SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS BERLINALE 2011
ALMANYA – WILKOMMEN IN DEUTSCHLAND (WELCOME TO GERMANY)
CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS
COME RAIN, COME SHINE
DEVIL’S DOUBLE, The
FEMMES DU 6IEME ETAGE (WOMEN OF THE SIXTH FLOOR/ SERVICE ENTRANCE)
FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD, The
GRIFF THE INVISIBLE
IF NOT US, WHO
MEIN BESTE FEIND (MY BEST ENEMY)
MUNDO MISTERIOSO, Un (A MYSTERIOUS WORLD)
NADER AND SIMIN, SEPARATION
OUR GRAND DESPAIR
PREMIO, El (THE PRIZE)
SCHLAFKRANKENHEIT (SLEEPING SICKNESS)
TAMBIEN LA LLUVIAE (EVEN THE RAIN)
TROPA DE ELITE 2 (ELITE SQUAD 2)
WIND AND FOG
YELLING TO THE SKY
ALMANYA – WILLKOMMEN IN DEUTSCHLAND
(Germany, 2011, d. Yasemin Sanderelli) (COMPETITION)
With many ultra-nationalist movements arising in modern Western Europe, here is a pleasing rejoinder that blends serious issues with a comic and light touch.
The issue is that of the Turkish presence in Germany, the descendents of the Turkish guest-workers who were encouraged to migrate and augment the workforce in the 1960s. How hearty now is the Welcome to Germany?
While the story starts in the present, with the grandfather and grandmother who migrated in the 1960s and 1970s (he, by courteously stepping back for another migrant in a queue to become the millionth and first worker entering) wanting to become naturalised (he no, she yes), we are taken back to those early days in Turkey. The story is being told by one of the granddaughters to her little cousin who has been bullied at school. The teacher has asked the Turkish children where they came from. He is from Anatolia but the teacher’s map ends with Istanbul – but this is righted at the end!
We are shown the courtship of the young couple in the village, the marriage, his work in Germany and the correspondence, the children and their growing up, the transition to Germany. They are some funny scenes as mother and children go into their new apartment and draw all kinds of conclusions about German cleanliness, lack thereof, and other problems. There is also a funny scene when the old man has a dream before his citizenship ceremony where the busy official asks whether he and his wife will be good Germans who eat pork regularly and go to Majorca for holidays every two years.
At a family gathering in the present, the old man announces he has bought a house in Turkey and everyone is to go there for their holidays. So, much of the latter part of the film is the rediscovery of Turkey, the combining of the love of the country of origin with the love of the country of adoption.
(Argentina, 2011, d. Marco Berger) (FORUM)
The title comes from roll-call, Present and Absent. The setting is a secondary school. The issue is sexual desire and attraction, seduction and boundaries and the consequences of crossing boundaries.
The film is brief, small-budget, the work of writer director, Marco Berger who has also edited the film (which is generally darkly photographed and has a sometimes disconcerting score). Berger has said that he admires Hitchcock thrillers, especially Psycho, where a central character dies and is absent from the rest of the film.
The theme is controversial. How calculating can a 16 year old boy be as he discovers his sexual orientation and connives and contrives to place a teacher in a situation that has a plausible prima facie innocence? And how does a teacher who knows the ethical boundaries deal with such a calculated situation?
The treatment is frank but generally restrained which makes the film an interesting case study.
CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS
(US, 2011, d. Werner Herzog) (SPECIAL SCREENING)
Cave of Forgotten Dreams is an evocative title for any film. It reminds us that we are people of imagination, stories and images lurking just below the surface of our consciousness or buried much deeper, coming to light unexpectedly. They can be both creative and destructive. Philosophers like Plato speculated on reality and images through images on a cave wall.
German director Werner Herzog (resident in the United States for some time) has been a film-maker who has explored many a forgotten dream in an almost five decades career of offbeat film-making. He recreated the angry, passionate dreams of the conquistador, Aguirre the Wrath of God. He filmed the ambitious dream of a latterday artistic conquistador who wants to build an opera house but has to haul a boat over South American mountains, Fitzcarraldo. Dreams are Herzog’s staple.
For some time, he has been making documentaries and this is his latest. Even his documentary choices have been maverick: Kuwaiti oil fields aflame (Lessons of Darkness), the death of a couple who lived amongst grizzlies in Alaska (Grizzly Man), his visit to Antarctica (Encounters at the End of the World) and many more. Then he surprises everyone by making American films, even police thrillers, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done and the remake of Bad Lieutenant.
This time he is far more straightforward (at least until the final twenty minutes), filming a solidly interesting documentary about the primeval paintings discovered in the French caves in the valley of the Ardeche in 1994. The Chauvet Pont- d’Arc Cave (named after one of the discoverers), is a vast cave, blocked at its entrance thousands of years ago, preserving the art and many fossilised bones. Carbon dating indicates that they are more than 30,000 years old. The film was made in collaboration with History Films.
The paintings exhibit some sophistication: walls scraped for better surfaces for the art, etching as well as incising around some of the figures.
It is Herzog himself who speaks the narration. On the whole, it is surprisingly objective most of the time, a tone of respect and wonder and straightforward communication of information and what it was like for him and his crew to be allowed into the caves and the methods and difficulties of filming (especially the light).
Since the preservation of the art work is important - and there are dangers (as has happened in other caves) of deterioration because of atmospheric effects (and tourist breathing) - it means that the caves are quite off limits except to scientists, palaeontologists and other specialists. Herzog received a privileged permit in being allowed access to film. With the limits of a crew of four and with small cameras, he has captured the majesty and beauty of the caverns, the great stalactites and stalagmites, and offers his audience ample opportunity to contemplate the long-trapped paintings.
There are a great number of interviews to explain the history raising and all kinds of scientific questions. After 90 minutes, we have a fairly good grasp of the caves and their treasures, even though we would not pass an immediate exam after the film.
It is said that there are thirteen different species of animals, principally horses, on the walls of the caves. While most of the interviews attempt to give informed data about the caves and paintings (with references to other parallel paintings like those of Australian aborigines), there are some locals and eccentrics who offer some Herzog-like interpretations and speculations.
The film has been shot in 3D processes. While this does not make a great deal of difference in the early part of the film (except for shots of the crags and ravines in the magnificent remote landscapes), it comes into its own in the latter part where Herzog simply photographs the paintings, roving over them, meandering, just as we might gaze at them, focusing on one, turning our gaze to another and then repeating our looking with moments of contemplation.
But, just before the end Herzog goes into Herzog mode, trying for some mystical and transcendental meanings (not a bad thing in itself). At best Herzog’s reflections are evocative, suggesting that we think into the lives of the painters and what this artistic output meant to them. He wonder what these discoveries and investigations could mean for us as we think about human nature, its development and capacity for survival over millennia. Herzog has always been eclectic so many of his comments are random and idiosyncratic. Sometimes they are more than slightly oddball as he expresses them (albino crocodiles and other symbols included). But, maybe, as we have time to meditate before the paintings, our own imaginings and thoughts might be poetic and oddball about these ancient painters and their lives.
Herzog suggests, in a playfully serious voice, that these images are ‘proto-cinema’.
We can certainly be grateful for this cinematic service in Herzog’s revealing the caves and the art to us.
COME RAIN, COME SHINE
(Korea, 2011, d. Lee Yoon-ki) (COMPETITION)
Plenty of rain, not much evidence of shine.
After a single ten-minute take with he and she driving to the airport, engaged in casual domestic conversation, she quietly tells him that she is moving out with another man. The film then slows right down to fifty minutes of her packing, wandering their house, remembering details, some slight interactions, giving us more than ample time to be interested (or not) and decide whom we should like/dislike. It is pouring outside.
Then a little cat falls through a grate. They rescue it. It scratches the husband and his wife tends to it. The chatty neighbours who are looking for the cat, arrive, talk, compare notes, turn on the TV for the weather, devise ways of enticing the cat out and, finally, leave. He prepares a pasta meal, she a salad. He goes upstairs to wash his eyes after cutting up onions. The cat returns, eats fish from a tin, and she looks at it.
The cat symbolises the woman and her behaviour, scratching the man, returning and being at home. Come shine.
(UK, 2011, d. Ralph Fiennes) (COMPETITION)
The name is not readily on the tip of the tongue, not even for many Shakespeare buffs. The plot is not well-known. Julius Caesar, yes. Even Titus Andronicus for many. But, Coriolanus?
Ralph Fiennes has performed the role on stage and has not only starred in this cinema adaptation (adeptly abbreviated by John Logan from Shakespeare’ long text) but producing and directing. Fiennes shows a sure hand in direction and, of course, brings Coriolanus to vivid life himself.
As with Ian Mc Kellen as Richard III in the 1990s, Coriolanus is brought into the present, echoing most forcibly the Balkan wars of the 1990s. And, filming was done in Serbia and Montenegro, with Belgrade itself standing in for Rome. Strong stuff.
One of the best features of the film is the manner of reciting Shakespearean verse or, rather, speaking it with rhythms that are close to ordinary speech, making the lines comprehensible and dramatically effective. Only at a few key points does Coriolanus declaim and it is appropriate. This is a non-declamatory film, the cast using a tone that is far from less than loud – and all the more persuasive.
While this is true of Ralph Fiennes himself, it is true of Vanessa Redgrave’s fine performance as Volumnia, Coriolanus’ proud, even militaristic mother, a possessive, ambitious and warlike woman whose love for her son is sometimes alarmingly intense but is the key to the resolution of Coriolanus’ crisis of pride and revenge against the Rome that disowned him.
Brian Cox is effective as Coriolanus’ mentor, Senator Menenius. Gerard Butler seems somewhat stolid as the leader of the Volsci, Aufidius. The other impressive members of the cast are Paul Jesson and James Nesbitt (Northern Ireland accent and all – to Gerard Butler’s Scot’s tones) as the powerful tribunes that engineered the ousting of Coriolanus.
There are some savage battle sequences (tanks and explosions) and some hand to hand fighting between Aufidius and Coriolanus. Shakespeare’s tragedies and histories all have bloody moments and Coriolanus is no exception, although they fit well here.
A key factor in Fiennes’ interpretation is the role of protests (the film screening in Berlin only days after the ousting of President Mubarak by protesting and demonstrating Egyptians). Some protestors are genuine. Some are rabble rousers. Some are vicious. And all show that they can be manipulated by the politically shrewd (be they protestors or politicians).
And the media. Coriolanus is no charismatic television personality. He certainly does not play to the crowd or the media gallery (rather against it). In a reality TV parallel, he is quickly voted out by the public and made to leave Rome.
Shakespeare’s focus is on the state and order in the state, hubris and its consequences, leading to a personal revenge. As in Shakespeare’s other plays, order in the state is restored but at a cost.
(Korea, 2011, d. Jyon Ku-hwan) (PANORAMA)
Dance Town sounds far too chirpy a title for such a sad, almost despairing film.
We do not usually see many films with a North Korean setting. While Dance Town opens with vistas of Seoul but also shows a middle-aged woman being sick on a bridge, most of the film is flashback. The woman, a former table tennis champion. divorced from a cheating husband, now happily re-married, lives in a suburb or Pyongyang. Her husband goes on business trips to the south and brings home illegal cosmetics and DVDs. He does errands for unknown sources. But, she is soon advised by her husband to escape to the south.
The film is about the plight of refugees from the north, some initial suspicions on the part of officials and interrogations and continued surveillance and phone tapping. There is a welcome from government, social and religious (US Protestant) groups. She is able to share experiences with other refugees but she is basically lonely, anxious about her husband in the north. She is also exploited and abused by an envious policeman.
There are some sub-plots concerning social workers, Methodist missionaries and a schoolgirl who takes abortofacient pills.
Downbeat even to the end, serving as a sad reminder that the aftermath of escape can be highly traumatic.
THE DEVIL'S DOUBLE
(Belgium, 2011, d. Lee Tamahori) (PANORAMA)
Maybe you remember those stories about the dissolute sons of Saddam Hussain. They were rife in the 1990s and re-invigorated at the time of the invasion. Maybe you remember the headlines only but none of the details. That is where this drama comes in. Plenty of details.
With a great deal of news footage of the Iraq- Iran war during the credits, this film anchors its portrait of Uday Saddam Hussain in the historical realities. It also spends some time on the rivalry between Kuwait and Iraq and Iraq's anger at Kuwait and its oil dealings and separation from Iraq. However, with the death of Uday during the early part of the 2003 invasion, the politics of later Iraq are not to the fore.
The film is based on the actual experience of Latif (who, in fact, attended the premiere of the film at the Berlinale). He was at school with Uday and many had noticed the resemblances. After serving in Iran, he was summoned to the palace to be threatened by Uday that he was to become his brother and serve as his double. Saddam Hussain also had his doubles (playing tennis with one of them in a bizarre sequence). Latif is repelled by the completely capricious self-indulgence of Uday (of which we are shown many examples). While Saddam Hussain may have unified Iraq, he allowed a decadent upper class to flourish and a regime that held little respect for accountability (irrespective of weapons of mass destruction).
What makes this film not only interesting (sometimes in a prurient kind of way as we are fascinated by Uday's psychopathic sexuality and violence - his treatment of a 14 year old schoolgirl and of a bride on her wedding day appal us, and Latif), is the presence of British actor, Dominic Cooper. His seriousness as Latif, undergoing the transformation at great personal cost, his attempts at mimicking Uday, especially for morale-boosting at Basra, his conscience, make Latif an admirable character. But Cooper also performs as Uday, squeaky voice, gap-toothed, vain, selfish, deluded, a fascinating monster, and makes him completely credible, especially as the two characters spend a lot of time on screen together.. It is a great tour de force.
The production values are quite lavish. Ludivine Sagnier appears as an ambiguous woman in both men's lives. Philip Quast is Saddam himself.
Uday is a completely repellent character but the film certainly makes you think.
LES FEMMES DY SIXIEME ETAGE (THE WOMEN OF THE SIXTH FLOOR/ SERVICE ENTRANCE)
(France, 2011, d. Philippe Le Guay) (COMPETITION)
National and cultural identity is a concern in 21st century Europe. Who are all these migrants? Where do they come from? What are they doing here? Is it just economic migration? Does it threaten the national culture? According to this entertaining comedy, the questions have been round for a long time. In fact, in France, 1962, there was a huge influx of Spanish maids.
This comedy (like Almanya – Welcome to Germany, concerning Turks and Germans) is an entertaining and often telling way to make a point about migrants and their being welcomed or not and their trying to live within a different culture.
Fabrice Luchini tends to take serious roles, often villains in historical pieces. Here he is effective as a comedian, but mainly in his reactions to what is going on around him, often a performance of double takes. He is a financial adviser who has lived in his apartment all his life, inheriting his company from his father. He has an ambitious socialite wife (Sandrine Kiberlain) and two insufferable young sons. He has a maid who has worked for 25 years with the family. When she leaves, his wife takes her friends’ advice to employ a Spanish maid, Maria (Natalia Verbeke) and you know the scene is set for his loosening up, even falling in love, his becoming more Spanish as he gets to know all the Spanish maids who live on his top floor, and his wife getting her comeuppance.
It is generally bright and breezy, the group of older maids (moving out of Franco’s Spain, so providing a subtext for the film) are a lively and devout lot and Maria, of course, has a secret. While it does work out, on the whole, as we might expect, it is the funny moments, the sentimental moments (and the satirical moments at the expense of gossiping Parisian women) that carry it along as an entertainment and as a film with a cultural message,
THE FORGIVENESS OF BLOOD
(Albania, 2011, d. Joshua Marston) (COMPETITION)
It is not often that we see an Albanian film. It is not often that we see films about Albania. It was one of the most cut off countries of Communist Eastern Europe, so it is intriguing to wonder how Albania has adapted to the fall of Communism and the changes of the 21st century. This film gives quite an effective opportunity to experience something of life in that country.
What makes it more interesting is that it is the work of an outsider. Writer director, Joshua Marston, is an American. While he has directed quite a number of episodes for television, he has not made many feature films. His claim to fame is Maria, Full of Grace, the 2002 Oscar nominee, about a young girl recruited as a drug mule from Colombia to the US. Marston has an eye for unusual stories outside America. He visited Albania a number of times once he had read articles about the continuation of blood feuds into the present. He enlisted the help of Andamion Murataj, an Albanian American, to travel through the country, translate and, finally, to collaborate on the screenplay (which is in the Albanian language).
We are introduced to a family which ekes out a living by farming and for selling milk and other goods around the village. There have been disputes about the ownership of the land where the family works. What develops is a violent fight and death for which the father is blamed and, according to tradition, becomes the target of a feud along with his family. The father goes into exile, coming back home infrequently in the dead of night. The mother manages with the smaller children, but the son who is in his final year in high school (a 21st century feel about the school with the students, their attitudes, clothes, mobile phones, flirtations), is confined to home. So is his little brother – the teacher comes from the school for some home education.
The feud traditions come from oral lore from the later Middle Ages and are interpreted with some forcefulness (with some professional brokers in the town making money out of the situations). The teenage son wants to break out and wants mediation. Eventually, he is given leave to come out but the ‘offended’ family resents this and so he offers to sacrifice himself for the family and go into exile. This contrasts with his younger teenage sister who has to carry on the sales in the village and comes into her own with responsibilities, even to the selling of their horse.
With persuasive local actors, Marston has created an interesting story with strong character interactions and a critique of what is a cruel tradition, the blood feud.
(US, 2011, d. Miranda July) (COMPETITION)
While artist Miranda July received quite some acclaim for her idiosyncratic first film, Me, You and Everyone We Know, some thought it a little fey. More so this one.
Hamish Linklatter and Miranda July are Jason and Sophie, a couple who have been together for four years. They are 35 – and wondering about the future. He works from home with calls for computer help. She is a dance teacher. They just carry on – until they decide on a project, to adopt an injured cat and help it recover. Actually, the cat has already entered the film with its own comments about its life, the dark, about Jason and Sophie. (Paw Paw is the cat’s name, and is scratchily voiced by Miranda July.)
Well, it doesn’t quite work out that way. The cat makes its own comments...
When they give up their jobs, Jason becomes environmentally concerned and sells trees. Sophie, unpredictable, takes up with the father of a young girl. What will happen? Perhaps the audience is not as concerned as all that to wonder for too long. The film then enters the realm of fantasy, Jason having the power to stop time, Sophie imagining (or really living her affair and leaving it), and Jason getting advice from the moon which, since it governs tides and seasons, ought to be able to deal with human fate! So, there we are, sometimes real, sometimes fey, sometimes twee.
GRIFF THE INVISIBLE
(Australia, 2010, d. Leon Ford) (GENERATION AND PANORAMA)
More than a touch of whimsy in this inner Sydney fantasy.
If Bruce Wayne can become Batman and The Green Hornet can send up this idea of an ordinary citizen (though they are both ultra-rich) becoming a superhero at night, cleansing a city of crime, then I suppose that Griff can dream about it even if he does not succeed at it.
Griff is a simple soul who lives quietly at home – except that he has developed some surveillance cameras and screens and looks out on the dark city streets to see what criminals are lurking and goes out to do battle with him. Not all those rescued appreciate it and they report him to the police who are on the lookout for a vigilante.
In the meantime, Griff has a desk job, is bullied and imposed on by one of his co-workers, the girls in the office laugh at him and the boss is losing his patience. So is his brother, who has come over from Adelaide, and has protected him all his life.
But, when his brother meets a charming but seemingly light-headed young girl, Melody, who is a firm believer in science (and how matter can be formatted and manipulated), she falls for Griff instead. Griff finds that it is her father who runs the store where he buys stuff to make invisible suits and the like.
So, what is reality and what is not? Melody is a firm believer in other dimensions, so she is prepared not to see Griff in his invisible suit while others can see him plainly. For a while, Griff becomes ‘normal’, but this is the kind of film where it is best to leave Griff to his imaginary life.
Ryan Kwanten (star of TV’s True Blood and of Red Hil) is nicely fey as Griff. Maeve Dermody is a very likeable Melody.
A younger audience may enjoy it and make allowances for Griff. An older audience might not be so tolerant.
(Ireland, 2011. d. John Michael Mc Donagh) (PANORAMA)
A good opportunity for Brendan Gleeson to strut his stuff. And that is what he does as Gerry Boyle, a member of the Garda in Connemara. He is really a small fish in a small pond. But that does not take away anything from his sense of duty, his pride in his uniform, his shrewdness in administering the law. But, he is not pompous, though he does have a bit of a superiority complex.
Life is ordinary for him. While he lives alone, he cares for his mother (a salty-tongued performance from Fionnulla Flanagan), ribs his new assistant from Dublin, is cheeky to his superior officers, is not against visiting prostitutes in Galway from whom he catches a sexually transmitted disease. When he discovers a corpse and connects it with a drug running gang, he sets to work, especially when his assistant disappears.
But, the FBI has been called in in the form of Don Cheadle. He is the ultra-serious, suited agent who lacks a sense of humour, which puts him at odds with Gerry Boyle. Gerry, of course, takes pride in taking the mickey out of the Yank.
The trouble for the FBI agent is that, concerning the drug delivery, he is wrong and Gerry is right.
Writer-director John Michael Mc Donagh (who wrote the screenplay for the 2002 Ned Kelly) says that Gerry Boyle is a figure out of the Westerns. And this how the showdown occurs, even though it is at night on a pier on the coast, Gerry confidently striding out like every screen sheriff, guns blazing, bullets missing him, confronting the villains and sending them off to the next world. The FBI agent is his back-up.
While the idea of Gerry as a Western sheriff is entertaining, it is the dialogue and the humour that make The Guard entertaining. Naturally, there is a lot of swearing (seems an Irish custom) but there is a great deal of wit and deadpan humour which makes it quite an enjoyable portrait of a 21st century Irish garda.
IF NOT US, WHO (WER WENN NICHT WIR)
(Germany, 2011, d. Andres Veiel) (COMPETITION)
The title could also be translated idiomatically like the song title, 'Who else but us...?'
Made for a German audience which remembers or knows about the movements of the 1960s, it also has a narrative for audiences beyond Germany.
It could be watched as a piece of history without much detailed knowledge of the period and the personalities involved. The screenplay, focusing on author and publisher, Bernward Vesper and his relationship with student then revolutionary, Gudrun Ensslin, especially after she teamed up with Andreas Baader, offers a study of their development and the background to their stances. Knowledge, however, of the real life characters and having some background before seeing the film makes it more relevant to continuing world politics. (And, watching the 2008 Baader Meinhof Complex offers different angles on situations and characters, especially comparing Moritz Bleibtreu's portrayal of Baader with that of Alexander Frehling's here.)
One of the theses of this film is that the generation of Germans born prior to World War II or in its early years, carried an enormous psychological burden which could be either acknowledged or repressed. Vesper's father wrote for Hitler and expressed anti-Semitic statements after the war. Gudrun Ensslin's pastor father fought in the war though he did not approve.
This legacy made its mark as the 1960s progressed, after the stability in West Germany with Adenauer and Erhard. But, 1961 brought the Berlin Wall, the succeeding years brought the Cuban missile crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy and escalation of the war in Vietnam.
As groups of students and young adults became more socially conscious and active in Paris, in Prague, in the anti-war protests in the US, Germans dissatisfied with what they saw as complacency and labelled 'fascism', set them up to be more daring and reckless. The danger was that ideology became a passionate crusade that blinded the true believers' to the human and inhuman consequences of their rigid commitment to mission.
Bernward Vesper published political tracts and essays (and Stokely Carmichael's incendiary speeches, one of which is re-enacted here) and wrote rather than turn to violence. Gudrun Ensslin, on the other hand, had an almost savage personality and, despite giving birth and experiencing maternal tenderness, gave in to self-sacrificing brutal activism. August Diehl and Lena Lauzemis give rounded performances as Vesper and Ensslin. Andreas Baader was a conceited conquistador who was at home with disruption in the name of his chosen cause, no holds barred.
That was the 1960s. These principal protagonists killed themselves. The pendulum swings and history has its ups and downs - as it does almost half a century later.
(Israel, 2011, d. Michal Aviad) (PANORAMA)
A film for justice. Although the focus of this film is on crimes of rape, the effect on victims and the processes of law, it opens with sequences of Palestinians picking olives in the groves along with left-wing Israeli protesters, then an attack on the workers by Israeli militia – it is all being filmed by Israeli film-makers.
Nira, the director (Evgenia Dodina), recognises one of the protesters as Lily (Ronit Elkabetz), a fellow victim 20 years earlier of a serial criminal nicknamed the Polite Rapist by police and media because of his manner and his talking to his victims during their ordeals.
Lily finds Nira’s approaches intrusive but realises that she can no longer repress the memories. They have affected her relationship with her husband and her adult children who feel alienated by her. Nira is more settled with her husband and young daughter.
The film shows the growing friendship between the two women, their tracking down documents about the cases, finding the rapist has been released after ten years of a thirty year sentence and judged to be no longer a threat to the public by a psychiatrist and a magistrate. The women gather testimonies from other victims and plan to make a film.
While the issue is a burning one, the treatment here is that of measured passion, ending with dismaying statistics about the incidence of rape worldwide. Ecumenical prizewinner in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival.
(Belgium, 2011, d. Julie Gavras) (SPECIAL SCREENING)
An unfortunate title despite the references to flowers and plants because many of us, including the stars of the film, come from the day when people wore those rather voluminous undergarments. Actually, that’s the kind of joke that would be at home in this rather old-fashioned comedy.
Old is the operative word.
Mary (Isabella Rosselini resembling her mother, Ingrid Bergman, even more than before) is approaching the big 6-0. She has memory lapses, is physically out of condition and starts to buy house phones and baths with handles, anticipating old age. Her successful architect husband, Adam (William Hurt) is commissioned to design state of the art future homes for elderly residents. He is annoyed and refuses to acknowledge Mary’s fads but decides to work with a young group of architects designing a modern museum (airports of the 1980s were his former specialty). He even affects a leather jacket to work with them.
Adam and Mary have three adult children who decide to do something about all this, especially as they see their parents drifting apart.
Also around are Doreen Mantle, excellent as Mary’s elegant but wisecracking mother, Simon Callow as Adam’s trendy boss though replete with artificial knee and hip, pacemaker, hearing aids..., and Joanna Lumley as an activist charity benefactor with her squad of militant ageing ‘grey leopards’.
Quite contrived, dialogue often clunky and a lot of it rather silly. But, probably those at the big 6-0 plus or minus may well enjoy it, trying to avoid seeing it as a mirror – as might their 30 something children who will recognise plenty of the images up there on the screen.
(US, 2011, d. J.C. Chandor) (COMPETITION)
Most people were astounded by the revelations of financial mismanagement in US banks and companies during 2008. World finance experienced meltdown. Banks and their representatives bore the brunt of criticism and the benefits of government bailouts. Bankers, in the face of criticism, still awarded themselves huge bonuses over and above their seemingly excessive salaries and benefits. Capitalism running rampant was a demolition ideology.
Oliver Stone took audiences back to Wall Street and Gordon Gecko told us that greed was now not only good but legal.
Here were have two critical days in 2008 where a company overextending itself completely and officials not heeding risk management advice, approach disaster. The day begins with extensive sackings on a particular floor of a Wall Street building. They include the expert who is on the way to discovering the truth. He is played by Stanley Tucci, which gives the film a firm foundation to build on.
On the floor are two eager young men, Penn Badgely preoccupied with salary size and bonuses, and Zachary Quinto, skilful but with some humanity. The latter is given the risk file and asked to complete the task.
Most of the action takes place over night, with a top cast bringing personalities to life and building up the drama: Kevin Spacey as the floor manager with 34 years of loyalty to the firm; Paul Bettany as a successful self-centred, somewhat cynical salesman; Demi Moore as a self-satisfied adviser and Simon Baker, underestimated because he looks younger than he ought, a ruthless intermediary.
And there is Jeremy irons as the chief executive, shrewdly manipulating his staff and at ease chairing meetings (Rupert Murdoch comes to mind) and proposing radical action that has little regard for people or their lives.
Written and directed by J.C.Chandor, this is a timely look inside a company, simplified enough for most to understand, and powerful enough to prove that greed is not only good and legal, but flourishing.
MEIN BESTER FEIND (MY BEST ENEMY)
(Germany, 2011, d. Wolfgang Murnberger) (COMPETITION)
Audiences may be expecting a serious look at the Third Reich and anti-Semitism. Well, it is but better to suggest first, Jack Higgins, The Eagle Has Landed and those entertaining adventures and action novels which dramatise what might have been.
This one has at its centre a Michelangelo sketch of Moses stolen from the Vatican in the 16th century and now in possession of a Jewish gallery owner in Vienna. It is 1938. The SS arrive to confiscate the sketch and send the family to the concentration camps. As the war goes on, the ideas is to strengthen the axis alliance with Mussolini, to consolidate the agreement with the gift to Italy of the sketch.
But, their copy is a copy, a fake, and the Italian delegation for protocols walks out. Only a short time to recover the sketch! The Kaufman family has been interned. The son of the Kaufman’s maid who grew up as part of the family is now proving himself as an SS officer, complicit in the confiscation and the imprisonment of the family. He is commissioned to find the Kaufman son and get the sketch in time for Hitler’s meeting with Mussolini.
There are some good twists half way through as the tables are turned with Rudi, the SS friend, and Viktor the internee, in control. There is some Chaplinesque mockery of the Third Reich. And there is quite a nice twist at the end with a Hitchcockian Mctext Guffin suitcase (which many will see coming, though it is entertaining nonetheless).
An entertaining show rather than history. Moritz Bleibtreu stars as Viktor. Georg Friedrich is Rudi and Marthe Keller has a good role as Viktor’s mother. The (mainly paying) audience at the Friedrichstadt Palast screening not only applauded but cheered vigorously at the table-turning at the end.
UN MUNDO MISTERIOSO (A MYSTERIOUS LIFE)
(Argentina, 2011. D. Rodrigo Morena) (COMPETITION)
Not too much a mysterious life, really. Boris is what the US calls a ‘slacker’ – although he is a more enterprising and slightly more interesting than his American counterparts. He is an Argentinian.
No evident work, little evident source of income, long scenes with his girlfriend wanting time out and his lack of comprehension. He stays in a hotel, reads best-sellers, buys a Romanian car. It runs out of petrol in the countryside. He meets friends in a book shop, goes to a party (a rather long sequence though there is a funny game of naming celebrities and adding another name to continue the series – the Tom and Jerry, Lewis, Carroll, kind of thing), meets a girl, goes to Uruguay, returns and meets up with his girlfriend again.
Since he is Argentinian, this is a sometimes languid, occasionally active glimpse of a so far fairly meaningless life. Not much mystery.
NADER AND SIMIN: A SEPARATION
(Iran, 2011, d. Asghar Farhadi) (COMPETITION)
Winner of the Golden Bear, Berlin 2011, and winner of the Ecumenical Award. Iranian cinema at its best.
Iranian films have a strong tradition of showing children’s issues and this film has a substantial amount of this. But, it is a drama that focuses on adults, their qualities and flaws, their planned and unplanned behaviour and the consequences they never imagined.
Tehran has an affluent middle class as well as a working class who see the wealthy people as privileged, as ‘royalty’, and as benefitting from life and they law in ways the poor could never expect.
The film opens and closes with Nader and Simin arguing their case before a judge. She wants a divorce, to have custody of her 11 year old daughter and to leave the country for a better life. He does not want a divorce, does not want to leave Iran and is dedicated to caring for his father who suffers from Alzheimers. At the end, they are back before the judge, but their daughter has to make a decision as to which parent she wishes to live with.
In the meantime, a broader drama, a drama of ethical arguments and more behaviour and decisions is played out with quite some complexity. In itself it is rather simple issue. Nader is upset with Rasieh, a poorer middle-aged woman who does the housework. A sum of money is missing and Nader believes Rasieh took it. Rasieh also goes to visit a gynocologist and binds Nader’s father to his bed, but the restless father falls to the floor. The angry Nader ousts Rasieh, shoving her out along with her little daughter. Rasieh has a miscarriage and her unemployed, hot-tempered husband sues. The charge is murder.
The complications are very interesting indeed and mean that each character, even the children, is faced with telling the truth or lying. The final resolution revolves around religious principle and honesty as Rasieh is asked to testify on the Quran.
This is a fine production in every aspect – the ensemble of the cast winning the acting awards in Berlin as well.
(Israel, 2011, d. Jonathan Sagall) (COMPETITION)
An Israeli story of two Palestinian women. The action shifts from the present in London to the past in Palestine in the late 1980s (Lethal Weapon is screening.) We shift from the memories of Lara to those of Inam, finally realising that we have to be alert as to what is being truly remembered and what is being imagined.
Lara has settled into a life in London with a caring but unfaithful husband. She has a son. Inam suddenly turns up and intrudes as well as making herself at home at Lara's. It is clear that she is not welcome, though Lara's attitudes seem ambiguous - resolved rather more clearly in the final minutes of the film which makes a great deal of sense of what we have seen and might have puzzled over.
In the flashbacks, Lara is a quiet, heavy set girl, best friend of the ultra-outgoing Inam, a girl who easily gets herself into trouble with boys and with Israeli soldiers. Claire Khoury and are persuasive as the older women and the two younger actresses more than resemble the older versions of their characters.
Much may not seem so consequential while on screen, but gives rise to reflections afterwards.
OUR GRAND DESPAIR
(Turkey, 2011, d. Seyfi Teoman) (COMPETITION)
A rather grand name for what is essentially a small drama, neither grand, nor a matter of despair.
When a Turkish man from Germany is injured in an accident where his parents have been killed, he arranges with his two friends from school days that they take in his sister, a university student, and take care of her. They do. At first, it is something of an imposition but each of the friends takes to the young woman, one a more practical type, the other something of an intellectual.
In the meantime, the girl has a life of her own, a relationship, a pregnancy and the issue of abortion.
The focus, however, is on the two friends although there are a few other characters who come in and out of the story. The two men have a strong liking for each other, are very attached, do so many things together, have a domestic arrangement like a long-married couple. Whether the film has a sub-text about male-male relationships beyond friendship or is presenting bonding in a Turkish style, it is hard not to think of Western film-makers and their more explicit examination of male relationships.
The setting is Ankara, an interesting opportunity to see something of Turkey’s capital.
(Germany, 2011. D. Wim Wenders) (SPECIAL SCREENING)
This is a film 'For Pina Bausch', the German choreographer, 1940-2009.
Director Wim Wenders had planned a film with her and about her and her dance theatre but she unexpectedly died in 2009. Although she appears in some archival footage, this film is about her work and her legacy.
It has been filmed in 3D, giving extraordinary depth to many of the dance excerpts. Wenders shows how 3D can be used effectively in documentary films (as has Werner Herzog in his documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, exploring the art work in the caves in the Ardeche in France.)
This film is probably destined to be the visual equivalent of a text book for all dance schools and dance students. It shows the range of dance beyond traditional ballet or performing as white swans or black swans. The dancers rely on a sense of acting, on mime, on body language, on gymnastic techniques as well as a sense of poise, balance and creative movement.
It is all here in this film, excerpts from the Bausch choreography of The Rites of Spring and Cafe Muller as well as some brilliant and amusing contributions by individual dancers to jazz and to contemporary music.
The interviews with the dancers are arrestingly done, even if they do not say much more than how grateful they are to Pina Bausch and offer particular aphoristic pieces of advice, which mainly meant that the dancers themselves had to do the thinking and exploring. The interviewees are presented centre screen in live portrait fashion but do not speak. Rather, we hear them in voiceover which makes the comments more dramatically impressive. The dancers are mainly the veterans who worked for years in the dance company. There are some younger voices as well.
Part of the intrigue of some of the individual pieces is that they are danced outdoors in Wuppertal, the city where the dance company is located. We see streets and crossings, warehouses, gardens and the trolley that goes through the city suspended on rails on the roof.
Pina Bausch was not always instantly appreciated, some of her choreography considered too 'modern' or bizarre. By this stage of dance history, many audiences will take this kind of work for granted and respond well to it.
For those who might not consider themselves dance fans, Pina can be quite an exhilarating experience.
IL PREMIO (THE PRIZE)
(Mexico, 2011, d. Paula Markovitch) (COMPETITION)
Argentinian-born Paul Markovitch, but living for years in Mexico, has written the screenplays for the internationally seen Duck Season and Lake Tahoe, dramas with interesting themes but made with minimalist style.
For her first film as director, she has gone back to her childhood in Argentina, the time of the generals, a period of repression and abuse of civil and human rights, of informants and of danger to the families of those on wanted lists. The Prize has a great deal of autobiographical detail and is filmed in the village where she lived and on the often-wild Atlantic coast.
The film last almost two hours and much of it is filmed in minimalist style, long pauses for reflection and with a look of drab, grey winter. Many audiences who sympathise with the characters may find the style too austere and trying their patience.
Filmed with widescreen lenses, the film looks large and feels atmospheric. The plot, however, is much smaller. A little girl (wonderfully and naturally acted by Paula Gallinelli Herzog), Ceci, lives with her mother in a dilapidated house on the shore. Her father is a detainee. She can’t tell the children at school.
While a lot of her time is by herself, she does make friends and they play in the dunes. In one crisis, she won’t own up that she had given the answers to a maths exam to a friend – and she is denounced . The teacher offers a rationalisation of the reporting- to save the whole class being punished - and she effects a reconciliation between the two young friends. The second crisis concerns an essay for a military propaganda competition. Ceci writes against the military to her mother’s horror... but...
A telling picture of a different time in Argentina, the film is also a portrait of a young girl, remembered by the director.
(Germany, 2101, d. Sabine Bernardi) (PANORAMA)
There have been a number of films about transgender (Transamerica, for instance, or Second Serve, about the tennis player, Dr Renee Richards) but they are about male to female transitions. Romeos is concerned with FTM, Female to Male transition. This was also the subject of an Iranian film, Facing Mirrors (2011) which dealt with its subject more seriously, the personal repercussions as well as the social and family difficulties (even though such surgery was judged by Ayatollah Khomeini to be in harmony with Sharia Law).
The context here is contemporary Germany, social pressures and misunderstandings, but also a context of freedom of sexual behaviour and hedonism which puts the proceedings into more of a niche as the girl who is in process of becoming a man becomes involved in clubbing and relationships.
Miriam (played by Rick Okion) is undergoing medical transformation processes (and communicating by internet with others in similar situations) but has to do civil service. Placed in a home for the elderly and in a girls’ dormitory, Lukas (as he is becoming) fights to be transferred to the male dorm. With him is his school friend, Ine, who is lesbian, Lukas is self-conscious but has an urge to go out and about. He encounters Fabio, one of those extraverted stud types who is gay. This brings most of the action into a gay context which is both confusing and distracting in terms of transgender. Lukas wants to be loved but is also comparing himself and his changes with the seemingly (physically) perfect Fabio. This means that a lot of the film is to do with relationships rather than identity. Since the action takes place over only a few weeks, it is all rather inconclusive, though triumphant in spirit.
As for realism, one wonders what counselling and psychological assistance and advice Lukas has been given to cope with the complexities. None seems to be in evidence.
SCHLAFKRANKEIT (SLEEPING SICKNESS)
(Germany, 2011, d. Ulrich Kohler) (COMPETITION)
Straightforward at first, then disorienting, then perplexing and finally puzzling, one wonders at first whether it is worth pursuing and reflecting on or not. It is.
After sorting out the two parts and the time distance between each part, one has a perspective on the central character. He is a German doctor, working in Cameroun, in charge of projects, especially one on sleeping sickness. He has been able to eradicate the illness to a large extent but funds come in, seem to disappear or are squandered.
In the first part, he is about to return to Europe with his wife. His teenage daughter is visiting from boarding school. A French friend tries to persuade him to stay. All normal enough so far – a
European who does good in a developing country and is facing ordinary personal problems.
The jolt in part 2 is unexpected. It is three years later. The focus is now on a young Paris-born doctor of Congolese ancestry. There is some discussion about the value of aid versus trade in dealing with development issues in Africa. The doctor, Alix, goes to Cameroun to evaluate the medical projects for the World Health Organisation, especially the sleeping sickness project. Alix is bewildered by what he finds, with chaos and hindrances to his enquiries. The German doctor is in a far different frame of mind, has stayed and taken up with a local woman who gives birth, Alix having to assist.
The end is both abrupt and symbolic, involving a hippopotamus. Is the doctor himself a victim of sleeping sickness and how it affects a European in Africa. And what (or who?) is the hippopotamus. We end with questions and puzzles.
(Germany, 2011, d. Hugo Vieira da Silva) (FORUM)
No ‘hereafter’ or ‘afterwards’ in this story of cancer, coma, dying... It is an earthbound film with a strong focus on the body of the dying woman. It is a ‘somatic’ drama, according to the co-director.
A man and his son, living in Portugal, travel to a wintry and bleak Berlin to visit Petra, the man’s former partner and mother of his eighteen year old son, Manoel, whom she abandoned when he was three.
The style of the film (minus musical score except for some records playing and a band) is long takes, long close-ups, attentive to minute detail that reflects life but will agitate a restless audience. We see the care nurses and doctors give the woman, medical care, massage and washing. The man is more reserved, tense but devoted, upset at the seeming indifference of his son. The boy is off-handed, visiting, keeping away but gradually curious about the woman and her body which bore him.
He seems introverted but hardly introspective. He is one of those alienated, self-absorbed young men, a top skateboarder (which occupies his time), likes rap music, indulges in graffiti and LP records.
The other character is Petra’s Asian room-mate, a silent figure. While the father has some therapy for his tensions, Manoel rummages, becomes more sexually aware, realises vaguely that he ought to relate or bond with his mother.
And, as expected, the just stops rather than ends.
TAMBIEN LA LLUVIA (EVEN THE RAIN) (PANORAMA)
(Spain, 2010, d. Iciar Bollain) (PANORAMA)
Spain’s nominee for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, 2010.
It was written by longtime collaborator with Ken Loach, Scot Paul Laverty. It was directed by actress turned director, Iciar Bollain.
Probably, the film is best described as three films in one.
The first story is the making of a film in Bolivia about Columbus, his reports to Ferdinand and Isabella, his attitude towards the Indians, benign at first, but the greed for gold led to exploitation and Indian retaliation. The proposed film is based on the life and pro-Indian work of Dominicans, Bartolomeo Las Casas and the crusading priest Montesinos. The culmination is the burning of a number of Indians fixed to crosses. These sequences are interspersed throughout the film.
The second story is the production personnel story, the idealism of the young director, Sebastian (Gael Garcia Bernal in a better role than in recent Hollywood comedies), inspired by Las Casas and Montesinos, wanting to condemn the Conquistador version of imposed Christianity and to show the more Gospel humanity of the Dominican friar. Luis Tosar appears as producer, Costa, pragmatic, a wheeler-dealer who is alert to trouble, aiming to forestall it.
The third story is that of the Water Wars in 2000 in the city of Cochabamba where the Indians dig a tunnel channel of seven kilometres to bring water to the villagers but were stopped by the right-wing government in favour of Anglo-American? multinational interests and investments to control the water supply and, as the title indicates, control even the rain.
Protests led to demonstrations which led to riots which led to city blockades and armed attack.
Linking the stories is a shrewd Indian leader, Daniel, who has worked as a labourer in the US, sees through the producer’s exploitative wage tactics and gets a significant role along with his young daughter. But, his high protest profile leads to TV coverage, his arrest and his daughter’s being wounded in the attacks. There is a climax for both Sebastian, the idealist, and Costa, the pragmatist, when Daniel’s wife begs the entourage leaving the city to find her daughter and get her to hospital.
Made in Bolivia, Even the Rain, re-lives the Water Wars (and many of the extras were re-enacting what they did in 2000).
Paul Laverty has been able to show his social conscience and awareness in his Loach films and often brings a Catholic sensibility (and some years of seminary training and admiration for Latin American Basic Christian Communities) to his screenplays.
This film is interesting in its portrayal of harshly imposed Catholicism and its more hopeful Gospel humanity – and in parallels the foreign invasive exploitation and greed of Columbus’ day with the 21st century Water Wars equivalent.
TROPO DE ELITE 2 (ELITE SQUAD 2 – THE ENEMY WITHIN)
(Brazil, 2010, d. Jose Padilha) (PANORAMA)
Elite Squad was a surprise world success after winning the Golden Bear in Berlin in 2008. It was a huge success in Brazil. The Brazilian film industry had a succession of films about the favelas, crime, drugs, protection, police and government corruption. Some films, like City of God and City of Men looked especially at the young men attracted to this way of life and violent achievement. Lower City looked at the underside of the metropolis. Carandiru took its audiences into the squalor of the crowded prisons.
Elite Squad was focused on the police, on a special hit squad and the battles in the streets. This sequel continues the story of Roberto Nascimento (Wagner Moura), the head of the elite squad.
And, the film made more at the Brazilian box-office in 2010 than Avatar.
This sequel is easier to follow with characters more familiar or more clearly defined.
The issues are a bit more ambiguous, raising questions. Are the right-wing (even Fascist) attitudes, speeches and actions of the squad repellent even if they clear the neighbourhoods of drugs? Are the attitudes, speeches and actions of the liberals highlighting human rights sometimes self-serving (for political advantage)? We see all sides here.
There is also human and family drama – Nascimento’s ex-wife has married a rights’ activist, Frago, who is elected to Parliament and campaigns hard for rights. Nacimento spends four years after violently quelling a prison riot at a desk job, cleaning up the city but failing to realise that, as the dealers were ousted, corrupt police demanding protection payment, have taken over.
With a dramatic finale, the film stirs feelings about crime and police – and is open to further sequels.
TRUE GRIT (OPENING FILM)
(US, 2010, d. Joel and Ethan Coen) (OPENING FILM)
The Coen Brothers seem to be able to turn their minds and imaginations to most genres - although their remake of The Ladykillers seemed a doomed project - and was. This time they have avoided the remake approach, a film that has become a classic Western and the Oscar-winner for John Wayne as Rooster Cogburn in 1969. The Coens have gone back to Charles Portis' novel and written their own interpretation. And it works very well, a solid western in the classic tradition, and a humorous, sometimes witty comic atmosphere.
The casting directors must have been delighted to find Halle Steinfeld to play Mattie Ross. She is completely persuasive as the strong-minded 14 year old who sets out to complete her father's business, to bury him and to begin a justice process to find his killer. She is motivated by a deep desire to avenge him. When she seeks out a US Marshall to employ for the hunt, she is directed to the one-eyed, hard-drinking, former Quantrill raider, Rooster Cogburn. This time he is Jeff Bridges, who has a roistering time, impersonating a larger than life character of the West.
Wary, and trying to avoid Mattie, he comes to admire her and they go off on their quest. There is a complication with a Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf?, who is also pursuing the killer (Josh Brolin). As played by Matt Damon, La Boeuf is a very serious, loquacious Ranger, who is prone to exalt the Ranger ideals but pompously. His involvement in the quest is well worked out and he and Cogburn have a number of encounters with gangs and criminals. Barry Pepper is also good as Lucky Ned, another outlaw leader.
The Coens bring some biblical tones to their storytelling with a quote from Proverbs to open, about guilt and pursuit; a reference to Ezekiel and the valley of bones; and a quotation from Mattie that the only thing that is free in this world is the grace of God.
Which means that anyone wanting an old-fashioned western will like this True Grit. Anyone wanting a 21st century take on characters and plot should be satisfied.
UNKNOWN (SPECIAL SCREENING)
(US, 2011, d. Jaume Collet- Serra) (SPECIAL SCREENING)
Based on a French best-seller, this is action thriller time, enjoyably so. The author is Didier van Cauwalaert and the novel, ‘Out of my Head’.
For those who know the city of Berlin, there is the extra thrill of seeing so much of the city, recognisable landmarks, as well as lots of atmosphere and detail. Berlin in winter, just the right time for this kind of conspiracy tale.
When an agreeable couple from the US arrive in Berlin for a biotechnical summit, financed by a Middle Eastern prince, and promising to make announcements about crops that will alter the prospects for world hunger, it all sounds good. But, before you can say Liam Neeson, we and he realise that a bag has been left behind at the airport and he rushes to a taxi (driven by Diane Kruger as a Balkan illegal). A spectacular crash ensues, the taxi goes into the river and the driver rescues the scientist and she disappears. He lies in coma for four days. Nobody looks for him. He doesn’t seem to have lost his memory but when he goes back to the hotel, his wife does not recognise him and there is a man who has taken his place, name, identification, memories and all.
The film is the protagonist’s fighting to prove he is who he says, despite several attempts on his life, the enlisting of a former Stasi agent who regrets all the changes in Germany (Bruno Ganz in a scene-stealing performance), tracking down the taxi driver, and a climax with assassination attempts and explosions.
You probably have to be working overtime if you guess what the twists are going to be. But they come. Once they are revealed, it all fits into place, even some episodes and behaviour which you might have thought impossible.
With Liam Neeson as the beleaguered hero, it means that we identify strongly with him and share his anxiety. January Jones is his wife. Aidan Quinn the man who takes his place. Frank Langella a colleague.
Of course, it is far-fetched. Isn’t it?
(The advantage of seeing Unknown at the Friedrichstadt Palast screening during the Berlinale and not at the critics’ show was seeing it with hundreds of paying patrons who thoroughly enjoyed it and clapped and cheered at the end. After all, some of it was set just near the theatre and we had come through one of the stations shown on our way.)
(US, 2011, d. Zbigniew Bzymek) (FORUM)
A slice of unusual, odd Brooklyn life. At 84 minutes, it is a sketch portrait of three rather dysfunctional individuals.
It sounds rather improvised at times and we watch episodes of interaction – are asked to observe and, if possible, respond sympathetically. Roger teaches yoga to a rather indifferent small class, hesitant in speech (and a past of drug addiction). He meets his army daughter, Zoe, a tough, butch-mannered woman who is in love with Maya, a schizophrenic who is institutionalised.
The three then live together, loving but with prickly episodes and tensions as they promise to do renovations in a friend’s house.
So, brief case studies which may or may not be of interest.
(US, 2011, d. Iwai Shunji) (PANORAMA)
A generic title in a trend that has been very popular in cinema and on television.
Writer-director, Iwai Shunji, is Japanese and toys with the vampire conventions in an idiosyncratic way, incorporating them into stories of depressed and suicidal American teens.
That’s how it starts. High School biology teacher, Simon (Kevin Zegers), has a rendezvous with a young woman (Keisha Castle-Hughes? who appears for only 15 minutes) and proceeds to drain her of her blood. She dies. He drinks.
Needless to say, all is not normal in this part of the American Pacific North West. After all, it is Twilight territory. Simon’s mother (Amanda Plummer) has Alzheimers. He keeps her inside their apartment with a brace and helium balloons. A friendly police officer is impressed and takes Simon fishing along with his sister, Lucy (Rachel Leigh Cook) who proves to be a do-gooding intrusive nuisance.
In the meantime, there are some more suicidal youth, and a very unpleasant episode where a member of a club for horror-struck nerds acts out a violent rape which Simon denounces.
So, is Simon a serial-killer nicknamed the Vampire? In realistic terms, maybe. In terms of discussion about dreams and wish-fulfilment and whether you can die in your own dream, maybe, maybe not? Or is he just a would-be vampire?
V SUBOTTU (INNOCENT SATURDAY)
(Russia, 2011, d. Alexander Mindadze) (COMPETITION)
For the record, this is the kind of film that this reviewer finds almost unendurable. Receiving a fair amount of negative response, it nevertheless pleased those who are more interested in creative film techniques than in narrative, or who are fascinated by the excessive behaviour of Russians or want to explore the uses of hand-held cameras (more here than in a Dardennes Brothers' film plus The Blair Witch Project).
This is a film about the day the Chernobyl nuclear power station exploded in April 1986. It starts intensely enough with the news, the beginnings of cover-ups, party discussions, the desire not to cause panic. The central character is a young party member who works at the plant and who runs (at some length) to get to the plant. He rushes to a dorm to get his girlfriend to run to the station and get a train out of Chernobyl. A series of incidents (starting with the girl's heel being broken) takes us further and further away from the train and deposits the young man and the girl into what turns out to be a raucous day at a wedding.
Most of the film forgets about the plant and what was happening or not happening, and offers us instead a kind of Emir Kustirica frenzied drinking party, lots of drinks plus songs, an 'eat, drink and be stupidly merry' avoidance of any of the real issues. Of course, that does make a point, but whether this is the point that we want to experience is quite another matter.
WIND AND FOG (GENERATION)
(Iran, 2011, d. Mohammad Ali Talebi)
During the 1990s, Iran made quite a number of films that focused on little children. They had an international appeal as well and won many awards. They included The White Balloon, Children of Heaven and The Colour of Paradise. Wind and Fog seems a throwback to those times, but is welcome nonetheless.
The setting is the outbreak of the Iran- Iraq war of the 1980s, a harsh and traumatic time for Iran, and still a subject for so many of the films coming from that country.
The basic plot here is timeless. A widowed father (from the war bombardments) brings his two children to stay with their grandfather in the mountains. He had previously worked on the gasfields.
The little girl is bright and is solicitous for her younger brother who is not quite right mentally. He is bullied at school where she stands up for him. One day, during the hunting season, while the grandfather takes them fishing, the little boy comes across a wounded goose and is fascinated. Watching her brother and the goose is the occasion for flashbacks to their previous life where the little boy was also bullied as the children flew kites on the harsh and hot surroundings of the gas pipes.
Later, the girl is welcomed back at school, but the little boy goes off in the night to search for the goose and he becomes lost. His sister and a girl who had been hurtful search for the boy – aided by the flock of geese.
So, a film of charm as well as of people’s insensitivity, inviting audiences to be understanding and compassionate. The mountain and forest scenery is beautiful, a refuge from the war that has devastating effect elsewhere (and on the national psyche and memory).
YELLING TO THE SKY (COMPETITION)
(US, 2011, d. Victoria Mahoney)
It is a great disadvantage to this film that Precious was released in 2009 to Oscar nominations and wins and successful box-office. Yelling to the Sky is too similar and, all in all, not as interesting or involving as Precious.
Both are the stories of young Afro- American girls in New York neighbourhoods. After Precious, we now have Sweetness, Sweetness O'Hara (Zoe Kravitz). Her life is not as miserable as that of Precious despite her attempts to make it so. Her mother is a weak woman opting out of life. Her father has an Irish background and is a drinker who can turn to violence. She has a pregnant older sister who is not afraid to take on gangs to defend Sweetness.
So, we have home scenes, some of which are happy, most of which are not. Sweetness has a hard time at school even though she is clever. She is also bashed by the leader of a gang (played by Gabourey Sidibe who actually played Precious). In rebellion, she goes to a rather nice drug dealer and starts dealing herself. This leads to more violence - and eventually a wake-up call that she could do much better with her life and go to college.
Partly based on the experiences of the writer-director, this is a personal film. Whether it finds its target audience is a moot question.