Posts Tagged ‘Berlinale’

The Quiet Girl (2021)

Wri/Dir: Colm Bairead | Cast: Catherine Clinch, Carrie Crowley, Andrew Bennett, Michael Patric, | Ireland, 94′

This delightful coming of age drama set in rural Ireland in the early 1980s is the Gaelic-language screen adaptation of Claire Keegan’s short story Foster and won a major Jury award at this year’s Generation sidebar at Berlin Film Festival.

Anyone who grew up in the era will really appreciate the exquisite attention to detail, and nuanced performances that delicately convey the mood without ever overdoing the emotion. And there are considerable emotions and harsh realities at play here: a dysfunctional family ground down by poverty; a little girl starved of love and attention; a grieving couple suffering in silence. The tranquil beauty of the Irish countryside seems to wrap them all in the soft blanket of summer but the hardships are undeniable and deeply affecting. This is a memorable modern classic that transcends the minor flaws in Colm Bairead’s feature debut.

Although she says nothing eight-year old Cait (Clinch) absorbs all the tensions at home where she is largely ignored by her older sisters, gambling father and pregnant mother and left to go hungry and unwashed to school where she struggles with lessons. An unexpected day out with her father culminates in a visit to a farm where she horrified to be left with Eiblin (Crowley) and Sean (Bennett) Kinsella, the middle aged couple who live there. Cait gradually blossoms in Eibhlin’s tender care and her being there seems to have a beneficial all round as she learns the ways of the farm with Sean who buys her new frocks and choc ices, Eileen showing her how to make jam and keep house during those happy summer holidays. She learns that not all men are bad, and some mothers are kind loving, although most women are gossips. But soon she must go back to school.

Slim of narrative but rich and resonant in the small details and in glorious settings captured in Academy Ratio by Kate McKulloch (Arracht), Bairead’s drama builds to an impactful climax and a deeply affecting ending.

IN CINEMAS AND ON CURZON HOME CINEMA
13 MAY

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

SILVER BEAR JURY PRIZE WINNER | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2022

 

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

Mutzenbacher (2022) Best Director | Berlinale Encounters 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | Best Director Prize | ENCOUNTERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Axiom (2022) Berlinale: Encounters 2022

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

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

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

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

SCREENING AT BERLINALE 2022 | PANORAMA

 

Northern Skies Over Empty Space (2022) Berlinale Panorama

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

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

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

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

BERLINALE | PANORAMA 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

1341 Frames of Love and War (2022) Berlinale 2022

Dir: Ran Tal | Israel, Doc 82′

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1341 FRAMES OF LOVE AND WAR is supported by yesDOCU.

SCREENING DURING BERLINALE 2022

Waters of Pastaza (2022) Berlinale Generation 2022

Dir: Inez T Alvez | Doc, 62′

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

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

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

BERLINALE 2022 | GENERATION

 

Beautiful Beings (2022) Berlinale 2022

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

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

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

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

SCREENING AT BERLINALE 2022 | PANORAMA 2022

 

The City and the City (2022) Berlinale 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | 10-20 FEBRUARY 2022

 

The Passengers of the Night (2022) Berlinale 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2022

Terra que marca (2022) Berlinale | Forum 2022

Dir: Raul Domingues | Portugal, Doc, 66′

I often wonder why some indie filmmakers stumble with such convolutedly arcane ideas when less is always so much more. With a strong story and a beautiful way of presenting it the rest will soon fall into place as Raul Domingues illustrates with his enchanting debut feature, an ethnographical portrait of nature entitled Terra Que Marca (Striking Land). 

The affirmative circle of life goes on year after year in a small corner of rural Portugal where two people develop an ongoing relationship with nature transforming a barren plot of land in Casal da Quinta into a gift that keeps on giving, cumulatively, as the years roll by.

 

It’s often said that people don’t own the land – it owns them. And that’s true. People return year after year to places that draw them in to an emotional bond that strengthens as time progresses. Domingues bases his narrative on a fable relating to a piece of land that came into his family generations ago and perpetuate a feeling that this land must be nurtured and cared for.

Time is of the essence and Domingues is in no hurry to tell his story dictated by the rhythms of nature, he creates a perfectly balanced structure. Senses, images and sounds blend as the year unfolds from Autumn right through to the end of the second year where the burning down of vegetation provides the ash and minerals to fertilise the loamy soil for the next year’s growth, helped along by a healthy presence of earthworms to mix and aerate the earth.  

Soon the robin redbreast makes his appearance along with some sheep and a clutch of chickens, all taking part in this thriving ecosystem. Grass grows, beans, apples and corn on the cob will flourish along with courgettes, barley, potatoes and maize for bread and polenta. Flowers in the shape of lilies, mallow and roses play their part, producing the pollen for the bees to do their stuff and the season draws to a close again as the orange trees yield a bumper crop weighing down the branches almost to the ground as they multiply in the following autumn.  

Relying on an ambient soundscape, Domingues acts as his own DoP and editor in this magical meditation on the comforting power of nature. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2022 | FORUM STRAND

Tina (2021) Berlinale Film Festival | Specials 2021

Dir: Daniel Lindsay, T J Martin | With Tina Turner, Oprah Winfrey, Angela Bassett, Kurt Loder | US Doc 118′

The most surprising quality about Tina Turner, according to Dan Lindsay and T J Martin’s revealing biopic about the superstar, is her sheer determination, given her crushing start in life. This new new film chronicles Turner’s early rise to fame, her personal and professional struggles and her musical renaissance in the early 1980s. There are snatches of her iconic stage moments, with the American singer’s performance of her dynamite R&B hit:- River Deep…Mountain High being the most notable. The hit marked a move away from her controlling partner Ike, thanks to producer Phil Spector.

And there are snatches of Rolling Down the River, Heartbreak Tonight and Simple the Best – but mostly the focus is on the singer herself, revisited via the original interview audio tapes as well as commentary from the famous celebrity journalist Carl Arrington, in conversation in her Swiss lakeside chateau. Kurt Loder (the Rolling Stone editor), Angela Bassett (who played her in What’s Love Got to Do With It ), Oprah Winfrey and playwright Katori Hall, who wrote the book for the musical, are the most informative talking heads in a film whose first half is, appropriately, still haunted by the shadow of Ike.

She was born in 1939 in Nutbush, Tennessee, the child of cotton farmers. Her parents fought endlessly and her mother hit back – a defiance that clearly gave Tina her get up go after the two eventually disappeared leaving her and her siblings with a cousin. They never came back.

And she speaks out about her turbulent life and marriage to Ike who beat her with coat hangers, even when she was pregnant, during those Motown years. She admits to being “insanely afraid of him” so much so she attempted suicide two or three times due to his womanising and cruelty, and she finally left him-  ironically on the 4th July – finding salvation in Buddhism which changed her life and set her free to be resilient and self-determining – not a victim  – during her fifty year career in music. She left her marriage to Ike with nothing but her ‘name’ which is now a brand. So she had to go back on the road to make some money.

The turning point came in the 1980s when she came into contact with the engaging Australian manager Roger Davies who asked her how she saw a new solo career. She told him she wanted to be “the first female roll’n’roll singer to fill a stadium”.

And so he sent her to Britain for a new chapter in her life, setting off with a song she at first detested ‘What’s Love Got to Do with It’, written by Manchester born Terry Britten (and originally recorded for Bucks Fizz) that became the breakout number in an album ‘Private Dancer’, that sold out in two weeks and went on to spawn 50 concerts. Tina was 50. At this point manager Kurt Loder suggested she author a book to ward off the tacky stories that still dogged her time before and after Ike. And they didn’t go away – although the book ‘I, Tina Turner’ became a bestseller.

Restyled and booted, Tina’s terrific body and gyrating hips – not to mention her dynamite vocal delivery – made her a stunning stage presence and the film captures this jubilant wave of female emancipation that lit up London’s Wembley Arena and everywhere else she played.

The final scenes are gilded with a blissful aura as Tina reveals the love in her life in the shape of German music pro Erwin Bach, whom she met in 1986 and married 27 years later. And it’s these golden moments that really shine in a biopic that quietly reflects on the past and joyfully celebrates the tremendous feminine force of nature that is Tina Turner. MT

BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | SPECIALS

I’m Your Man | Ich Bin Dein Mensch (2021) Best Leading Performance Berlinale 2021

Dir: Maria Schrader, Wri: Maria Schrader, Jan Schomburg, Emma Braslavsky | Cast: Dan Stevens, Maren Eggert, Sandra Hüller, Hans Löw, Wolfgang Hübsch, Annika Meier, Falilou Seck, Jürgen Tarrach, Henriette Richter-Röhl, Monika Oschek | Sci-fi Drama Germany 105’

Dan Stevens plays a sycophantic male escort in Maria Schrader’s darkly comic Sci-fi drama screening in competition at Berlinale 2021.

Slick, sophisticated and satisfying this dating movie with a difference sees things from a distinctly female perspective exploring love and desire in a scenario may remind you of another recent German comedy Toni Erdmann which also starred Sandra Huller as a put-upon professional. Here Maren Eggert plays a similar character, a hard-working scientist at the famous Pergamon Museum in Berlin, struggling to care for her dementia-ridden dad (Hubsch). She accepts an invitation to participate in an extraordinary experiment that will fund her research. For three weeks, she is to live with a humanoid robot. And this is where Dan Stevens comes in as ‘Tom’ a dating machine in human form, with the intention of fulfilling her dreams. But although Tom’s artificial intelligence has been designed to allow it to morph into the man of Alma’s dreams, sadly it is on the spectrum feelings-wise, unable to appreciate human emotion, forcing the couple to seek professional help, from a relationship counsellor in the shape of Sandra Huller.

Maria Schrader, who won a Silver Bear for acting and is the director behind breakout TV mini series Unorthodox and award-winning biopic drama about Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig, directs with supreme confidence adapting her script from a book by Emma Braslavsky, and adding a suggestive cinematic spin to her intuitive grasp of the subtle dynamics of love and dating, and the chemistry behind acting, in a film that reflects the reality that love relies just as much on the lows as the as the highs to be emotionally fulfilling for the human psyche. Maren Eggert is superb as the thinking woman’s love interest in a performance that is fraught with emotion as well as thoughtful dignity, never resorting to histrionics or melodrama. Benedict Neuenfels makes this a pleasure to look at with his lush summery landscapes of Germany and Denmark.

But the film belongs to Dan Stevens who gives a nuanced performance in a difficult role as a robot that teeters between the ideal emotionally intelligent man and a geeky robotic guy you may even and have dated yourself and eventually grown to love – and even fancy – for his truly masculine take on life. I’m Your Man shows a bright future, where women (and men!) can get what they really want. But do they really know what it is? MT

IN CINEMAS FROM 13 AUGUST 2021 | BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL 2021

From Where They Stood | À Pas Aveugles (2021) Berlinale Forum

Dir.: Christophe Cognet; Documentary with photos by Rudolf Cisar, Jean Brichaux, Georges Angéli, Wenzel Polack, Joanna Szydlowska, Alberto Errera; France 2021, 110 min.

In his groundbreaking new documentary French director/writer Christophe Cognet shines a light on photographs taken by inmates incarcerated in the Nazi camps of Dachau, Buchenwald, Mittelbau Dora, Ravensbrück and Auschwitz Birkenau. This creative act of resistance is another testament to the horror of the Holocaust.

The film’s French title From Where they Stood is best translated as “Shot Blindly”: Photographers had to work quickly – and undercover – as detection would have meant certain death. Newspapers or odd items of clothing came in handy for their covert reportage of their experiences – a sort of photographic message in a bottle – showing what they all went through during those tragic years.

Cognet unearthed the treasure trove, carefully locating and enlarging the images, before mounting them, framed, on a mini-dolly, so they could be matched with the help of trees to the exact positions in each camp.

Dachau survivor Rudolf Cisar made an album of 50 photos, today housed in the National Archives of Prague. During his time in Dachau Cisar led the resistance group ‘Ruda’ and shot his images of the camp’s sordid SS Museum, providing a day-to-day glimpse of life in the camps. The photos of the overcrowded infirmary, packed with typhoid sufferers, are particularly moving. Cisar also photographed the empty camp during Sundays, a day off, when most inmates stayed in their barracks, with only a few venturing out to talk to friends.

In Dachau Cisar chronicled executions, well aware that he could easily join the victims should he be caught. Jean Brichaux snapped French prisoners arriving and being put into barracks, they were joined by the Spanish writer Jorge Semprun, who had fled his country for France. Georges Angéli’s photos of the Brothel and the Cinema are particularly cruel when you consider that women from Ravensbrück camp were forced here into prostitution, having arrived in cattle trucks. The Germans used the cinema as a torture chamber, a macabre memory of their soullessness.

In Mittelbau Dora camp, Czech prisoner Wenzel Polack recorded the underground factory where inmates where forced to work day and night. His images serve as a courageous act of resistance that saw the inmates take back control of what really happened, even if doing so could have cost them their lives.

In Ravensbrück, Polish inmate Joanna Szydlowska recorded the terrible injuries she, and two of her friends suffered during medical experiments in the “hospital”. Dressed up in the best clothes possible, she bravely tries to smile while showing the long gash in her leg. Szydlowska later gave the photo to the French inmate Anise Postel-Vinay, who stood a better chance of surviving. In the end, both women survived, with Postel-Vinay taking the photos to Paris in 1945.These women were known as “rabbits” – the German word for Guinea Pig is “Versuchskaninchen” (Test Rabbit). The women were injected with gas to provoke gangrene, they were then re-injected with the bacilli, before the wound was sewn up. Prisoners’ limbs were repeatedly broken, severed muscles slashed, the results of these experiments would all be recorded.

Alberto Errera, a Greek-Jewish officer and camp resistance member, took part in the preparations for the Sonderkommando Uprising of 1944 – the same year he was murdered – his photos featured the interior of Crematorium 5 from inside the Gas Chambers, through the very same opening used by the SS to drop deadly gas capsules into the void where inmates would be sealed. The Sonderkommando (featured in Son of Saul) was a special unit of Jewish prisoners, whose task it was to clear the gas chambers, stack up the corpses and take them to the Crematorium to be burned (Sonderkommando members were always executed after a certain time limit by the SS, as not to have any witnesses). Whilst Errera was taking the photos, prisoners watched his back.

From Where They Stood avoids sensationalism at all costs, the filmmaker and his team treat the subject matter with the utmost respect and dignity, echoing Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah: Cognet lets the images tell the story, the trial-and-error attempts of the film team to pinpoint the locations adding a sense of tension to the ensemble as viewer is transformed into a first-hand witness. Another utterly compelling tribute to man’s will to survive and tell the real story. AS

BERLINALE FORUM 2021

 

A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces (2021) Berlinale

Dir: Shengze Zhu | China, Doc

“it is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear.” Italo Calvino

Chicago based Chinese filmmaker Shengze Zhu follows her Tiger award-winning documentary Present. Perfect (2019) with this acutely personal almost Proustian love letter to the past. Serving as a paean to pre-pandemic times but also a poignant reflection on how the world continues to change, not always for the better. It also serves as a humble apology for a town she never particularly liked anyway. The town is Wuhan.

Several years ago no-one had ever heard of the infamous city that sprawls along the Yangtze River in Northern China, and whose wet markets would soon breed a global health crisis that would help to decimate our lives. Many of us now feel a complete dislocation from our pre-Covid past. The life we knew, before the pandemic took hold of ‘normality’, is changed forever. The innocence of spontaneity is also gone, another nail in the coffin of freedom – rather like that of post 9/11.

Back in 2010 when she left for America, Shengze remembers the burgeoning industrial metropolis of Wuhan as ‘a stage on which people perform in various ways’ a landscape formed by nature and then dramatically assaulted by roaring machines and rapidly rising infrastructure. A place where ‘memories are buried. The lost place’. But it’s the little things that count here, rather than Wuhan itself. The shop that sold her favourite spicy beef noodles, has shut down, the friendly owner moved away.

In her restrained and strangely alluring treatment Wuhan is very much a character who she remembers – but not always with pleasure. Casting her mind back to the past Shengze avoids nostalgia, instead reflecting on consequences in this contemplation of the past and the lost in a bid to revaluate what happened, and what could still happen.

Five years in the making the film starts in the very recent past, recorded on surveillance footage that pictures empty streets gradually filling again after April 2020 with figures standing in tacit obedience. The images of ‘before’ in the empty streets play out in a series of vignettes held for several minutes in a static camera, a ‘symphony without music’ is how Shengze describes them. Her decision to use the distant ambient soundscape is a wise one, making this so much more transcendent in its eerie beauty, picturing the bustling metropolis with surprising grandeur. There are also scenes of meditative calm – the neon lights of the suspension bridge are strikingly beautiful as they shimmer in the darkness.

A River is imbued with a vague feeling of wistful regret, the whirring neon-lit industrial present slowly pans out into the purple past in the fields beyond where buffalo still graze in contented torpor. And the Yangtze River is the endless glowing connective tissue that keeps on flowing, renewing, cleansing. No one can imagine just how vast Chinese cities are until they visit. But Shengze conveys some of this enormity in a way that never feels frightening or aggressive. Her memories are now locked in the past but the future keeps on coming. A reflective, positive, graceful film that brings hope from so much tragedy. MT

BERLINALE FORUM 2021.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Eyes Off Me | Misheshu Yoav Mishehu | Berlinale Panorama 2021

Dir.: Hadas Ben Aroya; Cast: Elisjeva Weil, Hadar Katz, YoavHait, Leib Lev Levia; Israel 2021, 89 min.

The sophomore feature of Israeli writer/director Hadas Ben Aroya is as enigmatic as the title suggests but after a while you may recognise an ultra modern low-powered version of Schnitzler’s La Ronde.

 

Ben Aroya explores personal freedom, commitment and generational dynamics but also questions a society permanently in conflict with itself. The story centres on a group of glib polyamorous characters who seem caught up in their trivial lives but emotionally disengaged from the world at large, and each other.

First up is the appropriately named Avishag who enjoys sexual encounters of the brutal kind, as we later discover. Then there’s Danny (Katz) who becomes fascinated by a dying butterfly on the way to a party in Tel Aviv, and contemplates taking it to the vet. She’s off to join her boyfriend Max (Levia) with a surprise announcement, but is greeted with an earful about the after-effects of another girl’s self-induced abortion when Danny reveals her own pregnancy .

Max, meanwhile, seems unfazed by Danny’s wonderful news. His focus is now on Avishag (Weil) and has surprising news of his own. He and Avi are planning a holiday to the Sinai peninsula. And while Danny tries to appear cool, telling Max not to do anything rash, she is clearly upset. But the next scene sees him in bed with Avishag. Post coitus, she confesses her love of rough sex, and this seems to make Max even more keen to satisfy her needs, bruises and all.

Later Avishag meets up with her neighbour Dror, an overweight man in his forties, and his out of control dog Bianca. Dror talks about growing up in a kibbutz and later attending a religious school where he found himself actually losing faith, to the chagrin of his ultra-religious parents who were furious when he left without finishing his studies. Suddenly, Avishag pounces on him, smothering him with kisses, clearly she has an ulterior motive but poor Dror falls for her advances, he’s so insecure about his body.

Meanwhile Danny is back at the party, still pondering the medical care of  butterflies. We know all this talk is meant to hide the film’s real motives. Danny’s encounter with Max proves the point. When Max tells Avishag he really prefers young boys, she remains unfazed, trumping this with by asking for more rough sex, just to keep him keen. But Avishag is content to submerge her sexual desires for the security Dror could provide in his Art Deco villa with its swimming pool and lush gardens. Avishag is only too ready to flee from responsibility, and into the welcoming arms of this pot-bellied father figure, who seems overjoyed that a young woman might want to bed him. These unreachable and unappealing characters remain casual bystanders throughout, seemingly part of a society which “plays” at being at peace, but has turned the conflict in on itself.

DoP Meidan Arama showcases the intimate close-up of the social merry go round, contrasting the casual party atmosphere of the opening scenes with the interiors where the narrative unfolds. Dror’s upmarket home is a world away from the chaotic student flat where Max and Avishag hang out. Everything is flip, lightweight and interchangeable in this pastel-coloured world where integrity has been air-brushed out of sight. AS

BERLINALE | Berlin Film Festival | Panorama 2021

Moon, 66 Questions (2021)

Dir: Jaqueline Lentzou | Cast: Sofia Kokkali, Lazaros Georgakopoulos | Greece, Drama 105′

A troubled father and daughter relationship is the focus of Jaqueline Lentzou’s feature debut that has its world premiere at this year’s Berlinale. Running along similar lines to Sally Potter’s recent Roads Not Taken this is a less accessible but ultimately much more rewarding arthouse drama that sees two people embarking on a voyage of rediscovery and redemption during one stifling slow-burn summer in Greece.

Artemis is a single 24-year-old living in France when a frantic phone call from her divorced mother calls her back home to Athens — where her father Paris is suffering from multiple sclerosis and has been admitted to hospital.

Annoyed and resentful – the two never saw eye to eye – Artmesis (Kokali) gradually gets to know him again and begins to understand what went wrong.

The story of Artemis’ return to the family circle unfolds in a series of dreamlike early sequences where the focus is the young woman’s fleeting reverie as she heads to the airport in a taxi. Once in the thick of the clinical environment, the gaze remains on Artemis and her thoughts and feelings as Lentzou establishes the gravity of her father’s situation, off camera, in snatched discussions with family members and medical staff.

Eventually Paris and Artemis are thrown together by force of circumstance, the father helplessly in need of his daughter’s care in the first days in hospital and when he moves back to the comfortable family house with its lavish setting. Frustrations emerge for an irritated Artemis who must work through her negative feelings with her sick father while at the same time drawing on her compassion as a human being. And in these scenes her character gradually thaws.

In what is essentially a two-hander, the other characters making only peripheral appearances, Lazoros Georgakopoulos is quietly likeable as her father, turning in a performance of extraordinary physicality considering he is actually not suffering from the disease. Sofia Kokkali copes with a difficult role, a justifiably embittered woman forced to be kind and helpful to a father who has clearly failed her on deep level is a tough call and one which she brings off with subtlety and a gently vulnerable appeal.

The reveal comes as a bombshell rather than a quiet awakening, and takes the film into its final, acceptance phase where child and parent must bond and repair the damage, Artemis is seen taking her anger out on her mother who mutely takes the force of the blame. MT

RELEASED IN CINEMAS ON 24 JUNE

BERLINALE | ENCOUNTERS STRAND 2021

Berlinale Specials 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WORLD PREMIERES

 

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 Forum 2021

Work, love, friendship, cinema: today, all these things have to be managed very differently than a year ago. The certainties we were still able to rely on in autumn 2019 have become porous. In other parts of the world where such uncertainties are part of everyday life, people may well be more practised in dealing with them. In a Western Europe geared to planning and feasibility, we still need to get used to a situation reminiscent of an agility workshop on a permanent loop. Whoever manages to shoot and finish a film under these conditions deserves great respect.

The 17-film selection that makes up the 51st Berlinale Forum focuses on works that deal with uncertainties in the world outside by embracing unpredictability in their plots and structures. It gives preference to the fragile over the proven, with more space dedicated to filmmakers at the start of their careers than their more established colleagues. Many films take narrative detours, slaloming between fiction and documentary like Manque La Banca’s debut Esquí (Ski) and dipping into archives to link findings from the past with the present. Jean-Luc Godard’s La chinoise is, for example, subjected to two separate revisions in Ephraim Asili’s The Inheritance and Vincent Meessen’s Juste un movement (Just A Movement) respectively. In her feature-length debut Sichuan hao nuren (The Good Woman of Sichuan), Sabrina Zhao transforms one of Brecht’s learning-plays into an opaque cinematic space. Uldus Bakhtiozina’s debut Doch rybaka (Tzarevna Scaling) tells a straightforward fairy tale on the one hand, while filling her fiction with dizzying culture historical pirouettes on the other. Her characters even have the shiniest diamond-encrusted teeth.

It goes without saying that more established filmmakers also form a part of the selection. With The First 54 Years – An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation, Israeli documentarian Avi Mograbi adds to his rich oeuvre with a bitter breakdown of the meaning of occupation. Berlin directors Chris Wright and Stefan Kolbe sound out the possibilities of documentary filmmaking in their usual unflinching manner in Anmaßung (Anamnesis). And Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong’s Jai jumlong (Come Here) is a confident continuation of what has already marked her previous work (including 2009’s Mundane History): a blend of narrative subtlety with a view of history that cuts deep.

At a time when withdrawing into one’s own country, city, neighbourhood, flat or family is what’s being suggested, there’s a considerable risk that our realms of perception will shrink accordingly. The films of the 51st Berlinale Forum thus act as a significant help in allowing our thoughts and imaginations to stay open to the outside world.

Films of the 51st Berlinale Forum
*World premiere is used to indicate that these films have not been shown to an audience yet. Since they will be available in online screenings to a professional audience (industry and press) only, they will keep their status World premiere until they will be presented publicly in cinemas or at festivals.

*International premiere is used to indicate that these films have not been shown outside their country of origin yet. Since they will be available in online screenings to a professional audience (industry and press) only, they will keep their status International premiere until they will be presented publicly in cinemas or at festivals.

À pas aveugles (From Where They Stood)
France / Germany
by Christophe Cognet
with Christophe Cognet
*World premiere

Anmaßung (Anamnesis)
Germany
by Chris Wright, Stefan Kolbe
with Nadia Ihjelj, Josephine Hock
*World premiere

Doch rybaka (Tzarevna Scaling)
Russian Federation
by Uldus Bakhtiozina
with Alina Korol, Viktoria Lisovskaya, Valentina Yasen
*International premiere / Debut film

Esquí (Ski)
Argentina / Brazil
by Manque La Banca
with José Alejandro Colin, Segundo Botti, Shaman Herrera
*World premiere / Debut film

The First 54 Years – An Abbreviated Manual for Military Occupation
France / Finland / Israel / Germany
by Avi Mograbi
with Avi Mograbi
*World premiere

Garderie nocturne (Night Nursery)
Burkina Faso / France / Germany
by Moumouni Sanou
*World premiere / Debut film

The Inheritance
USA
by Ephraim Asili
with Eric Lockley, Nozipho McClean, Chris Jarrell
Debut film

Jai jumlong (Come Here)
Thailand
by Anocha Suwichakornpong
with Apinya Sakuljaroensuk, Waywiree Ittianunkul, Sirat Intarachote
*World premiere

Juste un mouvement (Just A Movement)
Belgium / France
by Vincent Meessen
with Dialo Blondin Diop, Ousman Blondin Diop, Marie-Thérèse Diedhiou
*World premiere

Mbah Jhiwo (Mbah Jhiwo / Ancient Soul)
Spain
by Alvaro Gurrea
with Yono Aris Munandar, Sayu Kholif, Musaena’h
*World premiere / Debut film

No táxi do Jack (Jack’s Ride)
Portugal
by Susana Nobre
with Amindo Martins Rato, Maria Carvalho, Joaquim Verissimo
*World premiere

Qué será del verano (What Will Summer Bring)
Argentina
by Ignacio Ceroi
with Ignacio Ceroi, Mariana Martinelli, Charles Louvet
*World premiere

A River Runs, Turns, Erases, Replaces
USA
by Shengze Zhu
*World premiere

Sichuan hao nuren (The Good Woman of Sichuan)
Canada
by Sabrina Zhao
with Weihang He, Ruobing Zhao
*World premiere / Debut film

Ste. Anne
Canada
by Rhayne Vermette
with Isabelle d’Eschambault, Jack Theis, Valerie Marion
*World premiere / Debut film

Taming the Garden
Switzerland / Germany / Georgia
by Salomé Jashi

La veduta luminosa (The Luminous View)
Italy / Spain
by Fabrizio Ferraro
with Alessandro Carlini, Catarina Wallenstein, Freddy Paul Grunert
*World premiere

THE 51st BERLINALE FORUM | MARCH 2021

The Assistant (2019) ** Bfi Player

Dir: Kitty Green | Drama, 87′

The Assistant follows the day to day life of an office worker during her trial period in a new company. The film captured the imagination of critics in Berlin this year when a rumour went round it was based on the empire of one Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced film producer, and so plausibly chimed with the #MeToo movement. Although the setting here is New York.

Jane is a rather glum and introverted character who never smiles or shows a spark of enthusiasm or enterprise when she lands her dream job, beating hundreds of others to the post as a production company assistant. We first see her outside her Queens apartment, where a cab is waiting to drive her to the office in the early morning. Shot in a subdued colour palette, this is a tonally subdued affair that sees the film’s executives deeply involved in their workload; not a sparky creative atmosphere – so clearly the action takes place in the ‘backroom’ ie the legal or administrative side of the business – although this is never made clear.

Jane is a diligent and dedicated worker who maintains a sombre presence, rarely smiling and rocking a drab teeshirt, and dowdy trousers as her work outfit, her pop-socks drifting down to show her bare ankles as she goes about the daily routine of checking travel itineraries, photocopying, and making refreshments in the large office she shares with two other more senior assistants who are mostly absorbed in their own work. Her own poker-face certainly doesn’t invite a positive dynamic between them, and none of these characters has any chance to inject a sardonic twist to their performances given the dumbed down almost monosyllabic dialogue.

Although clearly a film with a serious and worthwhile message to offer, as a piece of entertainment  The Assistant is light years away from its obvious companion drama The Devil Wears Prada, a more sparky affair with some fireworks and fun and games up its sleeve, although roughly the same agenda.

Jane’s boss, Tony Torn, never appears but we certainly get a jist of his iron fist on his staff through various ‘phoncalls. But this could be any office, in any town, in any country with a strong hierarchy and a bottom line driven by profit and a need to deliver. And besides, Jane has no backlife, as far as we’re led to believe, apart from the final scene where she receives a loving phone call from her father, just as warm and convincing as the rest is cold and alienating. This brief scenes is the only tonal shift in the narrative. Other moments like this, amid the buttoned down drabness, could have added dramatic tension – and a more enjoyable outcome.

The fact that Jane is chauffeur-driven to work is a perk that many office workers would welcome, as they tool in from the suburbs to put in the hours in another gruelling day. This is what work is like for most people. It is not a party, but a hard graft to the top – and the only thing that can make it enjoyable is the positive attitude and determination that you bring with you to work. And Jane seems an isolated character whose simmering discontent comes to a head when a new assistant Sienna (Kristine Froseth) appears on the scene and appears to receive a more favourable reception. Sienna is just as pretty, but perkier, and brings a breath of fresh air to proceedings. Although Jane assumes that – wrongly or rightly – through a few randoms clues, that the young girl from Boise, Idaho, is a product of the casting couch. But because Jane has no confidents – in or out of the office – this strand cannot proffer any grist to her character’s mill to empower her. And this is the big flaw in Green’s script. Although our sympathies should be with her, she emerges an irritating morose, moaner by the end of the story: is that really what Green intended? Certainly a film to set tongues wagging. MT

NOW SHOWING ON BFI PLAYER

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 

       

  

Red Moon Tide | Lua Vermella (2020) Mubi

Frem (2020) Berlinale 2020 *** Berlinale 2020

Dir: Viera Čákanyová’ | Slovakia, Doc, 73′

A palpable sense of isolation runs through this chilling experimental documentary that pieces together a series of interconnected sequences with an underlying narrative of climate change. Disassociation, dehumanisation and isolation are the main themes of Viera Čákanyová’s second full length feature documentary, following on from Slovensko 2.0 (2014) her collaborative film about the nature of her homeland.

With Frem, the Slovakian filmmaker attempts to offer a nuanced mood piece that relies on startling images and an atmospheric soundscape to put its stark message across: rather than being in control of the world, as we always assumed from time immemorial, humans are just dots on the landscape of a planet that is increasingly alien in our anthropocentric viewpoint.

A voiceover and an occasional buzzing electronic soundscape accompanies the opening scenes as a series of visually glitched images fly by creating a soulful memoire of seaside flora and fauna. Čákanyová impresses upon us her deep remorse about the eco-tragedy of a species, or a genus, that is gradually being wiped out, and may not survive for much longer. A frenetic and harrowing segment involving road-kill and slaughtered animals speaks of sentient death and extinction. Gradually the filmmaker gets into her stride and overriding concern: how would an AI-driven alien make a film?.

Antarctica, a place almost devoid of human life, seems an appropriate place to shoot a film with a dehumanised gaze. And this is where the film takes us next, scoping out the environment in eccentric camera angles and discombobulating time-lapse sequences that drift away over the riptides, windswept seascape and icebound wilderness devoid of life. Well almost: a lone penguin, and a stranded seal utter eerie cries. A figure climbs out of the sea, dwarfed by the magnitude of his environment. All this is set against a breathy soundscape of human-like exhalation as ice flows swirl and bob in the steely brine, creating art forms out of negative space.

The sea takes on a life of its own, shifting mysteriously as if dragged by forces beyond nature. These are the filmmaker’s tentative attempts to see things from an alien perspective, possibly powered by artificial intelligence. But would aliens even make a film about feelings of loss? Without souls, why would AI robots make – or share – a doc about memory, or environmental bereavement. How could it possibly serve them.? This brave and weirdly compelling film is for the lateral thinkers. MT

BERLINALE 2020 | 20 – 29  FEBRUARY 2020

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

Dir: Santiago Loza | Drama: Argentina, Brazil, Spain, Germany | 90′
Santiago Loza was born in Cordoba, Argentina in 1971 where his edgy, award-winning dramas such as La Paz, Lips and Strange go down well with the arthouse crowd. There’s a Lynchian quality to his latest, a stunningly surreal story that revolves around Trans woman Tania who discovers her favourite grandmother has died peacefully after spending her final years with an alien. With two friends in tow Tania sets off across rural Argentina to bring the creature back to its origin. But when they arrive at Granny’s home in the depths of a petrified forest, the reality is even more bizarre than expected. Powerful childhood memories come flooding back to Tania. And the alien being is not the only surprise they encounter.
There are echoes of Amat Escalante’s 2016 feature The Untamed and even cult classic ET to this thrilling road movie that also works as a lyrical horror mystery. We never know what to expect. And Loza achieves this sense of discombobulation and dislocation with a mixture of magic realism, slo-mo camerawork, photo montage and an eerie electronic and ambient score that wafts us into the unknown depths of the dark continent, blending the commonplace with the utterly absurd, strange and uplifting: literally and metaphorically. Loza’s unique cinematic language and delightfully delicate visual style make this an ethereal experience. MT
BERLINALE FILM FESTIVAL | PANORAMA SECTION | 7 -17 FEBRUARY 2019

Baracoa (2019) *** Berlinale | Generation 2019

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

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

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

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

BERLINALE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | GENERATION 2019 | 7-17 FEBRUARY  2019

 

 

Monsters (2019) *** Berlinale | Forum 2019

Dir: Marius Olteanu | Drama, Romania

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

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

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

BERLINALE 2019 | Forum Section | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

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

Dir: Aleksandr Gorchilin | Drama: Russia 97′

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AWARDED A SPECIAL MENTION BY THE INTERNATIONAL JULY AT BERLINALE | GENERATION KPLUS 2019 | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

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

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

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

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

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

BERLINALE 2019 | FORUM | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

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

Berlinale 2019 – First competition films announced

Opening this year with Lone Scherfig’s The Kindness of Strangers, the 69th Berlinale Film Festival (7-17 February) has announced the first competition films which include the latest from regulars François Ozon, Denis Côté and Fatih Akin.

Serbian director Angela Schanelec will present her latest film I Was at Home, but, and Emin Alper will be there with A Tale of Three Sisters, a follow up to his dazzling drama Beyond the Hill

Also competing is The Ground Beneath my Feet from Austrian filmmaker Marie Kreutzer.

In the Berlinale Special Gala Section there is Gully Boy from Zoya Aktar (India), Heinrich Breloer’s drama Brecht which stars Trina Dyrholm and Tom Schilling and Charles Ferguson’s documentary on the Watergate scandal

COMPETITION 

Der Boden unter den Füßen (The Ground Beneath My Feet) Austria/World Premiere

by Marie Kreutzer (The Fatherless, We Used to be Cool)

with Valerie Pachner, Pia Hierzegger, Mavie Hörbiger, Michelle Barthel, Marc Benjamin, Axel Sichrovsky, Dominic Marcus Singer, Meo Wulf

Der Goldene Handschuh (The Golden Glove) Germany/France/World Premiere

by Fatih Akin (Head On, In the Fade)

with Jonas Dassler, Margarethe Tiesel, Hark Bohm

Grâce à dieu (By the Grace of God) France/International Premiere

by François Ozon (8 Women, In the House)

with Melvil Poupaud, Denis Ménochet, Swann Arlaud, Éric Caravaca, François Marthouret, Bernard Verley, Martine Erhel, Josiane Balasko, Hélène Vincent, François Chattot, Frédéric Pierrot

Ich war zuhause, aber (I Was at Home, but) Germany / Serbia/World Premiere

by Angela Schanelec (The Dreamed Path, Marseille)

with Maren Eggert, Franz Rogowski, Lilith Stangenberg, Jakob Lassalle, Clara Möller

Kız Kardeşler (A Tale of Three Sisters) Turkey / Ger/ Neth/ Greece/World Premiere

by Emin Alper (Beyond the Hill, Frenzy)

with Cemre Ebüzziya, Ece Yüksel, Helin Kandemir, Kayhan Açikgöz, Müfit Kayacan, Kubilay Tunçe

Répertoire des villes disparues (Ghost Town Anthology) Canada/World Premiere

by Denis Côté (A Skin So Soft, Bestiaire)

with Robert Naylor, Josée Deschênes, Jean-Michel Anctil, Larissa Corriveau, Rémi Goulet, Diane Lavallée, Hubert Proulx, Rachel Graton, Normand Carrière, Jocelyne Zucco

Berlinale Special Gala at the Friedrichstadt-Palast 

Gully Boy /India/ World Premiere

by Zoya Akhtar (You Won’t Get This Life Again, Lust Stories)

with Ranveer Singh, Alia Bhatt, Kalki Koechlin, Siddhant Chaturvedi, Vijay Raaz, Amruta Subhash, Vijay Verma 

Berlinale Special at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele

Brecht /Germany / Austria/World Premiere

by Heinrich Breloer (The Manns – Novel of a Century, Buddenbrooks – The Decline of a Family)

with Burghart Klaußner, Tom Schilling, Adele Neuhauser, Trine Dyrholm, Mala Emde, Franz Hartwig, Friederike Becht, Ernst Stötzner, Lou Strenger

Watergate – Documentary/USA/Euro Premiere

by Charles Ferguson (No End in Sight, Inside Job)

with Douglas Hodge, Jill Wine-Banks, Dan Rather, Lesley Stahl, Richard Ben-Veniste

MORE FILMS WILL BE ANNOUNCED IN THE COMING WEEKS

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (2018) **

Dir: Gus Van Sant | Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black, Udo Kier | Biopic | US 113′

Joaquin Phoenix plays a recovering alcoholic artist in Gus Van Sant’s latest drama. And it’s a gruelling journey padded with scenes of fuzzy humour, based on the autobiography of prolific cartoonist John Callahan whose drawings lighten the load. Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot chronicles the aftermath of an accident which leaves him quadriplegic, his doodles providing a creative outlet for his bitter frustration and struggle to come off the wagon, in a reduced physical state. On and off screen lover-cum-nurse Annu (Rooney Mara) gives him affectionate support along with John (Joaquin Phoenix) his patron, gay philanthropist Donnie (Jonah Hill). Feelgood but toothless, Don’t Worry is also quite tedious to watch as the frequent flashbacks shows the before and after, Phoenix often wallowing in self-pity and milking his melancholy for all he can get. But there are amusing scenes where he rides his wheelchair in traffic and up skateboard ramps. When it comes to paraplegic comedy dramas, Kills on Wheels (2016) did it better, along with the outstanding Untouchable (2011).

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot tries to be touching and soulful in its portrait of loss and redemption. But despite its strong cast, it just adds insult to injury. MT

NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE

Berlin Alexanderplatz (1980) ***** | Bluray Limited Edition

Dir.: Rainer Werner Fassbinder; Cast: Günter Lamprecht, Gottfired John, Barbara Sukowa, Hanna Schygulla; West Germany/Italy 1980, 940 min.

This captivating 15 hour odyssey is Fassbinder’s adaption of Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel of the same name. It is the story of two men who can not admit their love for each other, and go on to destroy themselves and the women they become involved with. At the same time, it is a symbol of advancing Fascism in the Germany of the Weimar Republic – of which Döblin (1878-1957), a practising psychiatrist and novelist, became a victim himself, and was punished with emigration for being Jewish.

Berlin Alexanderplatz is often compared to James Joyce’s Ulysses and Don Passos’ Manhattan Transfer, two contemporary novels where the protagonists play a major part. Fassbinder has translated the associative structure of the text into an impressionistic portrait of the German capital, where half-sentences and poster texts mix with a permanent flowing traffic: a city which never sleeps, everything dazzles and glimmers. But the chaos of words, sounds and thoughts covers the growing infection with the Fascist bacillus, a regime which promised a new order of certainties.

Franz Biberkopf (Lamprecht) has just been released from prison, after serving four years for strangling his girl friend Ida. He is forbidden by the Police to live in certain areas of Berlin because the milieu might make a recidivist of him. Franz is working as a hawker, selling necktie holders, but he has not the gift for the gab, and finds it impossible to make ends meet, so he is talked into selling the Nazi newspaper Der Volkische Beobachter, even though some of his Jewish contacts warn him of the consequences. Unfortunately, Franz does not want to take on board their efforts to protect him and he sinks further and further into the negative influence of this misguided political movement, where robberies are supposed to benefit the NSDAP, but more often than not serve only the perpetrators. Franz gets to know his nemesis Reinhold (John), a sort of underground leader. Reinhold get quickly bored of his girlfriends, and Franz “inherits” them. One of them is Eva (Schygulla), who once worked for Franz on the streets of Berlin. But his true love is Mieze (Sukowa), who is only too glad to lose Reinhold as her pimp. But Reinhold is jealous of Franz’ chance of a happiness, and he murders Mieze, before throwing Franz from the back of a truck, after a robbery. Franz survives, but loses his right arm – ironically, he cannot perform the ‘Heil Hitler’ greeting anymore. An epilogue sees Franz recovering from his psychosis in a closed psychiatric ward where he suffers from nightmares: dreaming of the atomic bomb and other Armageddon-like events. In the end, he is prepared for work in a Fascist society, but becomes very much a prisoner of the system.

This impressive endeavour, described as the longest film in history at 900-plus minutes, is photographed brilliantly by Xaver Schwarzenbeger (Querelle, Lilli Marlen). With a cast and crew of over a hundred, most of them Fassbinder regulars – such as composer Peer Raaben and editor Juliane Lorenz – Berlin Alexanderplatz is the director’s greatest opus: the homoerotic element of German Fascism symbolised by the bi-polar love-hate relationship between Franz and Reinhold, causing (self) destruction first on a private, then on a worldwide level. AS

AVAILABLE from Second Sight as a LIMITED EDITION BLURAY BOXSET ON 23 JULY 2018 | Complete with a luxury 60 page perfect bound book. 

SPECIAL FEATURES FOR LIMITED EDITIONLimited edition deluxe box set (2000 copies only)

  • ‘Fassbinder: Love Without Demands’ – The acclaimed 2015 feature length documentary by ChristianBraad Thomsen
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz – A Visual Essay by Daniel Bird
  • ‘A Mega Movie and its Story’ documentary by Juliane Lorenz
  • ‘The Making of Berlin Alexanderplatz’
  • ‘The Restoration’ documentary including ‘before and after’
  • The Original Recaps
  • Berlinale 2007 trailer
  • 60-page perfect bound book featuring new essay by Cahiers Du Cinema’s Stephane du Mesnildot andarchive material by Wim Wenders, Thomas Elsasser and Christian Braad Thomsen

 

Touch Me Not (2018) Berlinale 2018 | Winner Golden Bear

Dir.: Adina Pintilie; Cast: Laura Benson, Tomas Lemarquis, Christian Bayerlein, Grit Uhlemann, Adina Pintilie, Hanna Hoffman, Seani Love, Irmena Chichikova; Romania/Germany/France/Bulgaria/Czech Republic, 2018, 123 min.

Written, directed and edited by first time feature filmmaker Adina Pintilie, this surprise winner of the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival has split critics and audiences alike. The key to the mis/understanding of this fictional sex-based documentary may lie in Pintilie’s own background. At 38, she is the director of the Bucharest International Experimental Film Festival (BIEFF). Her award-winning short films fall into the category of “Fine Art” documentaries.

In this unique film the focus is Laura Benson and her exploration, through sexual therapy, of her deep-held anger and frustration. Pintilie does away with the fourth wall, participating both behind and in front of camera. The colour white dominates giving the feature a documentary feel, only disrupted by the soundtrack which destroys the illusion of realism, although the naturalistic performances make us feel like voyeurs in a candid and highly intimate sexual interaction. This is an uncomfortable film to watch. Many may find the degree of physical and emotional oversharing deeply off-putting, 

Laura visits a tattooed male prostitute who undresses for her and later masturbates. Laura looks on in barely disguised lust, and later smells his sperm in the bed. Then Laura meets Hanna Hoffman, a transsexual prostitute who also doubles up as Sex-Therapist. Hanna playfully romps on the bed, talking about her breasts who are named Lilo and Gusti, the former being the more sensitive one. She also fondles her penis through a pair of Y-fronts. Hanna is also involved in music and appreciates Brahms, like Laura’s hospitalised father. In a clinic two mwn who feel let down by their bodies: Christian Bayerlain, who suffers from Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) and is visited by Tudor (Lemarquis), who has been completely hairless since the age of 13, due to Alopecia Universalis. Tudor (if I had a choice, I would choose not to have hair, because it’s just another form of disguise”) is still in love with his ex-girl-friend (Chichikova), whom he sometimes stalks at night.

Ironically, Christian’s penis is one of the parts of his body which functions perfectly, and he is keen on sex, because before it makes him feel more than just “a brain, floating around with no body”. After meeting an other sex-therapist (Love), who brings out in predilection for strong physical interactions, suddenly asks the director to change places with her. Pintilie acquiesces, admitting “that this a tough place to be in. I feel lots of fear, of being looked at, judged. When you screamed with anger, I knew the feeling very well.” To which Laura answers “Did I scream for you?”.

The only criticism here is a rather superfluous scene in a sex club where some of the participants meet. Otherwise Pintilie stays the course in this permanently questioning roleplay of transference and projection: like an orthodox Freudian, she claims sex to be the the centre of our lives. Sex being influenced by our hopes and denials –  foremost, of our past, parental and otherwise. There is no escape, and Pintilie is brave enough to join the fray in a film that teeters of the brink of but never oversteps the mark. Where the demarcation lines of documentary and fiction are, is never revealed. But the director, with the help of DoP George Chiper-Lillemark – who punctiliously clinical images give the impression of ongoing scientific research in some futuristic laboratory – succeeds in bringing in bringing Laura’s odyssey to a successful, surprising and moving conclusion. AS

BERLINALE GOLDEN BEAR WINNER 2018 | 15 – 25 FEBRUARY 2018

Berlinale 2017 | Competition WINNERS

img_3189ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE | BEST ACTRESS
South Korea
By Hong Sangsoo (Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, Right Now, Wrong Then)
With Kim Minhee, Seo Younghwa, Jung Jaeyoung, Moon Sungkeun, Kwon Haehyo, Song Seonmi, Ahn Jaehong, Park Yeaju
World premiere

EL BAR (The Bar) | Spain
By Álex de la Iglesia (Mad Circus, The Day of the Beast, The Oxford Murders)
With Blanca Suárez, Mario Casas, Carmen Machi, Terele Pávez, Secun de la Rosa, Alejandro Awada, Joaquín Climent, Jaime Ordóñez
World premiere – Out of competition

HELLE NACHTE (Bright Nights) | Germany / Norway
By Thomas Arslan (Dealer, Vacation, In the Shadows, Gold)
With Georg Friedrich, Tristan Göbel, Marie Leuenberger, Hanna Karlberg
World premiere

JOAQUIM | Brazil / Portugal
By Marcelo Gomes (Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures, The Man of the Crowd, I Travel Because I Have to, I Come Back Because I Love You)
With Julio Machado, Isabél Zuaa, Nuno Lopes, Rômulo Braga, Welket Bungué, Karay Rya Pua
World premiere

MR LONG / Germany / Hong Kong, China / Taiwan
By Sabu (Monday, Chasuke’s Journey)
With Chen Chang, Sho Aoyagi, Yiti Yao, Junyin Bai
World premiere

RETURN TO MONTAUK | Germany / France / Ireland
By Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum, Diplomatie)
With Stellan Skarsgård, Nina Hoss, Susanne Wolff, Niels Arestrup
World premiere

Wild MouseWILDE MAUSS | Wild Mouse) | Austria | BEST ACTOR 
By Josef Hader
With Josef Hader, Pia Hierzegger, Georg Friedrich, Jörg Hartmann, Denis Moschitto
World premiere – First Feature

BodyA teströl és a lélekröl (ON BODY AND SOUL) Hungary | GOLDEN BEAR WINNER

Hungarian director Ildiko Enyedi gained international recognition winning the Golden Camera at Cannes (1989) for her debut My 20th Century. Since then she has won a clutch of minor awards and here she is at Berlinale for the first time in competition with World premiere drama with an all Hungarian cast of Géza Morcsányi, Alexandra Borbély, Zoltán Schneider

AnaANA, MON AMOUR | BEST ARTISTIC CONTRIBUTION
Romania / Germany / France
Romanian filmmaker Călin Peter Netzer was the surprise winner of the Golden Bear in 2013 with his impressive psychological drama exploring just how far a professional woman will go to protect her adult son in Child‘s Pose. His latest drama in competition at Berlinale stars Mircea Postelnicu, Diana Cavallioti, Carmen Tănase, Adrian Titieni, Vlad Ivanov
World premiere

BEUYS – Documentary

Last year’s Golden Bear winner was an Italian documentary Fire At Sea. This year German director Andres Veiel (Black Box Germany, Addicted To Acting, If not us, Who) will show his latest documentary, a World premiere in competition. In 2011 he won the Alfred Bauer Award with If Not Us, Who? a biopic of the Baader-Meinhof Group.

COLO
Portugal / France
Portuguese director Teresa Villaverde is much celebrated in her own country and has won prizes at Venice, Lecce and Ankara for her films (The Major Age, The Mutants, Trance). With João Pedro Vaz, Alice Albergaria Borges, Beatriz Batarda, Clara Jost. She is in the competition line-up for the first time with her drama COLO 

THE DINNER 

US director Oren Moverman is best known for his writing talents scripting Love & Mercy, The Messenger and Rampart
His latest film is a mystery thriller based on Dutch writer Herman Koch’s novel with echoes of Roman Polanski’s Carnage (2011) where two well-to-do couples discuss the misdemeanours of their teenage children. Stars Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Chloë Sevigny | World premiere

FeliciteFélicité | GRAND JURY PRIZE

Back in 2012 Senegalese auteur Alain Gomis gave us one of the most moving and life-affirming films about death: TEY 
In his latest, a World premiere in Competition at Berlin, he casts Véro Tshanda Beya, Gaetan Claudia, Papi Mpaka his latest drama set in the former French colony.

THE PARTY
United Kingdom
Famous for the stylishly inventive curio Orlando, British director Sally Potter is back with a tragicomedy that sounds a lot like Festen where a much hyped party ends in tears. A glittering cast of Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy, Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall. World premiere

POKOTPOKOT (Spoor) | ALFRED BAUER PRIZE

is billed as a mystery crime drama from Polish Great Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, Bitter Harvest, Kobieta samotna)/ the German, Polish World Premiere has Agnieszka Mandat, Wiktor Zborowski, Miroslav Krobot, Jakub Gierszał, Patricia Volny, Borys Szyc

 

The Other Side of HopeTOIVEN TUOLLA PUOLEN (The Other Side of Hope) | BEST DIRECTOR 
Another Helsinki-set dark comedy from the Finnish maverick Aki Kaurismäki (The Match Factory Girl, Juha, Le Havre) kicks the year off to a great start. Regular collaborators Kati Outinen and Tommi Korpela stars alongside Sakari Kuosmanen, Sherwan Haji
in this International premiere which opens in Finland the week before.

MujerUNA MUJER FANTASTICA | BEST SCRIPT 
Chile / Germany / USA / Spain
By Sebastián Lelio (El Año del Tigre, Gloria)

Lelio gave the fabulous GLORIA that won a Silver Bear in 2013 for Paulina Garcia’s witty and wise portrait of a feisty middle-aged woman who refuses to give up on love in the riviera city of Montevideo.  His latest drama stars Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim, Amparo Noguera in World premiere

BERLINALE 2017 \ COMPETITION WINNERS

 

 

Avanti Popolo (1986) | Berlinale Classics 2017

Dir.: Rafi Bukai | Cast: Salim Dau, Suhei Haddad, Barry Langford | Israel | 84 min.

Rafi Bukai’s directorial debut started out as a mere graduation film from the Department of Film Studies at the University of Tel Aviv, but has become a classic: The story of two Egyptian soldiers trying to find a way home in the last days of the Six Day War, is a turning point in Israeli film history. Bukai wrote and co-produced the film which had a recent renaissance at the Jerusalem Film Festival in 2016, where its 30th anniversary was celebrated with a brand new digital restoration copy. The two main actors were in attendance, as well as DoP Yoav Kosh and the widow of the director.

Set in 1967 in an expanded Israel, the Sinai peninsula, two Egyptian soldiers, Haled el Asma (Dau) and Gassan Hamada (Haddad), are trying to find a way back to Cairo. They are tired, hungry and thirsty – the last thing on their mind is fighting. Haled, who is an actor in civil life, tries to wow the Israeli soldiers with Shakespeare: “I am a Jew!” he shouts. “Hath not a Jew eyes?”. But his Shylock speech does not cut the mustard with the Israelis: “He’s got his roles confused”, says one of them. Luckily, the two Egyptians later discover an UN jeep containing a dead soldier and two bottles of whisky – as well as an umbrella. Defying their religious laws, the two drink the alcohol and stumble on with the umbrella, holding out against the burning sun, through the desert: Becket could not have staged it better. Later, they meet a British war correspondent (Langford), who is angry that the war is as good as over. He has come for blood and action, and is adamant to succeed: “The war will be over when I say the war is over”. Finally, the duo meet three Israeli soldiers who have given up by now, shooing the Egyptian soldiers away like mangy dogs, and together they sing “Avanti Populo”, the anthem of the Italian Communist Party. None of them understand the meaning of the words.

When AVANTI POPOLO was entered as the Israeli hopeful for the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film in 1986, Ariel Sharon, ex-General and then Minister of Industry and Commerce, called it “a self-destructive portrait of inept Jews”. Sharon, like many others, obviously hankered back to the ‘good, olden days’ of Israeli cinema, when blond, blue-eyed Jews easily defeated ugly, hateful Arabs on the screen – evoking memories of the cinema of a certain Dr. Goebbels. Alas, thirty years on, AVANTI POPULO looks like Utopia: the current Israeli film landscape, like the political consciousness of the nation, is very much aligned with what went on before Bukai’s breakthrough. Isaac Zablocki, director of the Israeli Film Centre in NYC agrees: “There has been a significant drop in work which challenges the Status Quo. The tone of the current Cultural Ministry has made filmmakers, who are pitching and producing films with political content afraid. No one wants to be public enemy number One.”

DoP Yoav Kosh, debuting like Rafi Bukai, has made sure, that the images are sparse, the colours are washed out, there is little movement, everything is seen like in a feverish dream, the protagonist moving slowly forward through a mist of sand and sun. Rafi Bukai would only direct one more feature film (Marco Polo: The missing chapter, 1996), but he would produce the international success Life According to Agfa (1992), which won its director Assi Dayan (son of the general and war hero) a ‘Special Mention’ at the Berlin Film Festival. AS

SCREENING AT BERLINALE 2017 | CLASSICS SECTION | 9-19 FEBRUARY 

 

Berlinale | Panorama films 2017

The German production TIGER GIRL by Jakob Lass will open this year’s edition of Panorama Special at Berlin’s Zoo Palast cinema, along with the previously announced Brazilian production VAZANTE.

In TIGER GIRL’s fast-paced narrative, a strong friendship develops between two women, one in which conventional value systems begin to unravel, in what amounts to a veritable moral portrait of the underbelly of today’s German republic. Daniela Thomas’ VAZANTE represents for its part the programme focus “Black Worlds”, which is also reinforced by the freshly confirmed inclusion of the South African production VAYA by Akin Omotoso, which offers an immersion in the urbanity of Johannesburg.

The fourth film from Brazil is COMO NOSSAS PAIS(Just Like Our Parents) by Laís Bodanzky, who depicts the everyday lives of three generations in Sao Paulo as a pyrotechnic display of individual passions and existential delusions staged with a sublime naturalness.

With DISCREET, US indie director Travis Mathews, a chronographer of a gay Western modernity, is showing his second film in Panorama. An eerie soundscape floats atop his often elliptically edited story, which revolves around a man approaching middle age who gets caught up in the darker depths of his past.

The original style of Moroccan filmmaker Hicham Lasri was already apparent at Panorama 2015 in The Sea is Behind and on display again last year in Starve Your Dog. Now he returns for the third time with Headbang Lullaby, a visually stunning psychedelic fairy tale swimming in vibrant colour and full of absurd situations, which also takes a long socially critical look at the history of Lasri’s native Morocco.

Naoko Ogigami already enchanted audiences in Berlin with Megane in 2008 and Rentaneko in 2012. In her most recent film Karera ga Honki de Amu toki wa (Close-Knit), the Japanese director employs contemplative, focussed imagery to honour a potential matter-of-factness for non-normative sexualities and the value of families that are defined by love and care and not by conventions.

Three modern arthouse films from China and Hong Kong shed some fresh light on the complex upheavals afoot throughout the vast country. Establishing alternatives for one’s self within authoritarian systems is a great step towards individual freedom: In Bing Lang Xue (The Taste of Betel Nut), we experience the whirlwind of young love on a resort island, while in Ghost in the Mountains and Ciao Ciao, a French co-production, we bask in the breath-taking landscapes of the Chinese highlands through the power of adept cinematography.

In his New Zealand film One Thousand Ropes, Samoan director Tusi Tamasese creates mythic images full of tension and concentration to relate the story of Maea, the baker and male midwife with the healing hands, whose personal demons play an integral role in his everyday life.

Today whole hordes of young cosmopolitans are drawn to Berlin by the promise of happiness that the city has come to represent – three films that pay tribute to this vision in extremely different manners are gathered at Panorama: the psycho thriller Berlin Syndrome by Australian director Cate Shortland, featuring Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt and Matthias Habich; the feminist fairy tale The Misandrists by Berlinale regular Bruce LaBruce; and the para-pornographic work of underground science fiction Fluidø, by Taiwanese-American artist Shu Lea Cheang.

E U R O P E

Thirteen more films have been confirmed for the final selection from Europe alone. These include works like the Spanish debut feature Pieles (Skins) by Eduardo Casanova, Rekvijem za gospodju J. (Requiem for Mrs. J.) by Serbia’s Bojan Vuletić, Ferenc Török’s 1945 from Hungary and God’s Own Country, Francis Lee’s feature-film debut from United Kingdom. Teona Mitevska returns with a bitter depiction of Macedonian adolescents trying to get their bearings in When the Day Had no Name. Also returning to Panorama are Norwegians Ole Giæver, with the emancipatory and philosophical self-examination Fra balkongen (From the Balcony), and Erik Poppe with Kongens Nei (The King’s Choice), which deals with the Norwegian king’s resistance to the German armed forces in World War II.

Luca Guadagnino will show his French-Italian account of summer love, Call Me by Your Name featuring Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg and Amira Casar, a screen adaptation of André Aciman’s novel of the same name, co-written with James Ivory (left).null

The Belgian-French-Lebanese co-production Insyriated by Philippe Van Leeuw is an intense chamber drama featuring Hiam Abbass as a woman trapped in the family’s apartment while a war rages on outside. Kaygı (Inflame) by Ceylan Özgün Özçelik tells the story of the incremental roll-out of wide-spread censorship of the press in Turkey and its effect on the work of a young female journalist. And finally there is Georgian director Rezo Gigineishvili’s Hostages, in which a longing for freedom and independence escalates into a readiness to use violence for young Soviet citizens during an airplane hijacking set in 1983.

Panorama main programme | Panorama Special

1945 –  Hungary
By Ferenc Török
With Péter Rudolf, Bence Tasnádi, Tamás Szabó Kimmel, Dóra Sztarenki, Eszter Nagy-Kálózy
European premiere

THE BERLIN SYNDROME – Australia
By Cate Shortland
With Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt
European premiere

THE TASTE OF BETEL NUT (main pic) Bing Lang Xue – Hong Kong, China
By Hu Jia
With Zhao Bing Rui, Yue Ye, Shen Shi Yu
World premiere

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME – Italy / France
By Luca Guadagnino
With Armie Hammer, Timothée Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois
European premiere

CIAO-CIAO – France / People’s Republic of China
By Song Chuan
With Liang Xueqin, Zhang Yu
World premiere

JUST LIKE OUR PARENTS – Como Nossos Pais Brazil
By Laís Bodanzky
With Maria Ribeiro, Clarisse Abujamra, Paulo Vilhena, Felipe Rocha, Jorge Mautner, Herson Capri, Sophia Valverde, Annalara Prates
World premiere

DISCREET – USA
By Travis Mathews
With Jonny Mars, Atsuko Okatsuko, Joy Cunningham, Bob Swaffar
World premiere

FLUIDO  – Germany
By Shu Lea Cheang
World premiere
Fra balkongen (From the Balcony) – Norway
By Ole Giaever
World premiere

GHOST IN THE MOUNTAINS – People’s Republic of China
By Yang Heng
With Tang Shenggang, Liang Yu, Shang Meitong, Xiang Peng, Zhang Yun
World premiere

GOD’S OWN COUNTRY – United Kingdom
By Francis Lee
With Josh O’Connor, Alec Secăreanu, Gemma Jones, Ian Hart
European premiere

HEADBANG LULLABY  – Morocco / France / Qatar / Lebanon
By Hicham Lasri
With Aziz Hattab, Latefa Ahrrare, Zoubir Abou el Fadl, El Jirari Benaissa, Salma Eddlimi, Adil Abatorab
World premiere

HOSTAGES – Russian Federation / Georgia / Poland
By Rezo Gigineishvili
With Merab Ninidze, Darejan Kharshiladze, Tina Dalakishvili, Irakli Kvirikadze
World premiere

INSYRIATED – Belgium / France / Lebanon
By Philippe Van Leeuw
With Hiam Abbass, Diamand Abou Abboud, Juliette Navis, Mohsen Abbas, Moustapha Al Kar
World premiere

CLOSE-KNIT Karera ga Honki de Amu toki wa (Close-Knit) – Japan
By Naoko Ogigami
WithToma Ikuta, Rinka Kakihara, Kenta Kiritani
World premiere

INFLAME – Kaygı Turkey
By Ceylan Özgün Özçelik
With Algı Eke, Özgür Çevik
World premiere– Debut film

THE KING’s CHOICE Kongens Nei – Norway / Sweden / Denmark / Ireland
By Erik Poppe
With Jesper Christensen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Karl Markovics, Tuva Novotny, Katharina Schüttler, Juliane Köhler
European premiere

THE MISANDRISTS – Germany
By Bruce LaBruce
With Susanne Sachsse, Kembra Pfahler
World premiere

ONE THOUSAND ROPES – New Zealand
By Tusi Tamasese
With Uelese Petaia, Frankie Adams, Væle Sima Urale, Ene Petaia, Beulah Koale, Anapela Polataivao
World premiere

PIELES (Skins) – Spain
By Eduardo Casanova
with Ana Polvorosa, Candela Peña, Carmen Machi, Macarena Gómez, Secun de la Rosa, Jon Kortajarena, Antonio Duran “Morris”, Eloi Costa
World premiere – Debut film

REQUIEM FOR MRS J  Rekvijem za gospodju J.  – Serbia / Bulgaria / Macedonia / Russian Federation / France
By Bojan Vuletić
With Mirjana Karanović, Jovana Gavrilović, Danica Nedeljković, Vučić Perović
World premiere

TIGER GIRL – Germany
By Jakob Lass
With Ella Rumpf, Maria Dragus
World premiere

VAYA – South Africa
By Akin Omotoso
With Mncedisi Shabangu, Zimkhitha Nyoka, Nomonde Mbusi, Sihle Xaba, Warren Masemola,
Zimkhitha Nyoka, Nomonde Mbusi, Azwile Chamane
European premiere

WHEN THE DAY HAD NO NAME – Macedonia / Belgium / Slovenia
By Teona Mitevska
With Leon Ristov, Hanis Bagashov, Dragan Mishevski, Stefan Kitanovic, Igorco Postolov, Ivan Vrtev Soptrajanov
World premiere

Supporting Film

VENUS  – Filó a fadinha lésbica (Venus – Filly the Lesbian Little Fairy) – Brazil
By Sávio Leite

Already Announced Titles

CENTAUR – Kyrgyzstan / France / Germany / The Netherlands, by Aktan Arym Kubat
HONEYGIVER AMONG THE DOGS – Bhutan, by Dechen Roder
PENDULAR – Brazil / Argentinia / France, by Julia Murat
THE  – South Africa / Germany / The Netherlands / France, by John Trengove
VAZANTE – Brazil / Portugal, by Daniela Thomas

BERLINALE 2017 | PANORAMA SECTION | 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017

A Minor Leap Down | Berlinale 2015 | Panorama

Director: Hamed Rajabi

So it seems Jafar Panahi won’t be the only subversive Iranian voice to be heard at the Berlinale this year. Apparently slipping through the cracks of that country’s strict cultural ministry comes a debut feature of great wit and defiance. Hamed Rajabi’s Paridan az Ertefa Kam Ukhra (A MINOR LEAP DOWN)  follows the trials of an Iranian woman who, upon losing her unborn child, decides that she’s just not gonna take it anymore.

We meet Nahal in the waiting room of her gynaecologist as she receives the tragic news. In normal circumstances it should hit her like a tonne of bricks, but under the veil of her social etiquette, as well as Negar Javaherian’s deadpan performance, it’s really quite difficult to tell. Nahal sheds some tears but decides not to tell. The established forces in her life- doctors, husband, family- keep asking what’s wrong; pushing Nahal to take her meds and enjoy her life. You might expect the director to indulge in some cinematic moping from here, but it’s not tragedy that the horrid situation brews, it’s defiance.

Nahal goes on a relatively mad spree. She splashes out on her husband’s credit card; she writes off his car; and, in the film’s most audacious scene, she invites friends and family for juice… She’s like Iran’s mild mannered answer to Michael Douglas in Falling Down (it might even be a reference in the title?).

Like Paul Schrader’s ‘one man in a room’ theory, the viewer is privy to absolutely nothing the lead character doesn’t see, so we walk the entirety of the film in her modestly heeled shoes, and we quickly get inside her head. You can just feel the frustration of an indifferent, dust coated society and revel as Nahal raises two fingers towards it.

The film also seems to look at a cultural changing of the guard. Nahal is a woman stuck on the tail end of her generation and her tragedy seems to sever the connection with that past. Her younger sister represents a new age in the country. Her clothes are bright and chic; her friends are cosmopolitan; chilling in a trendy Tehran cafe. It’s a scene we seldom see in Iranian cinema. The group pokes fun at the old fashioned way Nahal carries herself, despite there only being a few years between them. At one point our hero retreats to the cafe’s kitchen to make a cup of tea. She finds a young handsome employee and enjoys a charming, flirtatious chat. He shows her a kitten he’s been hiding in a shoebox under the stove. It’s tiny, beautiful and oblivious to the world. Nahal’s eyes immediately widen.

Javaherian ends his terrific film on a choice for Nahal, between conformity and independence; the old world and the new. We’re left wondering how many other woman might be making that choice as we sit there in our seats. It’s great stuff, great cinema. The empathy machine humming away on an 88 minute cycle. Rory O’Connor

BERLINALE RUNS FROM 5-15 FEBRUARY 2015. ALL COVERAGE IS UNDER BERLINALE 2015 in search

Copyright © 2022 Filmuforia