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Film Reviews Berlinale 2009/ A-R

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BERLINALE 2009


The Berlinale is a winter event. The city is cold. There is often snow on the ground. It is an ideal atmosphere to be indoors, watching films in Competition, Panorama and the Forum section.

FILMS REVIEWED

ABOUT ELLY (DARBAREYE ELLY)
ALLE ANDEREN (EVERYONE ELSE)
ANDER
AMERICAN IN NEW YORK, An
BEAST STALKER
BONE MAN, The (DER KNOCHENMANN)
BURROWING (MAN TANKER SITT)
CHERI
COUNTESS, The
DEUTSCHLAND 09
EDEN A L'OUEST (EDEN IS WEST)
END OF LOVE
FISH CHILD, The (EL NINO PEZ)
FOREVER ENTHRALLED
GIGANTE
HAPPY TEARS
INTERNATIONAL, The
JOHN RABE
JUST WALKING (SOLO QUIERO CAMINAR)
KATALIN VARGA
LETTERS TO THE PRESIDENT
LONDON RIVER
MAMMOTH
MESSENGER, The
MILK OF SORROW (LA TETA ASUSTADA)
MY ONE AND ONLY
PEDRO
PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE, The
RAGE
RICKY
RUCKENWIND (LIGHT GRADIENT)


ABOUT ELLY (DARBAREYE ELLY)

(Iran, 2009, d. Asghar Fahadi. Berlin Competition)

A fresh and invigorating Iranian drama, with a universal plot that is accessible to all audiences.

The film opens with some speeding through a tunnel and some adolescent screaming, some letting off steam as a group of well-off families set off for a picnic and then some days away at a holiday villa. When booking complications arise, they rent a run-down house by the sea. For fifty minutes, the busy camera and quick edit cuts mean that the audience is right there in the middle of things, participating in the clean-up, the banter and chatter, the meals, dancing, charades and, it seems, the organiser's plan to matchmake: her daughter's nursery teacher, Elly, with a divorced friend visiting from Germany for ten days.

These fifty minutes are so exuberant that we get to know the personalities, three husbands and wives, three children, Elly and Ahmed from Germany. The only tension is when Elly phones her mother, who has a heart condition, and promisers her to return to Tehran. Sepide, who has organised the holiday more than we even thought tries all means to keep Elly there.

It is all too good to last. There is an accident and the group does not handle the crisis at all well so that the second part of the film is tension, anger, recriminations, home truths surfacing, and bickering, fear and anxiety. When Elly's alleged brother turns up, matters become even worse.

The social observation is acute, especially the roles and expectations of men and women (who plunge into the sea search, scarves and all). But the focus of the story is truth and lies, initially not giving total information but then the consequences when disasters occur, lies leading to entanglements and cover-ups and the final need to tell the truth. Well worthwhile.

ALLE ANDEREN (EVERYONE ELSE)

(Germany, 2009, d. Maren Ade. Berlin Competition)

Would you like to spend a holiday in the company of the central characters? No.

Would you like to spend 2 edited hours with them in close-up? Not particularly, although critics and the Berlinale jury, giving the Best Actress award to Birgit Minichmayr, thought yes.

Director, Maren Ade, offers a female and German perspective on two people like and unlike everyone else. He is an architect with high hopes and some disappointments in a competition. She works PR for bands. They are in Sardegna. They talk. He is serious and wants time with his friend and his friend's pregnant wife. She is flighty and quirky, a touch unconventional and wants him to change and be stronger. She is extraverted, he less so.

There are some dramatic conflicts but it might be better for them to go off in private to resolve these rather than our having to hang about, a touch voyeuristically, and more than a touch impatiently and irritated with them.

AN AMERICAN IN NEW YORK

(UK, 2009, d. Richard Laxton. Berlin Panorama)

Well worth seeing for John Hurt's performance alone.

In 1975, Hurt appeared as Quentin Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, broadcast on UK television and on American cable. Crisp (actual name, Denis Charles Pratt) became something of an overnight celebrity in his mid-60s, an Englishman who was not ordinary, had publicly worn make-up in the streets in the 1930s and had been bashed for it but had supreme self-confidence in his person, his gender orientation and sexual identity. He also had an aphoristic wit in the tradition of Oscar Wilde (and hat and clothes and affectations) and Noel Coward.

The US success of The Naked Civil Servant led to American invitations for Crisp to speak. He acquired an agent (Swoosie Kurtz at her sharpest), an editor friend for decades (Denis O'Hare), radio interviews, theatre and television appearances in one man Q and A sessions (which enable Hurt to deliver answers with relish). He also wrote film reviews and finally is accepted by bemused authorities as a 'resident alien' (which was the title of a 1990 documentary about him in which Hurt also appeared). His justification for residency was that, in accordance with the US Constitution, he was contributing something unique to the nation – himself!

He felt at home in Manhattan and in multicultural New York. However, a comment he made about AIDS during a show, that it be treated as a 'fad disease', lost him many of his gay following.

This brief film shows him befriending and supporting a young artist (Jonathan Tucker) and, in the 1990s, some performance art with Penny Arcade (Cynthia Nixon, offering opinions on Clinton and Bush. He accepted the role of Queen Elizabeth in Sally Potter's Orlando (Hurt re-enacting a scene).

Quentin Crisp died in England at almost 91 in 1999, a full life, meeting people, going to socials, self-assured, kind and truthful with a malicious twinkle. If he really was anything like John Hurt's portrayal, he would have been fascinating, if offbeat, to meet and to listen to.

ANDER

(Spain, 2009, d. Roberto Caston. Berlin Panorama)

Life on a farm in the Basque country, details of life and work, but a look deeper at lives and relationships.

Ander (Josean Bengoetxea) is a middle-aged man, living with his stern mother and his sister who is about to be married. He is a lonely man, hard working. He joins his friend and neighbour, Pero, in resorting to Reme (Mamen Rivera), a deserted mother with a son who serves as a local prostitute.

The film is slowly-paced and rather long and uses a social realist style.

Matters change when Ander breaks a bone in his leg and the family have to hire a young Peruvian Jose (Cristhian Esquivel) to help out. This leads to an emotional crisis for Ander and his awareness of his sexual identity, a man who is reluctant and angry. It is the long-suffering Reme who acts as a kindly mediator for Ander to come to terms with the truth.

Set in beautiful mountain scenery, with no musical score (except when the radio is turned on), the film requires patient and understanding viewing.

BEAST STALKER

(Hong Kong, 2009, d. Dante Lam. Berlin Forum)

A first film by a poetically named, Dante Lam. While he does have a strong visual eye for some poetics, they tend to be the choreography of chases, car and crashes as well as action fights.

There is now a substantial tradition for Hong Kong police thrillers, established by such veterans as John Woo, Ringo Lam, Tsui Hark and Johnny To. It looks as though Dante Lam wants to be part of the next generation in this tradition.

What distinguishes this film from others in the genre is the accidental death in a shoot-out crash of the young daughter of a prosecutor and the abduction of her other daughter to blackmail her into destroying blood sample evidence in her case. Tong, the young abrasive policeman who was involved in the accident takes on the role of rescuer of the little girl of whom he has become fond.

There is quite some tension and audiences will be fearful of the fate of the little girl.

Not a bad addition to the genre.

THE BONE MAN (DER KNOCHENMANN)

(Austria, 2009, d. Wolfgang Murnberger. Berlin Panorama)

The third film in a series based on crime novels by Wolf Haas. The second was Silentium. Silentium, set in a seminary, with very dark themes of money, lies and sexuality was very serious indeed. The Bone Man has a serious setting, but is very facetious in tone, ironies,jokes and quips – a strange example of Germanic humour.

The central character is a former policeman now re-possessing cars. One assignment takes him to a village restaurant in the snow-clad countryside. There are crimes - blackmail and murder – but he does minimal detection and simply stumbles into the solution. No tense sleuthing here or tantalising clues.

The other setting is a Bratislava sex club where dire things happen and cover-ups are the order of the day (or night).

The owner of the restaurant, who grinds chicken bones for chicken-feed recycling and who, therefore, can grind corpses, is a big brutal man who can't stand his son who wants his inheritance.

While the film is on screen, the curiosity factor keeps us going but, in retrospect, it's not really all that much of a plot for a crime thriller and it really has little tension – which we may not notice at the time because of the facetiousness.

BURROWING (MAN TANKER SITT)

(Sweden, 2008, d. Fredrik Wenzel, Henrik Hellstrom. Berlin Forum)

There is a touch of Swedish melancholy in this brief film set in moments of twilight.

It opens with a paradoxical quotation from Thoreau's Walden – about being ashamed of what is good in most people and repenting of it while relishing the bad. Audiences will be trying to see whether this applies to the group of characters presented in a housing estate by a woods and a creek.

The initial voiceover is by 11 year old Sebastian who throughout the film relishes being in water - even after wandering off in his formal clothes from a neighbour's 50th birthday party. He is a loner. He imagines and he thinks. The English title of the film comes from his statement that his head, unlike an animal's snout and front paws, is an 'agent for burrowing', intellectual burrowing – and an enigmatic final freeze frame as he decides on which is the right place to burrow in the creek. We are left with the 'Why?' and the 'What for?'.

Sebastian lives with his mother and, while seeming to love her and obey her, he is also mischievous in stealing (and denying it) her prized watch which he throws down a drain.

As the screen shows a kind of Google Earth map of the estate, Sebastian explains about Anders who runs and is building a carport. He explains migrant worker, Mischa, 30 years in Sweden now and also a neighbour, who searches for fish and is cheeky (literally) to householders.

Most interesting, and making the film worth seeing, is Jorgen Svensson as the 25 year old Jimmy who lives with his parents (but is not allowed a house key) and has a baby son, Silas, on whom he dotes. Never has there been such a maternal father - carrying, hugging, kissing, wandering the woods, taking Silas to the creek to get used to being in water, changing his nappy in a supermarket parking area and resisting being reported to welfare.

No plot to speak of. Miniature glimpses.

CHERI

(UK, 2009, d. Stephen Frears. Berlin Competition)

Sumptuous to look at, the beginning of the 20th century and La Belle Epoque in France, beautifully melancholic score by Alexander Desplats, articulate dialogue from Christopher Hampton, adapting a novel by Colette, and directed by Stephen Frears, who could ask for anything more? Well, we could.

So much cinematic effort put into a not dangerous liaisons plot but frivolous liaisons, the affairs of the narcissistic, seductive extortions of so much money from decadent playboys, the world of the glamorous French courtesans.

Maybe that is a touch puritanical, maybe more than a touch, but to spend time with these characters seems something of a waste.

Cheri is a welcome star vehicle for Michelle Pfeiffer (who starred 20 years earlier in Frears' Dangerous Liaisons) who brings beauty and vivacity to her role of the ageing courtesan, Lea, although she seems too nice to be as mercenary as the plot wants her to be. On the other hand, Kathy Bates does her typical good stuff and is more credible as the prostitute mother of Cheri, a nickname for her son, Fred, a pampered, effete young man who finds true love with Leah but who has to enter an arranged marriage. As Cheri, Rupert Friend (so much better as Prince Albert in The Young Victoria) seems, as Ronald Searle used to write, 'a wet and a weed', something of an aspiring Rupert Everett but not nearly as effective. He seems to be reciting many of his lines, especially in the final encounter with Lea, rather than acting.

And Frears borrows from himself (self-referential) with an ending where Michelle Pfeiffer (as Glenn Close did before her) gazes into a mirror.

There seems very little redemption for these characters – at least, in this life, though Lea's speech suggests something. But the final voiceover, spoken throughout the film by Frears himself, is simply despairing.

THE COUNTESS

(France, 2009, d. Julie Delpy. Berlin Panorama)

Count Istvan Thurzo reminds the audience at both beginning and end of this 16th-17th century Hungarian tale that history is written by the victors – and questions whether it is trustworthy. We need only think of the nearby Transylvanian history, legends and myths of Vlad the Impaler and the Dracula stories.

Countess Erzebet Barthory is not so well-known (and in an impassioned speech at the end of the film the Countess reminds us of continued male dominance and influence and the putting down of women, women rulers – although the Countess was a younger contemporary of Elizabeth I).

The tales of Countess Barthory concern the killing of virgins so that she could bathe in their blood and maintain her fresh complexion.

Julie Delpy has wanted to make a film about the Countess for some time. At last, she has done so. The style of the film is traditional enough and it revels in its castles, décor and costumes and music.

Born in 1560, Erzebet had a strict, aristocratic upbringing, cold, merciless and Protestant. Her adolescent misdemeanours (including bearing an illegitimate child) were harshly punished. She bore her husband, in an arranged marriage, three children and managed his estates with successful efficiency while he was away at war with the Turks. On his sudden death, she assumed full control of the estates and might have made a more powerful rule than she was (not afraid to challenge the king to pay his debts to her) had she married the ruthless Count Thurza (William Hurt).

Instead she fell passionately in love with the count's son, Istvan (Daniel Bruehl). His father intervened to prevent the liaison, marrying off his son in Denmark.

Living in isolation in her castle, her closest friend and adviser a woman considered a lesbian witch (Anamaria Marinca), she became obsessed with her looks as she moved into her 40s. An impetuously angry attack on a young servant spattered her with blood and the process of seeking and killing virgins began.

After the historical narrative of her upbringing and the death of her husband, the film settles down and becomes a focused drama about the deteriorating mind and character of the Countess.

Julie Delpy wrote, directed, composed the score and is a powerful presence as the Countess. Some gory touches but much less than a continued spattering of the screen. More is left to the imagination.

DEUTSCHLAND 09.

(Germany, 2009, 13 directors for 13 segments. Berlin Out of Competition)

Of course, it is impossible to offer a definitive film on contemporary Germany. With the 2008 credit crash developed while the film was in post-production, it was finished at the end of the Bush era and the beginning of the presidency of Obama.

However, an interim report is always useful – and that is what the film does. 13 different directors have contributed their own idiosyncratic viewpoints and visual visions that are never less than stimulating. Some make us laugh and it is a nice and surprising reminder how laughter enables learning. Some are ironic, sometimes stating the obvious but offering back-up images that have their own value. Some are didactic, serious in terms of German heritage and democracy. A couple are frightening, especially in the current era of terror.

Everybody's favourite is probably Joshua where Jewish director, Dani Levy interviews a number of morose Germans in the street and then goes to a psychiatrist (humorous dialogue here) who gives a prescription that will turn the world optimistic. This leads to funny scenes of unexpected courtesy, dancing in the streets, drivers polite after a crash. Then the director's little son, Joshua, takes flight. Security guards frisk Joshua when he lands in the middle of a board meeting. He then flies into a group of Neo-Nazis? who hail the child as the new Fuehrer. Cleverly absurd and funny.

Another funny story focuses on the German pornographic culture, an interview with the Persian migrant proprietor of the Bar Onyx, a sleazy club in a dark street. The proprietor salutes the German people for allowing him to stay in the country. The behaviour he describes is disgusting. The Iranian plays it straight which ironically highlights realities and society double standards.

On the war on terror theme, Fateh Akin offers re-enactment of an interview with a Turk released from Guantanomo. A story of the arrest of an innocent lecturer as part of a terror prevention plan by authorities is alarming, as is the detail of the amount of surveillance. The health system, standing as a symbol of the ailing economic system, is treated as a farce in 'Sick House'. Tom Tykwer makes his comment on globalisation and commerce and travel fatigue where the images of the same hotels, shops, and Starbucks everywhere in the world make plenty of points.

This is a film which, of course, could be re-made every year. And, it raises the interesting thought: what would such a film be like were it made in any other country you would like to name.

EDEN A L'OUEST (EDEN IS WEST)

(France/Greece, 2009, d.Costa Gavras. Berlin Competition)

Eden used to be in the Middle East, the old paradise, but with invasions and unrest, refugees from the same Middle East are now looking westwards, to Europe for their Eden and new paradise.

It is forty years since Costa Gavras won an Oscar and international acclaim for his powerful dramatic critique of the Greek generals in Z. This led him to a series of strong, politically stirring dramas in the 1970s and into the 1980s with The Confession, Section Speciale and Missing. In the 1980s, he also looked at political situations in the US in Betrayed, The Music Box and Mad City. But the 1970s was his political heyday.

Eden is West is also political and contemporary, but it is shot in bright colours and is 'softer' in story and treatment. One of the reasons for this is that the story is of one illegal (middle eastern country not specified) who survives the capture of a boatload of people stranded by the boat's captain and crew who abscond with the handlers' fees.

Elias (Riccardo Scarmaccio) jumps overboard, swims to shore, ironically arriving at the nudist beach of a lavish Greek resort, the Eden where, by shedding his remnant of clothes, he is like a contemporary naked Adam who has to begin his sojourn in the West with absolutely nothing. Elias is played very sympathetically by Scarmaccio so that audience sympathy and concern for him is constantly felt during the film.

The second reason for the softer approach is that Europe is not ravaged by war. It has its kind people and its selfish people, but life in the European Union countries is comfortable enough and Elias can survive if he tries.

What the screenplay does is have him know some French so that Paris is his goal. Elias has a series of encounters during his odyssey which represent contemporary comfortable, as well as exploitive, Europe.

Able to steal some available clothes at the beach, Elias is mistaken for one of the staff and carries bags, unblocks a toilet and gets his first tip, is befriended by a middle-aged German woman from Hamburg (Juliane Kohler) and helps in a performance by a friendly visiting magician (Ulrich Tukur, so good as John Rabe) who gives him his card and invites him to look him up in Paris. He also has to participate in the hotel search for illegals including one of this friends.

Elias becomes a kind of 21st century Candide. He is robbed by a passing driver who promises a lift. He is treated kindly by a Greek woman and her children. He gets a number of lifts including one from a quarrelsome couple in the Alps and from two friendly German truck drivers. He narrowly escapes the police at several junctures. This becomes more difficult in France where he spends two weeks working earning cut wages in a factory. A disillusioned fellow countryman, returning home, gives him enough money for a train ticket to Paris.

Elias is able to elude pursuers and does experience the kindness of a number of strangers.

Costa Gavras pictures the plight of the lone illegal and the critique of a materialistically self-absorbed Europe. Then the film stops rather than ends - though sparkling light on the Eiffel Tower offers a final enigma.

END OF LOVE

(Hong Kong, 2009, d. Simon Chung. Berlin Panorama)

A slice of Hong Kong life and a familiar enough story.

A young man works in clothes sales and is picked up by a customer, caught with this man by his mother, ousted from his house. His mother, ashamed, leaps to her death from the apartment window.

The young man is gay and takes up the life of his new flatmate, drugs and prostitution, until a party is raided and he is sent to a Christian reform institution in the country, an evangelical house with strict rules, much Jesus talk and prayer, Pentecostal style. He becomes friendly with the ex-heroin addict and volunteer who is assigned to look after him. When he gets out, he goes to stay with this friend and his petulant girlfriend.

The potential for change is always there but life tends to be hard and old habits are difficult to kick.

What will now happen to the young man? What choices will he make?

THE FISH CHILD

(Argentina, 2009, d. Lucia Puenzo. Berlin Panorama)

Lucia Puenzo wrote and directed the interesting drama about gender and identity, XXY. She is again focusing on gender and identity but this time in the context of class, race and same sex love.

The structure of the film makes its concentration demands as it opens with one girl waking and being attended by her servant, followed by the discovery of a dead body – the girl's father. Then the film veers between present and past, between the girl making a bus trip to Paraguay to her servant's town and the past where the father was having an affair with the servant while the two girls were in love with each other.

The title refers to a mythic story about a child who could direct people to the bottom of a river or lake, somehow deriving from the legends of the region.

Ines Efron from XXY is the girl and Mariela Vitale is the servant.

While there is a great deal of emotion on screen, audience response will depend on how sympathetic it finds the two girls and that is not always easy.

FOREVER ENTHRALLED

(China, 2009, d. Chen Kaige. Berlin Competition)

The Peking Opera is highly valued by the Chinese, mysterious and fascinating to those who do not understand it.

In 1993, Chen Kaige won many awards for his film, Farewell My Concubine, for the film itself and its luminous cinematography, a drama about the Opera in the early years of the 20th century. He has now returned to this era but moves his action into the 1920s and 1930s, including a visit by the Opera to New York in 1930 and the Japanese occupation of Peking, Shanghai and Nanking in 1937.

The plot is based on the story of a star of the Opera who, from his teenage years, charmed and delighted the public. His more expressive movements changed audience perceptions from the rigid traditions and their less emotive gestures and movements. This is well illustrated in a sequence where Mr Qui, who advocates change, criticises the past – which leads to a competition staged between a traditional opera and a modern one.

By 1930, Mei (played effectively by Yu Shaoqun when young and Leon Lai when more mature) is China's most celebrated singer. Despite the American Depression, he goes on tour of the US trying to overcome his fears.

Other melodramatic incidents complicate his life and self-image: his marriage to a controlling wife (and the later unexpected appearance of four children), his love for fellow actress (Zhang Ziyi) who is told that Mei's artistry comes from his inner loneliness and she is told to move away from him, an occasion for a bizarre shooting incident at a party.

The film becomes political with the Japanese occupation and Mei's dilemma whether to sing and support Chinese morale or not sing and avoid any Japanese propagandising. This takes its toll, especially with the underhand actions of his mentor, Mr Qui.

After the war, Mei had 60,000 people meet him at the station when he returned to the Opera in 1950. He died in 1961.

A stately, beautiful and reflective tribute to a star and re-creation of several eras in Chinese 20th century history.

GIGANTE

(Uruguay, 2008, d. Adrian Biniez. Berlin Competition)

It would be a bit hard not to warm to this short picture of ordinary and supermarket life in Montevideo.

It would be a bit hard not to like Jara (Horacio Camandulle), the huge but gentle (most of the time) giant of the title.

As with the security monitors his job requires him to watch, the film's camera watches, shifts focus, twists for close-ups and has the capacity for replays.

We follow Jara to work, watch him at work, get to know his home life in some detail, learn his tics and idiosyncrasies, appreciate his capacity for knowledge (from crosswords to computer games to TV info programs), his second job as a bouncer at the Disco Club Molotov. But, most of all, we watch him to do to supermarket cleaner, Julia (Leonor Svarcas) what the director is doing to him, almost stalking: Jara turns his camera on Julia, follows her everywhere, learns her tics and idiosyncrasies, her clumsiness and irritating her boss, her time at an internet cafe, window-shopping, cinema taste (he thinks she has gone to see a love story but, instead, she is enjoying 'Mutant', her day at the beach, where she lives, her internet date.

And, that's it.

Well, no, that's not exactly it. We get to know Jara. We stay interested. We like Jara and Julia and we really hope the shy giant will actually speak to Julia.

Our lives are microcosms – and so this is a rather sweet look at identity, self-image, attraction, love, reserve and shyness and power struggles and unemployment. And hard not to like.

HAPPY TEARS

(US, 2009, d. Mitchell Lichenstein. Berlin Competition)

Who's mad? Who's not mad? Most of the characters in Happy Tears could raise their hands – in the affirmative.

Dysfunctional families can be amusing to watch or they can be just as irritating to the audiences as they are to each other. This gallery is irritating, has moments of quirkiness, many more moments of absurdity and limited redeeming features.

The focus is on Jayne (Parker Posey), neurotic, not averse to drugs, married into a San Francisco wealthy art family, wanting a child, cocooned by her older, protective sister, Laura (Demi Moore) from knowing the uglier side of her growing up. Laura is the common-sensed sister, in Pittsburg, caring for their deteriorating father (Rip Torn), a most unlikeable man. Jayne has to learn the truth about her father but the writing by director Mitchell Lichenstein (Teeth) does not provide Parker Posey opportunities to create a credible or consistent (even in oddness) character. Sometimes sensible, sometimes ditzy, always wilful.

Then there is Ellen Barkin as a caricature of a down-at-heels, crackhead prostitute who likes the father but is after his money and a place to stary.

Depending on frustration tolerance for the family and how they interest an audiences, this is a hit and miss experience.

THE INTERNATIONAL

(Germany/US/UK, d. Tom Tykwer. Opening Film)

If you are on the lookout for an intelligent thriller, well-paced, with discussions about issues and ideas, interspersed with some action, then The International can straight on to the list. If you are looking for the slambang side of things, then forget it. Actually, some audiences expressed disappointment in it because the ads led them to believe that this was some gung-ho kind of show.

Tom Tykwer emerged in the late 1990s as a director to look forward to, especially because of his Run, Lola, Run, where the brief action was repeated in three different ways, from three different points of view. He has not made many films though one of his was Heaven, with Cate Blanchett, based on a screenplay by Kzrysztof Kieslowski. Now he has made an international film, drawing on German technical skills, a cast from a large number of countries and location work all over the world.

One thing to note is the impressive photography, not just of characters interacting or action shots but the striking images of several cities, a lot of aerial shots, immersing the audience in the look and the ambience of each city so that the city becomes more than a location but an atmosphere. This is true of Berlin in the first part of the film, a murder outside the new main station. The headquarters of Interpol are in Lyon. There is an assassination outside one of the grand buildings of Milan. The international headquarters of the rogue bank in the film, its glass-fronted office buildings, are in Luxembourg. There is a pursuit of a killer through the streets of New York culminating in a spectacular shoot-out in the Simon Guggenheim gallery and, finally, a killing on the rooftops of Istanbul with magnificent views of the city in the background. This is striking international filming.

The plot itself is more than topical during credit crunch and bank collapsing days. In fact, it is based on episodes in the 1980s with a corrupt banker in Pakistan.

Here, the international bank, with its ruthless head (Ulrich Thomsen), its criminally-minded advisers (led by Armin Muehler Stuhl) and its assassin on the payroll (Brian F. O' Byrne) is based in Luxembourg. It is not interested so much in money and holdings as being an agent for arms deals. And, as is explained, arms deals mean control of countries who buy them and control of their debt. In these days of bank collapses and government bail-outs that gives audiences a lot to think about – and suspicions of what the heavily-bonused officials are up to.

When an FBI agent and an informer are killed, relentless Interpol agent Louis Salinger (an intensely convincing Clive Owen) follows up with the help of a New York DA (Naomi Watts), grabbing at, travelling far and wide to bring the truth to light. The various worlds they get mixed up in are murky and there is the perennial questions about whether the law is able to achieve justice or not. The final moments bring this home very effectively on the rooves of Istanbul.

A good thriller with something to say.

JOHN RABE

(Germany, 2008, d. Florian Gallenberger. Berlinale Special)

Definitely for the list for those who appreciate 20th century historical dramas with solid plot, fine characterisations, a sense of period and a focus on social issues and the human spirit.

A postscript to the film tells us 'based on true events' and the sad note that after the war John Rabe did not receive 'denazification' and died impoverished in Berlin in 1950. Not a worthy end for a man who rose to practical heroism during the 1937 Japanese siege and rape of Nanking.

John Rabe and his wife Dora arrived in China in 1910, an employee of the German firm, Siemens, for the Chinese branch. A bureaucrat with a talent for management, despite an inbuilt Germanic arrogance that made him think less of the Chinese, their abilities and their intelligence. Yet, he was a firm but benign employer. He was also loyal to Germany, a member of the National Socialist Party – though the meetings we see in Nanking were rather enjoyable, relaxed affairs much to the disgust of Rabe's replacement, the Nazi Herr Fleiss.

During his speech at a farewell dinner where he was given a 'Friend of the Chinese' award, the Japanese began to bomb Nanking. We see the fright of the people and Rabe's innate humanity as he opens the Siemens gates and hides the workers under a huge swastika flag.

His dilemma is whether to stay or return to Germany, when a young diplomat (Daniel Bruehl) proposes a Safe Zone and Rabe is elected to head the Committee, supported by Miss Dupre (Anne Consigny), the head of the girls' high school and opposed by the sardonic US Dr Wilson (Steve Buscemi who blends seriousness with his particular comic touches).

The screenplay's presentation of the Japanese aggression, their ruthless superiority over the Chinese and the brutality of their massacres is particularly disturbing.

The setting up of the Safe Zone and the maintenance of order, food and security for 200,000 refugees is shown in detail and the hardships after the fall of the city and the cruel Japanese occupation. Some sequences lead us to think that the expected will happen – especially when two Japanese officers begin to rape a student who brings food to her family but there are unanticipated consequences for all involved.

Clearly, this is a worthily-motivated film but it is persuasive for all but the most cynical. As is said of fine performances and very true here, Ulrich Tukur inhabits his role completely.

The film notes that the Japanese government has never acknowledged the rape of Nanking, a truly atrocious episode prior to the outbreak of World War II.

JUST WALKING (SOLO QUIERO CAMINAR)

(Spain/Mexico, 2008, d. Augustin Diez Yanes. Berlin Panorama)

A Spanish/ Mexican co-production with stars from both countries led by Diego Luna and Spanish Victoria Abril and Ariadna Gil.

This is something of a routine crime thriller, the difference being that the central Spanish protagonists are four women, prostitutes who commit robberies. Their initial attempt fails through bad luck. The most forceful of them, Aurora (Ariadna Gil) is caught and jailed. However, her sentence is shortened and then repealed because of sexual favours for a corrupt judge. This is all masterminded by the older Gloria (Victoria Abril) who cares for her teenage son.

In Mexico we meet cold, dapper and ruthless killer, Gabriel (Diego Luna). He and his associates visit Spain. The boss, Felix (Jose Maria Yazpik) decides to marry one of the prostitutes, Aurora's sister, Anna, and takes her to Mexico (and a lavish wedding scene). The other three women follow. They want to avenge Felix's blithely brutal treatment of his wife. They steal is La Cie computer back-up. They rob his safe – not without some violence to themselves.

This is the kind of film that could be called 'hot-blooded', Mediterranean and Hispanic in temperament (and temperature) and behaviour. At times this becomes more than a little absurd, especially Gloria's being stabbed, talking to her son on the phone as she bleeds and then staggering to his teacher's home to deliver an essay.

Carryings on in an amoral world.

KATALIN VARGA

(Hungary, 2008, d. Peter Strickland. Berlin Competition)

A small-budget vengeance drama, filmed in Romania with Hungarian support by a British-born director.

Post-credits information indicates that this film took two years from shooting to transfer from digital to film. It is an unpolished film, ragged often in look and in narrative drive. There are often varied colour gradings, bright for herds and farm sequences, dark for much of the rest of the film.

Audiences, drawn in by the plot and the acting, will allow for the limitations of style so that they can can concentrate on characters and motivation. While the setting is contemporary (mobile phones, cars), the actions seems timeless as a mother and son travel old roads, mountains and forests in a horse-drawn cart.

It quickly emerges that Katalin (Hilda Peter), up till now happily married, is upset when her husband learns that her son was conceived in rape ten years earlier. She takes her son through the old towns and rugged country to find her assailants and wreak vengeance.

When she finally finds the rapist, the situation is not as she imagined and there are dire consequences for innocent others as well as herself. The director noted that there is dramatic ambiguity as we see a good character go bad and a bad character change to good.

LETTERS TO THE PRESIDENT

(Canada, 2008, d. Petr Lom. Berlin Forum)

Not everyone is allowed into Iran to film the president, a hero to many of his people and a bete noir for Western governments. Petr Lom, who has previously filmed in China, received a permit to join the press corps who accompanied the president on several of his tours. He didn't manage a promised interview with the president himself.

This brief film is actually not about President Ahmadinejad. Rather, it is about the people of Iran and how they see their ruler. Quite a number of those who speak to camera are enthusiastic about him and are vociferous in support and even more vociferous against the US. It is somewhat different when poor people in the city or in the countryside consider their difficulties. They are not always so enthusiastic.

However, the title indicates a particular point for this film. The residents of Iran have been writing to their president, millions of them. There is a state department to handle all the letters and, it is said, a high percentage of them are answered by the bureaucrats for the ruler. Sometimes the letters are practical in detail. Others are requests for help and money. Others are about policies.

Iran is a mystery nation to outsiders. This is an interesting glimpse of the people and some momentary close-ups of the puzzling president who is both religious and political, the president of a proud people who are conscious of their heritage and their right to independence.

LONDON RIVER

(France, 2009, d. Rachid Bouchareb. Berlin Competition)

Admirers of the fine World War II film about North African troops fighting beside the French, Days of Glory (Indigines), 2006, will be impressed by London River, which could not be more different. Bouchareb won a SIGNIS award for a film which is far more similar, action in both Africa and New York, Little Senegal (2001). London River won an Ecumenical Commendation in Berlin, 2009.

London River is presented very schematically. We are introduced to a farming woman on the island of Guernsey who is an 'on and off Protestant', Elizabeth Sommers (Brenda Blethyn at her best) and an elderly forester from Algeria who works in France and is a devout Muslim. The setting is London, July 7th, 2007, the day the suicide bombers blew up three trains in the Underground and a bus in Tavistock Square.

Ali Ousamane (Sotiqui Kouyate, winner of the Berlinale Best Actor award) comes to England to search for his son on behalf of his wife. He had left them in Algeria fifteen years earlier. Elizabeth Sommers keeps phoning her student daughter who does not answer. She goes to London.

The film shows Ousmane's quiet dignity and Elizabeth's bewilderment at finding her daughter lived in a Muslim section of London. The film brings the two together through police interviews, hospital searches. He receives help from a local mosque. She reacts awkwardly with Ousmane, visits the mosque and discovers her daughter was learning Arabic with Ousmane's son.

The audience realises before they do that the young man and woman are partners.

Whether the two were killed in the blasts or not, the importance of the film is in its inter-cultural drama, different races, different religions, different cultures and traditions, leading, of course, to mutual respect and understanding.

The performances are beautifully restrained with different intensities which cannot but touch audiences.

MAMMOTH

(Sweden, 2009, d. Lukas Moodysson. Berlin Competition)

A big name for big, even cosmic themes but Mammoth does not have the huge impact it may have hoped for. Presented on a grand and international scale, its plot-lines are quite familiar to film-goers and have been more powerfully striking in other films. The themes are more than worthy and many audiences will find them moving to varying degrees.

The presence of Gael Garcia Bernal as the star may remind some audiences of Babel. In fact, Mammoth is reminiscent of Babel with its varied international stories, playing with time or, rather,differences in time zones instead of Babel's moving backwards and forwards in time.

Lukas Moodysson has built a reputation for strong, even tough smaller dramas (Amal and, especially, Lilya 4 Everon Russian sex traffic) and experimental films. This has become what is expected of him and critical response to Mammoth has been to express disgust for his making a film that is technically well-crafted and accessible to a wider audience than usual.

The central story is a conventional one, well-acted, especially by Michelle Williams as a busy and harassed surgeon who is in danger of losing the affection of her 7 year old daughter ( to the very sympathetic Filippino nanny who works in the US, forced by her mother, to make money for a better life for her sons, ten and seven, back home. Gael Garcia Bernal is her computer whiz husband who has to travel to Thailand to sign multi-million dollar contracts.

His is the first of two subordinate stories. We have the conventional story of the wealthy man faced with another, fascinating culture and wants to opt out of the rat race, at least for a time, to relax, to think about doing some good for others, and resisting obvious temptations if he can.

The other story is that to the two boys in the Philippines who long for their mother, with the older being taught a lesson about poverty by his grandmother but which backfires alarmingly, introducing the theme of sexual exploitation.

Interestingly, the mobile phone plays a large part in the three stories, enabling instant contact and communication from and to each part of the world.

The film could have been called, Mothers and Children, Love and Loss.

The surgeon loves her daughter and does not want to lose her daughter's love. She is, in fact, operating on a little boy who has been viciously stabbed by his mother. The nanny is dominated by her mother. Her boys desperately miss their mother. Finally, the Thai prostitute is revealed as having a child and sings a lullaby to her over the phone.

The mammoth theme is explained in terms of evolution, survival and extinction and the place of humans in this development, with images of an elephant in Thailand, backed by visits to the New York Planetarium and talk about the cosmos.

Ultimately, this is a film about desire and hope for love and healing. Upbeat rather than the gloom one might have expected from the director's previous sombre work.

THE MESSENGER

(US, 2009, d. Oren Moverman. Berlin Competition)

Taking as its starting point the war in Iraq, this contribution to the Iraq and post-Iraq US cinema focuses on the military personnel whose job it is to inform next of kin of the deaths of men and women killed in action. In the past, World War II experience, there was the telegram delivery and the stoic grief. This time we have several episodes in quite heart-rending close-up. The toll on parents, widows, children is seen briefly but powerfully. A cameo by Steve Buscemi as a father brings the upset and anger home to audiences.

The other feature of the film that of the title itself, The Messenger, specifically two men, one Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) as a convalescing veteran with three months of his tour of duty to serve out, the other Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) who is his superior in the messenger job. Both Foster and Harrelson give commanding performances.

There are no visuals of the war, only verbal descriptions, especially later in the story when Montgomery tells Stone of the episode where he was wounded, made him consider suicide and gained him a military decoration.

The film is about the war and the trauma for personnel, for families, for the nation which, in the post-Bush era, it will have to deal with more extensively and more compassionately.

Stone is an army professional who has the clear, objective spiel off by heart with a well-worked out series of details to be most effective in delivering the news without any extra disturbance. Montgomery is affected by each visit and knows that detachment might be of more help for the calm and control of the messenger but humanity is needed for those receiving the message. He is moved by a widow who thanks them for coming (Samantha Morton) and he returns to help her and her son – which does work out quite as predictably as expected.

The screenplay (winner at Berlin) is both strong and credible – although drunken Montgomery and Stone (who is a recovering alcoholic) gatecrash Montgomery's former girlfriend's engagement do – which gives a screen opportunity for speeches about supporting the troops and the soldiers' disbelief at hearing the well-meaning cliches.

Much reference to Vietnam, the Gulf War, Bosnia and Iraq and the US's almost half-century of dealing and not dealing with the consequences of war. Well worth reflecting on.

MILK OF SORROW (LA TETA ASUSTUDA)

(Peru, 2009, d. Claudia Llosa. Berlin Competition)

A glimpse of Peru, people, customs, culture, superstitions.

The striking opening is in song. An old dying woman laments the brutality of her rape and her fears for her unborn daughter. Linked with this is a tradition of the 'milk of sorrow', the passing on of the fear to a child from its mother's breast. Another tradition is the insertion of a potato into the vagina to prevent rape. These mythical beliefs are in contrast to contemporary medical practice in the villages on the outskirts of Lima.

The central character is Fausta, the reticent daughter of the old woman. She also has a gift for spontaneous singing. When she goes into service for a rich woman, she agrees to receive a pearl from the woman's necklace each time she she sings for her. The film offers a series of glimpses of Fausta – living at her uncle's where her cousin is preparing for a wedding, going to look for coffins for her mother, wanting to earn money to take her mother back to their native village.

Fausta is both fearful and strong, slow but also wise (but not worldly-wise).

Director Claudia Llosa brings a female sensitivity to this portrait of an unusual young woman as well as women's issues. Winner of the Berlinale Golden Bear.

MY ONE AND ONLY

(US, 2009, d. Richard Loncraine. Berlin Competition)

An entertaining comedy-drama about actor George Hamilton when he was 15? Not likely. But, in fact, here it is. A memoir which, when he recounts it to his class about what he did over the summer vacation, his teacher remarks, 'Surely, exaggerated'. He replies, 'if only...'.

According to this tale, Hamilton's father was band leader, Danny Devereaux, who was a one hit wonder with his song, 'My One and Only' (composed for this film). His mother, Ann, was a 'princess' type who did not know what work was, who glided through life and two marriages constantly repeating 'it will all work out for the best'. Tired of her husband's infidelities, she decides to fend for herself and teenage sons – by looking for a wealthy husband to support them! As they say, she certainly knows how to pick them! There is a broke businessman who wants to borrow from her, a bullying anti-Communist military man, an old flame who is a playboy, a rich man who assumes she is available for sex, a gentle salesman who is certifiable!

The family moves from New York to Boston to Pittsburgh (where she is wrongly arrested in a hotel bar for soliciting), to St Louis and her plain and exasperated sister's house, to LA and the movies.

Renee Zellwegger turns on her charm and glamour for this flibbertygibbet wife and hopeless mother. Kevin Bacon has a cameo as her husband.

The film also depends on Logan Lerman as the serious young George who sees through his mother, realises he must also see through his father and who, by accident, helping his would-be, crocheting brother (Mark Rendall) for his screen test, begins his own film career.

A strong cast of men pass through Ann's life: Steven Weber, Chris Noth, Eric McCormack?, David Koecher, Troy Garrity (as a hitchhiker) and Nick Stahl as a sympathetic shy mechanic in Pittsburgh.

The now over-tanned George Hamilton did not turn out quite as serious as the young George in this film - though he executive produced this film. A commendation from the Ecumenical Jury in Berlin, 2009.

NOTORIOUS

(US, 2008, d. George Tillman Jr. Out of Competition)

You need to be a strong rap fan, even familiar with the 1990s history of rap on the US East Coast and the clash with the West Coast and the personalities, Tupac Shakur, and Sean Combs but, especially Chris Wallace who became the Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls Otherwise it is all foreign territory, idiosyncratic music and rhythms, frank and often ugly lyrics which are both streetwise and street foolish.

Though it looks modern with much MTV visual and editing style with a high rap atmosphere, this is really, underneath, an old-fashioned biopic.

It opens with Small's death, uses his voiceover to tell his (short, dead at 24) life, back to Brooklyn, back to his staunch mother (a welcome Angela Bassett), his absent father, his school days and friends as well as ridicule because he was fat. (And in these sequences he is played by Wallace's own son). His adolescent years meant showing he was smart though the butt of teachers, that he dealt drugs and was in police trouble.

It shows his skill at rap lyrics, his growing popularity, concerts, fans, his becoming (literally at the end) too big for his boots. He has tantrums, is promiscuous and neglectful of his daughter.

He is caught up in the East Coast/West Coast contrived row with Tupac Shakur who is also shot to death. Smalls is later wounded but takes a change of musical pace and finds some remorse and peace, as well as a violent death.

The trappings are different and the film has been produced by Sean Combs (who comes out of it smelling like roses) but it is the same story as so many others. Jamal Woolard does a solid impersonation of B.I.G. And, that's it.

PEDRO

(US, 2009, d. Nick Oceano. Berlin Panorama)

Cuban-born Pedro Zamora was an activist in the early 1990s helping to make Americans more conscious about the reality of (and the public phobias and ignorance about ) living with HIV/AIDS. He died in 1994 at the age of 22.

Since the acclaim for Milk, its writer Dustin Lance Black, has received a great deal of attention. He co-wrote this story and wrote the screenplay for Pedro. As with Milk, another gay activist, this story tells the audience from the outset that its central character dies. In the light of this information, the film is able to go back to highlight the last nine months of Pedro's life as well as further flashbacks to his short life.

Alex Loynaz is pleasingly effective as Pedro, showing him as an exuberant young man, a persuasive speaker. He is most effective in the latter part of the film where Pedro is dying from a debilitating brain disease which prevents him from speaking.

Pedro, his parents, a brother and a sister were among 125,000 Cubans permitted to leave Havana in 1981. The family settled in Miami. As a teenager, Pedro became aware of his sexual orientation. He also became infected with the AIDS virus. He was urged to speak to high school students and built a reputation as a strong communicator, being appointed to committees and finally acknowledged by President Clinton. His family supported him, especially his sister Mily who became his alternate mother after his mother, whom he loved dearly, died of cancer. She is warmly played by Justina Machado.

In the last year of his life, Pedro took part in a Reality TV program, sponsored by MTV, who also produced this film. The first half of the film re-enacts many episodes of the show, enabling Pedro to explain to the housemates (one of whom, Puck, is one of the most offensively arrogant characters you are likely to meet) and to the film audience, some of the basics of AIDS and living with AIDS.

The film also re-enacts an informal union and rings ceremony between Pedro and fellow activist, Sean Sasser. As Pedro is dying, the video of the event is played for Pedro's father, brother and sister. And at the end of the film, the actual video of Pedro and his partner is shown as a tribute.

An effective and affecting portrait of a young man who decided to do something positive with his short life.

THE PINK PANTHER 2

(US, 2009, d. Harald Zwart. Out of Competition)

Peter Sellers is Inspector Clouseau forever. Alan Arkin had a fling at the role in the 1960s. This is Steve Martin's second outing. The first did not particularly appeal.

Steve Martin has been re-making classics, re-doing Spencer Tracy as Father of the Bride and re-doing Clifton Webb in updated Cheaper by the Dozen movies. What he does as Inspector Clouseau is not create a character (which Peter Sellers did in The Pink Panther and A Shot in the Dark) but make his presence felt in bumbling pomposity, slapstick and continued mugging (not that Peter Sellers did not mug in the later Pink Panther films),

So, for older fans, Steve Martin could be a liability. For those not so familiar with Peter Sellers, Stave Martin has become Inspector Clouseau.

That said, Pink Panther 2 is a far funnier experience than might have been expected. The sight gags should raise some laughs and there are some witty lines. The cast helps a great deal. John Cleese does his thing as Inspector Dreyfuss and gets more screen time than he has had in more recent times. There are returners from the firs film. Jean Reno plays straight man to Clouseau and Emily Mortimer is the bespectacled librarian in love with Clouseau. The detective dream team is good with Andy Garcia as a suave Italian, Alfred Molina very British and Yuki Matsuzaki very Japanese. Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai arrives as an expert on crime. Clouseau is anything but politically correct concerning women, flirting and harassment and racial respect. So Lily Tomlin has some amusing scenes where she tries to educate Clouseau.

And who should turn up as a suave villain but Jeremy Irons, along with singer Johnny Hallyday?

The animated credits and Henry Mancini's familiar theme are, as always, welcome.

THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE

(US, 2009, d. Rebecca Miller. Berlin Competition)

Rebecca Miller has written and directed some small films, three short stories in Personal Histories and a drama starring her husband, Daniel Day Lewis, The Ballad of Jack and Rose. This film is, again, a small-scale story but it has a top cast beyond expectations.

This is the life of Pippa, born Pippa Sossokian. It is also a star vehicle for Robin Wright Penn as the adult Pippa. She gives a fine, dignified performance in the present. Blake Lively is her young adult self. This is a woman who grew up in a large family with a church minister father and a hysterical mother (Maria Bello) who was on prescription drugs, who idolised her daughter but whose addiction and possessiveness drove her daughter away.

The film opens with the adult Pippa, married for 25 years to her older husband (Alan Arkin), a respected publisher who has had three heart attacks and has been forced to retire. Pippa, a gracious hostess, is finding the isolated life in a retirement village hard to deal with and experiences some depression and strange sleepwalking behaviour. She has a lawyer son and a photographer daughter (in Iraq) who ignores her mother.

After Pippa had run away from home to live with an unconventional aunt and her partner, she mixes with the wrong crown, drugs and promiscuity, until she is rescued by the publisher.

Some final developments are unexpected as is a friendship with a neighbour's son, Chris (Keanu Reeves) (who wanted to be a Jesuit at 17 and now has a Jesus-image tatooed on his torso, which offers a bizarre Christ-figure/Jesus-figure in a sexual scene)

The cast builds up the film beyond its small stature. Winona Ryder plays a friend, Monica Bellucci is the publisher's former wife, Julianne Moore is the aunt's companion and Shirley Knight is the neighbour. Robin Wright Penn is immensely watchable and gives the film its power. Many older women will find it easy to identify with her.

RAGE

(UK, 2009, d. Sally Potter. Berlin Competition)

'It's all the rage', a fashion world slogan at the start of the film, which then deletes 'it's all the' and leaves us with some individual rages, some off-screen industrial protest and some angry mayhem, again off-screen.

It is important to re-iterate 'off-screen' because on screen we have 90 minutes of talking heads. That can only be an endurance for many audiences. Fair enough. And the talk has to be interesting and of some depth. Also fair enough. But it can also be a creative challenge, a concentration effort to listen to the speakers, study their faces and body language. So, for talking heads fans, this is something of a must.

Sally Potter has made idiosyncratic dramas and experiments. Her screenplay for her previous film, Yes, was in verse.

This is low-budget film-making: performer, blue screen, cinematographer (Potter herself), sound engineer, just the three in a photographer's studio. Then, the director has made her options of how to cut the speeches, edit them and the order in which she thinks the pieces will work best dramatically and advance the (off-screen) plot.

Ostensibly, we have seven days (with typed captions per day) where 14 individuals associated with a fashion show confide in a young, unseen photographer, Michelangelo, making a student film and (to the embarrassment of some) putting clips on his website.

As the days progress, there are marketing meetings for a new perfume, M, and the creative antics of the designer, the bosses, a photographer, an intern, a pizza delivery man turned model, some models and, after some murders, a Shakespeare quoting detective.

So, it is the performances which count. The standout is the transvestite model, Minx. Those who don't know it is Jude Law will enjoy the shock of discovery. Those who do will be amazed at the quality of Law's impersonation.

All the performances are effective but Dianne Wiest as the sweet-sounding (but determined) manager, Judi Dench as a caustic critic, Eddie Izzard as a nouveau riche owner, Steve Buscemi as a photographer, Patrick J. Adams as the calculating young intern and Simon Abkarian as Merlin the designer stand out even as the others are very good.

Cinematic? Very much, not... But cinematic in a different, focused style with emphasis on language, vocal and bodily.

RICKY

(France, 2009, d. Francois Ozon. Berlin Competition)

Wasn't there a popular aviation movie 70 years ago, Only Angels Have Wings? Francois Ozon's variation on this theme, babies can have wings, is open-ended. Baby Ricky must be the cutest, strange little screen creature since ET!

Ozon has 'freely adapted' a short story by Rose Tremain (Restoration), 'Moth'. It has the audience laughing in disbelief, gasping with some delight and, ultimately, asking, 'what really happened?'.

A pre-credits prologue has a long, close-up interview with Katie (a fine performance from Alexandra Lamy), a distraught mother of two, whose Spanish husband has abandoned them and who now tearfully pleads with the social worker because she cannot cope and needs to foster the baby child who cries a lot

We then are taken back three months but this does not quite add up and Ozon has made a number of time lapses (Katie's new pregnancy and seemingly sudden birth, her quick falling out with the Spanish, Paco (Sergi Lopez)).

During the first half of the film, we have entered French social realism territory (with an overt nod by Ozon to the films of the Belgian Dardenne Brothers), council flats, single mothers, detailed factory work (bottling poisonous materials), affair with a charming Spaniard at the factory, birth. So far, so normal (or not).

Then, off we go to fantasy land with baby Ricky and his emerging wings. There are absurd touches as mother and daughter, Lisa ( Melusine Mayance as an intelligent 7 year-old), help Ricky and conceal his secret. The doctors are serious and the media becomes seriously intrusive. A spectacle unfolds in the Christmas-decorated supermarket and cooing Ricky takes to the air.

The film becomes more and more fantastical (which is not Ozon's forte) and we are given time enough to wonder about Ricky's angelic nature and his mother's sublime happiness.

Then, the final credits. We come down to earth. Who has been dreaming, Katie and/or Lisa?

So, a brief, sad, cute, social realist fantasy.

RUCKENWIND (LIGHT GRADIENT)

(Germany, 2009, d. Berlin Panorama)

A brief, sometimes lyrical, tale of two young men on a cycling trip into a forest. While much of the narrative is filmed in realistic style, much of it is poetic, lingering on leaves, trees, water, light in pretty, even beautiful compositions.

Director, cast and crew went for two weeks into an autumn forest, improvising, letting the cast imagine what could happen in these circumstances. The two young men react off each other then, when lost, come upon an isolated farm, the mother who runs it, genial, and her adolescent son, initially hostile.

Some episodes ring true, others seem contrived.

The main contrivance is a fable at the beginning and end about the possible friendship between a fox and a rabbit – open for interpretation or symbolism – and an 18th century legend about a lost count.

The two young men are in a relationship but this is shown more naturalistically than pruriently.


Created by: malone last modification: Saturday 13 of November, 2010 [22:53:18 UTC] by malone


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