Posts Tagged ‘Berlinale’

All Shall be Well (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir/Wri: Ray Yeung | Drama 93′

All Shall Be Well opens as if all is very well during a sequence in which a diverse range of family generations are observed sitting around a table laughing, chatting and eating from copious bowls of food. There is nothing here out of the ordinary in a sequence that evokes familiar Asian family gatherings seen in many films linking traditions of Asian filmmaking, including the great family-focused films of Yasujiro Ozu.

The film swiftly shifts tone after we have been introduced to the two older women, Angie and Pat, who are clearly longtime partners, creating a successful business partnership and lovingly referred to by the family as Aunties. Angie (played by Para Au) is seen talking in a carefree way to Pat (played by Lin-Lin Li) who is in another room when Angie becomes aware of an ominous silence. Director and screenwriter Ray Yeung delivers the first of a series of audacious edits with a cut-away to a funeral sequence. We then observe, in a series of sequences, how shattered and distraught Angie feels about the loss of her soul mate.

Hong Kong based filmmaker Ray Yeung has made previous films on subjects including male relationships linked to the fashion industry in Front Cover (2015) and Twilight Kiss (2019) which looks at the problems of an older couple of gay men. All Shall Be Well takes Leung a stage further with his delicate, more unsettling than it looks, new film. It is a masterly study of complex family relationships and less than forgiving and harsh laws in countries like Hong Kong with links to China that are not progressive with LGBT rights. The film explores how family connections can be unsettling when order and inheritance involving wealth and property surface with the rights of couples in LGBT relationships literally less than clear or white-washed out of legal frameworks.

Apart from remarkable ensemble performances in particular from Patra Au at the centre of the film there is impressive camerawork by Ming kai Leung which gently moves the camera along with the movement of characters or frames sequences with close-ups as the drama unfolds. Yeung centres a key element around the spiritual healing powers of water that anchor a clash between Pat and her brother-in-law.

The film’s denouement is one of the finest in recent cinema. A revelation provides the otherwise unanswered mystery which has bothered and troubled Angie as she calmly but resolutely refuses to accept the fate handed to her by family rights and laws that enshrine injustice. When Angie discovers the real truth about her partner the film ends on a triumphant note of calm acceptance as to how love can transcend whatever blows that life brings. A powerful thought-provoking ending brings resolve and resolution to Yeung’s film and it is not surprising that All Shall Be Well walked off with the coveted LGBT Teddy Award against considerable competition at this year’s 74th Berlin Film Festival.

A film to watch out for when it is released which is likely to find a true worldwide following along the lines of recent enlightening LGBT themed films including The Blue Caftan.




Sons (2024)

Dir: Gustav Moller | Cast: Sidse Babett Knudsen, Dar Salim, Sebastian Bull | Denmark/Sweden/France. 2024. 99mins

One of the best films at Berlinale 2024 was this glacially unnerving psychological thriller from Swedsh director Gustav Moller (The Guilty). It stars Borgen’s Sidse Babett Knudsen as a dedicated prison guard who takes pride in her ethos of pastoral and rehabilitative care but finds herself out of her depth when taking on a new role in the high security wing where she becomes obsessed with one of the inmates, a vicious psychopath, serving time for murder. It soon emerges that Mikkel (Bull) has a connection to Eva and one that sees her taking risks and behaving in an increasingly unadvisable way towards him. In these unpredictable and oppressive surroundings the power base gradually shifts putting Eva and her colleagues in grave danger.

copyright Timo Kuismin

Moller and his co-writer Emil Nygaard Albertsen once craft a sinuous study of human evil that sees the prison environment is a challenging unpredictable one: an atmosphere of calm control can abruptly erupt into hostile and dangerous violence. Eva is made aware of this by her colleague (Dar Salim) who warns her about becoming too familiar with the inmates: “Some people are just beyond rehabilitation”. But Eva has another axe to grind and ignores his advice to her detriment in this robust and frightening character drama. @MeredithTaylor


copyright Timo Kuismin


Henry Fonda for President (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Alexander Horwath | Documentary 186′

What Henry Fonda For President is most definitely not is a documentary on the level of a Blu Ray extra which is what most documentaries that look at iconic figures resemble these days and are devoid of ambition or intellect; two things that this film has in spades – written and directed by Alexander Horwath – who is a writer, curator and film historian.

Horwath has had a long career in the trenches as what Werner Herzog would describe as a ‘true soldier’ of cinema. In his career he has been the director of the Viennale (1992-97) and the Austrian Film Museum (2002-17). He also curated the documenta 12 film program (2007) and many other projects in the film and art world. His essays and books have, among other topics, addressed subjects such as Josef von Sternberg, Ruth Beckermann, Guy Debord and Austrian avant-garde cinema.

With this, his debut film which premiered in the Forum Section of the Berinale, he has stepped out from the dusty confines of academia and bravely put his head above the parapet and opened up to eventual brickbats by the deluded and most deserved acclaim for a near unique piece of cinema.

The film may be titled Henry Fonda For President, but it is as much about Fonda as it is about the American century. America is the force field of the film and is always waiting to be rediscovered. That means – of course – the cinema, the place where we can experience what Nathaniel Hawthorne once noted, American is something of “a country in the shape of a church”. That is one of the notions of the US State that Howarth returns to again and again: religion and its place in a country that has very high opinions of itself and thinks it is the exception to every rule.

A monument resembling a cathedral to the American century through the prism of a decent man, perhaps the man who when seen and experienced most would want to be. The film starts with his polar opposite and the single figure the film juxtaposes him against: Ronald Reagan. Not Reagan the actor but Reagan the politician and company man for US corporations and hyper capitalism.

The film then jumps to the 17th century and by virtue of Fonda’s particular family history: the early migration of the Fondas from Holland to America, later from the East to the Midwest, and from there to New York City and California. As well as the director’s voice-over he relies on the last interview Fonda gave to Lawrence Grobel in 1981, before he died a year later. In these interviews we come across a man being brutally honest, not so much about cinema but of the men taking America down a path that has led to Trump and the near death of American democracy: Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.

The film’s formalism has a twin in Steve McQueen’s Occupied City, in the sense that they both look at contemporary space in a manner of a psychogeographer. We are taken time and again from places that appear in Fonda’s films then and now, whether Drums Along The Mohawk, Grapes of Wrath and My Darling Clementine. Other than his own films, though, the filmmaker – as you would expect – is more interested in philosophers, whether Paine, Thoreau, Tocqueville, Emerson and Fuller.

Bertold Brecht once said,”Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes”, that is what stayed with me after over three hours sitting with this epic piece of work. Both then and more importantly the present. @d_w_mault



Who do I Belong to? (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Meryam Joobeur | Cast Salha Nasraoui, Mohamed Hassine Grayaa, Malek Mechergui, Adam Bessa, Dea Liane
Tunisia / France / Canada 2024 | Arabic, Subtitles: English, German | 117′

Maryam Joobeur makes a visually stunning debut with this Berlinale competition title that mixes professional actors with newcomers to tell another tale about events in the ‘Monde Arabe’ this time with elements of magic realism. On the sandy shores of northern Tunisia Aïcha (Salha Nasraoui) and her goat-farmer husband Brahim (Mohamed Hassine Grayaa) live a peaceful existence in amongst the dunes where they seem content with their sons Adam (Rayen Mechergui) and Amine (Chaker Mechergui).

Theirs is a modern household although Brahim definitely wears the trousers although Aïcha soon emerges as a matriarch to be reckoned with. “Women speak in this community” announces Brahim when their long lost son Mehdi (Malek Mechergui) returns to the fold with a mysteriously mute, burka-wearing wife called Reem (Dea Liane) who has blue eyes and an advancing pregnancy. Mehdi has been fighting for ISIS in Syria and appears to have rescued Reem from a terrible fate at the hands of ISIS. The dumbstruck Reem is clearly still traumatised by events which play out in a gruesome sequence.

DP Vincent Gonneville’s close-up camera focuses intensely on the actors’ faces. This is resolutely arthouse fare and the dialogue in as sparse as the windblown vegetation in the desert location where life often drifts into surrealism amongst the whispering dunes. There is some violence here to contrast with the dreamlike status quo in this haunting and original piece of filmmaking. @MeredithTaylor


The Strangers’ Case (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Brandt Andersen | with Yasmine Al Massri, Yahya Mahayni, Omar Sy, Ziad Bakri, Constantine Markoulakis | Jordan 2024 | Arabic, English, Greek, Subtitles: English, German | 97′ | World premiere | Debut film

According to the Berlinale festival blurb it was our very own bard William Shakespeare coined the phrase ‘The Strangers’ Case’ in reference to the plight of migrants all over the world. This apparently inspired first time feature director Brandt Anderson to make a film about a tragedy of  refugees.

The Strangers’ Case is a gripping if schematic film that centres on a Syrian family in Aleppo whose predicament will change the lives of five different families. In the midst of it all is Amira, an Aleppo-based paediatric surgeon and her daughter who find themselves swept into a dangerous but familiar tale when they are buried by a bomb from the civil war raging in their country.

Managing to escape the ruins of their home they secure a place on one of those un-seafareing dinghies run by a criminal trafficker/criminal (the muscular Cy ). On the same boat trip is another Syrian family who have opted to leave their place in a migrant camp in order to get to Europe. The criminal who organises their boat transfer, for a hefty fee, is also responsible for a son who he leaves behind.

The Texas born director certainly masters his material in a slick and confident debut that certainly provides compulsive viewing although the narrative tends to be simplistic with characterisations falling predictably into baddie and goodie territory and a docudrama with a predictable ending. @MeredithTaylor





The Devil’s Bath (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dirs: Veronika Franz & Severin Fiala | Cast: Anja Plaschg, David Scheid, Maria Hofstätter | Austria / Germany 2024 | German, Subtitles: English | 121′ | Colour | World premiere

Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala delve into their country’s macabre past for this painfully drawn out if atmosphere horror story that often looks like a painting by Hieronymus Bosch.

The Devil’s Bath follows Goodnight Mommy as a profound and disturbing psychological true thriller, based on an unexplored historical episode in European social history that hails from Upper Austria in the 1790s, according to court records. The ‘Bath’ in question was a state of depression brought on by the rigours of everyday life, and many escaped this by committing murder and subsequently seeking a pardon from the Church which allowed them to commit suicide and receive a decent burial, rather than being cast out for eternity.

In a remote rural village, Agnes (Anja Plaschg), a poor peasant girl, finds herself imprisoned within the strictures of local expectations when she marries her husband Wolf, a man with nothing to offer but a stone hovel and a life of duty, religious dogma, a mother in law from Hell. And to make matters even worse, it turns out that Wolf is impotent in an era where child-bearing is the primary goal of marriage and womanhood. Barren women were treated with suspicion and often accused of witchery, so Agnes’s nuptial joy soon turns to misery.

Not surprisingly, she goes mad, unable to speak openly about  her plight, and for two long hours we feel her mental and physical pain in a film that chills to the bone with its overcast skies, dank settings and disgusting rotting fish motifs.

The horrific death of a baby at the hands of its mother, in the film’s ominous opening scene, serves as a warning sign that The Devil’s Bath is not going to be a barrel of laughs, but neither does it descend into the realms of sensationalism as a seething sense of dread builds, albeit at a snail’s pace. Festering wounds and putrefying flesh along with every kind of human deformity are often elevated to an art form in Martin Geschlacht’s camerawork (which won him a Silver Bear); but they are disgusting nevertheless and a stark reminder of what life was really like back then. There is beauty too in the misty mornings and Autumn countryside.

Agnes takes the baby’s death to heart and gradually becomes obsessed by having her own child. One particularly evocative scene sees her praying obsessively over a wax effigy of the Baby Jesus, that she steals from the local church, with a particularly ghoulish outcome. Morose and malingering, Agnes is a tragic figure, and the final scenes of this ghastly  period piece are truly shocking. @MeredithTaylor



Black Tea (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Abderrahmane Sissako | Drama 96′

Black Tea, Abderrahmane Sissako’s first narrative feature in a decade, feels like one of those amateurish student films assembled from a series of ideas (jotted down by Sissako and his co-writer Kessen Fatoumata Tall) that doesn’t quite come together. Formally known as The Perfumed Hill it plays out like an episode from a TV soap in scenes shot and then cobbled together without any regard for tonal integrity or even dramatic content.

Is it a female empowerment story: clearly no, judging by the storyline and absurd final reveal. The whole thing relies on the flimsy chemistry between the two unlikely central characters, who nevertheless make for a stunning duo, in the shape of Chang Han as a Chinese tea trader called Cai and Nina Melo, his latest apprentice Aya, who hails from The Ivory Coast.

In a bizarre opening scene Aya says a resounding ‘no’ to her ‘husband to be’ in one of those mass registry office weddings back in her homeland. Suddenly, and inexplicably, she finds herself in Guangzhou, China speaking fluent Mandarin and brushing up on the delicate art of tea-tasting at a shop owned by Cai who is unhappily married to Ying (Wu Ke-Xi). The two have a teenage son, Li-Ben (Michael Chang) and Cai also has a girl called Eva from a previous relationship.

When the scene shifts to the Guangzhou, Aya is already ensconced in the business, judging by her glorified position as assistant to Cai. When not working she spends the day prancing around in the local shopkeeping community. There are other African immigrants (who all speak fluent Mandarin) and who indulge in trite exchanges, touch up her hairdo and smile reverentially as her as if she’s a member of royalty. It soon emerges she has jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire relationship-wise as Cai is clearly not really available. He even asks her to sit alone in his bedroom while he entertains his entire family to dinner, including a rather traditional old grandfather who makes racist comments. There’s a suggestion of a lesbian frisson with Ying and Aya, but it stays in Ying’s fantasy world. And that’s just about it.

The film clearly takes its name from Nina Simone’s eponymous song, and is beautiful to look at with DP Aymerick Pilarski’s vibrant visuals capturing colourful hillside villages and tea plantations. There are some original elements here, but the lack of a meaningful narrative arc and no real drama to speak of makes this a vacuous follow-up to the director’s stunning third feature Timbuktu (2014). @MeredithTaylor



Pepe (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Nelson Carlos De Los Santos Arias | 122′

Nelson Carlos De Los Santos Arias’ Pepe which unspools in the Berlinale Competition and has been described by artistic director Carlo Chatrian as its  least “classifiable” entry, which is high praise indeed when you look at the distinctive films that surround it in this year’s competition. Following on from this luminous film Cocote, which won the Signs Of Life Award at the 2017 Locarno film festival.

Very much a hybrid text that encompasses humanism, epic, essay and mythic folk tale; all told through the prism of a hippopotamus the humans call ‘Pepe’ and is adrift from the clutches of his owner: Pablo Escobar. We have been here before, of course, with numerous documentaries that have looked at the Columbian drug lord and his menagerie of wild animals that lived on his armed compound. This is a very different beast from those spurious basic works.

A voice that claims to belong to a hippopotamus. The Latin word hippopotamus is derived from the Ancient Greek hippopótamos, from híppos ‘horse’ and potamós‘river’, together meaning ‘horse of the river’. Sometimes what is represented is not supposed to be taken as what it appears; the horse of the river is here to do some heavy lifting. In what some would call zoomorphism, what we are looking at is the climate crisis, the migrant crisis, imperialism, post colonialism and of the destruction of late capitalism and its toll on the global South.

The voice is droll and of the kind that has seen too much, but is comes post death following it’s escape and journey down the Magdalena River where he will come to a brutal end that is the narrative that fits many that are othered by a populace terrified of what they cannot understand. Pepe remains in death the quintessential romantic, condemned to the corporeal.

The film enjoys itself and takes its time, it glides through many philosophical concepts within a hermetically sealed universe. The journey through the Magdelena seems like an exercise through South American literature particularly ‘The Apprentice Tourist’ by the queer mixed-race “pope” of Brazilian modernism: Mário de Andrade, even though he focused on the Amazon, but the reference makes poetic sense if not empirical sense.

At various points the film wanders off from the kinesis of the river and partakes in various human life, from beauty pageants and the emotional violence of destructive relationships that very obliquely connect to our eponymous hero. But far from a dying and deadened milieu, the Magdalena and its environs  is in fact brimming with life. This is emphasised with a dominant binary and linear ontology around life and death. The living and the dead are not fixed in a binary but bound together in an intimate, dynamic, circling dance. Decay and regeneration are two sides of the same coin.

The long, widening rivers of South America are very much horizontal and rhizomatic. As per Caribbean writer Edouard Glissant rhizomatic identity is unlike a root which grows vertically from one place, it grows horizontally, stretching out to meet other roots.

As the oral testament continues one thinks of the acclaimed Canadian author LM Montgomery who said, “Nothing is ever really lost to us as long as we remember it”. To speak is to make sense of our reality but it also shows the impulses and the limitations of existence.

It is so invigorating to see a young filmmaker who has ambition to spare: Where a lot of his contemporaries settle for shooting rabbits, he is only interested in hunting big game and the Socratic questions that come with that territory. One can only be excited for the journey where he’ll journey to next. @d_w_mault


Langue Étrangère (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Claire Berger | with Lilith Grasmug, Josefa Heinsius, Nina Hoss, Chiara Mastroianni, Jalal Altawil France / Germany / Belgium 2024 French, German, English, Subtitles: English, German. 105′

Clarie Berger’s latest: a ‘coming of age lesbian drama with a difference’ adds marital strife and political activism to the mix to concoct a heady brew that spills out in the summery corners of contemporary Europe:

Student exchanges often develop in unexpected ways, and although Claire Berger’s drama treads on familiar ground in its themes, invigorating performances from a talented cast, along with confident close-up and personal camerawork, make for an intoxicating watch (especially if you’re seated right up close to Berlinale’s main mammoth screen at the Palast).

Strasbourg and Leipzig get a welcome airing as the consecutive locations where relative newcomers Josefa Heinsius and Lilith Grasmug play the exchange students, joining their respective onscreen mothers, arthouse regulars Nina Hoss and Chiara Mastroianni, for some head-on clashes and tender heart-to-hearts,  although the drama’s final show-down doesn’t quite satisfy what has come before.

French teenager Fanny (Grasmug) gets short shift from her German pen-friend Lena (Heinsius) when she first arrives at Leipzig station: Lena and her mother (Hoss) are not getting on well after the breakdown of her parent’s marriage but these differences will soon bond the girls together in more ways than one when they partake of magic mushrooms during a party with Lena’s dorky boyfriend.

When Lena returns to Fanny’s home in Strasbourg to discover her parents – mother Antonia (Mastroianni) and father Anthar (Jalal Altawil) – are not exactly hitting it off either, the two troubled girls find more common ground and start to act out in rebellious ways claiming to be ‘anti everything’, with Fanny breaking the glass in an advertising hoarding and other acts of defiance.

Fanny, who has been bullied at school, at first seems the more vulnerable of the two but soon shows a malevolent streak with her vivid imagination causing Lena to question their friendship. But all this soon boils down to the regular ‘teenage’ stuff. Langue Etrangere is compelling nevertheless. Hoss gets an interesting part that creates an entirely new persona as she breaks away from her Christian Petzold era. Mastrianni too gets to flex her muscles in a role that contrasts with her usual romantic dramas. @MeredithTaylor


Scorched Earth | Verbrannte Erde (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Thomas Arslan | Cast: Mišel Matičević, Marie Leuenberger, Alexander Fehling, Tim Seyfi, Bilge Bingül | Germany 2024 | German, Subtitles: English | 101′

This simple but striking thriller takes us back to the film noir fare of the 1940s to show that crime doesn’t pay at the end of the day. But will our antihero still get the girl – or indeed – the booty?

Following In the Shadows, Scorched Earth is the second part of Thomas Arslan’s Trojan trilogy. It sees his career criminal – a morose Mišel Matičević – back in Berlin, and looking to finance his future with another gig. But Berlin has changed in the interim (a bit like the Berlinale itself) and his old contacts are faded and thin on the ground. And the digital world has rather taken over in place of brawn and suitcases full of cash.

Slick locations and some impressive chiaroscuro camerawork still make this gripping in an ‘old school’ way and the plot – revolving around the theft of a pricey painting – is compelling yet easy to follow and doesn’t take the easy way out. A solid little classically-styled thriller with a modern twist. @MeredithTaylor


Sleeping with a Tiger (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir/Wri: Anja Salomonowitz | Austria, 2024 106′

A new docudrama raises the profile of Austrian avant-garde painter Maria Lassnig (1919-2014) considered one of the most important artists of the 20th/early 21st century.

Radical in its approach, Lassnig’s “body awareness paintings” focused on her own life as a woman. It celebrates the female body not from the traditional male gaze of beauty, but from the female experience of  being a sexual and biological force, exploring gender conflicts, pain, and even the fear of cancer. Lassnig had a special way of dealing with colour she termed “colour vision”. Unlike the often tortured images of her fellow Austrian expressionist Egon Shiele, Lassnig’s impressionistic art is on the whole rather easy on the eye with a gorgeous pastel allure despite the trauma it often depicts, highlighted with the use of red.

Modern artists are invariably depicted as tormented: van Gogh, Frida Kahlo and Edvard Munch. Lassnig was no different according to Austrian filmmaker Anja Salomonowitz who comes to Berlinale’s Forum sidebar with her fourth film, a decade after her debut Spanien (2012). This is an impressionistic take rather than a straightforward biopic. So, although it unfolds in chronological form, interweaving acted scenes and documentary, Birgit Minichmayr (The White Rabbit) plays the central role throughout the artist’s life from a young woman until the age of 94. Lassnig emerges as a prickly, intractable but intuitive character who often feels at odds with the art world but stands by her art to the very end. Throughout Salomonowitz attempts to probe Lassnig’s core being and is keen to stress her mental state and her struggle in the male-dominated art world, which culminates in critical acclaim, the artist often seemingly rejecting her success.

From childhood, Lassnig is seen in conflict with her mother, and this troubled maternal relationship bleeds into Lassnig’s future in Vienna when she is drawn, via the capital’s Art Academy, into the local post-war art scene. Morose and strong-willed, her own body and biological state becomes a focus for her work making it highly original. Intuitively, she judges the value of her painting long before the art world makes its verdict.

Later, as an accomplished artist with her own exhibition, she is seen complaining about the hanging of her paintings (‘they are too low’)- an art in itself – and demands a rehanging, threatening to withdraw her work. The gallery assistant, claims this is the best way of to sell the paintings. But Lassnig remains faithful to her vision.

Anja Salomonowitz’s homage to the artist certainly ‘fleshes out’ the “body awareness” of Lassnig’s art but I can’t help wondering whether the film would have worked better as a straightforward documentary. Visiting Vienna for last year’s Viennale Film Festival I was captivated by Lassnig’s paintings but I left this film feeling unsettled (although not surprised) by Salomonowitz’s take on the woman herself, and her cinematic interpretation of a brave and pioneering artist whose real life was sadly tortured. Sometimes art is better left to speak for itself @MeredithTaylor

BERLINALE FORUM 2024 | 15 -25 February 2024

Comme Le Feu (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Philippe Lesage | Canada/France 2024 | 161′

The Generation sidebar of the Berlinale seems perfect for filmmaker Philippe Lesage, it is a section that facilitates exchanges between audiences and filmmakers especially focusing on dialogue with younger audience members. Lesage is most well known for the two loosely linked films The Demons (2015) and Genesis (2018) which both launched the international career of Théodore Pellerin. The director has focused on the travails of Quebecois teenagers and their distant parents and with Comme Le Feu he is back on familiar ground that unfortunately is returning an ever more diminishing recrudescence.

Teenage Jeff is invited by his friend Max to travel deep into the woods and stay at the isolated estate of acclaimed director Blake Cadieux. He has high expectations for the trip: Cadieux is an artist he greatly admires – plus Aliocha, Max’s older sister, with whom he is secretly in love, is also coming.

The film opens with a muscle memory of visual references: long following shots with a gliding camera as a car travels through the bucolic countryside accompanied by a deep drone-inflected score that indicates a pensive trip is to come. By the time the journey ends we will be at a lake where we meet a man standing by a sea plane. This is acclaimed director Blake Cadieux (Arieh Worthalter), who is meeting an old colleague: Albert (Paul Ahmarani), his son, daughter and Jeff. By the interactions from the ‘adults’ we become aware of some of the oncoming battles for Alphaness between two men who have left a lot unsaid, that will slowly unravel during a very long 161m.

The scenario is of course familiar to the classic French Country House genre, but not the farce of Feydeau or the state of the nation treatise à la Jean Renoir’s La Règle du jeu but something else entirely, something very Quebecois. Lesage makes claims that border on cliché, that of the hostile forest and the interior of the cabin becoming the liminal space where there is a youthful search for ideals and freedom while confronting the wounded egos of the jaded adults. There are the motifs of the country house updated, hunting (with both rifles and bow & arrows), dinner, alcohol and unspoken grievances bubble up and destroy the supposed relaxed atmosphere.

This is centred on the two best scenes in the film that are formally the same, a fixed camera at the head of the table as the two adult male protagonist poke and prod each other until they start orally fighting for control and supremacy, while this is on-going the teens sit in stony silence. These two scenes are beautiful in their emotional violence with Paul Ahmarani a clear stand out, what with his pathetic neediness and long-held grudge with his former collaborator Blake.

Other than these two scenes everything else is signposted by a broad schematic screenplay that tries to cover far too many bases. From spurned teenage love, to emerging female sexuality, to creativity in crisis and the inability to settle. By the last act the film has completely come undone with characters acting to the edicts of the screenplay rather than in an emotionally honest manner. This comes with death, dream sequences and a hurt dog.

After the potential promise we started with, we are left with a squalid melodrama that seems snatched from an even more mediocre genre film. @d_w_mault


Arcadia (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Yorgos Zois | Cast: Vangelis Mourikis, Angeliki Papoulia, Eleną Topalidou | Greece/Bulgaria/USA, 99′

One of the first changes to the Berlnale that artistic director Carlo Chatrian made when he unveiled his first edition of the festival in 2019 was a new section entitled Encounters which was very much in the vein of the programming choices at his previous job: the head of Locarno. It is in Encounters that Arcadia premieres during the 2024 edition of the Berlinale.

Arcadia is the sophomore title from Greek filmmaker Yorgos Zois whose debut Interruption premiered at Venice in 2015. Following on from that film he is continuing to look at existence through the prism of the heritage of Greek myth and Odyssian Circular journey of love, loss, sex and death.

Formally more experimental and with a tone harbouring discombobulation that feels akin to slowly sinking through quicksand, it brings to mind Churchill’s maxim of the Soviet Union: “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

We open on an educated middle class couple driving through the Greek countryside in the evening and discover they are married doctors, and that the husband Yannis (Vangelis Mourikis) is en route to identify a woman’s body in the aftermath to a car crash. His wife Katerina (Angeliki Papoulia), is along for the ride – it seems.

After doing their duty at the hospital they head to a holiday home to sleep. At this point when Yannis falls asleep the film starts to slowly uncover its true self. Katerina can’t sleep and discovers a youth in one of the bedrooms in a sequence that cryptically tries to explain the couple’s reality and why they can’t take their shoes off (which becomes a motif with a delightful payoff at the close). From here we are surrounded by the essence of sex in all its disguises. Sex, in fact, will become both an aid to memory, remembering and the subject of which most people tell lies.

The youth, acting like Beatrice guiding Dante through the forest in canto 2 of ‘The Inferno’, takes Katerina to the Arcadia: a bar come garage full of naked Rubenesque bodies fucking à la Carlos Reygadas. It becomes clear we are in some sort of limbo for the dead, or what in Greek myth was the in-between state called the ‘Fields of Asphodel’ before the journey to either Elysium/Heaven or Tartarus/Hell. The denizens of Arcadia have nothing to do but strive to remember, fuck, sing and drink.

When in a place of unreality, whether that be dream space or somewhere metaphysical, there is the danger of becoming nothing more than a series of non-sequiturs. But to seek explanation in a film like this defeats the object of what it is and how it exists and creates its world. There is of course a temporal vacuum that shows how a film is joined to reality: it reaches all the way out to it, but delimits the thinkable and thereby the unthinkable.

Through Katerina’s journey we encounter guilt, dead children, relationships destroyed by selfishness and carnal greed/erotic vagrancy. She is the one that needs to be released by the living: Yannis. As Emily Dickinson put it: Parting is all we know of heaven/And all we need of hell. We are then left with the perpetual contemplation of an elusive being that teaches us the art of loving the intangible. @d_w_mault

ENCOUNTERS 2024 | BERLINALE 2024 | 15 – 25 FEBRUARY 2024







Diaries from Lebanon (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Myriam El Hajj | with Joumana Haddad, Perla Joe Maalouli, Georges Moufarrej | Lebanon / France / Qatar / Saudi Arabia 2024 | Arabic, Subtitles: English | 110′ | Colour | World premiere | Documentary form

Lebanon’s ongoing conflict is complex. Over the years many filmmakers have documented various aspects of the nation’s continuing strife that seems to stem from internal struggles as well as external forces. All very confusing for the rest of the world: War and Lebanon have almost become synonymous in our collective consciousness.

Three people share their input in this new documentary from Myriam El Hajj, founder member of Rawiyat – Sisters in Film, a collective of women filmmakers from the Arab world. Diaries from Lebanon is her second documentary and premieres in Berlinale’s Panorama section. It takes us back to 2018 and brings together three voices. The first is a feminist writer, poet and activist named Joumana who stands for election to the Lebanese parliament, defying a political system that has been suffocating her country for 40 years. The film shows how Joumana is voted in, only to be fraudulently ousted the very next day, leaving her supporters furious and leading to more unrest and violent demonstrations in the streets of Beirut.

Another feisty woman, Perla Joe, soon becomes a symbol of this uprising, capturing the imagination of young people who feel increasingly marginalised in a place where war has become the only unifying force in their collective experience.

Meanwhile the past rears its head in the shape of Georges, a vociferous veteran of the Lebanese Civil War which lasted from 1975 to 1990. One of the original fighters, he lost a leg in the conflict but still believes in ‘the glory’ of war, rather than ‘the pity’ as Great War poet and soldier Wilfred Owen famously cited in 1917/18. Glory seems to be thin on the ground in this Middle Eastern nation, but the dream of peace and a worthwhile future is now the ultimate battle. @MeredithTaylor

PANORAMA 2024 | BERLINALE 15-25 February 2024


Memories of a Burning Body (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Antonella Sudasassi Furniss | Cast: Sol Carballo, Paulina Bernini, Juliana Filloy, Liliana Biamonte, Juan Luis Araya | Costa Rica / Spain 2024 | Spanish, Subtitles: English | 90′ | World premiere

Growing up in a repressive era in the Central American island of Costa Rica, when sexuality was a taboo subject, 68-year-old Ana, 69-year-old Patricia and 71-year-old Mayela developed their understanding of what it means to be a woman based on unspoken rules and implicit expectations.

In her first feature length documentary, Costa Rican filmmaker Antonella Sudasassi Furniss records the memories, secrets and longings of these three women who tell their stories off-screen.  another woman of their generation (Sol Caballo) acts out these experiences on screen. Memories is a rather trite is well-meaning docudrama that nevertheless succeeds in blowing away the myth that sex is all over by the menopause. 

The most important point Memories makes is that these women are now discovering the freedom to enjoy satisfying sexual encounters for the first time in their 60s and 70s after a repressed start to their love life that really didn’t set the night on fire despite offering marriage and children: A goal that fulfilled societal expectations but left them disillusioned. 

Sol Caballo, 65, found herself alone for over a decade, and missing sex and companionship. Harking back to the time when her first love sent her a ‘pre-sucked lollypop’, she tells how it served as a symbol of sexual lust because kissing was then forbidden for teenagers. Feelings of desire soon overwhelmed her as she was growing up, and she felt a terrible guilt for these repressed feelings which had no outlet. Sol then reflects on the shame of puberty often going into graphic details. It was a time when the nuns at her school instilled fear rather than understanding of the opposite sex. At the same time young men also felt shy and diffident around girls, leading to embarrassment and misunderstandings – so rather than a happy time this was one full of apprehension and worry.

All this plays out in beautifully crafted dramatised sequences picturing her character as a little girl growing into an adult and then getting married to a fumbling husband who went on to beat and rape her after their child was born. Fortunately there is a happy ending for Sol’s character in the modern day.

Sudasassi Furniss offers alarming insight into the realities of a Latin American society that was clearly still very repressed in the late 1960s, 1970s and even – hardly a long time ago. While in Europe 60 is now the new 40 for women, those in Costa Rica are now experiencing a sexual re-birth according to this revealing chronicle.

Memories of a Burning Body is a startling expose which also provides a wake-up call to all those in unfulfilling relationships who think that sexual pleasure is over at 60 plus; this film is here to tell you to that the joy can go on, and even begin later in life. @MeredithTaylor. 

BERLINALE 2024 | Panorama Audience Award winner 2024

The Great Yawn (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Aliyar Rasti | Cast: Mohammad Aghebati, Amirhossein Hosseini, Saber Abar, Mahin Sadri, Mehrdad Ziaie Iran 2024 Farsi, Subtitles: English 93′ Colour World premiere | Debut film | Debut film

The motto “It’s always better to journey than to arrive” is possibly the best way to describe this engaging debut feature from Iranian filmmaker Aliyar Rasti who has made it into the Berlinale Encounters sidebar after critical acclaim with his award-winning short In Between.

Dark and deadpan humour is one of the main attractions of his offbeat road movie that sees two unlikely blokes thrown together on a difficult mission in the style of Martin Brest’s Midnight Run (1988). Although the outcome may leave some viewers perplexed, the darkly deadpan humour and gripping storyline with its valid human insight carries a low-key political message of the kind the Iranians do well. And this makes The Great Yawn compelling from the start. Visually too it’s a winner with an extraordinary, atmospheric sense of place captured creatively in Soroush Alizadeh’s inventive camerawork. Quite why this isn’t in the main competition line-up is as much of a mystery as the film itself. Perhaps the selection committee were as challenged as I was with the finale. 

After dreaming of a cave full of gold coins, Beitollah, a religious man, (Aghebati) sets up a series interviews to recruit a paid companion – preferably a loner with no religious scruples – to collect the ‘forbidden’ treasure from the cave, and so claim his half of the booty. Shoja (Hosseini), an un-prepossessing bearded type who claims ‘not to believe in anything’, is selected for the job. Absolutely skint, an amusing sequence sees him begging for a toothbrush, no one obliges.

So the two set off the next day as planned, Shoja with absolutely nothing but the clothes he stands in. The odyssey – that mirrors life and all its challenges – will take them to the farthest corners and central deserts of Iran on a arduous journey where they will sometimes come to understand one another, sometimes not, in their search for the right cave (aka ‘the universal truth’). They are continually dogged by a poor young boy on a motorbike who calls himself ‘the bastard’ but doesn’t understand how he got the name.

Shoja puts his absolute faith in Beitollah, who aids and abets him all the way in their joint mission. To get a bit of money they stay with a farmer and work in her paddy field. She tries to persuade Shoja to stay (everyone has left to work in the city), but he declines, committed to the task at hand. After various encounters they come across a Caravanserai where they stay the night. The inn’s owner decides to follow them on their search for ‘the great yawn’ aka Jacob’s cave, purportedly the location of their ‘holy grail’. Will they find the meaning of life – that’s for you to decide. Rasta’s film is all about trust, truth and human faith. It’s also highly enjoyable. @MeredithTaylor 




Faruk (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Asli Ozge | Doc Turkey, Germany, France 97’

Faruk, a man in his 90s, is fighting fit. Turkish filmmaker Asli Ozge artfully captured this snapshot of life for her elderly father in Istanbul, a modern capital in a Western nation, with all the benefits and ills that now entails. Faruk highlights the plight of the elderly – not only in Istanbul but everywhere.

Faruk, straddling two centuries, struggles to make sense of today’s world: A venal place where robbery is commonplace; not just in the street but in the privacy of your own home. Asli shows how a perfect storm of events slowly destabilises her father’s equilibrium as an ageing man with considerable agency, still managing his own life. The film also explores a complex father daughter/relationship that leaves us puzzled, and even dismayed. 

In response to the effects of so-called climate change, the council is planning earthquake protection affecting the building where Faruk has continued to live, since the death of his wife, in a pleasant part of Istanbul.

Change comes when it emerges his home is up for demolition, despite a recent refurbishment; one that Faruk has already paid for. The other residents are keen to proceed, so after various meetings, Faruk agrees. But he is disappointed when reviewing the plans: The refurb switches everything round so the ‘French’ balconies are even smaller than before and the safety escape leads down from the master bedroom. More disruption in view for Faruk. Upheaval and life-altering events become more difficult to manage once we get older. 

The film paints a dismal picture of modern life in the Turkish capital: like everywhere nowadays petty theft and social incivility seems to be on the increase. During a residents’ meeting his neighbour is called away to be told her husband has died on the metro. And to make matters worse, he was robbed of his wallet and spent the day riding round before anyone raised the alarm. Faruk may be old but he is still capable, although his daughter offers to help him with a ‘power of attorney’. He assures her by agreeing to a medical test. Making his way unassisted, by bus and on foot, he goes to the doctor. In scenes that see him directly facing the camera, he answers the questions correctly. We really feel for Faruk, who is later pictured celebrating the New Year all alone with only champagne for companionship. He does a traditional Turkish dance while a mock-up video shows him dreaming of following a nude dancing girl into his kitchen.

Faruk looks on the bright side even in the face of disillusionment. We see him acquiescing to change, and reflecting on it philosophically. The new flat is drab and pokey, and he argues with his daughter’s cleaner who tries to throw away papers and family treasures in preparation for the move. Then snow arrives and an earthquake near the Aegean. His mobile ‘phone, a vital link to his daughter, then disappears, possibly stolen by door-to-door hawkers asking for charity donations, which he gladly offers. He leaves a ‘phone message to the thieves: his simple plea is heart-breaking; a pitiful reflection on humanity. This is the final straw for Faruk who decides to take a short holiday while his daughter is abroad trying to finance the film. 

We later see him back in Istanbul, visiting the new building with a positive mindset for change. His heart sinks when he discovers the reality of his new life. The filmmaker portrays her father as a decent, likeable old-school gentleman but the finale leaves us as confused as Faruk himself. Was Faruk mistaken or did he just have a selective memory of the past? A moving and captivating tribute to a life. @MeredithTaylor 

PANORAMA | Berlinale 2024

Cu li Never Cries (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Pham Ngoc Lan | Cast: Minh Châu, Hà Phương, Xuân An, Hoàng Hà, Cao Sang Vietnam / Singapore / France / Philippines / Norway 2024 Vietnamese, Subtitles: English

This lyrical black & white drama from Vietnam explores the nation’s past and present from the intergenerational perspective of a young woman and her widowed aunt who has just returned home after living in Germany. In her luggage Auntie Cu li carries a Pygmy Slow Loris, an indigenous primate from the Vietnamese rainforest, inherited from her dead husband. One strangely touching scene sees Cu Li dancing in a bar with a waiter and the Pygmy loris, the tiny animal seems to embody the essence of this proud nation, fiercely defending itself while remaining graceful to the end. 

Cu Li’s young niece, who lives with her, is preparing for her wedding. The two argue bitterly about the usual intergenerational conflicts. Meanwhile her kids and the monkey look on, a picture of guileless vulnerability. Another contrast between the strength and vulnerability of an oriental nation that has born the brunt of many conflicts. 

“The present keeps bringing us back to the past” opines Cu li.  She quotes the 1960s communist president Ho Chi Min (1945-69) known as ‘uncle’ who said of the Black River (that runs from China to North Western Vietnam): “We must transform the water from foe into ally – our final purpose is to tame the river”. At this point Cu li is pictured scattering her husband’s ashes into the raging waters.

While the young couple anxiously ponders their uncertain future together (Cu Li’s niece is already pregnant with another child), Cu li invites the waiter to be her partner at the wedding, offering him money. The waiter is concerned about being seen as her toy boy, and the Pygmy Loris once again appears to echo all this anxiety – a tiny but potent little animal capable of killing with the toxin that spurts from its elbows when in danger, while outwardly exuding grace and innocence.

A brief running time plays to the film’s advantage along with a simple soundscape of exotic birdsong and imaginative outdoor locations captured in DoP magical monochrome camerawork. In his enchanting feature debut Pham Ngoc Lan expresses the hopes, fears and regrets of his homeland in an often surreal, understated and tender gem. @MeredithTaylor


Gloria! (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Margherita Vicario | Cast: Galatéa Bellugi, Carlotta Gamba, Veronica Lucchesi, Maria Vittoria Dallasta, Sara Mafodda
Italy / Switzerland 2024 | Italian, Subtitles: English, German
106′ | Colour | World premiere | Debut film

The inmates of a Venetian girls’ musical orpanage in the Napoleonic era find their lives disrupted by the arrival of a splendid pianoforte – a newly-minted instrument which opens up a range of creative and lifestyle possibilities.

This well-made and visually appealing film begins in a seemingly sober and realistic vein but quickly escalates into the fantastical as it heads towards a giddy climax.

The musical rivalry between the convent’s star pupil and a ‘mute’, untutored outsider provides much of the story’s narrative thrust when the ingénue begins to compose music which sounds, at turns, suspiciously like jazz, minimalism and contemporary pop-rock –at one point even taking on a sheen of techno.

Her originality thrills the other girls, but throws the upcoming concert they are about to give for the Pope into jeopardy. Meanwhile, the convent’s elderly, untalented musical director tries to deal with his lust for a foppish, money-hungry young aristocrat.

It’s all very anachronistic and ultimately quite silly, but some will enjoy the girl-power uprising of the convent’s students against their patriarchal tutor, and there are moments of laugh-out-loud humour courtesy of a ravaged-looking Paolo Rossi, whose flights of shrieking fury are up there with those of Klaus Kinski. @IanLong



Every You Every Me (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Michael Fetter Nathansky | Cast: Aenne Schwarz, Carlo Ljubek, Youness Aabbaz, Sara Fazilat, Naila Schuberth | Germany / Spain 2024 | German, Subtitles: English | 108′ | Colour | World premiere

An industrial coal mining zone of Cologne provides a heavy-duty backcloth to this thematically ambitious, atmospheric slice of social realism from German filmmaker Michael Fetter Nathansky who follows the gradual implosion of a relationship through the eyes of a woman called Nadine (Schwarz).

Relationship breakdown is a heart-sinking subject but it also makes for quizzical viewing in Alle die Du Bist that sees Nadine’s partner in different guises. The opening scenes, set in some sort of institution, are confusing at first as Nadine’s partner is revealed as a bull, a small child (played by Schrein); and an adolescent (Aabbaz)?. It subsequently emerges that Paul embodies all these identities by turns, – at least in Nadine’s gaze – and we gradually learn to accommodate this unique idea. The single mother has left her home in Brandenburg at the age of 24 and met the mercurial Paul while working in an open-cast mining installation. A proud father, he is also undoubtedly a man of many faces whose male charisma has clearly set her heart on fire.

But life moves on and Nadine falls on harder times largely due to structural changes in the industry. Nathansky’s idea of casting several actors to embody one character is a brave and fanciful one, and certainly pays tribute to one woman’s efforts to make do and mend and reinvigorate her long-term emotional relationship. At the same time Nathansky’s follow up to his director debut You Tell Me (2019) requires a large leap of faith on the part of the audience. Committed performances all round.  @MeredithTaylor



Sex (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir/Wri: Dag Johan Haugerud | Comedy Drama, Norway 125′

“Once a thing is known, it can never be unknown. It can only be forgotten”. Anita Brookner, Look at Me

Compelling, absurd and offbeat this chilled-out Norwegian dark comedy reveals the complex dynamics of human desire in a simple parable that centres on the lives of two happily married chimney-sweeps, who just happen to be dyslexic.

Best known for his award-winning 2019 drama Barn – Dag Johan Haugerud’s latest – the first film in a trilogy to be followed by Dreams and Love – unfolds in a summery suburb of Oslo where the two heterosexual men are casually chatting over their canteen lunch. Their conversation is banal enough at first but what is soon revealed in this casual tete a tete between Feier (Jan Gunnar Roise) and Avdelingsleder (Thorbjorn Harr) will have far-reaching implications on their family relationships.

Feier admits to having had casual sex with a male stranger but Avdelingsleder’s response is revealing in its insight into modern attitudes in Norway: “Admitting you’ve had sex with a man is easier than admitting you’re Christian”.

Avdelingsleder – who reads Hannah Arendt in bed – then describes a dream where he is a woman who has sex with David Bowie. This leaves him confused and questioning how much his personality is shaped by how he appears to others. His wife (Brigitte Larsen) later points out: “homosexuality is not just an identity it’s an activity“.

Predictably, Feir’s wife (Siri Forberg) is not impressed when her partner shares his one-off sexual encounter, and his revelation will reverberate the fallout intruding into their daily lives. She wants a full and frank discussion about what exactly happened and this opens up a thorny debate between the two about physical and emotional experiences and how we all define marriage, relationships and coupledom in general. These conversations are surprisingly affecting and go to show just how fuzzy the borders are in desire and sexual attraction in a film that probes and challenges pre-conceived views on sexuality and gender roles, both for the characters and us, the audience.

Writer/Director Dag Johan Haugerud offers up an upbeat and enjoyable look at how as humans we pride ourselves on our unique ability to love and communicate verbally, although our enhanced brains also make our structured lives more complex: at the end of the day we are basically all animals, albeit human ones, but once we start to analyse our feelings that’s where our lives become complicated forcing open that universal ‘can of worms’ about infidelity and the purported differences between the male and female brains in a debate that ripples out into religious and moral norms in modern Norway.

Although the pace slackens as the film unfolds Sex is an upbeat and often moving affair that comes to a satisfying conclusion despite the couples’ differences and recriminations. At the end of day this is a candid film full of hope that offers a relaxed and positive view of coupledom: “Think of love as a choice. I’ve chosen you and you’ve chosen me”. @MeredithTaylor


Matt and Mara (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir: Kazik Radwanski | Cast: Deragh Campbell, Matt Johnson, Mounir Al Shami, Emma Healey, Avery Layman | Canada, Drama 80′

Deragh Campbell and Matt Johnson star as college friends reconnecting in this captivating Canadian comedy drama from Kazik Radwanski exploring the enduring power of attraction.

Mara, a creative writing professor, has a baby girl with her guitarist husband but their marriage is in trouble when she unexpectedly bumps into Matt on her university campus. The two immediately spark off each other with their literary talents that ignite past memories: Matt, now a published author, is charismatic and likeable and the two soon become close again but their undeniable chemistry is challenged by the pre-existing status quo and the ties that already bind Mara to her current partner and child. The film show how easy it is for desire to build in a vacuum until the pressures of real life intervene.

Matt and Mara unites Radwanski with his Campbell who also starred in his 2019 feature Anne at 13,000 ft in this amusingly light and refreshing snapshot of modern relationships showing how the past can come back to bite us in unexpected ways.


Brief History of a Family (2024) Berlinale 2024

Dir/Wri: Jianjie Lin | Cast: Feng Zu, Ke-Yu Guo, Xilun Sun, Muran Lin | China, Thriller 99’

Beijing in post-one child policy China is the setting for this stylish but unnerving Michael Haneke-style psychological drama. Brief History of a Family, the feature debut of Jianjie Lin, shows the striking modern face of the city, far away from Wuxia and social realist Chinese fare we’ve become used, although the traditional Chinese themes of loyalty, discipline, betrayal, rivalry and even misogyny are present and subtly interwoven into this intriguing thriller.

Unfolding in series of glowingly-captured serene scenes, accompanied by an occasional score of gentle classical piano music that alternates with disconcerting electronic vibes, the story follows a middle class couple, Mrs Tu and her husband, a biologist, who have only recently been married and share a tragic secret that promts Mrs Tu to strike up a relationship with their son Tu Wei’s enigmatic new friend when he comes for tea after an alarming incident at school which is brushed under the carpet. 

Yan Shuo is thoughtful and reserved, and still traumatised into a state of near catatonia by the sudden death of his mother. The troubled teen talks of being abused by his father, who we never meet, but whose sudden death casts a sinister veil over his past, intensifying the boyish rivalry between the two teenagers that develops a violent edge when Tu Wei’s parents start to talk openly of adopting the morose orphan who is more artistic and academic than their sporty son, who nevertheless excels in fencing, competing for a place in the local team. 

The director shows how important study and discipline is in his homeland, and how the focus of modern professional parents is their offsprings’ education abroad. One disturbing scene sees Dr Tu queuing to get his son a place at college where a mantra is piped continuously over the tanoy: ‘Conquer English and realise your children’s dream to study abroad.’ Only 30 percent will be admitted to college in China, putting pressure on the kids to knuckle down to their studies. And they are seen doing so in an almost clinical classroom.

As the couple take Yan Shuo under their wing they are increasingly drawn towards his commitment and academic prowess, to the detriment of the boys’ personal relationship. Family secrets and buried feelings soon give rise to increased tensions that test the bonds and expectations that bind the four of them together until the shattering resolution finally dawns in a quietly devastating finale.

One of the many triumphs here is Jianjie Lin’s accomplished direction and the restrained yet potent performances from the ensemble cast. With its striking Danish sound and classical score of Bach, Mozart and Schubert, this is a tense and tightly-scripted arthouse thriller that never outstays its welcome at 99 minutes. An impressive first film from a director heading for international success. @MeredithTaylor

WORLD PREMIERE | Grand Jury Prize, World Cinema, Dramatic SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2024 | BERLINALE GWFF Nominee Best First Feature Award, and Panorama Audience Award.

Passages (2023)

Dir.: Ira Sachs; Cast: Franz Rogowski, Ben Whishaw, Adele Exarchopoulos, Erwan Kepoa Fale; France/Germany 2023, 91 min.

A  menage-a-trois goes wrong in a big way in this cruel love story from award-winning filmmaker Ira Sachs (Love is Strange).

In Paris two Germans and a Brit finds themselves in a Douglas Sirk style melodrama with feint echoes of Eric Rohmer. Sachs puts his personal slant on the many faces of sexuality in an absorbing and often upsetting gender war.

Lovers Tomas (Rogowski) and Martin (Whishaw) have a longstanding relationship although the aggressive and manipulative Tomas, a film director, has the upper hand with Martin reluctantly putting up with the endless humiliation just to keep it all running smoothly.

We first meet Tomas on set, as unpleasant and immature upstart. But after the film’s wrap party, Tomas takes a shine to Agathe (Exarchopoulos), a primary school teacher who drops her own boyfriend like a stone, as does Tomas, moving in with Adele shortly afterwards. This is not the first time Tomas has played the field with a woman, and pretty soon the cracks appear – and when Agathe falls pregnant her parents’ arrival only makes matters worse.

The switcheroo continues with Martin now in a relationship with writer Ahmad (Fale). But this is by now means the end because Tomas wants to show his omnipotence, and is still powerfully drawn to the dependable Martin, and soon the tables change again.

Tomas is a savage, and not a noble one. His hunger for emotional support, a real neediness born out of insecurity, collides with his brash manner and outlandish lies. He is not lovable at all, but his animalistic sex drive makes both Adele and Martin believe they are his chosen one. Sachs is very open in showing the couples’ intercourse, to the point of being graphic to the extreme. But all this has a place in a bitter struggle for love, with both Adele and Martin mistaking lust for the latter. For Tomas everything has to be an exciting thrill ride, no questions asked. He is a vicious child, a sociopath in the making, a time bomb ready to implode, and Rogowski is the actor to play him with his passionate intensity.

DoP Josee Deshaies has fun with her camerawork, keeping the wild sex and bitter tantrums under control: her images are never voyeuristic, she always finds a way back to show the humanity in facial expressions. Her portrait of Paris, the city of love, is sober: an ideal  backcloth for a modern love story, even though it never feels like one. Sachs, the observer, delivers this minimalist feature with as much love as possible, taking sides only at the very end. AS


Dream’s Gate (2023) Berlinale 2023

Dir.: Negin Ahmadi; Documentary with Negin Ahmadi, Nasrin Abdulahh; Iran/France/Norway 2023, 65 min.

The “Women’s Protection Union (YPJ)” is an all-female section of the “Armed Forces of Rojava” that forms part of the Syrian Democratic Forces. Since 2011 the unit has been involved in Kurdish/Syrian resistance, fighting the “Islamic State of Iran”, “ISIS” and the forces of the Turkish army, who have occupied parts of the autonomous Kurdish region.

In her first feature documentary Iranian filmmaker Negin Ahmadi has spent the last six years in the company of these women to see what makes them tick and, in the process, she found her own voice. On returning from the conflicted region to Tehran she admits to “missing the war”. Being part of the group of courageous female fighters gave her a sense of purpose, and a real identity in the bigger picture, having felt lost in her own large male-dominated family.

Dream’s Gate shows how Syria is still very much a man’s world. Negin realises she reacted against this growing up in family where men made all the decisions. The  women fighters showed Negin another reality: women were capable of being naughty and rebellious one minute, then suddenly transformed into “martyrs” prepared to give up their lives for a worthy cause.

Sometimes the motives are personal: one of the female fighters actually killed her father for supporting “Isis”. But even though Negin identifies more and more with the female warriors, she never loses her perspective. Seeing the constant stream of violence and death on her mobile during the fighting in Deir-Ez-Zor, she states: “The ones I saw today won’t live long”. Negin also films interviews. One of the fighters admits to finding an ISIS spy amid their ranks. Finally Negin gets access to Nasrin Abdulahh, a founder member of the (YPJ), who explains why the organisation is under pressure. Once women marry they have to leave the service, “for biological and emotional reasons”. But Negin is more than sceptical. For Nasrin everything is political, but for Negin women’s right are paramount. After her return to Tehran we see her hanging the washing out on the roof terrace, wondering “ What is happening to me? Nothing seems to be the same as it was before, even shopping is suddenly an alien pastime”.

Dream’s Gate feels all the more powerful for its compact running time of just over an hour. There is no need to aim for ‘objectivity’ or expand on the narrative. The pictures tell a thousand words. AS




Between Revolutions (2023) Berlinale 2023

Dir.: Vlad Petri; Documentary with the voices of Ilianka Hanrnut, Victoria Stoiciu; Romania/Qatar/ Iran/Croatia 2023, 67 min.

Two women separated by political revolutions in Iran and Romania share their respective experiences of trauma through a semi-fictional series of letters in this fascinating documentary from Romanian director Vlad Petri.

Petri has plundered the Secret Police archives and pieced together images from TV and film documents to create a semi-fictional correspondence between the two women who studied Medicine together at Bucharest University during the 1970s,            

Zarah came originally from Tehran to Bucharest to study medicine and formed a close friendship with fellow student Maria, who grew up in Bucharest. Around the same time, revolution is breaking out in Iran, and Zarah, in her last year of studies, joins her father in the effort to bring down the Shah’s regime, but in her first letters after the return of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, express fear rather than joy. It appears that social progress has been perverted by a the clerics who seek instead to repress women, and make the hijab obligatory.

Zarah’s father’s organisation is shut down, and he vanishes without a trace, and she is told to stop looking for him. Over in Romania, Maria is told by her father, to stop writing to Zarah, and start a family. By now, the two women’s correspondence  becoming more poetic, Maria urging Zarah “We used to be one, let us be together again”. In Iran, the war with Iraq results in many deaths on both sides, Zarah complaining in her letters to Maria “ I have no voice in the matter of my 15-year old nephew going to war, because I am not a mother. If he is killed, we will be the ‘family of a martyr’”.

After Khomeini’s death in 1989, a new wave of repression breaks out, and Zarah’s flat is ransacked, her books and photo albums strewn all over the place. Maria, her graduation completed, has been transferred to a small village hospital where she feels trapped. A return to Bucharest seems impossible, and Zahar’s letters seem to dwindle. Maria has been finally granted a return to Bucharest, and she has acquiesced to her parent’s wishes and married Marius, a colleague from the hospital.

The Secret police are on her tail, in their long coats they look identical to those in Iran. Maria is active in the uprising against Ceausescu, but her husband stays at home. She continues her correspondence with Zarah, telling her all about the fall of the dictato which will have dire consequences, including widespread poverty from the devaluation of the currency: “We are supposed to be free now. But I know from you, that victories can be confiscated”. A year later, Marius has left the hospital and is selling contraband cigarettes and other goods from Turkey. Maria is desperate: “I wish we could start all over again. We are fading together”.

Vlad Petri has crafted a melancholic essay film about dashed hopes and stolen futures, that underlines the perils of fighting for change. In the end, Zarah’s fate is left open, with Maria fighting to keep their past and their friendship alive. Short, but utterly devastating in its harsh conclusions, Between Revolutions is a testament to lost lives and shattered dreams – with political and personal defeat going hand in hand. AS



Delegation (2023) Berlinale 2023

Dir.: Asaf Saban; Cast: Leib Lev Levin, Neomi Harari, Yoav Bavly, Alma Dishy, Ezra Sagan, Karolina Bruchnicka; Israel/Germany/Poland 2023, 102 min.

Israeli writer/director Asaf Saban takes on a complex, and perhaps even untenable, undertaking that follows a group of Israeli high school students whose final studies retrace the Holocaust in Poland.

Adolescence is never easier at the best of times, and their confrontation with the past makes it less so. Nitzan (Harari) is the central character: she is in love with Ido (Levin) but realises he is narcissistic and does not like to commit himself. On the other Frisch (Bavly) is naïve and rather secretive. His grandfather Yosef (Dagan), a holocaust survivor, accompanies the students on the trip, giving context with his own experiences.

Nitzan is not sure how to deal with so much past trauma, and she steals a shoe from one of the Camp museums in an attempt to bring past and present together. In the barracks of Auschwitz, she bonds with Ido – partly because Frisch has been left behind at a gas station, and is hitchhiking his way to Auschwitz. The truck driver, who gives him a lift, also leads him to the burnt out ruins of an old synagogue where the mayor asks Frisch to say a few words of Hebrew. After Frisch has re-joined the delegation he gets together with Nitzan and Ido and they head off to a party where Frisch ends up sleeping with the birthday girl Anna (Bruchnicka), whilst a relieved Ido is sent packing by Nitzan into the arms of Einat (Dishy) – who has waited patiently on the sidelines.

Delegation works well in portraying the shifting relationship between the teenagers, but is less convincing in Frisch’s encounter with the Polish citizens. Poland’s continued denial of their corroboration with the Nazis during Holocaust is still leading to the violence against the few thousand Jews still left in Poland. During an outing to the city the group leaders warn the Israelis not to display any religious or secular evidence of their nationality, and to stay in groups of six, never venturing off alone. Frisch’s friendly encounter in the synagogue is therefore a clear contradiction of the earlier scene.

Yosef’s role in the feature feels rather sketchy, more substance would have been helpful; but his meetings with Frisch shows the chasm between the survivor’s generation and that of their grandchildren, who use the holocaust to motivate themselves to join the combat units of the IDF.

Cinematographer Bogumie Goodfrejow is very sensitive with his images of the camps – just showing enough to re-invoke the horror. In contrast, the scenes with the teenagers are full throttle – perhaps even more when set against the traumatic background. But Saban seems to have  bitten off more than he can chew – somehow the group’s discussions about “what have we seen today” are a tad over-didactic. AS


The Teachers’ Lounge (2023)

Dir: Ìlker Çatak | Cast: Leonie Benesch, Leonard Stettnisch | Germany, Drama 98′

Weird things are happening in schools all over Europe and in this shrewd and serrated psychological thriller from German director Ìlker Çatak, the focus is a series of thefts that take place in a German secondary school.

There’s a brittle quality to the central character Carla Nowak – a highly sensitive Leonie Benesch (The Crown) – who soon gains our sympathies as a committed and professional Maths teacher who hails originally from Polish stock and speaks fluent English to boot. Naturally she shares her fellow teachers’ disquiet about a series of thefts and the heavy-handed way they are being dealt with by the powers that be in this bright and well designed educational establishment in Westphalia. And the tension that surrounds Carla’s attempt to address the matter, after a boy with Turkish parents has his rucksack searched, drives the mystery forward with a needling and urgent score.

The school makes an apology for the embarrassment caused to the boy, and young Carla does her best to deal diplomatically with his parents. But then Carla is faced with fresh controversy when money is stolen from her own purse by what looks like another member of staff with a boy at the school. It appears that Carla has recorded the event on her laptop – in footage that shows the woman’s distinctive flower- patterned blouse. Carla confronts her colleague, an unrepentant Mrs Kuhn (Eva Lobau), who refuses to fess up despite the laptop evidence and this leads to the woman being suspended.

But far from gaining her fellow colleagues support they all start to question Carla’s actions – Frau Kuhn’s little boy self-righteously ups the ante claiming the Maths teacher should apologise to his mother for falsely accusing her of a unproven crime. This sends Carla scuppering into the bathroom to assuage her nerves with the help of a plastic bin liner. She spends the rest of the film in a state of high anxiety, back-footed by the boy’s stance and generally incredulous at the collective unsupportive reactions of everyone involved.

Cast your mind back to The Hunt where Mads Mikkelsen found himself as a teacher in similar territory, accused of inappropriate behaviour with a child pupil, and this is how this situation gradually spins out of control for Carla in The Teachers’ Lounge with its chewy ethical concerns provided for in a meaty script from Catak and his co-writer Johannes Dunker. They leave us somewhat in the lurch in the final stretch which loses power despite a febrile performance from Benesch who remains memorable as a decent woman scorned MT


Under the Sky of Damascus (2023) Berlinale 2023

Dir.: Heba Khaled, Talal Derki, Ali Wajeeh; Documentary with Eliana Saad, Inana Rashed, Souhir Saleh, Sabah Al Salem; Denmark/USA/Germany 2023, 88 min.

Men are outnumbered by women in the Syrian capital of Damascus but, increasingly, they still manage to dominate the female population. A collective of female actors do their best to stage the growing repression in this well-intentioned documentary from Heba Khaled, Talal Derki and Ali Wajee.

Unfortunately the artistic undertaking hits the road blocks when it soon emerges that a member of the crew tried to exploit the women sexually. “Women are more enslaved than ever in these times” declares middle-aged actor Sabah Al Salem, who has recently been released from prison after her active protests against male dominance. “The biggest exploitations we face are of a sexual nature”.

In a clip from one of Salem’s feature films, we see the male actor striking her with full force on the cheek, with the director not even batting an eyelid. The interviews are harrowing, one young woman complaining how her father regularly beat them all, often so violently that they had to go to hospital. Another woman tells the story of how her husband went on to marry two more wives and sent her, his first wife, and their daughters to live with his family where they are now treated like servants.

At a centre for Deaf and Mute women, a member of staff reveals how many have been sexually abused. One women was raped by three men, and the court found them guilty – but the first rapist had to marry the victim, to satisfy the honour of the family.

The stage undertaking makes good progress until one of the actors, Eliana Saad, abruptly stopped coming to the rehearsals claiming her boyfriend was against her participation. It later turns out this was not true. Adel, the line producer, had been harassing Eliana, asking for sex and threatening her with punishment if she refused to comply with his wishes. The sexual harassment episode forms the production’s centrepiece, but rehearsals were later suspended, and so was the film. The directors Heba Khaled and Talal Derki then returned to their homes in Berlin; but later changed their minds when film critic Ali Wajeeh took over the production and direction in Damascus, finishing film and play with the help of DoP Raed Sandeed.

This is a brave piece of guerrilla filmmaking and the crew is entitled to some leeway. But there are too many questions left unanswered, and the exact circumstances of Adel’s attack on Eliana and the other actresses, Inana Rashed and Souhir Saleh remain unsubstantiated. Under the Sky of Damascus is a potent piece of agit-prop, a story that needs to find an audience not only in Syria, but throughout the Arab world where thousands of women are abused and even killed by husbands, fathers, brothers and cousins – with the so-called honour killings still going unpunished. The feature, a debut for many of the crew, is dedicated to these victims. AS



Deep Sea (2023) Berlinale 2023

Dir: TIAN Xiaopeng | China I 2023 I 112 min I Animation I

An absolutely ravishing Chinese anime that needs to be seen on the big screen is this enchanting story of Shenxiu, a little girl abandoned by her mother, and still suffering from bad dreams about a monster called Nightmare. On a cruise with the rest of her family she actually sees him on the deck humming her mother’s favourite tune and beckoning her on a mysterious and healing undersea odyssey where Shenxiu will encounter some weird and wonderful characters amongst them a mystical shape-shifting creature that resembles a squid called a Hyjinkx.

Shenxiu joins forces with a strange character called Nanhe as they plummet the depths of the ocean in search of her long lost mother, a quest that will bring both wonder and heartache and a shocking twist in the final resolve. Like all good animations, Deep Sea works on two levels: to offer a spectacular visual treat for younger viewers and a deeper more meaningful experience for mature audiences. Some of the content may be disturbing for more suggestible children under 14.

Playing in the Generation strand at this year’s Berlinale the film explores children’s intense and often dreamlike emotional life showing how they find solace by escaping into their imagination in order to process trauma. MT



#Manhole (2023) Berlinale 2023

Dir: Kumakiri Kazuyoshi | Cast: Nakajima Yuto, Nao, Nagayama Kento, Okada Michitaka | Japan: 99′

Another nail-biting psychological drama along the lines of 127 Hours this time sees a man trapped down a manhole, Japanese style, and determined to prevail despite the odds.

The crisis sends the central character down-spiralling into a dark night of soul-searching with director Kumakiri Kazuyoshi adopting a gritty and hard-edged slant to his narrative in place of the more sleek treatment that Danny Boyle’s gave his 2010 outing with James Franco as the victim.

Professional office worker Shunsuke (Nakajima Yuto) is on the verge of getting married and has been celebrating his forthcoming nuptials at a surprise celebration thrown by his colleagues. In an alcoholic haze he trips directly into an open manhole and later comes to, relatively unscathed but unable to avail himself of a rather dodgy ladder placed by the workmen, due to sustaining a leg wound.

As luck would have it Shunsuke still has a fully-charged mobile at his disposal and uses this to launch an SOS attempt via his ex Mai (Nao) and then has a brainwave of presenting himself as female, potentially hoping for better traction as a ‘damsel in distress’. And this is where it gets technical because his GPS locator is not picking up on his actual whereabouts making it impossible for the emergency services, or friends, to locate him. Kazuyoshi then evokes a seething sense of desperation mixed with the absurdity of the situation as Shunksuke is  forced to spend hours tapping furiously on his ‘phone in the dank and grimy confines of his underground prison as his soul is laid bare by overthinking his life and his past ‘crimes and misdemeanours’ in a quirky but effective situational thriller. MT





Matria (2023) Berlinale 2023

Dir: Alvaro Gago | Spain, drama. 99′

The Spanish coastal region of Galicia is viewed as a rain-swept, hostile place and very much a character in this feature debut from Alvaro Gago whose heroine, a single mother in her forties, is beset by difficulties not of her own making but determined to prevail against the odds in the fishing town of Vilanova de Arousa, near Pontevedra.

Gago bases his story on his 2018 award-winning short film that sees the plucky, mercurial yet vulnerable Ramona (Vazquez) holding down two jobs, one as a cleaner, the other aboard a mussel dredger, while her partner Andres (Santi Prego) is a typical loser who spends the days drinking and complaining. Her daughter Estrella (Luaces), from a previous relationship, has already left her home and her studies to pursue a relationship which seems equally destructive.

A disagreement over pay in her cleaning job sends Ramona packing but she soon settles down into a ‘modus vivendi’ as carer for a grumpy old widow Xose (E.R. Cunha “Tatán”) who is stuck in his ways but offers her a semblance of normality. Ramona’s vulnerability and her self-destructive tendency to blow a fuse and then get back on track is the crucial plot point in this engaging Galician-language character study with its inevitable nods to contemporary consumer bleats and the ills of capitalism. MT





Femme (2023)

Dir/scr: Sam H. Freeman, Ng Choon Ping. UK. 2023. 99mins

This erotic Neo-noirish revenge thriller builds up quite a head of steam after getting down to business with a classic confrontation in an East London convenience shop between chameleon-like club performer Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) and ex-con Preston (George MacKay) whose plethora of tattoos would certainly give David Beckham a run for his money. The violent homophobic assault that ensues will see Preston getting his comeuppance in a gay sauna where drag queen Jules assumes another identity.

Extended from the short film of the same title Femme is the intense and fervent feature debut of directing duo Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping. Because of its LGBTQ subject matter the film will no doubt find its way onto the festival circuit and also into arthouse cinemas. Femme is all about the men’s ability to dissemble and assume a variety of identities to suit the milieu of the modern metropolis where sexual identity is not longer simply a question of ‘male’ and ‘female’ but has become a multifarious melting pot of myriad styles capturing the mercurial zeitgeist of gaydom. Performance wise George McKay continues to be a talent to amuse. MT



The Klezmer Project (2023) Berlinale 2023

Dir.: Leandro Koch. Paloma Schachmann; Documentary with Perin Snee, Rebecca Janofer, Cesar Lerner, Bob Cohen, Argentina/Austria 2023, 117 min.

Klezmer music dominated the Yiddish speaking world of (mainly eastern) Europe before the Holocaust. The Klezmer Project sees Leandro Koch and Paloma Schachmann scouring Europe for the dying embers of this iconic Ashkenazi instrumental tradition in their engaging hybrid documentary debut. 

And they have to act quickly. Most of the musicians are now well into their eighties and there is dearth of audio material. The pandemic saw the death of many who would have gladly taken part, but the 2016 research reccy ended as a trial run. Judaism is struggling to survive in countries like Romania, Moldovia and Ukraine, and the connections with the Yiddish language has also been severed. To find as many active musicians of Klezmer as possible, what what drove the directors forward.

Schachmann, who plays the clarinet, regularly performed at Jewish weddings, and her audience talked about their childhood. She got to know Klezmer musicians from around the diaspora before she and Koch flew off to Eastern Europe in their initial 2016 mission. They had a camera and a recorder, but the agenda was dictated by the availability of the surviving musicians. One goal was to show the powerful combination of Klezmer music and the Yiddish language. Most of the fictional parts were written before the journeys, and they enabled the filmmakers to depict ethno-archaeological research into the origins of Klezmer music. Crucially, their aim was focus on the essence of Yiddish culture and Klezmer music, knowing full well the difficult task on their hands. What they had not bargained for was the reticence of those involved to come forward given that main surviving Jews in the diaspora have turned their back on their own culture. If anything this made the filmmakers even keener, and led to them uncovering some unexpected material.

Bob Cohen is the central figure in the research project. He told Koch and Schachmann the names of all the musicians who still knew the Klezmer tunes. Reading Susana Skura’s papers was was always helpful – she gave the directors some background on the vanishing culture and Bob showed them where to find the last remains.

On the second trip, the filmmakers started in Poland where the Jewish Cultural Festival was taking place. There they met Schulam Ment, an amazing fiddler, who was going on tour to Romania with Benjy Fox Rosen. Jake and Benji played Jewish songs and Klezmer music in old synagogues around Transylvania. In Ukraine the filmmakers caught up with Sasha Somish, a Jewish singer and Choirmaster from Lyviv. In Moldavia Marin Buena and Adam Slinga were recorded, who were, like Susan Ghergus, Fima Chorney and Slava Farber, outstanding performers of Lautantraditional music.

The editing process (Leandro Koch/Javier Favot) took nearly 18 months. 120 hours of footage had to be dealt with, there were “always new layers of different narratives to incorporate and this demanded new scenes.” Because of the pandemic the filmmakers were unable to return to Eastern Europe, they had to find answers sifting through footage already in their possession. In the end, the pruning led to almost two separate films: the one shot in Argentina and the other from Eastern Europe. They are connected by a Yiddish story and Koch’s notes about Jewish Culture. This labour of love and dedication to a dwindling musical culture is significantly enhanced by DoPs Leandro Koch and Javier Favot, whose intimate images of the musicians resonate the most in this unique and moving first feature. AS




Massimo Troisi: Someone down there loves me (2023) Berlinale

Dir.: Mario Martone; Documentary with Anna Pavignano, Paolo Sorrentino, Michael Radford, Roberto Perpignani; Italy 2023, 128 min.

A very personal portrait of successful director, writer and actor Massimo Troisi by his fellow Neapolitan director Mario Martone (Nostalgia) and scripter Anna Pavignano, who co-wrote all of Troisi’s features, even after their relationship came to an end.

Massimo Troisi was born in February 1953 in San Giorgio a Cremano near Naples. Early in childhood his heart was weakened by rheumatic fever which contributed to his early death in 1994 at only 41. Troisi started his film career as an actor in the early 1960s, and by the 1970s he had formed the theatre group La Smorfia at the Centro Teatro Spazio with Enzo De Caro and Lello Arena. The three of them were popular on radio and TV, and they never lost contact.

In 1981 Troisi directed and played the lead in his first feature Ricomincio Da Tre, a low budget indie shot in six weeks that was a big hit at the box office, running for over 600 days and grossing more than The Empire Strikes Back. The film and its helmer swept the board at the Donatello awards, Italy’s equivalent to the Oscars.

A year later he starred in a TV Special “Morto Troisi, Viva Troisi” together with Roberto Benigni, and in 1983 Troisi and Lello Arena were responsible for No Thanks, Coffee makes me Nervous. 1987 saw him direct The Ways of the Lord are finishedthe highest grossing Italian feature of the year. He went on to win the Coppa Volpe at the Venice Film Festival for his role in Splendour, sharing it with Marcello Mastroianni. Troisi’s final feature as a director was I thought it was Love…but it was a Gig from 1991.  

Poor health was to dog Troisi throughout his life. He underwent a triple by-pass operation, but his heart “was as big as a football” and he was desperately in need of a transplant. The surgery was due to be performed at Harefield Hospital near London, but he was determined to finish Il Postinothe story of a timid waiter and the Chilean Nobel Prize Winner Pablo Neruda, directed by Michael Radford. Radford and editor Roberto Perpignani give deeply affecting details about Troisi’s death at his sister’s house in Ostia where he died very shortly after the arduous shoot had concluded. Legend has it that he said I don’t want a new heart because my acting is closely connected with the defective organ”.

Troisi was famous for his quotes, and his self depreciation: “I never like myself, I am so self-critical that I don’t commit suicide so as not to leave a note that would seem ridiculous to me.”

DoP Pado Carnero contributes to the intimate setting with Martone and Pavignano going over the details of a short but significant career, assisted by Troisi’s comprehensive diaries which bear testaments to a man of drole humour: “Suffering in love is a disposable void: no one gains from it, except the songwriters who make tunes for us” AS


Last Night of Amore (2023) Berlinale | Special Gala 2023

Dir: Andrea Di Stefano | Cast: Pierfrancesco Favino, Francesco Di Leva, Katia Mironova, Linda Caridi | Italy, Crime Thriller 124′

Italian ‘man of the moment’ Pierfrancesco Favino stars alongside his Nostalgia sidekick Francesco Di Leva in this ‘al dente’ heist thriller with a Chinese twist from talented writer/director Andrea di Stefano (The Informant).

A magnificent nighttime opening sequence transports us over the rooftops of Milan from the Duomo and beyond finally zooming down on a soirée in full swing through the windows of an apartment. A little boy looks down on a man in the street below. Yes, it’s Favino as super clean detective Franco Amore on his way home from a jog to meet another colleague Cosimo (Gerardi) at a surprise party in celebration retirement the following day. The evening has been organised by his suave and savvy stiletto-heeled wife, Viviana (Caridi) who has hair as glossy as a freshly cracked chestnut and a décolletage to match in a crime thriller that is gripping and emotionally intelligent.

Di Stefano goes to great lengths to establish Franco’s probity as a policeman but also shows how important Viviana is in bolstering his career, underlining the strength of their relationship and their complicity. Crucially, Viviana feels responsible for limiting Franco’s career progression due to her links with the mob via her distant relative Cosimo (Gerardi).

After making a brief appearance at the gathering to enforce his soulful and squeaky clean image, Last Night then gets down to business when Franco is called away  by his boss Sarno to discover his best friend and longtime colleague Dino (Di Leva) has been shot dead on the highway while moonlighting ‘off duty’ on a diamond heist. The action then flashes back ten days to show how Franco had saved the life of a Chinese Mafia boss Mr Zhang whose son-in-law is working behind the scenes to undermine him in a diamond deal.

Things have certainly moved on from the days of Italian Mafia and male dominance in Italian detective thrillers, and thoughts of Franco’s imminent retirement are soon on the back burner when Zhang’s son-in-law presents the honest cop with a final gig before retiring, and a financial boost to his pension he could have only dreamed on, if he agrees to drive an accomplice Fei Fei and the precious booty of African diamonds to a given destination in the capital. 

Franco gets Dino (Di Leva) on board and they set off with Fei Fei and her boyfriend along Milan’s Carugate freeway but the vehicle gets a puncture. Fei Fei refuses to let Franco stop, but an officious policewoman pulls them over and in the shootout that follows Dino, the Chinese couple and the policewoman take the bullets. Suffering an existential crisis, Franco then stages a crime scene to cover his tracks, throwing the jewels in the river. He then calls Viviana to the crime scene for backup, refusing to fess up on his moonlighting activities.  At this point, it certainly looks like his retirement plans – and his marriage – are over. But all is not lost. Viviana is not a just pretty face, she’s a woman with an eye to the end game, and considerable perseverance, who is willing to get her hands dirty – quite literally – and will come up trumps in this inventive Robin Hood style thriller’s tense finale. Shot with brilliant bravura by DoP Guido Michelotti Last Night of Amore is a classic thriller of lost souls that feels entirely contemporary in its scripting, breathtaking yet relevant and emotionally engaging. MT


When will it be like it never was before (2023) Berlinale | Generation 2023

Dir.: Sonja Heiss; Cast: Camille Loup Moltzen, Arsseni Bultmann, Merlin Rose, Kolja Koddenbrock, Leevi Tjelle Hohlein, Pola Geiger, Laura Tonke, Devid Striesow; Germany 2023, 116min.

In her expansive drama focusing on the development of post-war German child psychiatry from 1974 onwards, Sonja Heiss bites off far more than she can chew and runs out of time in the final act.

Based on the 2013 autobiographical novel of Joachim Meyerhoff, the film’s opening scene, and far the most intriguing part, sees seven-year old Josse (Moltzen) being teased mercilessly by teenage brothers Philipp (Koddenbrock) and Patrick (Hohlein).

Josse’s father Richard (Striesow) is the director of a huge psychiatric clinic in the north of Germany and lives with his wife Iris (Tonke) and family on the grounds of the institution. The teenage Josse (Bultmann) Josse is close to both his parents, and spends time with his father’s patients, often feeling more at ease in the clinic than at home his brothers due to their aggressive behaviour. A childhood friend Marlene (Geiger) comes back into his life when she is “parked’ by her parents with Richard and Iris, and later commits suicide. 

Josse tries in vain to work through the reasons for her suicide with his father but Richard simply states that she wanted to die, and he was unable to help. This episode alienates Josse even more from his father, who by now is cheating on his wife with his secretary, Iris retreating into the world of her youthful adventures in Italy. Later, Josse’s brother and father will experience tragedy but this episode is curiously shown as part of his ‘lessons in life’.

There seem to be no borders between Richard’s role as a director of the institution and his private life: he and Josse “talk shop” about the patients’ case histories, with Josse humouring the sick he encounters on the grounds, playing the part of his father as a benevolent bystander.  

DoP Manuel Dacosse brings an epic quality to the proceedings with his impressive images of life in the hospital and the trials and tribulations of family life, including  the very unholy Christmas celebrations which culminate with Iris using the electric carving knife as a weapon of destruction, not just to serve the turkey.  

As is often the case in German cinema, Heiss and her co-writer adopt a rather didactic approach to the material which rather spoils the overall fluidity in this worthwhile study that charts the much-needed changes in German psychiatry in the latter part of the 20th century. AS


Family Time (2023) Berlinale | Encounters 2023

Dir: Tia Kouvo | Cast: Ria Kataja, Elina Knihtila, Leena Uotila, Tom Wentzel, Jarkko Pajunen, Sakari Topi, Elli Paajanen, Toomas Talikka; Finland/Sweden 2023, 114 min.

Three generations come together during the Christmas holidays in this insightful study of familial ties developed from a short by its first time Finnish director Tia Kouvo.

Amid the usual round meals, domestic chores and saunas, intimacies will surface in a drama that relies on body language and facial expressions as well as discursive interludes. What is not said often becomes more revealing – and intriguing – than the usual outspoken discussions, although Kuovo includes some grim confrontations demonstrating just how unbearable family get-togethers can be when false bonhomie is the order of the day. Set in two parts, Family Time shows eight people trying not to comes to blows in exploring their everyday experiences of alienation and sickness.

The celebration take place in the family home near Lathi with parents and grand-parents Ella (Uotila) and Lasse (Wentzel; Susanna ((Kataja) and husband Risto (Pajunen) and their two children Hilla (Pajaanen) and Kassu (Talikka); and Susanna’s sister Helena (Knihtila), and partner Simo (Topi).

Although women are known to often have the upper hand in Nordic society, Kuovo’s  characters are not appreciated by their husbands. Susanna has to propose her own toast for a recent promotion as design boss for a local supermarket. Her family seemingly could not care less, voicing disappointment that she is not in charge of the entire operation throughout Finland. Hilla tries to liven things up by pretending to direct a TV film, casting her family as the protagonists. Grandfather Lasse is an alcoholic, banished to his own room for spoiling the atmosphere, and soiling the floor. Naturally the women are left to clean up the mess. In a farcical scene Ella plays Santa Claus, complete with the outfit, handing round the presents after lunch. The men recede into the background of these domestic charades, the women put  on a brave face, wishing it could be over sooner than later, but voicing the opposite.

The second part is a scenario of “what typically happens in the New Year.” Susanna and Risto finally come to blows after the stress of having to look after Hilla and Kassu on top of their busy careers. But although Susanna craves intimacy, Risto is happy to read a SciFi novel from the 1950s, coldly ignoring her attempts to engage with him. Next day, they lock themselves into the car in the garage and have another confrontation, away from their kids. Nothing is resolved and Susanna falls asleep from sheer emotional exhaustion. Meanwhile, Helena and Simo make pleasantries in a banal attempt to communicate. Ella and Lasse catch up with his old friend from seafaring days, she regaling him with stories of people he has never heard of.

Kouvo and DoP Jesse Jalonen observe these curious human interactions, and while the protagonists talk – not so much to each other but just to be heard – the camera focuses on desultory objects. Family Time is a mature and memorable debut, Kouvo channelling Bergman, in his obsession to sweat the small stuff. Certainly a name to remember for the future. AS



El Echo (2023)

Dir.: Tatiana Huezo; Documentary with Montse Hernandez, Sarahi Hernandez, Uriel Hernandez, Ramiro Hernandez. Members of the Tapia and Gonzales families;; Mexico/Germany 2023, 102 min.

El Salvadorian born, Mexican writer/director Tatiana Huezo follows her outstanding drama debut Prayers for the Stolen, with a female-centric documentary feature that follows three families during a year in a remote Mexican mountain village where – once again – a little girl is the focus.

Montse (Montserrat Hernandez) is a studious, soulful child who loves animals and a cares for her elderly relative. She dreams of becoming a teacher and is already practising being ‘very strict but knowledgeable’ in preparation for her future. But Montse realises she must leave the village to pursue her dream career. Her mother Sarahi Rojas Hernandez, who had married young without finishing High School, is not a role model for Montse, who feels -rightly – that she will be held back simply because of her gender. Father, Uriel Hernandez, like many men in the village, works in a factory during the week and expects his wife to look after the children, take care of the animals, and cook for the family, whilst he relaxes at the weekend.

After a meal, he tells his son Ramiro to leave the plates on the table. “The washing up is for the women, you do not have to do it”. Montse can see her mother obeying her husband, even though she sometimes contradicts him. But Montse eventually leaves home with just a back-pack. Another local, visiting the her in the city, communicates Montse’s mother’s desire to keep in touch.

Huezo paints a picture of a society still stuck in the Dark Ages where women are second class citizens and men put their feet up, leaving all the chores to their wives and daughters. Montse is a critical observer of this state of affairs, but her fellow females more or less coalesce to the status quo, and follow the rules without questioning.

DoP Ernesto Pardo stays close to his subjects, capturing the austerity of the terrain, and the womens’ emotions that often betray a contradiction to their spoken words. The Echo is a timely essay about home and exile, obedience and rebellion, all caught with a minimum of drama. Tatiana Huezo proves once again that minimalism is a powerful way to show how the ordinary can become extraordinary. AS


BERLINALE | COMPETITION 2023 Jury Prize | Encounters – Berlinale 2023


Il Castillo (2023) Berlinale 2023

Dir.: Martin Benchimol; Cast: Justine Olivo, Alexia Caminos Olivo; Argentina/France 2022, 77 min.

The first solo feature film from Argentine director Marin Benchimol, whose short films have garnered prizes on the festival circuit, is a tight little dark comedy, set deep in the Argentine Pampa, where time has stood still, and class divisions are as blatant as in the era of Juan and Eva Peron.

Sadly, no one is now king of this colossal castle. Once again the inheritance is just a poisoned challis: a once splendid building left by the owner to her former house-keeper Justina (J. Olivo) – with the obligation never to sell the property – the poor woman cannot afford to pay for the upkeep, let alone the much-needed new roof and plumbing system.

The former owner has paid a cruel trick on her devoted employee who she still treats like a servant and smiles benignly on the many photos in a house which is now a burden to Justina and her daughter Alexia (A.C. Olivo). Her family now live in the city, and only comes to El Castillo to celebrate family anniversaries and large gatherings. Meanwhile Justina and her daughter Alexia (A C Olivo) are saddled with a white elephant.

The two new owners might have shared a symbiotic relationship back in the day, but now Alexia is grown up and wants to leave home to work as a car mechanic in the city, with a view to a career a as a Formula Four racing driver. With this in mind, she has installed a play station console and huge screen in her room, and practises on this dummy race track, while stuck in the Pampa with her demanding Mum. It seems the umbilical cord is still attached: when she finally escapes the mansion in her battered car, unforeseen circumstances see her phoning home to her mother for help.

Meanwhile Justine is forced to sell off the livestock, one by one, with the wealthy family making improbable proposals to solve the crisis: there is no doubt they are just waiting for Justine to give up and leave. Justine’s love life is like a running gag, her husband/boyfriend always promising to come and visit, but bailing out at the last moment. Alexia, whose name her mother shouts whenever she gets stuck with a problem – ie. very often, finally makes it to the city, leaving poor Justina wondering whether she will remain an old retainer forever.

Benchimol keeps everything spare in a narrative that never overplays its hand. The interaction between mother and daughter is a portrait of bitter rivalry, with the loser facing a life-shattering defeat. Justina, living in a past, where she was treated like a human being by her mistress, is now at a loss in a fast-moving technological world. The wealthy family look on in quiet satisfaction, during their sporadic visits, having adjusted successfully to their new way of life.

Nico Miranda and Fernando Lorenzale evoke a Henry James like setting of decay and destructive emotions, The colours are saturated perfectly capturing the languid downhill road ahead. Alexia’s failed attempt to escape is symbolic of the emotional cue de sac the two women are caught in. A sad variation on the “Odd-Couple” theme. Intriguing and highly entertaining modern fairytale, if not always successfully structured. AS


Disco Boy (2023)

Dir.: Giacomo Abbruzzese; Cast: Franz Rogowski, Morr Ndiaye, Laetitia Ky, Mikhail Balicki; France/ Poland/Belgium/Italy 2023, 91 min.

Best known for his award-winning short documentary films Giacomo Abbruzzese’s ambitious feature debut centres on the destiny of two men from opposite ends of the world. But despite a clever idea and the extraordinary power of Helene’s Louvart’s magical visuals – which won her a reward for Best Artistic contribution at this year’s Berlinale – Disco Boy’s characters do not share the same ideals and so can never fulfil the film’s plot resolution: one is a soulful humanist hero, the other is merely out for himself.

On a bus crammed with raucously chanting football fans Aleksei (Rogowski) and his friend Mikhail (Balicki) leave the beleaguered republic of Belarus bound for the West, via Poland, on their three-day visa.

In a river near the German/Polish border the men are confronted by German Police on boats. Shots are fired, and Aleksei continues his journey alone. In Paris he undergoes the gruelling procedure of enlisting in the Foreign Legion. The arduous training will eventually achieve his aim of gaining French citizenship.

Thousands of miles away in the Niger Delta Jomo (Ndiaye) and his friend Udoka (Ky) are rebel fighters struggling for the survival of their families, their home, their lives – against the Western-backed government in hock to mighty oil giants. Jomo (Ndiaye) will come head to head with Aleksei, who is leading his men to liberate French hostages kidnapped by the rebel forces.

Jomo and Udoka  in the ensuing battle, their souls travel with Aleksei to Paris, where he drinks a glass of Bordeaux in memory of Mikhail – saying goodbye to his past for good -before embarking on a career as disco dancer – the same dream Jomo had. The two merge, and Udoka joins them: Aleksei, a stranger forever in Paris, has finally found fellow travellers, who live like him, in-between worlds.

Disco Boy scores highly on the cinematic front: a light show in its own right full of explosive set pieces – not only in the battle zones – boats glide along the Seine as well as the Niger their lights illuminating the glittering night skies where coloured comets are in free-fall as the whole universe comes alive with sight and sound.

In this magnificent milieu Abbruzzese hopes for a union of souls where the men will merge into one humanitarian mission. Even Franz Rugowski cannot redeem Aleksei who is dislocated in more than one way so there can never be a meeting of the minds with Jomo and Udoka who are selfless humanitarians fighting to keep their home, their village – their lives. Disco Boy is too clever by half to be disingenuous: a feature so rich in talent shoots itself in the foot by letting us feel we are being manipulated because we can see the strings. AS


Totem (2023)

Dir: Lila Aviles | Naima Senties, Montserrat Maranon, Marisol Gase, Saori Gurza, Mateo Garcia | Mexico, Drama 95′

Totem is another observational piece of filmmaking from Mexican filmmaker Lila Alviles whose debut The Chambermaid garnered awards all over the world. Seen through the eyes of a little girl called Solecita who is a mine of information about the animal kingdom, a place she escapes to avoid the trauma of her father Tona’s terminal illness.

From the exuberant opening scenes in a public restroom the handheld camera thrusts into the intimate hurly burly of domestic life in a whir of comings and goings of the extended family, in a hive of activity where nothing is left to the imagination -except the nature of Tona’s illness -as preparations for his forthcoming birthday are well underway. His wife, an alcoholic with a glass of whisky on the go at all times, is baking a cake, and her sister dyeing her hair.  Her uncle Napo soon turns up with a goldfish, and Sol and her brother and little sister name it Nugget.

Close up and personal drama centric movie about an entire family who live together. mother and daughter singing in a public lavatory in close up and personal family relationship.

Meanwhile in the hushed confines of his bedroom Tona -a local celebrity in the local community – is suffering the agonies of some kind of debilitating illness possibly cancer, his carer Cruz tending him patiently all the time aware of the impact his possibly terminal affliction is having on little Sol – an astonishing in her screen debut.- a sensitive little girl who takes everything seriously – not least the end of the world and other matters existential

The family have been putting their heads together to find a way forward for Tona’s treatment – he has been taking morphine but drugs are expensive in Mexico, and chemo is also up for debate.  A mystical faith healer has been called into clear the house of evil spirits and balance the positive  energy: Ludica has located good energy in a part of the room where the grandmother used to sit and she then sweeps the room with a flaming loaf of bread, charging 3000 pesos for her services. The grumpy grandfather – who speaks through a special gadget – has been tending a bonsai  for the past 8 years, a gift especially for his son special day.

Giving up on traditional medicine the family put their faith in their spiritual beliefs in a union of souls which gives the film some of its most exuberant scenes captured by DoP Diego Tenorio. In the light of Tona,’s worsening condition these jubilant celebrations are tinged with a certain poignance making them all the more significant. And although weak and in pain he is determined to make an appearance, and when he does so friends and family are over-joyed to see him and send brightly coloured balloons into the night sky as a gift for the gods. The birthday is a wonderful occasion in rich colours lots of dancing and a special performance from Sol. Ending with an extraordinary booming sound as if the whole universe is resounding in support of Tona. The final scene is simply breathtaking. MT

NOW IN UK CINEMAS 1 DECEMBER 2023 | Totem is Mexico’s Academy Award submission 2024

Cidade Rabat (2023)

Dir: Susana Nobre | Raquel Castro, Paula Barcia, Laura Afonso | Drama 101

Portuguese director Susana Nobre won the prestigious La Femis Scholars’ Award with her short film Provas, Exorcismos. She is back in the Berlinale with Cidade Ribat a follow-up to her unusual feature No Táxi do Jack, a part-road movie part-ethnological portrait of small-town rural Portugal.

Grief and the unsuspecting consequence of mourning are the focus of this laconic drama that centres on 40 year old Helena (Castro), a typical 21st century ‘everywoman’ who seems to take life in her stride, juggling a lover, an ex-husband, a daughter, and her elderly mother – who we meet briefly in an early vignette – and whose death is viewed as just another daily task to be dealt with: we watch her choosing a casket with her sister. Yet, despite her obvious sadness the death provides an unexpected relief for Helena who has been so weighed down with her responsibilities and can now finally let her hair down, and she does.

With its limpid colours and artful compositions Cidade Ribat is quotidian yet thematically rich as a study of just how much 21st century women have to deal with and accomplish in their seemingly mundane everyday lives. Cidade Ribat is testament to how the world has moved on for women since the days of Jeanne Dealmann, yet this liberation and freedom has brought with it infinite complications. MT



Here (2023) Berlinale 2023 | Encounters

Dir: Bas Devos | Cast: Liyo Gong, Stefan Goat | Drama, 82

A serendipitous relationship between a Romanian construction worker and a Belgian-Chinese woman slowly ignites in this subtle yet luminous feature from Belgian auteur Bas Devos.

Landscape, countryside and the built environment are integral characters in this lowkey love story that relies on Grimm Vendekerckhove’s exquisite camerawork and Devos’ spare dialogue to tell its charmingly cinematic story.  

Stefan is on the verge of going back to his own country and while doing the valedictory rounds with a parting gift for friends and family he chances upon his future lover who is preparing her doctorate on mosses. 

With Here Devos adds another spare but memorable fourth feature to his archive that started with Violet, Hellhole and Ghost Tropic. His features submerge us into their respective worlds so the storytelling becomes an organic experience, enveloping us the slowly developing love story between two characters very much at ease with their own respective lives in a glowing arthouse film that unfolds in a series of radiantly-crafted tableaux in 4:3 format. MT


The Burdened (2023) Berlinale 2023 | Panorama

Dir.: Amr Gamal; Cast: Khaled Hamdan, Abeer Mohammed, Samah Alamrani, Awsam Abdulrahman; South Yemen/Sudan 2023, 91 min.

Polish-born Yemenite director Amr Gamal follows his 2018 feature debut Ten Days before the Wedding – the first to come out of the Yemen in 30 years – with a solemn and understated family drama.

Adopting a docudrama style Gamal paints a grim view of his country with this subdued ‘case study’. It’s October 2019 and the Yemenite capital of Aden is in social and economic turmoil with Isra’a (Mohammed) and Ahmed (Hamdan) amongst the victims of the economic crisis, with their fourth child on the way. Ahmed is still waiting to be paid by his employer, the state TV station, and his political persuasions prevent him from working for one of the private TV channels, although his wife is determined to have their kids educated in the private system. The couple seem caught between their political and their financial possibilities, and Ahmed has started to beat his wife.

But the most urgent problem is getting rid of the unplanned baby. Isra’a’s relative Muna is a doctor at the local hospital, but has refused them an abortion in the past on account of her own strict Islamist views. Trying to persuade her otherwise, Isra’a sends a video of a Koran scholar explaining that abortion is ‘Halal’ until the foetus develops a soul after 120 days. Grudgingly Muna agrees, but then Ahmed has to bribe the ER doctor for his signature to let the surgery go ahead. Meanwhile Isra’a realises the abortion will be the end to her friendship with Muna.

In the streets of the capital conflicting militias are fighting pitch battles for supremacy, make simple driving a hazard, Ahmed’s taxi – a loss making business – is damaged by one of their convoys, with little hope of repair.  DoP Mrinal Desai captures the mayhem with a handheld camera following hot on the heels of Ahmed and his beleaguered family, their own private civil war providing a metaphor for the state of the nation. AS




Mal Viver (2023) Silver Bear Jury Prize | Berlinale 2023

Dir: João Canijo | Cast: Anabela Moreira, Rita Blanco, Madalena Almeida, Cleia Almeida, Vera Barreto Portugal / France 2023 Competition | World premiere Drama, Portugal

An inheritance proves to be a poisoned challis and one that will flush out memories and deep-seated resentments brewing between five members of a close family in this immersive drama from Portuguese auteur João Canijo.

The property has seen better days. Once a lavishly appointed architect-designed Sixties hotel boasting extensive grounds a generous kidney-shaped swimming pool – that still provides the women with a regenerative backwater and a break from each other – the place is now in need of extensive refurbishment and the staff have resorted to using bleach and fly spray just to keep the place clean.

Conijo’s female-centric narrative provides fertile ground for a richly discursive and contemplative slow-burn drama whose languid pacing often bristles with insight and delicate observations in mulling over the women’s collective past together, and seemingly futile future touching on domestic themes of cooking, child-rearing and the inevitability of ageing, as well as wider issues that allude to the social malaise in modern day Portugal.

Other scenes focus on trivial squabbles that often flare up from nowhere between mother and daughter as they try on shoes, or compare haircuts. Often there is intrigue or enigma surrounding what is said – as much as unsaid – as we piece together the past and present of these relatable interlocking characters.

Many of the conversations take place offscreen and focus on the central character Piedade (Moreira) whose desperate cries for help fall on the deaf ears of her mother (Blanco), daughter (Almeida) and extended family who are too consumed with their own trivial lives to focus on her subtle call for help.

Pietade is often seen eavesdropping on her mother Sara while trying to keep her snappy emotional support dog from squeaking or barking, other desultory conversations unfold in the peace and quiet of this tranquil rural location.

DoP Leonor Teles choses a a vibrant aesthetic and a variety of camera angles to keep us involved: often viewing the characters from above or at waist level, or on the widescreen and in intimate closeup while a quietly triumphant score of Elgar’s Nimrod at one point plays in the background.

The ending comes as no surprise to those tuned in to Piedade’s particularly middle-aged female sense of futility – yet it provides a perfect conclusion to this mature and artfully framed family drama playing this year in the Berlinale main competition  

BERLINALE 2023| 15 -26 February 2023

Berlinale Film Festival | Competition Line-up 2023

20.000 especies de abejas (20,000 Species of Bees) by Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren | with Sofía Otero, Patricia López Arnaiz, Ane Gabarain, Itziar Lazkano, Sara Cózar Spain 2023 Competition | World premiere

Art College 1994 by Liu Jian People’s Republic of China 2023 Competition | World premiere | Animation

Bai Ta Zhi Guang (The Shadowless Tower by Zhang Lu | with Xin Baiqing, Huang Yao, Tian Zhuangzhuang, Nan Ji, Wang Hongwei People’s Republic of China 2022 Competition | World premiere

Bis ans Ende der Nacht (Till the End of the Night) by Christoph Hochhäusler | with Timocin Ziegler, Thea Ehre, Michael Sideris Germany 2023 Competition | World premiere

BlackBerry by Matt Johnson | with Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton, Matt Johnson, Cary Elwes, Saul Rubinek Canada 2023 Competition | World premiere

Disco Boy by Giacomo Abbruzzese | with Franz Rogowski, Morr Ndiaye, Laëtitia Ky, Leon Lučev France / Italy / Belgium / Poland 2023 Competition | World premiere | Debut film

Le grand chariot (The Plough) by Philippe Garrel | with Louis Garrel, Damien Mongin, Esther Garrel, Lena Garrel, Francine Bergé France / Switzerland 2022 Competition | World premiere

Ingeborg Bachmann – Reise in die Wüste (Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert) by Margarethe von Trotta | with Vicky Krieps, Ronald Zehrfeld, Tobias Resch, Basil Eidenbenz, Luna Wedler Switzerland / Austria / Germany / Luxembourg 2023 Competition | World premiere


Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything by Emily Atef | with Marlene Burow, Felix Kramer, Cedric Eich Germany 2023 Competition | World premiere

Limbo by Ivan Sen | with Simon Baker, Rob Collins, Natasha Wanganeen, Nicholas Hope, Mark Coe Australia 2023 Competition | World premiere

Mal Viver (Bad Living) by João Canijo | with Anabela Moreira, Rita Blanco, Madalena Almeida, Cleia Almeida, Vera Barreto Portugal / France 2023 Competition | World premiere

Manodrome by John Trengove | with Jesse Eisenberg, Adrien Brody, Odessa Young, Sallieu Sesay, Philip Ettinger United Kingdom / USA 2023 Competition | World premiere

Music by Angela Schanelec | with Aliocha Schneider, Agathe Bonitzer, Marisha Triantafyllidou, Argyris Xafis Germany / France / Serbia 2023 Competition | World premiere

Past Lives by Celine Song | with Greta Lee, Teo Yoo, John Magaro USA 2022 Competition | International premiere | Debut film

Roter Himmel (Afire) by Christian Petzold | with Thomas Schubert, Paula Beer, Langston Uibel, Enno Trebs, Matthias Brandt Germany 2023 Competition | World premiere

Sur l’Adamant (On the Adamant) by Nicolas Philibert France / Japan 2022 Competition | World premiere | Documentary Form

The Survival of Kindness (Das Überleben der Freundlichkeit) by Rolf de Heer | with Mwajemi Hussein, Deepthi Sharma, Darsan Sharma Australia 2022 Competition | International premiere

Suzume by Makoto Shinkai Japan 2022 Competition | International premiere | Animation

Tótem by Lila Avilés | with Naíma Sentíes, Monserrat Marañon, Marisol Gasé, Saori Gurza, Teresita Sánchez Mexico / Denmark / France 2023 Competition | World premiere


White Plastic Sky (2023) Berlinale 2023

Dir.: Tibor Banoczki, Sarolta Szabo; Animation feature with the voices of Tamas Keresztes, Zsofia Szamosi, Judith schell, Zsolt Nagy; Hungary/Slovakia 2022, 110 min.

Hungarian animator directors/writers Tibor Banoczki and Sarolta Szabo have had great success with their short films like Leftovers, which were shown all over the festival circuit. White Plastic Sky is their first feature length animation film, an imaginative sci-fi animation showcasing their talent.

White Plastic Sky is a haunting dystopian parable, in the same vein as cult classic Solyent Green and Elysium, it unfolds in mixture of 2D and 3D, and an effective roto-scaping technique that allows the animators to trace and create animation frames via life-action footage.

In Budapest in 2123 people are paying a high price for their survival: the sky is a dome covering the city, and certain death follows within three days of leaving the zone due to a shortage of food and oxygen. If they make it to the age of fifty an enforced implant recycles them into oxygen and food for the remaining population. The gruesome process is euphemistically called “serving the city”.

28 year old Stefan (Keresztes) a psychiatrist, and his musician wife Nora (Szamosi), are mourning the death of their son Tomi and their marriage is in trouble. On impulse, Nora decides to gift herself to “the city”. Stefan is shocked, and tries to talk her out of it, but she is adamant. Some of his friends in the administration department, give him access to the plant where he pretends to interview the technical crew.

An enigmatic doctor (Schell), who is only a few weeks away from her fiftieth birthday, helps him to get hold of Nora who is not yet affected by the implanted branch. The three of them set out to visit an elderly professor, now in his eighties, in a part of the country where the security services have no access. On the journey they are attacked by soldiers and Nora and Stefan are left alone to find the man who is able to remove the branch from Nora’s body. But can the couple trust a man who has condemned his own daughter and her husband to serve humankind?

Technological progress has certainly been made with driverless cars and other new-fangled vehicles speeding through the city, creating a bogus impression of progress, but outside is a barren landscape of desolate countryside and uninhabited cities, and the human element seemed to have regressed to the Dark Ages. White Plastic Sky is original and stunning in its form and content, painting a menacing view of a future where man is no longer a sentient form of life, despite so-called progress. AS


The Beast in the Jungle (2023) Berlinale 2023

Dir.: Patric Chiha; Cast: Anais Demoustier, Tom Mercier, Beatrice Dalle, Martin Vischer, Sophie Demeyer; France/Austria/Belgium 2023, 103 min.

A doomed love story is given a twentieth century spin into the future in this dizzying drama, set against the chronicles of club music – from disco to techno – between 1979 and 2004.

The Beast in the Jungle was published exactly 120 years ago and is generally considered Henry James’ finest novella. Transporting the action from an English country mansion to a nightclub in Belgium, Patric Chiha’s fifth feature imagines a couple who meet on the dance floor at a beach rave in 1971.

John (Tom Mercier from Golden Bear 2019 Winner Synonymes) confesses to May (Demoustier) that he is destined to do something extraordinary with his life. When they meet again in a Paris club five years later, May reminds him of his bold claim, and John invites her to join him for the big event. May is already involved with Alice (Demeyer), a graphic designer, but is increasingly drawn to Pierre (Vischer) who loves her unconditionally.

In the background, but somehow taking centre stage, is the “physionomiste” (Dalle) who controls admissions to the club. There is a running commentary on topical news items such as the election of Francois Mitterand, first socialist president of the V. Republic in 1981 – but May and John are oblivious as they wander around absorbed in each other. A man in a car shouts “this is a night for fucking, not walking” – hitting on a raw nerve in the couple’s relationship: they have not yet – nor ever will  – make love, and they only touch each other just before the end when they attempt to dance for the first time.

The “Berlin Wall” falls in 1989 and by now May is married to Pierre, but she still meets John regularly, both waiting for the event that will change everything, to happen. The Aids epidemic impacts on the club’s attendance records but, unlike Alice, May and John seem unaffected by the tragedy – apart from the time when the club has to close. 

Finally all is revealed and, this being a Henry James novella, we know the ending will be a cruel one for those disaffected by love. Demoustier and Mercer are an ideal couple both being in love with the notion of their uniqueness. Mercier’s John is indifference personified, he hardly talks but gazes sullenly into the far away distance where he believes his promised land will materialise. Demoustier gives May enough enigmatic power to convince us that she believes in John’s prophecy. She rebuffs Pierre and Alice, who really care for her, and follows John on his path of vanity and self-glorification.

DoP Celine Bozon takes us on full throttle joyride through 25 years of music and dance, leaving the audience breathless. Beatrice Dalle is a perfect club impresario . dominating proceedings with her glowering presence, Chiha always ensuring that the focus is on the leading couple and not on the excitement of the all-consuming rave. Melancholic, like Mia Hansen-Love’s take on the same period of counter-culture music in Eden, The Beast in the Jungle is full of bizarre events, held together by James’ spirit of sadistic emotional obsession. AS




Fire – Both Sides of the Blade (2022)

Dir: Claire Denis | Cast: Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Grégoire Colin, Issa Perica, Bulle Ogier, Mati Diop | France Drama 116′

Claire Denis explores the intense dynamics of a love triangle in this coruscating character drama that reunites her regular cast of Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, Gregoire Colin and Bruno Podalydes.

Sara (Binoche) and Jean (Lindon) have been in love for nearly a decade living together in a stylish penthouse in Paris where she runs a radio station while Jean, a former professional rugby player, is getting back to normal after serving time. Despite his impulsiveness and potent physicality, Jean offers warmth and stability to Sara who can be controlling and neurotic, rather like his demanding mother Nelly (Ogier) now confined to the family home in the suburb Vitry where she barely manages his troubled teenage son Marcus (Perica) who is slowly going off the rails.

The opening sets the tone for this torridly sensual romantic drama with its elegantly ecstatic sex scenes: Jean and Sara are pictured cavorting in the sea on a winter break. Back in Paris grey skies call time on their idyllic romance when Sara’s saturnine former lover Francois comes back on the scene, offering Jean a new start as a talent coach in his rugby start-up. Sara has certainly found contentment with Jean but catching sight of Francois for the first time in ages leaves her breathless and ready for another dose of the intoxicating chemistry they once shared. Caught in the emotional crossfire between the two men in her life, she probes Jean obsessively for details about Francois and the new venture. But Jean keeps her in the dark while he processes his own feelings, fully aware of the dangers that lie ahead.

Cleverly adapting Christine Angot’s novel, Un tournant de la Vie, for the screen, Denis keeps the camera close and intimate but retains her distance, avoiding sentimentality in charting the emotional volatility and shifting moods with laser sharp intensity as a baleful score hints at turmoil and heartache for the star-crossed lovers. At this point ad libbing takes over between Lindon and Binoche as their onscreen relationship starts to falter and fall apart amid scenes of barely controlled hysteria as powerful emotions surface. Sara, in denial, tries to contain her turbulent thoughts and real motives, becoming defensive: Jean gives her tenderness and security but it is Francois who really sends her wild with his mercurial charm. Jean knows this love is out of control and he prepares to leave only just suppressing the hurt and fury he really feels inside.

The final scenes of enduring love imploding on the rocky shores of passion are revealing and compulsive to watch. Denis keeps us guessing right up to the devastating denouement which is left open to interpretation, satisfying in its ambiguity. MT


Incredible But True (2022)

Dir/Wri: Quentin Dupieux | 
Cast: Alain Chabat, Léa Drucker, Benoît Magimel, Anaïs Demoustier, Stéphane Pezerat
i | France, Comedy 74′

The age of electronic penises has finally arrived according french filmmaker Quentin Dupieux whose latest high-concept absurdist comedy sees two suburban couples trying to turn back the clock and pursue the dream of eternal youth with hilarious and disastrous consequences.

Middle-aged house-hunters Alain (Alain Chabat) and Marie (Léa Drucker) are captivated by a modernist villas in a leafy location near Paris and immediately move in. The house has a life-changing feature in the shape of a trapdoor to the basement: enter and you take three days off your life, while moving 12 hours forward. Marie is sceptical but soon becomes obsessed with going through the trapdoor and gradually the rejuvenating effects are noticeable. Alain struggles on with a difficult client, hoping not to lose his wife to a younger man. Meanwhile his boss and close friend Gérard (a paunchy Benoît Magimel) has an intriguing new toy to play with of his own. Invited chez Alain and Marie with his much younger girlfriend Jeanne (Anaïs Demoustier in bleach blonde mode), the two are desperate to share their cheeky secret about his new Japanese “electronic penis”, remotely operated by an iPhone.

Dupieux – also known as his DJ alter ego Mr Oiseau – certainly has a vivid imagination and his films get weirder and wackier with each passing year, Deerskin and Mandibles being recent examples. But although his ideas are plausible this blend of surreal and lowkey sci-fi feels out of place with the second-rate suburban settings and pedestrian characters, and the punchy plot lines are never full realised as they are for example in comedy sci fi outings such as Jack Arnold’s The Incredible Shrinking Man or the Korean comedy Miss Granny. Incredible But True is light-hearted fun that never takes itself seriously with a few laughs along the way thanks to some strong comedy performances before resorting to ludicrous back-to-back montage sequences in a rushed final showdown. MT

NOW ON MUBI | Berlinale premiere


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. MT




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



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) Mubi

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


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



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


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.


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



Beautiful Beings (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. And the relationship 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 he has ground into, 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

Signature Entertainment presents Beautiful Beings on Digital Platforms 19th December


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



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


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


Tina (2021) Tribute to Tina Turner

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, was her sheer determination, given her crushing start in life. This 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 – who died on 24 May 2023 – 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 was Tina Turner. MT


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


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



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


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



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



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.



Albatros (Drift Away)
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)
by Dominik Graf


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


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


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


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


Republic of Korea
by Hong Sangsoo


Memory Box
by Joana Hadjithomas, Khalil Joreige


Next Door (Nebenan) 
by Daniel Brühl


Petite Maman
by Céline Sciamma


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


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


Natural Light (Természetes fény)
by Dénes Nagy


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


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)
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
by Ephraim Asili
with Eric Lockley, Nozipho McClean, Chris Jarrell
Debut film

Jai jumlong (Come Here)
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)
by Alvaro Gurrea
with Yono Aris Munandar, Sayu Kholif, Musaena’h
*World premiere / Debut film

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

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

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

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

Ste. Anne
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 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


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




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

Baracoa (2019) *** Berlinale | Generation 2019

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

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

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

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




Monsters (2019) *** Berlinale | Forum 2019

Dir: Marius Olteanu | Drama, Romania

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

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

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

BERLINALE 2019 | Forum Section | 7-17 FEBRUARY 2019

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


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 2017 | Competition WINNERS

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

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.

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 


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.

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


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.

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




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



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.


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

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

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

By Bruce LaBruce
With Susanne Sachsse, Kembra Pfahler
World premiere

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


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


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