour, sleeping with Pascal (Desrochers) who was dating her friend Melanie (Johnson), and then the guitar playing Keven (L’Houmeau) who makes love to her in an overlong cringeworthy scene. The story gradually unravels in a series of tragic events that lead to an unconvincing denouement for all concerned. Lively visuals from DoP Jonathan Decoste convey the high-energy febrility of this lost and emotionally volatile youth. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020

       

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Wildland (2020)

Dir; Jeanette Nordahl | Cast: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Elliott Crossest Hove, Carla Philip Roder, Sofie Torp | Drama, Denmark 89′

Trust the Danes to make a visually stylish slice of social realism all about small time crooks. Sidse Babett Knudsen is the resounding presence in this slim but sensitively handled rites of passage drama from Danish director Jeanette Nordahl (Waiting for Phil). She plays the head of a dysfunctional family of smalltime druggies whose stomping ground is the Danish countryside near Odense. The story is seen from the perspective of their teenage cousin Ida (striking newcomer Sandra Guldberg Kampp) who moves in after the tragic death of her mother in a car accident. Ida’s reasonably sheltered background doesn’t prepare her for what’s to come, but in trying to get help from the authorities she finds herself linked to a crime that could bring repercussions on the family who took her in. Ida finds hidden resources to cope with the trauma in a layered characterisation that pays tribute to Hanna writer Ingeborg Topsoe’s clever scripting. Artful camerawork, convincing performances and nicely judged pacing make this subtle gangland tale into a treat. MT

WILDLAND will open in cinemas across the UK on Friday 13th August

 

El Profugo | The Intruder (2020) *** Berlinale 2020

Dir. Natalia Meta | Cast: Érica Rivas, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Daniel Hendler, Cecilia Roth, Guillermo Arengo, Agustín Rittano, Mirta Busnelli Argentina/Mexico |94′

 

The Intruder is Argentina’s equivalent to Berberian Sound Studio. But while wacky and wildly entertaining in its own original way, Natalia Meta’s Golden Bear hopeful doesn’t come together with quite the same success as Peter Strickland’s 2012 cult classic giallo. This is more of a comedy giallo thriller. Tonally it’s all over the place, but full of interesting ideas.

There is certainly a compulsiveness about this second film from Natalia Meta, who delighted us with her detective thriller Death in Buenos Aires back in 2014. Based on C E Feiling’s novel of the same name, the main character Ines (Erica Rivas from Wild Tales) is clearly going through an existential crisis, unable to pin down a health concern that may or may not be psychosomatic. But it starts after her annoying boyfriend Leopaldo (Daniel Handler) jumps off their hotel balcony while the couple are enduring a not so successful romantic first mini-break in Mexico.

Ines is a VoiceOver artist who also sings in a classical choir. Scenes in the sound studio are occasionally nightmarish – as they were in Berberian – in contrast to those in Buenos Aires’ magnificent modern concert hall which provides a sense of spacious stability, or so it seems at first. But soon Ines’ dreams are taking over, and buzzing and crackling intervene during her voiceovers in the studio. Where is it coming from: an intruder, or her own mind? Strange snake-like objects writhe through her bed at night. Is this penis envy, or is she just desperate for sex? Both seem possible reasons for her mental meltdown, and they constantly play on our own subconscious while watching this weird film. And don’t feel you’re patronising the intelligent heroine by tittering, because this is after all Meta’s intention. A dark vein of humour runs through the narrative, but it gradually turns to tension when Ines gets more and more traumatised by her mysterious malady de coeur. A visit from her surgically enhanced mother (a superb Cecilia Roth) is also a big stress factor, adding a telenovela-ish vibe to proceedings. Is this woman in competition with her daughter, or just seriously devoid of anything better to do than rummage through her draws.

Meanwhile back at the concert hall, the re-tuning of the large organ starts to dominate the girls’ rehearsals (more Freudian overtones) and soon reality and delusion start to melt into one, luring us on and on in a frenzy of expectation and frustration. Medical tests are inconclusive and even magnetic tests show that Ines’ body is emitting a high level of magnetism. When Ines finally meets meets the illusive organ tuner Alberto (Nahuel Perez Biscayart of 120 BPM fame) during a tango soiree she is smitten. But the mesmerising blue-eyed boy is rather enigmatic, although clearly keen to pursue her romantically – so should she just lie back and think of Argentina?.

A powerfully sinister soundscape is one of the overriding impressions of the quirky curio, which feels rather old-fashioned visually, tying in with its giallo undertones. So go with the flow if can and suspend your disbelief, The Intruder is certainly a compelling way to spend an hour and a half. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 20 February to 1 March 2020 

 

Black Milk | Schwarze Milch (2020) **** Berlinale 2020

Dir: Uisenma Borchu | Cast: Gunsmaa Tsogzol, Uisenma Borchu, Terbish Demberel, Borchu Bawaa, Franz Rogowski | Germany/Mongolia, 91′

In Uisenma Borchu’s second semi-biographical film, a young woman is searching for her roots and discovers an idiosyncratic, radical sensuality that not only transgresses Mongolian conventions but also those of the supposedly more liberal West.

The Mongolian born director, writer and actress originally came to Germany at the age of five. Her first film Don’t Look at Me That Way won the FIPRESCI prize at Munich in 2015. During an interview she said: “I’m sure people will be shocked by the explicit sex scenes. I like sex. I like the intimacy of two people because I think it is the most exciting thing, but it is also the most normal thing. Fundamentally, we are here to fuck each other, so sex should be depicted as normal and natural.”

Sex is also a palpable theme theme, as it was in her debut. Set in Mongolia, and told with great verve and imagination, Black Milk sees two sisters meet up again after some time apart. Their names are significant in the context of the story – Ossi and Wessi – not very complimentary slang for Ex-East and Ex-West Berliners, the former nickname being particularly derogative.

Wessi (Borchu) leaves her abusive German husband Franz (a glowing Rogowski), and flies off to Mongolia’s capital Ulan Bator, before joining her family who live in the sparsely populated countryside, in a yurt. Her sister Ossi (Tsogzol) is not that excited to see her again, feeling she left for a better future. It takes a time for Wessi to re-acclimatise to this rural lifestyle, and she finds the male-dominated set-up tricky, until she strikes up a friendship with the much older Terbish (Demberel) who is also an outsider. Ossi resents her sister being home again, and Wessi finds the primitive routines difficult: having to get water from the well and watching the animals being slaughtered, even though she tries to overcome it, as we will see later.

Ossi’s stepfather Boro (Bawaa) warns Terbish not to get too close to Wessi. Later that night she dreams of being raped by an unknown assailant, warning him off by telling him her breasts will spray black milk. Milk is sacrosanct in Mongolia and highly prized. Wessi even prays to the Blue Mountain deity to help her get Terbish into bed, and later dreams they are having rampant sex. She watches Terbish kill a goat, and intrudes on a male gathering presenting sacrifices to the Blue Mountain deity. The stepfather reacts angrily: “Stop your sinful actions. Do not pretend you do not know our customs.” But when Ossi’s husband is late home one night, Wessi forces her sister to carry out a slaughter, even though it is forbidden for a woman do so. Ossi’s reaction leads to the film’s surprising conclusion.

Made on a small budget, and none the worse for it, Black Milk is a prime example of how a strong script can elevate a simple story into a tense and moving drama, with all the qualities of poetic realism and a potent feminist message, Borchu’s skilful direction leaves a lot to the imagination, and her performance as Wessi creates spirited onscreen chemistry with Tsogzol’s Ossi. Mongolia looks wild and exotic in DoP Sven Zellner’s panoramic landscapes and passionate close-ups. Let’s hope we see more of Borchu’s work, and soon. AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020

Swimming Out Till the Sea Turns Blue (2020) **** Berlinale Special

Zeus Machine. L’invincible (2020) *** Berlinale 2020 | Forum

Dir.: David Zamagni, Nadia Ranocchi; Cast: Sergio Fntoni, Nicola Menghetti, Francesca Ricci; Italy 2019, 74 min.

Directors/writers David Zamagni and Nadia Ranocchi make an ambitious and inventive attempt to re-enact the Odyssey of Hercules through the ages. Essentially a series of twelve very diverse vignettes, or chapters, the audience might struggle sometimes to see the common denominator. Some scenes are very short, the longer ones invite multiple interpretations.

In #1, Hercules is flying through the cosmos, to land on planet earth. We are promised that he will fight Babylon, Rome and the Indians. Also vampires and Aliens. In #2 we see a teenager and other males wrestle with a soft torso in a gym. Number three is set in a bullring, where the bull is of the mechanical sort and is driven on a go-cart for the matador to joust with. In number four we can watch a car being destroyed by a special machine, toying with the wreck like a cat with a mouse. Afterwards a car tries to pull a heavy metal container, only to go up in smoke. Number six is centred around a girl in the woods taming two snakes. Number seven features a cloud formation shot at by lights, until it completely disperses. Number eight is set in a luxury food store, where an employee is overtaken by a mysterious illness and takes up a staggering dance, before leaving the shop at the second attempt. Number nine is set in a Greek monument, featuring a burning urn, not unlike the one used in the Olympic torch ceremony. A man disrobes, we see that he is clad in a classical white Greek costume. Then some girls in the same outfit dance in stop motion. Number ten is a continuation of the previous instalment, this one featuring two men in white outfits fighting in front of the urn. One is thrown to the ground repeatedly, the victor runs away eventually. #11 is the most sophisticated sequence: a service man in a petrol station listens to the TV mounted above him. An announcer talks about the beauty of the city of York. What sounds like a tourism ad, turns out to be an exercise for students learning English as a second language. The young man gets up and goes outside, and smells the inside of a parked car. When another car turns up in the forecourt he services it, only to be attacked soon afterwards by an intruder. Their fight is shown like a shadow-play behind see-throw curtains. The man gets finally up after the intruder has gone and – after a cut – he goes to a different petrol station to service another car. In the final episode a band of two plays to an audience loud rock music, with other men climbing up a wooden pole. The venue is caged in, making the men looks like trapeze artist under a circus roof.  All these episodes are more or less enjoyable, DoP Monaldo Moretti showing great inventiveness in solving the various issues that come into play embracing narrative, documentary and experiment modes in motion, unpacking an ancient myth before re-examining it through modern eyes. Zeus Machine is best watched as a curio, without too much underlying meaning. Entertaining none the less. AS

BERLINALE 2020 | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020    

Malmkrog (2020) Mubi

Wri/Dir: Christi Puiu | Cast: Agathe Bosch, Edith Alibec, Ugo Broussot, Marina Palli, Istvan Teglas, Diana Sakalauskaite, Vitaly Bichir, Judith State, Frederic Schulze-Richard | Romania, Serbia, Switzerland, Sweden, Bosnia, Macedonia 2020, Drama, 200 min.

This latest drama from Romanian director and writer Christi Puiu (The Death of Mr Lazarescu) is based on works by the Russian philosopher and poet  Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900), a close friend of Dostoyevsky whose Brothers Karamazov were inspired by his compatriot. Solovyov’s main focus was to overturn the schism between the Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodoxy, later he worried about Russia losing its spiritual identity.

The Christimas setting for this austere discursive drama is an old Translyvanian manor house belonging to Nikolai (Teglas). Snow is falling and the atmosphere inside is no less chilly as the assembled guests – a politician, a young countess, a Russian General and his wife are involved in an often vituperative and tight-lipped exchange about death and the Antichrist, progress and morality. Each lays out a vision of the world, history, and religion.

The film unfolds in six chapters: Ingrida (Sakalauskaite), the wife of the general expresses her opinion about the true meaning of Christianity, positing that all wars are the work of men who deem conflict a “necessary evil”. She hopes that war will eventually be abolished “by becoming obsolete” – but only Olga (Palii), by far the youngest of the guests, opposes Ingrida, and reads out a letter written by her husband, who has just returned from the war in Turkey, where “Russia is trying to tame a less civilised country”. Her husband reports on massacres committed by the Turks against the Armenians, and the swift revenge taken by his troops. Again, all present agree that such revenge is a true sign of Christianity, but Olga then reminds everyone that the Cossacks, part of the general’s army, are known for their brutality. She believes every human being is intrinsically good, and that this benevolence should be allowed to grow. They all rubbish her views, calling her naive.

Meanwhile, an army of servants slip silently between their masters and are hardly given the time of day. Jansci (Geambasu), the head honcho, directs his underlings like a theatre troupe: they follow his orders with precision, more afraid of him than of their masters. And with good reason: when Jansci finds that one of the waiters has made a mistake, he slaps him, reminding him that any further errors “would make him very angry indeed”. Nikolai’s ailing father is carried from the bath to his room with a Dr. Blumenfeld in attendance, even though it is Christmas Eve.

Olga continues her protests against the mostly male rationale: she accuses Edouard (Broussot), a politician, that he is a materialist. His planned trip to Nice, she says, will only end up in the casino in Monte Carlo. Edouard, a total cynic, agrees smiling. The discussion about pacifism versus self defence sees Olga defending the former, whilst Edouard claims ‘highly civilised’ nations including Russia, have the right to go to war against the more barbaric countries. “Sin, but do not repent” is the motto voiced by the mostly male majority.

The discussion moves on, the focus on Russia’s identity: Is it a Greco/Slavian country, or part of European culture? The uprising in Transvaal against the British is called “Zulu savagery” and Edouard bemoans the lack of involvement by the Dutch in this conflict. Edouard again is in the centre of an attack on Olga, who insists that man has been put on earth for a purpose by God. She also is critical of their hedonistic lifestyle. Edouard is vicious in his reply claiming the real purpose in life is to have a mission: “I had an audience with Czar Alexander II, got a yearly salary of 30 000 Gold Roubles and a diplomatic mission”. He then returns to his argument claiming that the masses submit to evil, and want to kill everybody who are against them. Eduoard also ponders whether God really resurrects us, and if his kingdom is real, is it not just a Kingdom of Death. Finally, falling into the snare of their own discourse and believing that history never repeats itself, none of them is able to realise the extent of the event in which they have unwittingly become ensnared.

Puiu is able to reflect on the three main topics of Solovyov’s philosophy – economic materialism, abstract Tolstoyan moralism and the hubris of Nietzsche’s nihilism – in all these debates. The only humane soul is Olga, who is attacked from all sides. DoP Tudor Panduru shows the splendour of the sumptuous interiors and the meticulous servants who keep their masters fed and watered, without a by your leave. The guests hardly touch their elaborate food, because they are consumed by showing off their verbal eloquence. In spite of its lengthy running time, Malmkrog is always engaging: this is radical entertainment, combining philosophy within the gorgeous surroundings of a dying breed. AS

NOW ON MUBI  

 

My New York Year (2020)

Dir: Philippe Falardeau | Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Margaret Qualley | Canadian Drama, 101′

Most people have heard of Catcher in the Rye and its intriguing author, J D Salinger. Canadian filmmaker Philippe Falardeau choses to focus on the 2014 memoirs of Joanna Rakoff who served served as an intern to Salinger’s literary agent, and Sigourney Weaver does her utmost to breath life into her character in this rather flaccid adaptation of even though she gives its a certain a damn good try.

My Salinger Year – now renamed  My New York Year – presumably to give it a push into more mainstream audiences – run along similar lines the The Devil Wears Prada without the chutzpah: country girl goes to the city and is given a jolly good hiding by an urbane sophisticate, triumph and then to move on. Joanna has to deal with the writer’s fan mail, with a concise and polite generic response.

Margaret Qualley plays Joanna, the college graduate in question, as socially gauche but spunky enough to snare this rather plumb job that puts her in phone contact with the urbane novelist, but gives her a rough ride from the mercurial Margaret who enjoys upstaging Joanna and toys with her like a cat with a mouse. We are treated to dramatised excerpts from the rather idolatrous fan letters, and a subplot involving Joanna’s love interest Don (Douglas Booth) and her trials and tribulations of being a newcomer in the New York metropolis.

The problem here is really Falardeau’s lacklustre script that doesn’t stoke the kind of incendiary sparkle Anne Hathaway shared with Meryl Streep in Devil. In fact, quite the reverse happens here and the writing – faithful to the introspective nature of Rakoff’s page memoirs – represses the women into a dignified torpor rather than feisty fun and repartee. And we experience nothing of Salinger himself – after all the most intriguing character – not only for literary fans but anyone who has vaguely heard of the book. MT

IN CINEMAS 20 May 2021 | BERLINALE FILM premiere 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

Minamata (2020)

Dir: Andrew Levitas | Cast: Bill Nighy, Johnny Depp, Minami | UK Drama 115′

Andrew Levitas pays tribute to the victims of mercury poisoning in this slickly cinematic if rather glib affair that focuses on those affected by a leak of the lethal substance in the Japanese seaside town of Minamata but also raises the profile of industrial accidents all over the world and those who have suffered in their wake.

No fewer than four writers were involved in a script which starts off rather well but spins out of control in the final stages of this gruelling and over-wrought melodrama. An odd coupling of Bill Nighy and Johnny Depp actually works to the film’s advantage Depp wringing out his often soppy dialogue with a drole flourish as he plays veteran alcoholic war photographer W Eugene Smith down on his luck and looking for a story to reanimate his flagging career and finance his future (and brood of kids), and finding it in this tragic Japanese cause. His photograph of a woman and her maimed child “Tomoko in her bath” is one of the most searing ever committed to celluloid, and received widespread attention in 1972 although it did not make Life’s cover feature – that was dedicated to Raquel Welch in a clingy jumper – it did get 8 pages and created a sensation at the UN Environmental conference that year, according to the New York Times.

DoP Benoit Delhomme has fun with his lenses on the widescreen and in intimate closeup making the most of the dramatic scenario as we whirl through sumptuous settings of New York and the Japanese countryside. Depp is rather good as the pathetic snapper who feels sorry for himself and his failing career. The dark lustrous locks of his pin-up days are replaced by a shock of grizzled grey hair but he still exudes charm in spades, his dark eyes expressing the pathos of his fall from grace. Then along comes the sultry Aileen (Minami) who introduces him to the Minamata project and after failing to persuade struggling Life editor Robert Hayes (Nighy in sardonic mode) to pay for his trip to photograph the disaster-struck town, he eventually makes the journey himself and after a few false starts and a fortuitous bonding with the Japanese temptress he eventually hits his groove and is considerably moved by those affected, and driven to more navel-gazing and drinking, hence a product placement for Suntory whisky. But when all is said and done, it’s thanks to ‘Gene Smith that the region eventually gets the support it deserves, although the lofty melodrama that tells its story often drains our reserves of sympathy and we suffer compassion fatigue by the closing stages, or maybe I’m just a cynical journo. MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 13 AUGUST | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 2020

 

Garage People | Garagenvolk (2020) *** Berlinale 2020

Dir.: Natalija Yefimkina; Documentary; Germany 2020

Natalija Yefimkina’s first feature documentary is a bleak look at human survivors in the remote landscape of northern of Russia. Still toiling on long after the end of the Soviet Union, they are treated like the industrial scrap they collect: the mining industry which was once the only employer in the region but has more or less vanished, the work force living in garages at the foot of the mountain, trying to make a living amidst the post-industrial landscape. 

These garages, not a single one occupied by a car, are falling to rack and ruin like everything in the vicinity of the old mining shafts. Gas pipes poke out like medieval weapons, vestiges of a warworn past.  Scrap is collected and sold on, an old bus dragged along with a tow truck, later the two men in charge will take the roof from the bus, laughingly calling it a cabriolet.

Survival is the name of the game in this bizarre setting. Victor, an old man of 73, has dug five floors under his garage using only a shovel and a bucket. Victor has been grafting away since the age of 27, his own son just a little boy. Most of his friends have now drunk themselves to death, leaving Victor to tell his lonely story. Nothing left but to move to the ugly city nearby, dominated by the Prefab housing, to live with his wife Tatiana. “Your garage life is over”, she tells him. Victor will die in 2018, followed a year later by Tatiana, who died of liver cirrhosis having worked most of her life in the mines. Vitalik, who had the idea of creating a roofless bus, dies in 2018, just 36 years old. His closest friend was president Putin, the two met via his portrait on the wall and had long discussions about the meaning of life.

Then there is Pavel, a middle-aged icon maker. The priest visits him to commission a special icon. Pavel promises to deliver, and later we watch the priest return to collect the icon intended as a  gift for the CEO of what is left of the mining company, the director, in turn, supporting the church financially. Amazingly, there is a fledging band in all this squalor. John, Lena and Ilja L. make music in one the garages, the first two dream of a life in St. Petersburg. When they have gone, Ilja is depressed, but still goes on writing poetry. Sergej, producing dumb bells from the metal he scavenges, is suffering from progressive Parkinson’s, but goes on working. And then there is Roman, the success story of the community, raising broiler chickens and making a good living from the birds. In a restaurant called ‘Behind the Polar Cycle’, Roman meets Julia, and they fall in love, finding happiness against all odds. But for most of them it’s a grim existence, Viktor’s sums his life up in these poignant words: “I am digging in the dirt like a worm”.

Yefimkina and DoP Axes Schneppat  showcase the dreadful conditions without resorting to talking head overkill. The only of change comes in the shape of snowfall capturing the melancholic atmosphere of overriding gloom in this despondent post apocalyptic backwater.  AS

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 | 20 FEBRUARY – 1 MARCH 2020

Berlinale 2020 | Competition titles Announced

Carlo Chatrian announced his first Berlinale competition line-up describing it “quite dark’ with a glittering array of “earth-shattering, and intimate stories” to screen from 20 until 1 March 2020.

The 70th edition opens with French Canadian director Philippe Falardeau’s My Salinger YearThe  film depicts the small New York City literary world of the 1990s with humour and verve. Sigourney Weaver, the three times Oscar nominee plays the author’s literary agent, based on a memoir by Joanna Rakoff portrayed by Emmy-winning Margaret Qualley (daughter of Andie MacDowell).

This year’s slate of Golden Bear hopefuls features heavyweight regulars and prodigious female directing talent in the shape of Orlando’s Sally Potter, who brings a story of existential angst starring Javier Bardem and his onscreen daughter Elle Fanning; Berlinale regular Kelly Reichardt with her latest, a period drama First Cow that has Toby Jones wondering around the countryside (as he did in By Ourselves). Then there is Swiss duo Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond who direct Nina Hoss in My Little Sister; Argentina’s Natalia Meta with The Intruder and finally from the US Eliza Hittman with Never, Rarely Sometimes, Always. The prolific Hong Sang-soo is back with The Woman Who Ran featuring his current muse Kim Minhee. Berlinale heavyweights Benoit Delepine, Philippe Garel, Malaysia’s Tsai Ming-Liang, and Cambodia’s Rithy Pan will also be in town.

Elsewhere in the programme there is documentary graces the line-up programme includes 18 films from 18 countries with 16 world premieres as well as one documentary form.
The line-up of the Berlinale Specials features Vanessa Lapa’s documentary about the Nazi architect’s time in the US; Speer goes to Hollywood. . Four more titles have been confirmed. You can find these films following the list of the Competition.

Competition

Berlin Alexanderplatz
Germany / Netherlands
by Burhan Qurbani
with Welket Bungué, Jella Haase, Albrecht Schuch, Joachim Król, Annabelle Mandeng, Nils Verkooijen, Richard Fouofié Djimeli
World premiere

DAU. Natasha
Germany / Ukraine / United Kingdom / Russian Federation
by Ilya Khrzhanovskiy, Jekaterina Oertel
with Natalia Berezhnaya, Olga Shkabarnya, Vladimir Azhippo, Alexei Blinov, Luc Bigé
World premiere

Domangchin yeoja (The Woman Who Ran)
Republic of Korea
by Hong Sangsoo
with Kim Minhee, Seo Younghwa, Song Seonmi, Kim Saebyuk, Lee Eunmi, Kwon Haehyo, Shin Seokho, Ha Seongguk
World premiere

Effacer l’historique (Delete History)
France / Belgium
by Benoît Delépine, Gustave Kervern
with Blanche Gardin, Denis Podalydès, Corinne Masiero
World premiere

El prófugo (The Intruder)
Argentina / Mexico
by Natalia Meta
with Érica Rivas, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Daniel Hendler, Cecilia Roth, Guillermo Arengo, Agustín Rittano, Mirta Busnelli
World premiere

Favolacce (Bad Tales)
Italy / Switzerland
by Damiano & Fabio D’’Innocenzo
with Elio Germano, Barbara Chichiarelli, Lino Musella, Gabriel Montesi, Max Malatesta
World premiere

First Cow
USA
by Kelly Reichardt
with John Magaro, Orion Lee, Toby Jones, Scott Shepherd, Gary Farmer, Lily Gladstone
International premiere

Irradiés (Irradiated)
France / Cambodia
by Rithy Panh
World premiere / Documentary form

Le sel des larmes (The Salt of Tears)
France / Switzerland
by Philippe Garrel
with Logann Antuofermo, Oulaya Amamra, André Wilms, Louise Chevillotte, Souheila Yacoub
World premiere

Never Rarely Sometimes Always
USA
by Eliza Hittman
with Sidney Flanigan, Talia Ryder, Théodore Pellerin, Ryan Eggold, Sharon Van Etten
International premiere

Rizi (Days)
Taiwan
by Tsai Ming-Liang
with Lee Kang-Sheng, Anong Houngheuangsy
World premiere

The Roads Not Taken
United Kingdom
by Sally Potter
with Javier Bardem, Elle Fanning, Salma Hayek, Laura Linney
World premiere

Schwesterlein (My Little Sister)
Switzerland
by Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond
with Nina Hoss, Lars Eidinger, Marthe Keller, Jens Albinus, Thomas Ostermeier, Linne-Lu Lungershausen, Noah Tscharland, Isabelle Caillat, Moritz Gottwald, Urs Jucker
World premiere

Sheytan vojud nadarad (There Is No Evil)
Germany / Czech Republic / Iran
by Mohammad Rasoulof
World premiere

Siberia
Italy / Germany / Mexico
by Abel Ferrara
with Willem Dafoe, Dounia Sichov, Simon McBurney, Cristina Chiriac
World premiere

Todos os mortos (All the Dead Ones)
Brazil / France
by Caetano Gotardo, Marco Dutra
with Mawusi Tulani, Clarissa Kiste, Carolina Bianchi, Thaia Perez, Alaíde Costa, Leonor Silveira, Agyei Augusto, Rogério Brito, Thomás Aquino, Andrea Marquee
World premiere

Undine
Germany / France
by Christian Petzold
with Paula Beer, Franz Rogowski, Maryam Zaree, Jacob Matschenz
World premiere

Volevo nascondermi (Hidden Away)
Italy
by Giorgio Diritti
with Elio Germano
World premiere

Berlinale Special

“This section provides a platform for films that captivate a wide audience. We call them ‘moving images’ because they move audiences with their expressiveness and their brilliant and courageous performers. The gala premieres fulfil the desire for the stars, glitz and glamour that is part of every big festival. Berlinale Series offers an insight into new forms of storytelling while Berlinale Special presents itself as a forum for debate and discussion and builds bridges between the audience and cinema,” comments Carlo Chatrian, Artistic Director of the Berlinale.
The following four films complete the programme of this year’s Berlinale Special. In total, 20 films from 19 countries, among them 15 world premieres, will be shown in the section.

Berlinale Special Gala at Berlinale Palast

Onward
USA
by Dan Scanlon
with the voices of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia-Louis Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez, Kyle Bornheimer, Lena Waithe, Ali Wong
International premiere / Animation

Berlinale Special Gala at Friedrichstadt-Palast

Curveball
Germany
by Johannes Naber
with Sebastian Blomberg, Dar Salim, Virginia Kull, Michael Wittenborn, Thorsten Merten, Franziska Brandmeier
World premiere

Berlinale Special at Haus der Berliner Festspiele

DAU. Degeneratsia (DAU. Degeneration)
Germany / Ukraine / United Kingdom / Russian Federation
by Ilya Khrzhanovskiy, Ilya Permyakov
World premiere / Documentary form

Speer Goes to Hollywood
Israel
by Vanessa Lapa
World premiere / Documentary form

BERLINALE 2020 | 20-29 FEBRUARY 2020

 

So Long My Son | Di jiu tian chang (2019) ****

Dir Wang Xiaoshuai | Cast: Wang Jingchun, Yong Mei, Qi Xi, Wang Yuan, Du Jiang, Ai Liya, Xu Cheng, Li Jingjing, Zhao Yanguozhang | China, Drama 185′

This delicate and deeply affecting melodrama explores one tragic couple’s life during thirty years of China’s one-child policy (1979-2013).

Wang Xiaoshuai’s So Long, My Son (Di jiu tian chang) is intimate in style but ambitious in its storyline that straddles three decades of Chinese social history during an absorbing three hours. It all begins with two young boys eager to join their friends messing about in a reservoir a northern town in 1986. Xingxing can’t swim and is nervous; Haohao tries to persuade him but eventually runs off alone. The next scene sees a family enjoying their supper. Xingxing, his father Yaoyun (Wang Jinchung) and mother Liyun (Yong Mei). But back at the reservoir again, all hell breaks loose as one of the kids appears to be lying in the mud. A frantic chase to the hospital ends in distress – clearly a child has lost his life, and it appears to be Xingxing. The story then jumps forward to the 1990s where the couple are arguing with a teenage boy called Xingxing. Did he miraculously survive the drowning or is this another boy altogether?. Reality will be revealed in a deftly devised subplot.

But from the moment they lose their first child, Yaoyun and Liyun will never be the same, the tragedy bonds them as they live a quiet existence marked by sadness – and we feel for them. One of the grace moments is a silent scene on a bus where Liyun stares ruefully into the distance while another woman chats away to her, oblivious of her pain.

Yaoyun and Liyun are close to Haohao’s parents, mother Haiyan (Ai Liya), the factory line manager, and father Yingming (Xu Cheng), but tragedy strikes again when Liyun becomes pregnant with a second child, the state policy cruelly forcing her to have an abortion. Meanwhile Yaoyun grew close to Yingming’s sister Moli (Qi Xi), who holds the key to this heart-rending social saga.

Performances are tender and utterly convincing from the lead couple, winning them prizes at the Berlin where the film premiered in 2019. This is a sumptuous slow-moving feast for the eyes that also feeds the soul with its resonant storyline. The revolutionary changes provide a subtle backdrop to this social drama with its brooding texture and grace notes that will resonate with anyone affected by their plight. MT
NOW IN CINEMAS from 6 DECEMBER 2019

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | PANORAMA

 

 

 

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

ON RELEASE FROM FRIDAY 27 SEPTEMBER 2019      

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

The Souvenir (2018) *****

Dir/Wri: Joanna Hogg | Tilda Swinton, Tom Burke, Honour Swinton Byrne | Drama UK | 100′

Joanna Hogg is the only living female filmmaker who portrays a particular English contemporary milieu. Usually creative, invariably white and well-educated, these characters are liberal in outlook and mostly live in London. With such unique sensibilities and vision she is able to understand and convey as certain type of middle class angst (borne out of having to do the right thing, irrespective of personal choice). She did it gracefully in Unrelated (2007), Archipelago (2010) and Exhibition (2013), And she does it peerlessly again here with The Souvenir, a nuanced and delicately drawn story of addiction and strained relationships that very much echoes its time and place: the late 1980s – although it was inspired and takes its name from  Fragonard’s painting, a motif that runs through the film.

This all revolves around Julie, a dark horse and an English rose (earnestly played by Tilda Swinton’s daughter Honour Swinton Byrne) who is tentatively making a career for herself in film school while awkwardly becoming involved with her first proper boyfriend. Clearly she is talented but lacks real confidence – both in love and in life – largely due to a repressed English background. Although her mother is loving and wonderful there are clear hints that certain things were simply not discussed at home, but still waters nevertheless run deep on the feelings front. Hogg relies on an improvisational approach, stripping away clichés to distill the emotional content of each scene, often with minimal dialogue and relying on body language and atmosphere. 

Women of that era will remember the silent voids during a date where the silence spoke volumes, often marking the beginning or the end of another tortuous romance with a man who could not express himself, and chose merely to back away and then reappear with pleadings and desperate often incoherent bids to meet again. Often covering this with bluster and demeaning put-downs, Tom Burke gives a priceless performance as Anthony, a man whose emotional range does Attila the Hun a disservice when it comes to affairs of the heart. “You’re a freak. You’ll always be last,” he tells Julie. And Hogg is clearly mining these fraught memories too with this doomed romantic pairing.

Julie presses on undeterred, internalising her feelings, and clearly drawn to public school Anthony through some atavistic genetic link. Because he purports to be ‘from the right background’ – he is clearly approved of by her parents – the very mild-mannered Tilda and her on screen husband.William. One of of the best scenes sees Richard Ayoade playing a ‘cutting edge’ filmmaker and deftly spilling the beans that Anthony is a heroin addict. “I find doing heroin to be mainstream behaviour,” he jokes to a rather bewildered Julie. And we discover she’s funding his habit with donations gleaned from her mother, who does seem alarmed at Julie’s rising expenditure for film-school supplies. In a caddish moment Anthony even roughs up Julie’s Notting Hill flat, faking a burglary to raise funds for his addiction. Drugs make psychopaths and monsters of addicts. And Julie is a victim too, of love. But she keeps a stiff upper lip. Endearing scenes with her parents are a triumph in their candid intimacy, and make us reflect on the placid generosity of the British. 

Julie and Anthony share a deceptively satisfying sex life behind closed doors, shown in 16mm-styled footage that follows them on an impromptu romantic break to Venice, funded unflinchingly by Julie. She epitomises the female lack of confidence of that era, back-footed by her desire to appear cool and inclusive when pitching for a film school project, and desperate to fit in with the others. She emerges lonely and rather misunderstood, though keen to do the right thing. And the comforting presence of her concerned on screen mother resonates throughout, you stifle a snigger when she utters the words: “Anthony was taken ill in the Wallace Collection”. 

Joanna Hogg will soon embark on the second part of this semi-biopic affair with Robert Pattinson joining the cast. The story of a young filmmaker finally making her way is something to look forward to. MT

OUT ON 30 AUGUST 2019 AT CURZON CINEMAS

Die Tomorrow (2017) ****


Dir.: Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit; Documentary/Fiction; Thailand 2017, 75 min.

Nawapol Thamrongrattanarit (Mary is Happy, Mary is Happy) has turned her attention toward the big taboo: death.

It may surprise you to learn that two people die every second on this planet. And by the time this languid hybrid essay is over, 8442 people will no longer be with us. Her candid unsentimental approach seeks to normalise death as completely natural event. After all, it will happen to all of us. As Pink Floyd said: “I’m not afraid of dying, any time will do”. What we fear is pain and suffering. But Thamrongrattanarit assures us not to be afraid and soft piano music accompanies her gently lit filmic musings.

Nawapol intercuts her film with drole statistical interludes and documentary footage that informs six vignettes, each shot in a single unbroken take and filmed in 1:1 aspect ratio. These are based on real life cases reported in the Thai press. This is all intended to show how banal our lives can be – just hours away from the end. Even more dramatic is the suicide of a young man, who takes his own life – unbeknownst to his girlfriend who is talking to friend on her mobile about where they should go and have dinner. Fate is fickle and we can never be certain of when our time will be up. This is cleverly illustrated in the case of a young women, waiting in hospital for a heart transplant. “I’ll die before you,” she says, but then finds out he has booked a ticket on that fateful Malaysia Airlines flight that leaves the same afternoon. Another interviewee – a young schoolboy – claims to have been reassured about death after reading the internet site Reddit. We don’t actually see anyone die during the film. The closest we come to it are TV clips from the Challenger shuttle. 

What seems to interest Nawapol is the way one person’s death may affect their friends or loved ones. Die Tomorrow’s most poignant interviewee is a man nearing the age of 102 whose wife and children have already died. More recent footage sees him celebrate his 104th birthday. And one young school boy interviewed claims to have been reassured about his eventual after reading up on the subject in Reddit.

Thamrongrattanarit wanted to achieve calmness, “to give the audience the space and time to look thoughtfully at it”. She has certainly succeeded in making death just another process in life this thoughtful essay contemplation about how to take life seriously, and live it to the full – and above all to see death as another stage in our existence.  

ON GENERAL RELEASE IN ARTHOUSE CINEMAS from 26 July 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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019 | COMPETITION.

 

 

 

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

NOW ON MUBI

       

Farewell to the Night (2019) *** Berlinale 2019

Dir: André Techiné | Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Kacey Mottet Klein, Oulaya Amamra, Stephane Bak, Kamel Labroudi, Mohamed Djouhri, Amer Alwan, Jacques Nolot | Drama, French 91’ 

Catherine Deneuve always gives star quality to her films but she feels rather miscast here as a horse trainer and almond farmer who finds out her grandson has been radicalised. 

Farewell to the Night is rather a bland film that makes nothing of the incendiary dramatic potential of the jihadist plot line. Instead it plays down the affaire to focus on the beauty of the story’s rural surroundings in Techiné’s French Pyrénees birthplace where the almond blossoms are in full flower and a magical solar eclipse takes place in the opening scene. All this contrasts with the outrage of the homegrown jihadist movement and its protagonists Alex (Mottet Klein) and his childhood sweetheart Lila (Oulaya Amamra) who are also discovering first love. Clearly this is a film for all the family, and Techiné directs with a paternalistic eye. 

Alex’s radicalisation has already taken place when the film begins, so we feel little engagement with his character and the reasons for his becoming a jihadi, and this could have enriched the storyline, particularly if young people are the film’s intended audience. It’s worth noting that Both Alex and Lila have dysfunctional backgrounds. His mother died in an accident and he blames his father, who has moved to Guadaloupe with his new family. The trauma has affected his schooling in Toulouse but he comes across as a cocky and committed young man with a clear determination to make a future with Lila, and has converted to Islam to please her. Deneuve plays Muriel with a haughty stiffness and lack of conviction. She runs the farm and equestrian school with her North African business partner Youssef (Mohamed Djouhri), but feels more at ease in the company of a young Syrian ex-fighter (Kamel Labroudi as Fouad) who comes looking for work and, despite his criminal background, actually turns up trumps. Techiné and Lea Mysius co-script this father facile affair that once again highlights the director’s keenness for stories about French-Arab culture. And he adopts a non-judgemental and rather procedural approach to Alex and Lila’s plan to join forces with ISIS recruiter Bilal (Stephane Bak), to raise finance for their jihadist cause. This involves raising a substantial amount of cash for weapons and equipment, and Alex steals part of the money from Muriel. He claims that this is kosher as she is technically an infidel. But their plan will go awry in the rather tame finale. 

There’s a clunkiness to the film’s flow particularly noticeable in the lunch scene which abruptly cuts into a clandestine jihad meeting, where Alex sports white robes and takes orders from an Islamic preacher (Amer Alwan, who collaborated with Techine on the storyline), while Lila dons a hijab for the first time. Techine softens her character by giving her a job as a gentle carer in a nursing home – one of the most caring you’ll probably ever have occasion to meet. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | SPECIAL GALA 2019

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

BERLINALE FILM FEESTIVAL 2019 | GOLDEN BEAR & FIPRESCI PRIZE WINNER 2019

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.

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | SILVER BEAR FOR OUTSTANDING ARTISTIC ACHIEVEMENT 2019

 

 

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

BERLINALE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | COMPETITION

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | IN COMPETITION

 

 

 

 

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | PANORAMA

   

   

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019

 

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

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.

NOW ON BERLINALE GENERATION 2019 PREMIERE

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

THE AWAKENING OF THE ANTS (EL DESPERTAR DE LAS HORMIGAS)

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

The Golden Glove (2019) * Berlinale

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

There are brief echoes of Reiner Werner Fassbinder’s Fear Eats the Soul in 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 drab drama territory and a desolate world of grim 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 pedantically pictures the gruesome daily grind of Fritz Honka, a Hamburg serial killer who kept dismembered body parts of prostitutes in his attic flat in the red light district of St Pauli. When visitors complained of 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 but forgets to finger misogyny – championing ageism into the bargain. Obviously you’ll see it as Warner Brothers have snapped it up. 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 to do the right thing and garner self-righteous respect. We go home without understanding, clarification or even sympathy, other than for those who died. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL SPECIAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

 

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

BERLINALE | 7 -17 FEBRUARY 2019| PANORAMA SECTION

   

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.

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | FORUM 2019 

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019 | COMPETITION

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

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 2019 | FORUM

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
Germany
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

Photograph
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
Germany
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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019 

Black 47 * (2018) Berlinale 2018

Dir: Lance Daly | Cast: Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Stephen Rea, Barry Keoghan, Freddie Fox | Ireland | Drama

Lance Daly’s dreary historical revenge drama revisits the peak of Ireland’s potato famine (1847) from the perspective of a raw and wretched Irish ranger who has served the British Army abroad. The malcontent has a particular axe to grind in this story, and his weapon of choice is a vicious shortened sabre that slices through anyone who gets in his way when his plans to escape the rain-soaked Emerald Isle for pastures new in America are scuppered.

Martin Feeney (a deeply sinister looking Frecheville), has deserted the Imperial army and finds his way back to Ireland to find his family has been largely wiped out and his brother hanged by the local English judge. His neighbours are now outcasts in their own country and Feeney launches a bitter vendetta, clearly posing a a threat to the powers that be. So along comes Captain Hannah (Hugo Weaving) who is tasked by the English, against his will, to track Feeney down.

If Daly’s plan was to worsen British Irish relations further by drudging up a miserable period of the nation’s past, at least he could have made a better more well-balanced job of it than this rather predictable, one-sided and cliche-ridden piece of cinema. The Great Famine was clearly a complete nightmare for both sides. Ireland had become part of the United Kingdom in 1801 but sectarian divisions between Protestants and Catholics causing religious wars during the 17th century had been made worse by the country’s prevailing economic problems in the 19th century and a general fall in global food prices, and Britain’s change to free trade in the 1840s only really benefited the industrialised North where Protestants predominated. The South relied on agriculture and was badly affected by the Famine which was exacerbated by poor weather. So torrential rain, religious differences and the well-known Colonial arrogance of the era, coalesced to create an unmitigated human disaster. It’s only reasonable that a decent tribute should be made but BLACK 47 was no the way to do it. It shows how Irish families were dying, while the English overlords were mercilessly exporting the little grain that was produced, and to make matters even worse, new eviction laws wreaked havoc among the poverty-stricken population producing the equivalent wide-scale homelessness and mortality seen – on a much larger scale – during Stalin’s policy of collectivism.

In this rather clumsy affair, the English are naturally painted as baddies, the cast are forced to be caricatures of pompous prigs, with the most unspeakably racist dialogue to deliver, which they do with aplomb, but flounder with the native Gaelic. There is the Boris Johnson-quiffed officer Pope (Freddie Fox) and his subaltern (Barry Keoghan from The Killing of a Sacred Deer) ). Even Jim Broadbent plays against his normal liberal type as the sneering snob Lord Kilmichael. Irishman Stephen Rea kisses the proverbial Blarney Stone as a wandering troubadour Conneely, who offers to help the English with his ‘lore of the land’. From the get-go  you wouldn’t trust him to post a letter, and he’s perfect in the part giving a peerless performance as a sly and slippery savant, flight of foot and mind.

And what a gift this story could have been if more equitable hands had mined the rich vein of dramatic potential in this land of misty seascapes, rich folklore and canny characters smouldering in wait for the British army. Instead we get a one-sided and schematic narrative with the English painted as unremitting rogues and a support cast of zombie-like faceless Irish freaks drifting around in bleached-out set pieces. Each scene is as predictable and the last. The only part with any real nuance, aside from Stephen Rea’s, is Hugo Weaving’s Hannah. There is breadth to his character and he plays the dark horse ’til the final hurdle. But what a travesty the rest of it is. Clearly Black 47 is intended as a flag-waving crowd-pleaser for the Irish, but it is a lazy, feel-bad movie for British audiences, opening old wounds and striking another blow for diplomacy, offering little hope for reconciliation over events that happened in the dim and  distant past. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 15 – 25 FEBRUARY 2018

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