SIGNIS REVIEWS BERLINALE 2017
ANA MON AMOUR
BAR, El/ THE BAR
BRIGHT NIGHTS/ HELLE NACHTE
BYE, BYE GERMANY/ ES WAR EINMAL IN DEUTSCHLAND
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
HAVE A NICE DAY
KING’S DECISION, The/ THE KING’S CHOICE
LOST CITY OF Z, The
MUJER FANTASTICA, Una
ON BODY AND SOUL/ EL TESTROL EL LELEKOL
ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE
OTHER SIDE OF HOPE, The
QUEEN OF SPAIN/ LA REINA DE ESPANA
RETURN TO MONTAUK
WILD MOUSE/ WILDE MAUS
ANA, MON AMOUR (Competition)
Romania, 2017, 136 minutes, Colour.
Mircea Postelnecu, Diana Cavallioti.
Directed by Calin Peter Netzer.
During the last decade or more, some excellent films have emerged from Romania, impressive in their stories and the treatment, winning many international awards. This film is in that tradition
In many ways it is a small story, though the running time of the film is well over two hours. It is presented in a complex manner, moving backwards and forwards in time, each segment throwing light on the other, reflection on the past, anticipation of the future. (A hint for those who might be finding it difficult to identify which time the characters are in, it is the hair of the principal actor, longer when he was younger, shorter when he is older, that is a useful key.)
The film opens with some serious discussion between a young woman, Anna, and a young man, Toma, reflections on the meaning of life and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietszche. The two are in love. In a linear explanation, it could be said that they are in love, she is unwell, he is protective, she becomes pregnant, gives birth; there is a sketch of the early years of their marriage.
However, very early in the piece, Toma, with short hair, is seen in a consultation with a psychologist – and the audience anticipates that there have been some difficulties, quite rightly. As the film goes back and forth, it is this session with the psychologist which comes at the end, Toma speaking of a dream, trying to interpret it, the meaning of his life and marriage, leaving the audience wondering about the possibilities…
The is well acted, Diana Cavillieti being quite persuasive as a vivacious young woman who does have some psychological problems, especially concerning her father-in-law, seen when the couple go to dinner at her parents’ house. She also has dizzy spells but tries to be self-reliant. Mircea Postelnecu is a genial young man, studious, always concerned about Ana, taking her to the hospital.
One of the themes of the film, seen as the screenplay goes backwards and forwards in time, is that as Ana builds the confidence and self-image, Toma becomes somewhat less confident, petulantly resigning from his job, staying at home to look after their son, his self-image getting lower.
Audiences will regret the tensions between the two because they have got to know them rather well and have sympathy for them.
The film is directed by Calin Peter Netzer, who won the Golden Bear at the banal A, 2013, with his film, Child’s Pose.
EL BAR (Competition)
Spain, 2017, 103 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Alex de Iglesia.
The films of Alex de Iglesia are an acquired taste. There often seems a certain madness about them, eccentric characters, weird situations, touches of horror, black humour. Not to everybody’s taste – and perhaps not always to Spanish taste for which the films are made.
Which serves as an introduction to review of El Bar which this reviewer actually liked. It may be that the director has been overdosing on a range of Spanish horror films of the last decade, especially the Rec series which it quite resembles. In those films, a virus has gone out of control, trapping inhabitants in an apartment block, trapping a photojournalist as well the authorities and introducing a welter of bloody and gory mayhem.
The title gives us the location, not a high-rise, rather a bar and a basement. As the film opens, the camera focuses on several people walking along the street, talking on their mobile phones, encountering street beggars, gossiping. And they all go into the bar which seems to be doing its ordinary trade, a collection of characters, a stern boss, Amparo, servers and behind the counter staff. Everything seems normal until one customer goes out the door a shot is heard, and the man falls down dead. Sudden shock, no explanations. Then one of the staff goes out into the street to assist and is also shot.
The apocalyptic tone enters the film when a local customer, quite deranged, quoting the Scriptures, a wild-looking man called Israel, enters and behaves erratically.
The focus of the film is on the terror amongst the group, compounded when anonymous workers in protective clothing appear and the bodies have disappeared as has the victims’ blood. The group cannot go out. They do not go. They dare not go out. Then the recriminations start and a series of blame games, accusations, speculations and atmosphere of nastiness. The screenplay shows how much there is in the irrationality and eagerness to find scapegoats.
And then the group members a large man who had come in to use the toilet. Then they go to find him, the corpse bloated, eyes ablaze but dead. They search the man’s mobile phone and go through all his messages, discovering that there is some kind of epidemic, that he had syringes for protection. The owner and two of the men, one a former policemen, force the others down into the basement because they had touched the dead body and are considered contaminated.
Thee claustrophobia, uncertainty, silence about the discovery that the others were dead takes effect. The only way out is the hole to go down into the sewer, but the hole is tight. They send Israel but he gets stuck. Finally, the young woman is able to get through but there is a dispute about the use of the syringes, not enough for the whole group, and power struggles, especially with the apocalyptic Israel.
Once everyone is in the sewers, there are fights, deaths, – but some kind of celebration when one of the group emerges into a perfectly normal Madrid, the authorities having done a cover-up and the media reassuring everyone that all is well.
BERLIN SYNDROME (Panorama)
Australia, 2017, 116 minutes, Colour.
Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Matthias Habich, Emma Bading.
Directed by Cate Shortland.
Cate Shortland has had an interesting career in both direction and writing. Her 2004 film Somersault won most of the awards at the Australian Film Institute awards, including best film and director. She made the striking film about Germany during the war and the consequences of indoctrination, Lore, and also won many awards. She contributed to the writing of the excellent miniseries, Devil’s Playground. She has not written this screenplay. It is by Shaun Grant and based on a novel by Melanie Joosten.
Once again, Cate Shortland is in Germany, but this time contemporary Berlin. A central protagonist is Clare, a persuasive performance by Teresa Palmer, initially naive and wide-eyed, sexually available, charmed by one of the locals. He is a teacher, Andi, played very well by Max Riemelt.
A classic William Wyler film of the 1960s, one of his final films, was a two-hander psychological thriller, The Collector, with Terence Stamp as the collector and Samantha Eggar as his victim. Berlin Syndrome is a 21st-century variation on The Collector.
Berlin in summer looks an interesting and attractive city, Clare arriving, immediately being welcomed by a group of young people to share a drink and talk, her settling into her room, phoning her mother in Brisbane, going shopping for clothes and slides because her interest is in studying the architecture of the East Germany period. She also comes across an agreeable young man, Andi (Max Riemelt) who, surprisingly, turns up again, exercising a great charm – for which she falls.
Andi is the kind of young man who looks as if he would not hurt a fly – perhaps not a fly but certainly women. He imprisons Clare in his apartment, locking her in while he goes to school, teaching English literature, the work of James Baldwin, to a young and interested class. It is a sport school and he also supervises team exercises, with an eye on the young student, Franka, which she interprets correctly to his annoyance and a moment where she sees Clare.
As might be expected from this kind of story, Andi exhibits a kind of Jekyll and Hyde personality, a pleasing Jekyll as he goes out into the world, a sadistic Hyde in his behaviour at home, tying Clare up, then attempting to spoil her by meals and gifts. He might have some head idea about what it is like to be captive but he seems to be particularly carefree, although when Clare reacts in anger, he also shows anger.
The months pass, the seasons change, from summer to Christmas, to New Year. While the action of the film goes outside the apartment, giving the audience a sense of freedom, nevertheless when we are back with Clare we share her confinement, her frustrations. We are also puzzled as to whether she is going to be an ultimate victim (it seems there has been a previous victim, one at least, from Canada) or whether she will escape.
One moment for understanding Andi is when he visits his father, a lecturer, reminisces about his mother leaving (and certainly Andi is angry at this) and then, later, find his father dead.
The film has a contemporary look and feel, perhaps not the kind of story we were expecting from Cate Shortland, but an interesting variation on The Collector theme.
Germany, 2017, 107 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Andres Veiel.
Beuys is a documentary about the German artist and sculptor, Joseph Beuys.
Those who have not heard of Beuys or are unfamiliar with his work, will find this is an opportunity to learn something about him, see images of his work, hear him speak and discuss – and assert his opinions.
To that extent, it may not be so interesting for those who do not know the artist and the style of the film may not draw them into it with great feeling. Perhaps some understanding. For those who are familiar with the artist, his works and his ideas, it is an opportunity to watch and reflect.
There is biographical material in the film, but limited to the artist himself and his relationship with his parents, not so much about his own personal life or relationships. From the city of Cleve, his parents were rather severe on him as he grew up. He was a pilot in World War II, crashing, his co-pilot dying, he himself being severely wounded. The screenplay suggests that this experience was a strong influence on his art.
As regards the art, the audience is shown various sketches, his drawings and visual art, some sculptures. There are also some examples of installation art – puzzling for those not in the know. He also was involved in a lot of performance art.
The film is at pains to explain his various theories about art, the work of the artist, the response of people to the art, the social concerns and influence – always looking ahead, possibilities of change in sensibilities. This was exercised in the Germany of the 1960s and 70s and beyond. He also travelled to the United States where he gave classes – allowing people to interject, to oppose him, his not moving from his position but giving attention to the criticisms.
By the end, having seen Beuys himself, listening to him, seeing him in the context of his range of art, hearing his philosophies and his reactions as well as people’s favourable response and criticisms, some audiences will be interested in pursuing him in his career. Others may feel that this documentary has been sufficient for them.
BRIGHT NIGHTS/ HELLE NACHTE (Competition)
Germany/ Norway, 2017, 86 minutes, Colour.
Georg Friedrich, Tristan Gobel.
Directed by Thomas Arslan.
Bright Nights was entered into the competition of the 2017 Burma now they. Which is rather a surprise because it is a perfectly ordinary (well perhaps not perfectly) story of a father-son relationship.
The setting is northern Norway. If it has been your dream to travel through the mountains in the north of Norway (not the fjords) than if you see this film you will have fulfilled your dream and not had to travel at all. There is beautiful location scenery, the mountains, the lakes, the flora and the fauna. While the director obviously enjoys filming the scenery, it is something of a dramatic mystery as to why there is a long (Rather, very long) sequence where the camera is set on the dashboard, looking out clearly through the frame of the windscreen camera getting the audience to share the view of the drive upwards on a gravel road gradually moving into fault. Well, it does give the audience an opportunity to ponder on what they have been looking at in terms of the Father and the son as well as this trip into the mountains.
George Friedrich is Michael, a builder and supervisor who is informed of the death of his father, whom he hasn’t seen for five years, a hard man, who has spent his retirement in a village in Norway. The father’s daughter is unforgiving and will not go to the funeral and Michael, having been somewhat upset by his partners news that she has been given a Washington job for a year as her papers corresponded, decides to take his alienate it son with him. The sun doesn’t really want to go but is interested to see the place where his grandfather lived.
The go to the funeral, the only mourners there, along with the priest and the gravedigger.
After this, the film becomes a road film, literally. Father and son who are still tense, the son exceedingly angry with his father and his absence from his life, surly and resentful, reluctantly agrees (what else can he do?) To go driving into the scenery of northern Norway. They camp, have arguments, risk driving without sufficient petrol and have to walk into a town on a lake where they hire a room, the boy encountering a rebellious young teenager so some moments of sharing, both anger and music.
Then the father reveals to his son that they are going on a three day hike in the mountains. Needless to say the sun is not happy. However, they drove along the gravel road, into the fog and emerge in beautiful terrain, trees and bright, even red, vegetation. The father wants to confess his past philandering and abandonment to his son and the sun is completely unwilling to hear this. When the father awakes in the tent and finds his son gone, he pursues him, searching through the mountains, the boy then running away, the father tackling him – and some release of anger from the boy.
Actually, nothing particularly new except the scenery – and that may be enough for audiences to follow through familiar father-son tensions and some beginnings of resolution.
BYE BYE GERMANY/ ES WAR EINMAL IN DEUTSCHLAND (Belinale Special)
Germany, 2017, 100 minutes, Colour.
Moritz Bleibtreu, Antje Traue.
Directed by Sam Gabarski.
Bye, Bye Germany is the English title of this serious film with comic overtones. Its original German title means: Once Upon a Time in Germany.
This is a film with a serious Jewish-German? theme, a focus on Jews who survived the concentration camps and came back to reconstruct their lives, not moving out of Germany, but remaining within. The setting for this story is Frankfurt, a focus on a well-established fabric company founded by the father of the central character, David (Moritz Bleibtreu) who has a plan to re-establish the company and its outlets by seconding his friends and making them travel around, interviewing housewives, persuading them to invest in the materials.
There is something of a comic tone, a light tone, in this presentation of the survivors, the bitterness and unhappiness of their memories, the challenge for them to make new lives after what they have suffered. The main desire for many of them is to be able to leave Germany and to go to live in the United States and make a new life and home there. They need money for the tickets and David becomes a central agent for collecting and saving the money.
However, it is not going to be easy for David. The occupying American authorities are suspicious of him and he is subject to many interrogations, his interrogator being Sarah, originally from Germany, having migrated to the United States with her parents in the 1930s, now seriously committed to order in post-war Germany and interrogating David and finding him guilty of double standards. It emerges that he was in some favour with the Nazis, even travelling to Hitler’s mountain retreat, having two passports, and being a cheerful man who is able to make jokes and ingratiate himself. The tragic side was a joke competition with the loser to be executed. The interrogator at one stage brings in one of the guards from the camps who identifies him as the man who made jokes.
Ultimately, interrogator modifies her harsh attitude towards David, while he is attracted to her.
Finally, David is the one who remains in Germany re-establishing his father’s company while the others travelled to the United States.
An interesting issue for Jewish audiences but also for worldwide audiences asking questions about how survivors of the concentration camps were able to start again and make a future, so many thousands remaining in Germany, others going to Israel or to the United States.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME (Panorama)
Italy/France/US, 2017, 130 minutes, Colour.
Armie Hammer, Timothee Chalamet, Michael Stuhlbarg, Amira Casar.
Directed by Luca Guadagnino.
Italian director Luca Guadagnino has made films set in Italy, both in the south and, here, in the north. His films include I Am I Love and A Bigger Splash. This film is set in 1983. A summer story with a guest from the United States, a student of the arts on a scholarship living with the family of the host.
For those who enjoy being immersed in the atmosphere of a different country, there is a great deal of pleasure in the time spent in this part of northern Italy, the countryside, the local town, the summer atmosphere.
The central character is the recipient of the grant, Oliver, played with some zest by Armie Hammer. He is quite exhilarated to be in Italy, having the contact with the academics, examining artworks and an excavation from Lake Garda. Oliver can also be the life of the party, very attractive to the local women, enjoying their company, dancing…
The other central character of the film is Elio (a strong performance by actor Timothee Chalamet a very demanding role). Elio’s passion is for music, performance, writing, annotation. He is the son of the hosts for the summer, French but having their holiday mansion in Italy.
Elio is rather precocious, helping Oliver, sometimes wary of him. However, the theme of the film is sexuality, Elio and his growing self-awareness in his teenage, his attraction towards Oliver, the question of his making advances towards the adult, and Oliver’s response. He is also caught up in the expectations of friendship with the local girls and, despite his seemingly short and assertive manner, he is emotionally confused. Oliver is cautious at first, but affected by the advances of Elio, the effect of their spending time together, the effect of the growing intimacy, issues of sexuality both emotional and physical, the appropriateness of the relationship and the effect on each.
After Oliver returns to the United States, the film spends time focusing on Elio, the effect of the summer on him, his self-awareness, and, especially, a strong scene where he discusses the whole experience with his listening and sympathetic father (Michael Stuhlbarg).
The film is one of those dramas where the director opts for a long focusing on the face of Elio, the audience gazing, reflecting on their response to Elio and Oliver, wondering about Elio himself and his future.
CASTING JONBENET (Panorama)
Australia/US, 2017, 80 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Kitty Green.
This is a very interesting documentary, a different kind of docudrama and interpretation of events in the 1990s. As the title suggests, the focus is on casting of actors for a film about the death of Jon Benet Ramsey, a procedure used by Louis Theroux in his documentary about Scientology, My Scientology Movie.
The intention of the film is not to solve the mystery of the little girl’s death, nor to point the finger at a particular person. This is strictly limited. It is an exploration rather than a solution, an interpretation by the processes of casting, the response of the actors auditioning, and their interpretations. The potential actors chosen are all from Colorado, the state in which the murder took place, and all are familiar with the history. The auditions to place over a period of 15 months.
The impact of the film does not necessarily depend on knowledge of the details of the crime. By the end of the film, the audience will feel very well-informed, perhaps over-informed. There is the portrait of the Ramsey family, the background of the little girl Jon Benet, years old at the time of the, who had been promoted in shows, the reality of sexualisation of little children, the mystery of her death, her role as daughter and the portrait of her parents, of her brother, other people involved, of the police and their inconclusive investigations. The murder is still a mystery.
The crime happened in the 1990s, 20 years having passed between the crime and the making of this film. The information from the police investigations is available, the inadequacy of some of their investigations is also available, the mistakes they have made and the interrogation of all the people involved to those accused.
While the emphasis is on Jon Benet’s parents, their is also the picture of the sexual predator who confessed to the killing and spent time in prison, rather eerie experience for the film.
Also brought forward is an abduction scenario which seems to have some ludicrous aspects including a precise amount specified for the ransom payment, the delay in the note being found – and that in fact the note is a rather long letter about the situation.
Holding auditions for actors to portray the characters in the case, offers an opportunity for retrospective consideration, an analysis of the characters, dramatising them as well as putting forward theories about them.
The device of the casting is introduced early in the film with a group of little girls coming in to take their chairs, eager to take the role of Jon Benet. This already highlights, with the little girls, their suggestive costumes, their behaviour, the giggling, what eagerness about the media will do to children. They chatter and give the image to the audience of Jon Benet.
There is quite a range of actors auditioning for the roles of each of the parents. Those auditioning for the role of the mother tend to appear with same clothes that were seen in her at the time of the crime and on the media. A lot of women are auditioning, trying to put themselves in the place of the mother but also offering a great deal of speculation. The same is true of the actors auditioning for the father. A great variety of opinions.
Those auditioning for the role of the police are even more interesting times, at the different looks, the different characters, their occupations, the motives for coming to the auditions, the interpretation of dialogue presented to them, the revelation about their own work – especially the man who claims that he is a sex advisor and has to take a call from a client during the audition and who has quite a deal to say about some deviant sexual behaviour.
So that means that director Kitty Green, and her setting up this scenario, brings to the audience the central characters but also their complexities, more and more being revealed about them as the goes on, seemingly upright then something suspicious being raised, especially about the father. There are many possibilities as to what happened.
The case remains unsolved and audiences, pondering all the facets of characters and the possibilities of action will still be wondering what really happened.
Portugal, 2017, 136 minutes, Colour.
Alice Albergaria Borges, Joao Pedro Vaz. Beatriz Batarda, Clara Jost.
Directed by Teresa Villaverde.
Colo was screened in competition at the Berlinale of 2017.
This is a long film and, except for devotees of very serious cinema, it does not hold the interest throughout. It is a very talkative film but most of the principal characters remain enigmatic.
It is a Portuguese film about family as well is about outsiders. The setting is Lisbon, streets and departments, interiors, school. The emphasis in dialogue and conversations.
The central character is the father, around 50, retrenched from his work, full of anxiety, making phone calls to get other jobs, upset when his wife doesn’t return when he expected, taking a friend from the past to the beach, threatening him about the job – the man punching the father and running away and driving off. The father is left of the beach, later stripping and going into the water, coming out wet. He says he is agreeable that his wife having another job to make ends meet, but they are gradually using up all their funds.
The wife seems quite a sensible woman, practical, but her husband’s behaviour, caring for her daughter getting her down, she loses her extra job and decided it would be better if she went away for a while, living in a hotel, her husband and daughter going to live with her mother – which they do, the mother welcoming them.
The other main character is the daughter, at school, interested in design, with a boyfriend and sexual relationships, studying, puzzled about her father, supportive of her mother. She is also supportive of another girl at school who, it seems obvious, is pregnant. The pregnant girl has nowhere to go, has not told her parents, and the daughter of the family invites her to live in – the father taking compassion on her and even saying that it will take responsibility for the child.
So, with an array of characters in contemporary problems, the film is both emotional and cerebral, especially with this dialogue – and the audience is left with: so what…?
THE DINNER (Competition)
US, 2017, 120 minutes, Colour.
Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall, Chloe Sevigny, Charlie Plummer,Adepero Oduye, Michael Chernus.
Directed by Oren Moverman.
The Dinner is one of those American meals where relatives and friends gather, an initial pleasant atmosphere, but then truths are told and there are savage interactions.
Oren Moverman (writer of such films as Jesus’ Son and director of Ramparts, The Messenger, Time out of Mind) has adapted a novel by Howard Koch, which had already received two film versions, one Dutch and one Italian. The story has been strongly adapted to the United States, society, politics.
Audiences who may be looking forward to the details of the dinner, there is quite a lot of detail (the restaurant is rather exclusive and so the portions are quite small!) And they are presented with verbal fanfare by the maitre d’ (Michael Chernus), fascinatingly elitist, with a very well-dressed and uniformed staff who serve all the courses, exceedingly well-drilled.
Much of the film is seen from the point of view of Paul, the younger brother of an ambitious politician, Stan. Paul is played by Steve Coogan, one of his best performances, manically comic and deadly serious, a man who is emotionally disturbed, is prone to rant and rave, is preoccupied with American history, the Civil War, Gettysburg, has a low opinion of the human race and is not hesitant to voice his denunciations. He is also very sulky and walks out at various moments of the dinner. It is a tour de force performance by Steve Coogan.
Richard Gere is the politician, very smooth in his manner, able to work the room with great charm, the word here, handshakes for everyone… He is accompanied to the dinner by his personal assistant and has to go to the phone many times, preoccupied about legislation he is moving and whether it has support or not. Richard Gere is very much at home in this kind of role.
Then there are the wives. Laura Linney portrays Paul’s wife, Claire, the seemingly agreeable woman, mother of their son, but prone to nerviness and some illness in the past. On the other hand, Rebecca Hall plays Katelyn, Stan’s wife, formerly his assistant, a woman also on some edge. Katelyn is not Stan’s first wife. There are flashbacks to sequences with his first wife, Barbara (Chloe Sevigny and the distance between the couple and her decision to go to India.
So, this is the setting. But the audience is privy to the behaviour of the sons of each couple. They are spoiled, affluent teenagers, uncaring in their attitudes, reckless in their behaviour, caught up in a very violent situation of their own creation, a lonely black woman who lives on the streets their victim.
While the audience has to assess this behaviour, which was videoed and one of the cousins is blackmailing the other for cash down, it is not difficult to be condemnatory of the young men.
Where the drama lies as the dinner continues is in the stances taken by each of the adults, the women surprisingly wanting to defend the bad behaviour of their sons, arguing away some of the guilt. Some of the dialogue provides quite a shock to hear the women whom we had initially come to like being very hard in their wanting to defend, even excuse, look down on the victim. Paul has been kept out of the picture and so, discovering some of what has been going on without his knowledge, erupts. And, surprisingly, it is the politician who has the greater sense of justice and some compassion for the victim rather than excusing the young men.
This is the kind of film that can be called an indictment of contemporary affluent American society, white society, a blend of arrogance and complacency.
US, 2017, 81 minutes, Colour.
Jonny Mars, Atsuko Okatsuka, Joy Cunningham, Jordan Elsass, Bob Swaffer.
Directed by Travis Matthews.
Travis Matthews has been making films, especially experimental films, since 2000. He has a particular interest in male sexuality and themes of homosexuality.
This is a narrative, albeit in a non-continuous style, separate episodes, discrete episodes, which means that the audience have to be particularly attentive all the time and to extract the main thrust of the story.
The film has a reverberating soundtrack, often difficult to interpret, but bearing on the mood and atmosphere of the film.
As a framework, a woman appears who is running a video service helping people with meaning in life. She recurs throughout the film, inviting people to watch her videos – but the protagonist of the film, Alex (Jonny Mars) also wants to make videos and keeps phoning her to make an appointment, almost stalking her verbally, with the result that she cuts him off completely.
His videos seem to be concerned with male sexuality and there are a couple of comparatively explicit scenes again throughout the film.
The main character is called Alex, and we see him with a woman, discussing his life, his separation from her, her background of drinking and her trying to reform. She is very supportive of him.
We also see him going to a farm, and he is challenged by an older man who was accompanying a very, very tall man with a white beard and a shaking hand who cannot speak and is being led in his walk. Alex claims to be his grandson. As the film progresses and Alex moves in with the old man, even hiring a young man to help him look after him, the audience becomes suspicious about the relationship, the antagonism and Alex’s concern and care, for example eating, dressing, washing.
What also emerges is that the man had abused Alex as a child and he is building up to revenge – which eventually happens, leading the old man down to the river, and the audience just hearing gunshots, not seeing them.
Audiences will have to persevere, some relishing all the detail and the episodes about the videos, others mystified as to what was happening and where it was leading – but it all comes together in the end.
France, 2017, 115 minutes, Colour.
Reda Kateb, Cecile de France.
Directed by Etienne Comar.
As audiences go in to see Django, they will have different expectations. Jazz aficionados will be looking forward to the music, Django Reinhardt’s compositions, the range of concerts and performances. They will not be disappointed – and may be surprised but will welcome the Requiem for Deceased Gypsies at the end of the film.
Some audiences may have a vague idea that Jan go Reinhardt was a jazz musician – and that Woody Allen liked his music and incorporated aspects of music and plot into his Sweet and Low down. , They may be in for a surprise.
In fact, the film takes place only during 1943 in occupied Paris, life seeming to go on as normal despite the presence of the Germans and their control.
The tone is set powerfully in an opening prologue, set in a forest, where an old blind gypsy with a powerful voice makes such an impact with his singing. It is a gypsy camp. A child goes foraging in the forest, German soldiers approach and shoot. Django later reminisces that this old gypsy had been a huge influence on him.
By this time in his career, some mention of it in the screenplay, Django Reinhardt had been recording since 1928, successfully all during the 1930s, playing with all kinds of international greats. But now, he and his wife are trapped in Paris with the German authorities pressurising him to go on a tour of concerts in Germany and Berlin to build up the morale of the troops. He says he is a musician and not a politician. However, a woman from his past, Louise (Cecile de France) urges him to be wary. Also, Django’s wife is pregnant.
The concert for the Parisian audience and the Germans is an extraordinary success, the audience responding to the beat and becoming fully alive as they listen, sway, applaud. As it turns out, this is not what the Germans were expecting or wanting. The German officials seem rather puritanical in their attitude towards the music – a warning not to play a wrong note, which means avoid swing, the blues, and too much improvising on the jazz, and no dancing.
The group that Django plays with have mixed feelings. But, on the advice of Louise, Django, his wife and his extraordinarily tough mother all go to the Swiss border with the intention of crossing over, helped by the Resistance.
While waiting in the town, Django plays in the bar, goes fishing, his hobby, and meets the parish priest who invites him to the church, despite Django’s professing that he did not believe, to play the organ and compose.
The Germans track Django down and order him to play a concert in a local mansion. Louise again appears, in company with German officers and encourages him to play. The audience at the Château respond exuberantly to the music and so it is stopped by an officer.
The film shows the hostility of the Nazis to the Gypsies, a flamethrower destroying the camp at the end, while Django trudges through the snow towards Switzerland.
Then, suddenly, it is May 1945, peace and Django conducting his Requiem for the Deceased Gypsies.
In many ways, classical storytelling but, more importantly, a tribute Dkango Reinhardt and his music.
Belgium/ Senegal, 2017, 120 minutes, Colour.
Vero Tshanda Beya Mputu, Gaetan Claudia, Papi Mpaka.
Directed by Alan Gomis.
While the director of this film comes from Senegal and financing comes from there as well as some European countries, especially Belgium, the story is set in Congo, in the city of Kinshasa. With the filming in the streets of Kinshasa, in the villages on the outskirts, in a visit to a mansion, the audience can feel that it has been immersed in something of the life of the city and its characters.
At a bar, the camera begins to focus on Felicite, sitting among the patrons and then emerging to sing. She is a strong character, forceful and assertive, not always sympathetic, sometimes exasperating for an audience which makes it sometimes difficult to feel for and with her.
The film details her daily life, at home, the separation from her husband who is angry at her and rebukes her about her son being a thug, the boy himself being injured in an accident and finding himself in hospital and serious financial needs for his recovery.
The other main character in the film, Tabu, is a local friend, offering to mend Felicite’s bung refrigerator, which becomes something of a principal episode in the film, Tabu not always being able to fix it properly. And a friendship grows between the two.
Much of the film involves Felicite’s trying to raise money for her son, from her singing, in the bar, Tabu making a collection, even going to a wealthy man and imposing on him.
There is very little explanation about the son and, on release from hospital, he is not particularly communicative until he goes into the city, on his crutches, encouraged by Tabu who is able to bring him to life.
The film is important for those interested in African cinema, its representations of life in the early decades of the 21st century, memories of past traditions, and nation involved in civil war, poverty and survival…
FINAL PORTRAIT (Out of Competition)
US, 2017, 90 minutes, Colour.
Geoffrey Rush, Armie Hammer, Clemence Poesy, Tony Shalhoub, Sylvie Testud.
Directed by Stanley Tucci.
Final Portrait is a brief film about artist and sculptor, Alberto Giacometti, living and working in Paris in the middle of the 1960s. Much of the film is confined to his studio, his workspace, living quarters, upstairs storage and the workshop for his associate, Diego.
The film was directed by noted American actor, Stanley Tucci, his previous films in direction included The Big Night, Imposters, Joe Gould’s Secret. Tucci does not appear in this film but his friend and collaborator, Tony Shalhoub, portrays Giacometti’s assistant.
The screenplay is based on a memoir by an American, Jim Lord, who encountered Giacometti in Paris and was persuaded to remain there to pose for a portrait, taking a far longer time than Lord anticipated, but Lord agreeing to remain, fascinated by the work of the artist as well as his continually scrapping the work he had done, beginning afresh, seemingly dissatisfied, but finally producing a portrait.
This makes much of the film a two-hander, conversations between Lord and the artist, the sequences where Lord poses, is momentarily distracted, arouses Giacometti’s ire…
Geoffrey Rush is obviously enjoying his interpretation of Giacometti, Moody, artistic in every way, a perfectionist always dissatisfied, working on his sketches, on his paintings, his sculptures – with the audience having the opportunity to view many of these as the camera roams around his studio.
Armie Hammer is Jim Lord, a well-to-do American, interested in the artist’s work – and later writing about him.
There are some complications in Giacometti’s personal life, his relationship with his wife, played by Sylvie Testud, loving her husband but also tempted to other relationships. Giacometti is not only tempted but is in a long-term relationship with a local prostitute, Clemence Poesy, who operates from a local club, is unembarrassed in her relationship with the artist, easily cavorting and canoodling with him at the club, letting him buy her an expensive car…
So, the film itself is also a portrait, a kind of final portrait not only of Jim Lord but of Giacometti himself and his artistic achievements.
HAVE A NICE DAY (Competition)
China, 2017, 77 minutes, Colour.
Directed Jian Liu.
Have a Nice Day is an animation film from China. The animation is arresting, detail in the drawing of the backgrounds, the range of expression in the characters, the dramatic and melodramatic situations – and the violence.
Had this film been a live action drama, it would have been fairly commonplace, a picture of stolen money, gangsters, hitmen… And one of the characters remarks that he has watched the Godfather films several times. But, course this is animation, audiences will look at it more carefully, making the comparisons with the live-action, seeing how the range of gangster and criminal characters are drawn, the shape of their faces, the suggestions of the sinister, their violent expressions.
The film concerns a bag of money and two men riding in a car, allies, but one taking the money from the other, desperate to have money so that he can finance an operation for a loved one in South Korea. The boss is not pleased and hires a hitman to retrieve the money, not always effective in his pursuit. There is a hideout in the hotel which has seen better days.
There are complications in the action, the pursuit, violence, the capture of the money eluding those pursuing it, with a tongue in cheek ending and some prospects for progress.
Brazil, 2017, 97 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Marcelo Gomez.
This is a Brazilian film set in the 18th century in the countryside of Brazil.
It opens very strikingly, a head on a pike outside a church and a voice-over from the dead man explaining who he was, his being part of the military authority, his search for gold on behalf of the authorities, his wanting gold for himself – but also his reading books, learning some of the philosophy of the Americans of the 18th century and their human rights and freedom, leading him to become part of revolutionary action, but his being executed, the only one of the group beheaded and drawn and quartered.
The film then goes back to see him in his activities, on expeditions and dealing with his fellow officials as well as his personal servant, slave, and local Indians. He is part of a checkpoint where the authorities examine the gold findings and see if they are authentic or not, and will lead to further exploration. There is a servant on the checkpoint, an Indian, Blackie, who serves the food, interacts with all the people, has a sexual relationship with Joachim. Later she disappears.
Joachim has some new energy, his hair is cut by Blackie, he is asked to lead a group to go out into the countryside and prospect. The group spends a lot of time, panning in the rivers. But then food and supplies dwindle and the men demand that they return to the checkpoint, Joachim unwillingly. On his return, he gives some of his findings to the governor who makes all kinds of promises then steals the findings and goes to Rio. Joachim has read a great deal, being given books by a poet. He then goes out by himself to find gold, encounters the Indians who are hostile to him, but especially Blackie who stands against him. He is released and goes back to the checkpoint.
Religion has been absent from the film but now Joachim meets a priest who is associated with a revolutionary movement, along with the poet, and Joachim commits himself to action. There is a dinner scene with most of the people concerned, discussions about revolution – and then the film ends. We have seen the ending at the beginning of the film.
This is more of film for historians of Latin America and those interested in the revolutionary movements on that continent.
THE KING’S DECISION/ THE KING’S CHOICE (Berlinale Special)
Norway, 2016, 133 minutes, colour.
Jesper Christensen, Anders Baasmo Christiansen, Karl Markovics.
Directed Erik Poppe
This is a film which is specially designed for Norwegian audience, a Scandinavian audience, offering memories of the of the King of Norway in World War II.
The film has been directed by one Norway’s most distinguished directors, Erik Poppe (Troubled Waters).
The film gives historical background of the establishing of Norway as a separate kingdom in the 20th century, the choice of the Danish prince who came with his family to establish the royal house which was accepted and has continued to the present.,
With the outbreak of the war, German submarines began to sail in Norwegian waters. The German ambassador to Oslo expected the King to make some kind of agreement with Germany to enable its occupation just as his brother, the King of Denmark, had done for that country.
The action takes place over only a couple of days, the pressure from the Germans, the threats from the Germans and the submarines, the king facing the decision and his advisors, some for allowing the Germans in (with the later rule of Quisling) and a number against so that during the night, the king and the cabinet left Oslo for a secret country location to make the decision. There is a vivid sequence where the train is attacked by air and passengers flee into the woods.
The dilemma for the king was whether to allow the Nazis in and have a possible peaceful occupation during the war or to defy the Germans with consequent attacks, destruction and death of civilians. The king made the decision to defy the Germans.
Jesper Christiansen is very effective as the King. His son was initially in favour of Nazi occupation but then supported his father – and eventually succeeded him.
The King’s decision in 1940 was a courageous one but has held up over the decades as an example of patriotic commitment in defiance of the Nazi will to conquer Europe.
LOGAN (Out of Competition)
US, 2017, 135 minutes, Colour.
Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Boyd Holbrook, Stephen Merchant, Richard E. Grant.
Directed by James Mangold.
Dear, oh dear! Words of sympathy for Logan. When he first emerges after binge at a bar, he looks dreadful. He looks much older, certainly scruffier, bearded and lined – rather similar in look and voice to the later Mel Gibson (though taller!). Loglan catches sight of some thugs stripping his car, his inner Wolverine starts to emerge, as well as his shears, and there is some familiar mayhem. There is this story of Logan going to go… where?
One of the first things to note is that it is the year 2029. And we discover that Charles Xavier, a proud nonagenarian, memory and concentration lessening, in need of constant medication, is hidden and protected by an albino (Stephen Merchant), Caliban, who has to protect his head and whole body against light.
The real drama starts when a Mexican woman appeals to Logan to help her and her daughter. Professor Xavier senses the daughter is a mutant and needs protection. This very quickly emerges when a tough mercenary type, Pierce (Boyd Holbrook) turns up with armed guards and threatening Logan. Pierce is a nasty piece of work, especially when he deals with Caliban, torturing him with the light, but he and his mob are carrying out the orders of Zander Rice (Richard E.Grant), the executive in charge of an experimental facility, which is seriously playing with genetics, implanting codes from mutants, including Logan, into Mexican women who are then disposed of.
The plan is now to move on to a next phase, more deadly, the children as weapons, more machine-like and without soul. They are rounding up mutant children who have escaped, including Laura (Dafne Keen in quite a striking performance). By now, we can see where the film is going – and the destination is named, Eden in North Dakota, allegedly a refuge for mutant children (though Laura’s protector got this information only from an X-Men? comic). The film is going to be a road movie, Logan driving hell for leather and beyond, Charles Xavier as his passenger and needing care, Laura, not speaking, fiercely determined, a fierce weapon.
Along the road there is a visit to a shop which Laura has never experienced and a clash with the assistant. There is a motel stop with Laura watching a lot of scenes from Shane which Charles Xavier tells her he saw when he was her age. There is a visit to a casino in Oklahoma City, buying new clothes. And there is an episode along the road with some horses running across the highway and Professor Xavier able to calm them, the grateful family inviting the group to a meal and a quiet night. Well, not quite…
As the film moved towards its close, we realise that this is an end to an X-Men? era, Logan ready to lay down his life for Laura, battling a clone that the facility has created of him, confronting Xander Rice who gets short shrift in the middle of an impassioned speech, and a realisation that a new era of mutant action films is in store.
LOST CITY OF Z (Berliale Special)
US, 2017, 140 minutes, Colour.
Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus McFadyen?, Franco Nero.
Directed by James Gray.
In terms of marketing, Lost City of Z, may not be so successful for promoting the film. On the one hand, the title sounds very much like a blockbuster adventure, even fantasy. On the other hand, it is a reference to exploration expeditions to Bolivia and the search for a city lost in the jungles of Amazonia. Which means, it is a rather more serious historical film.
The director is James Gray, much better known for small-scale American stories, with criminals in Little Odessa, of relationships in Two Lovers or reminiscence about people arriving in America, The immigrant. He has written a screenplay and directed, recreating Ireland and England in the first part of the 20th century, action in Amazonia, the jungle, the rivers, falls, animals – and the continued threat of the spear-throwing inhabitants.
The film opens in Ireland in 1905, the gentry assembled Hunt, helped by the military, especially with the lieutenant, Percy Fawcett, played very seriously by Charlie Hunnam. It is he chases and kills the stag but is unacceptable to society because of his father’s disreputable reputation. He is deprived of medals and promotion, returning home to England with strong-minded wife, Nina (Sienna Miller).
It is quite a surprise for Fawcett when he is invited by the Royal Geographical Society to lead an expedition to Amazonia, the area between Brazil and Bolivia, to determine the borders because of rubber barons and their clashes. Fawcett was an excellent cartographer in his study days. The expedition will last at least two years.
The film highlights the distance between England and Bolivia, the liner in the Atlantic, train travel in Bolivia, slow riding by horse, walking. The adventurers are surprised to find a city in the jungle with its own opera company performing (for film buffs, echoes of Hertzog’s Fitzcaraldo). As they go into the jungle, Fawcett is accompanied by a journalist who becomes his friend, Costin (Robert Pattinson) as well as a military attache, a local Indian guide and various carriers. As expected, things are not easy in the jungle, snakes, piranha in the river, hunger – and the shooting of a boar when they are desperate for provisions. There are also dangerous encounters with the local Indians as well as making friends with them, and hearing of the possibilities of cities covered over by jungle. Fawcett uses the term Lost City of Z, which, if found, would contribute to the ethnographic understanding of the world.
Fawcett is welcomed on his return but is eager to go again, giving talks to the Royal Geographical Society, mocked by some of the members about his theories, others being enthused and offering to accompany him. His wife would like to accompany him, stressing her capabilities and those of women, but Fawcett is rather old-fashioned in his expectations of what women can and cannot do. She remains at home over the years and they have three children.
The second expedition achieves some things but, an encounter with a cannibal group, one of their benefactors, Murray (Angus McFadyen) is cowardly, is sent off with provisions after his capsizing their boat – and, when Fawcett goes again to the Society, Murray is there to denounce him and demand an apology.
World War I intervenes and Fawcett goes to the trenches, quite graphically pictured here, showing heroism and being blinded by chlorine gas and repatriated.
Five years pass, his oldest son Jack (Tom Holland) who had regretted his father’s absence and influence on his family has become something of a hunter and proposes that they are going in to Amazonia, raising American finance which is met by British finance. And the Society acknowledges Fawcett’s work in awarding him its highest medal.
Fawcett and his son disappear – and the film speculates about their being taken by local Indians who respect them but lead them to their deaths. There is a postscript to say that in the early 20th century, there have been some discoveries of Amazonian cities (and a reminder that Machu Picchu was discovered in the early 20th century in Peru).
A film about Intrepid British explorers rather than an action blockbuster.
MAUDIE (Berlinale Special)
Canada/Ireland, 2017, 117 minutes, Colour.
Sally Hawkins, Ethan Hawke, Gabrielle Rose.
Directed by Aisling Walsh.
Maudie is a portrait of a painter from Nova Scotia, Maudie Lewis. It is based on a true story.
Some commentators have noted that the screenplay simplifies Maudie Lewis’s life, that she had painted early in life, that she had some sales earlier than is shown in the film. She was also a very small woman, suffering severely from rheumatoid arthritis and disfigured spine.
Nevertheless, Sally Hawkins shines as Maudie. A versatile actress, Sally Hawkins made quite an impact in her award-winning performance in Mike Leigh’s Happy Go Lucky. Despite her illness and her hard and harsh life, Maudie emerges so often as happy-go-lucky.
Suffering severely from her childhood, Maudie is offloaded on her maiden aunt, Ida (Gabrielle Rose) by her brother sells the family house against her knowledge and will. I had it is something of a severe woman who resents having to support Maudie, makes her life extremely restrictive, humiliating her.
An opportunity arises when Maudie goes shopping season is a notice in the store from a local fisherman-fishmonger, Everett Lewis, played quite intensely and somewhat savagely by Ethan Hawke for help in his house. Maudie answers the notice and walks to his house, not an easy interview, but she perseveres and stays and Everett giving some begrudging consent to her presence, as long as she keeps the house clean and. He tells her that the priority in the house is: me, the dog, the chickens, you.
When Maudie finds some paint, she starts to do pictures on the wall of the house, simple flowers, cats, landscapes. Again Everett is rather begrudging, wanting some wall space without pictures. It is when a woman visiting from New York City calls to the house about the delivery of fish and discovers Maudie’s paintings, buys one, continues to affirm Maudie and promotes her paintings in the US and through the media, comes different for Maudie.
To Everett’s bewilderment, visitors come to the house, buying Maudie’s paintings and, especially, the greeting cards, and giving commissions.
There is an emotional development at the end of the film concerning the baby that Maudie had borne when very young and the verdict that it was not healthy. Sad moments for Maudie – but, as the film shows, despite her own illness and disabilities, despite her sufferings, she was a woman of strong spirit and achievement.
A FANTASTIC WOMAN/ UNA MUJER FANTASTICA (Competition)
Chile, 2017, 100 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Sebastian Lelio.
Sebastian Lellio has made a number of interesting films, the controversial Sacred Family and the award-winning Gloria. He tackles a contemporary issue, gender, transgender. His title focuses on the central character, as female, and as admirable.
The central character is called Marina, played by Daniela Vega, herself a transsexual. She gives a very serious performance, affectionate in her relationship, dignified in her conduct after the death of her partner and the antagonism from his family, feeling the grief of the death of the partner – and an outlet in classical singing lessons and final performance.
The setting is Santiago, an urban setting presented as ordinary but detailed. The action takes place over two days.
We are introduced to Orlando, a 57-year-old businessman having a massage – and then going to a club where he listens to Marina singing. They go to his apartment and we realise that they are partners. However, he wakens during the night, ill and is rushed to hospital. He dies.
Given the title, Marina is a woman of some dignity, courteous to people, but upset by a policewoman coming to voice suspicions about Orlando’s death, bruises on his body, and wanting to examine Marina. But this is nothing compared with the animosity of Orlando’s family, his son coming to the apartment, verbally abusing Marina, taking the dog which was hers. Orlando is ex-wife is even stronger, demanding that Marina bring the car, forbidding her to come to the funeral, wanting to talk directly about the relationship, Marina and her trans-situation, but talking directly means talking insultingly.
There is the issue of Marina being excluded from the funeral, emphasising the sensitivities of the family, although Orlando’s brother is much more sympathetic and understanding.
The drama also offers examples of homophobia and anger, leading to violence, targeting people whom they do not understand.
Marina is also taking lessons in classical singing – and, at the end, this is a symbol of her coping and succeeding in the future.
Transgender issues are in the news at the present time, many people mystified by persons with difficulties in identifying their gender as well as having surgery to fortify their choice. In telling this story, with a sympathetic central character, audiences may have an opportunity for greater understanding if not empathy.
ON BODY AND SOUL/ EL TESTROL EL LELEKOL (Competition)
Hungary, 2017, 117 minutes, Colour.
Mirocsanyi Geza, Alexandra Borbely.
Directed by Ildiko Enyedi.
On Body and Soul is quite a striking film, Hungarian in its storytelling and perspectives but with a powerful universal impact.
The film is set in an ordinary city, scenes of people’s apartments, restaurants, but most of the action taking place in an abattoir.
With the abattoir and the focus on the cattle, penned, prodded, close-ups of their eyes, their deaths, the carcasses and the blood, the hanging meat, the workers going about their tasks calmly, the abattoir as something of an image of life and human experience. While there is a lot of detail of the abattoir – and the final credits note that animals were harmed during the filming but not by the film crew because they simply photographed an abattoir at work – it is not confined to the slaughter but also to the range of members of the staff, Finance Director, Human Relations director, supervisor, as well as the various women in diverse domestic jobs.
At the film begins with another image of animals, beautiful shots of a stag and the doe in the snowy forest, their instincts, their meeting, moving towards each other and an animal affection. As it turns out, these are the animals in the dreams of the two central characters, therefore highly symbolic. Peter is the finance director at the abattoir, Maria is a supervisor and inspector. When he first sees her, standing aloof and alone as she usually does, he is fascinated, meets her in the dining room, begins a conversation – but she is very awkward in responding. As we can see almost immediately from her behaviour, she is both compulsive and obsessive in the detail of her work, in neatness, in remembering sequences and dates in exact order.
An event in the abattoir, the stealing of some pharmaceuticals, leads to a psychologist visiting and questioning all the workers, rather intrusive questions about sexual behaviour, the nature of dreams… Peter is very offhand whereas Maria is absolutely precise. It is here that the audience sees that the two have the same dreams, the psychologist thinking this is joke and Peter not disillusioning her. Interestingly, she actually does pinpoint from her examination who the culprit is.
Quite a deal of the film focuses on Maria, her attempts to begin some kind of communication with people, getting advice from the rather raunchy old lady who cleans on what to wear and how to walk, buying a mobile phone which she has never had, contacting Peter, having conversations which lead to a theoretical intimacy. She also goes to a music store, listening all day to records but finally buying that recommended by the woman at the counter.
Peter, meanwhile, dislikes one of the workers, warning him about having care for his work on the animals, suspecting him of the theft – and later apologising when the man is not the thief. Peter has an injured arm, lives alone quietly, a slapdash kind of life. Maria brings something out of him but, both of them being awkward, there are some misunderstandings – which will almost leads to tragedy.
The film is very well acted, the dialogue always interesting, the situation is identifiable with, the exploration of human nature, human bodily illness, the reality of the soul. This all makes On Body and Soul a film of high quality.
The film won the Golden Bear at the Berlin are they, 2017, as well as the prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the jury of the International Film Critics.
ON THE BEACH AT NIGHT ALONE (Competition)
Korea, 2017, 101 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Hong Sang-soo.
The director is always interested in relationships, power, sexuality (Woman is the future of man, Haewon). This is a contemporary film.
The first part of the film is set in Germany, in Hamburg, an actress is visiting and staying with a friend. For 30 minutes, the film is really conversation between the two women, revealing the past of the actress and her relationship with the director and her deciding to leave Korea and visit Germany, the other woman being older, a good friend, who prefers to live alone. There are comparatively few Germans to be seen, but the older woman sees an agent about renting an apartment, they go to a music store where they meet a friendly composer and buy his book of music, and are hosted by a German couple at a meal.
The second part of the film is longer, set in Korea. The actress has returned to Korea and is meeting with friends. Once again, the film is primarily conversation, but it is conversation generally in groups. The actress finds a friend who is now working in a restaurant, reminiscing about the past, making some advances, but he is committed to his work and to the woman who runs the restaurant. There are other conversations, involving older friends.
There is a lot of smoking and drinking, and the actress swings in her moods, sometimes being sensible, other times flirtatious and challenging. She plays with the idea of living with another woman, kissing her friend.
However, the conversation simply rouses the past for the actress and she goes to walk on the beach, lying down and going to sleep. She is awakened and invited over to join film technicians who are scouting locations. She is at home with them – and invited to a meal where the director with whom she had a previous relationship is present. They talk, he gives her a gift of a book after reading a passage about relationships, but she has been drinking and is stirred up to talk to the director, to remember the past, to criticise him, to judge him.
And then, she is lying on the beach again – woken up and she realises that she has been dreaming. It is what might have happened – and what might happen.
THE OTHER SIDE OF HOPE (Competition)
Finland, 2017, 98 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Aki Kaurismaki.
The Other Side of Hope is a humane film looking at the refugee situation in Europe during the years of the civil war in Syria. There were national crises in various countries of Europe, especially in Eastern Europe, with borders being blocked. On the other hand, refugees were welcomed in Germany as well as the more northern countries, especially in Scandinavia.
It is been directed by one of Finland’s pre-eminent directors, Aki Kaurismaki, who has had to long career, sometimes with comedies and music, sometimes with filmss about relationships, and often with a social conscience.
It is clear where the director’s stance on refugees is as we look at the title.
The opens dramatically at a wharf in Helsinki, the camera focusing on a cargo of coal and a man emerging from the coal, covered in soft, but making is way out of the ship, walking the streets, finding a place to shower, and then handing himself into the police asking for asylum status. In fact, the police seem sympathetic and help him with his situation. Soon there are sequences where he is being examined by immigration officials and we hear his story, a mechanic in Damascus, returning home to find his house flattened and his parents dead, getting help from his boss, the father of his dead fiancé, to pay people smugglers to get himself and his sister out of Syria, into Turkey and across to Greece.
At the closed border of Hungary, he is separated from his sister and has spent a great deal of time and effort travelling around the Balkans and into Eastern Europe to find her. He is helped onto a ship and finds himself in Finland.
The central character, Khalid, is a very sympathetic young man and the audience is on his side hoping that he will be given refugee status – but one of the hard aspects of the film is hearing the presiding official in the court declaring, despite the audience seeing the bombings and terrible suffering in Damascus on the television, that it is safe for him to return to Syria. He effects an escape and disappears.
The film has also introduced us to a businessman, a salesman packing and leaving his wife who is alcoholic. He sells his stock of shirts and decides to buy a restaurant, and in the under-the-counter kind of deal, the previous owner takes the money and literally runs to the airport, not paying his staff. But, since the central characters of this film are quite genial, a situation arises where the owner takes out the rubbish and finds Khalid huddling in the street. It is not hard to guess where this is going to lead, with Khalid getting a job in the restaurant, getting a forged passport rather easily, dealing with the eccentric members of the staff who provide touches of comedy in their performances. There is also some comedy as the restaurant owner tries out different ways of generating business including turning the restaurant into a sushi centre with Japanese tourists and then a curry centre…
With the story being gentle on the whole, it should mean that there is a sympathetic audience, ready to appreciate the refugee situation. And this is added to by the picture of various groups of neo-Nazis, bashings and the ugly face of bigotry.
This is a film of its time touching on the sensibilities and sensitivities, especially of Europeans, but of all people facing the mass migrations of the early 21st century and those are intent on closing borders.
THE PARTY (Competition)
UK, 2017, 77 minutes, Black and white.
Kristin Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy.
Directed by Sally Potter.
Over the decades Sally Potter has made quite a number of interesting, often offbeat films, remembering Orlando, The Man who Cried, Rage, and Ginger and Rosa.
In this film, photographed in very effective and sharp black-and-white, she also shows how much material can be condensed into 77 minutes of running time.
It is something like this: Sally Potter has called on several top actors, three British, two Americans, an Irishman and a German, written them some very sharp and telling dialogue, directed them to interact with each other, mounting tension as the film goes on, many in the audience remembering the effect of this kind of social drama in the confines of a meal as in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.
The film opens with Janet, Kristin Scott Thomas, opening the front door and raising a revolver. We have to wait only about 75 minutes to know what this is all about – and be surprised. Kristin Scott Thomas portrays a politician who has just been announced as an opposition minister, for health, having campaigned long and hard and put her socialist principles into practice. This is the other meaning of the Party, the political party. Then we see Bill, her husband, sitting depressed and forlorn, rather haggard and not with it, listening to music, waiting for the guests for a celebratory meal. He is played by Timothy Spall.
The first visitors to arrive are April and Gottfried, Patricia Clarkson and Bruno Ganz, an unlikely couple, she very sardonic, even cynical, American, close friend of Janet, full of opinions and certainly in no way hesitant to express them, some offhand, some calculated – and often the calculation is to upset and hurt. On the other hand, Gottfried is a genial German who admires April immensely even though she expresses the desire to separate from him and keeps putting him down in front of everyone. He is a personal coach, anti-Western medicine, interested in breathing, self-help, self-healing, and considering doctors’ diagnoses the equivalent of voodoo or curses.
The next couple to arrive and Martha and her partner Jinny, Cherry Jones and Emily Mortimer. Martha is an intellectual, university professor, trendy in many ways, common-sensed. Jinny is much younger and is about to announce that she is not only pregnant but is expecting twins, more than a shock for Martha.
Another couple is expected, husband, Tom, Cillian Murphy, and Maryann who does not arrive. He easily breaks out in a sweat despite his very dapper suit, and relies on cocaine fixes in an attempt to calm his anxiety. He has also brought a gun but decides to throw it into a garbage bin.
This review, having introduced the characters, will leave the rest for the audience to experience, be surprised at, sometimes laugh, sometimes be dismayed, wonder about human nature and its follies and foibles.
Each of the characters has a story. Many of the stories are intertwined and cause quite some surprise and anxiety, outbursts of affection, outbursts of violence, and the problem whether Janet will continue in her role as the new minister.
In fact, a well-written, well-directed, well-acted, contemporary issues drama.
Poland, 2017, 128 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Agnieszka Holland.
Agnieszka Holland has made films all over the world, in her native Poland as well is in the United States. Here she returns to Poland.
This is a slow-moving drama, a focus on an older woman (and perhaps this was the attraction for the director, able to identify with this woman in age and in outlook). The woman teaches English in a local school but is criticised for her unorthodox methods of dealing with the young children, taking them on excursions into the woods, and is fired from her position.
The synopsis for the film would indicate that there is quite a deal of action – and that is true only that the action takes a long time and the film moves very slowly.
The portrait is that of Janina, living alone, interested in astrology, love for her pets whom she finds killed, concerned about environmental issues, friendly with the young woman in difficulties in the town, friendly with the young man, an epileptic, who helps her.
In the meantime, there are quite a number of authority figures in the town, the police chief, the mayor, the parish priest. They are concerned with activities that Janina does not approve of, hunting, a casino… And, throughout the film, each of these characters is found murdered.
There is an interlude where a Czech scientist, examining ants in the forest, is confronted by Janina but they form a friendship after the finding of yet another body.
It is highly likely that the audience will work out halfway through the film who was responsible for the deaths – which might make the buildup to the revelation, and the burning of the church and the death of the parish priest who has been severely critical of Janina and her belief in animal souls and environmental causes, seem somewhat anticlimactic.
For some audiences the film might be hard going, depending on identifying with the Polish sensibility, the feminist sensibility and the environmental causes and the consequences.
REINA DE ESPANA, La/ THE QUEEN OF SPAIN (Berlinale Special)
Spain, 2017, 128 minutes, Colour.
Penelope Cruz, Antonio Resines, Chino Darin, Javier Camara, Jorge Sans, Cary Elwes, Mandy Patinkin, Clive Revill, Loles Leon, Neus Assensi.
Directed by Fernando Trueba.
This kind of film is usually described as a romp, with words to describe it like “rollicking”!
This is an ambitious production, written and directed by Fernando Trueba, Oscar-winner for Best Foreign Language Film, La Belle Epoque, 1992. At first, the title could refer to Queen Isabella of Spain and her rule, and dominance, in the late 15th century. However, there is a strong focus on a glamorous Spanish actress who goes to Hollywood, marries a prominent producer, divorces, is seen as a star, returns to Spain for the filming of The Queen of Spain – but it is the actress who is, of course, the Queen of Spain.
The setting is the late 1940s into the early 1950s. The film is very helpful in offering an initial collage of scenes showing the experience of Spain from the Civil War, the emergence of General Franco, Spain’s role during World War II, the end of the war, the Franco era and the sense of control, even repression. Part of the collage is showing the glamour of Hollywood in the 1940s, star popularity, the fans and gossip, the popularity of the movies.
Penelope Cruz is the star, the queen. She gets the start treatment from the press, from the American producers – the filming of the film within the film has American money, something Franco Spain is happy to accept. There is an American director played by Clive Revill who is generally asleep, wakened to say action or cut, something of a parody on John Ford. Mandy Patinkin is the writer, doing hack work because he has been blacklisted during the McCarthy? era. There is an American actor, Cary Elwes, playing Ferdinand, quite a camp character and, self-important.
On the set is a range of characters, some oddball, who are part of the Spanish set – but who have an important role in the latter part of the film, eccentricities and all. There is the costume designer, married to a homosexual head of Department; there is a Spanish actor who has seen better days, who is to play the Moorish king, but has hopes of an invitation to Hollywood; there is Trini, the star’s personal assistant – not afraid to spread the gossip; and there is the assistant director, played by Javier Camara, frequently in Almodovar films, serious in his work and managing things so that all goes well.
There is a serious tone when a former director who has been missing for many years turns up, welcome back even though everybody thought he was dead – but was in a concentration camp. He is given work has second unit director and seems ready for a comeback when his suddenly arrested, disappears to a working site were an enormous cross is being erected out of stone in memory of the recent past. He is the target of this attempts on his life.
This all comes together in a plot initiated by the star, and aided by one of the young technicians whom she has seduced, to get the motley troop to affect and escape for the prisoner. This is where the film becomes particularly rollicking, the plan, the execution, using the filming of soldiers on horseback, with the star disguised as one, extricating the prisoner and eluding the authorities to get him out of Spain. A happy blend of humour and excitement.
Plenty of characters, plenty of ingredients, scenes from the actual film – including an extraordinary insertion of Queen Isabella singing the contemporary song, Granada, roaming the battlements!
At the end, Generalissimo Franco decides to visit the set, keeping the Americans and they trying to keep in favour of Spain. While the film has been very anti-Franco, it is a scene where the star, now an American citizen, his father was killed in one Franco’s prisons, speaks out a defiance against fascism.
A movie movie, so to speak, with a great deal of humour, with a great deal of gossip, and many serious undertones.
RETURN TO MONTAUK (Competition)
Germany, 2017, 105 minutes, Colour.
Stellan Skarsgaard, Nina Hoss, Suzanne Wolfe, Niels Arestrup.
Directed by Volker Schlondorff.
A significant factor for the success of this film is that it was co-written by celebrated and award-winning novelist, Colm Toibin (Brooklyn, The Testament of Mary). He has worked with the German director, Volker Schlondorff, who has been directing films since the 1960s.
In fact, this is the story about a novelist, played by Stellan Skarsgaard. It opens with a rather long monologue by the author, talking about his father, a philosopher, and about the writer’s life, meditating on the things that were done and were mistakes as well as on the things that were not done and should have been done. It is then revealed, as the camera moves back, that the writer is doing a reading for the public, a novel, rather than from his life – although, as the film continues, it is quite clear that much of the novel is autobiographical.
There is a whole lot of hoopla about the novelist coming back to New York City after an absence of 10 years. He is a German author but spent time, especially studying, in New York. At a reading, he encounters Walter (Neils Arestrup) who had been his mentor in the past, especially when he was studying with Rebecca with whom he had a relationship but had suddenly broken it off and lost contact with her.
With the title, it is return to New York City as well as, eventually to Montauk on Long Island.
Max, the author, has a companion, (Suzanne Wolfe) who has been in New York preparing his visit. There is also a PR person guiding him through his visit, arranging interviews. However, it is very clear that Max would like to find Rebecca again, gets her address at work, she comes down to see him but seems quite unwilling for any further contact. He then goes to her apartment, starting to think about the past again – and it appears, not only to Rebecca, but to the audience, that Max is living a dream, that he is rather self-centred, that he would like to plan a future that panders to himself and his wishes.
The exploration of this theme involves Rebecca inviting him to drive with her to Montauk to see a house that she is interested in buying. But Montauk was a place where they had been together, at a hotel, walking the beach… Which is something they do again. But, it is Rebecca who emerges with far more credibility than Max, her shock at his departure, her having to cope, her meeting someone who supported her in her work but who suddenly died, her grieving. After 10 years she is a prominent lawyer, working with a prestigious firm, often headhunted for other firms, able to command a sizeable fee.
Max goes back to New York where he has upset people by his absence. He has to face his companion and her dismay at the way that he has treated her.
The film is always interesting in its portrayal of the character of Max and Stellan Skarsgaard’s effective performance. It is always interesting in its exploration of the character of Rebecca, played by famous German actress, Nina Hoss. And it is interesting in its resolution and its non-resolutions and the audience left wondering what exactly Max’s future will be.
SAGE FEMME/ THE MIDWIFE (Out of Competition)
France, 2017, 105 minutes, Colour.
Catherine Frot, Catherine Deneuve,
Directed by Martin Provost.
It is a pleasure to see two important actresses working together. In 2016 Catherine Frot made a powerful impression as Marguerite, the French equivalent of the off-key singer, Florence Foster Jenkins. Catherine Deneuve, in her early 70s, has been making films, quite prolifically, and receiving top billing since 1964, a French icon.
The title, Sage Femme is the French for Midwife. The emphasis is very female – but there are lines of dialogue in this film to indicate that the name will have to be changed, both in French and English, with men becoming significant in birthing. The son of Catherine Frot’s Claire tells his mother that he is stopping his medical studies but that he intends to work as a midwife.
The film opens with quite a number of births scenes, an opportunity to show Claire and her skills, her ability to deal with mothers giving birth, to encourage, to cajole, to sympathise, and spreading her expertise to the attending nurses. There are other sequences throughout the film enabling us to appreciate Claire’s commitment and professionalism. She is also unhappy at the move to great technological change in care for mothers and birth, moving away from the personalised midwife care.
And Catherine Deneuve? She plays an older woman, Beatrice, who wants to get in contact with Claire’s father with whom she had a relationship decades earlier. This puts a great strain on Claire who is very serious at the best of times. It means going back into her past, her attitude towards her father, her resentment towards Beatrice, her long held the ring that Beatrice had betrayed her.
The main complication is that Beatrice announces that she has terminal cancer, tumours. Claire is very positive in her outlook on illness and recovery and, at first, it is her sense of medical duty that she gives attention to Beatrice. Which is not always easy because Beatrice is one of those people who can never settle down, is always out on the town, is still smoking despite warnings, fond of a drink, and a propensity for gambling. She switches moods in an incident, upset, then over-gracious.
There is one other complication, apart from Claire’s son and his fiancee announcing that she is pregnant. Claire has a garden plot on the outskirts of the city, working with her vegetables, and encounters the son of the manager, Paul (Oliver Gourmet) an international truck driver who befriends Claire, a genial and obliging man, someone who can open up Claire and her capacity for one-to-one affection. There is an exhilarating scene at the end where Claire, Beatrice and Paul go for a country drive in the lorry and Beatrice gets the opportunity to drive.
So, it is a great pleasure to see the two actresses embody these two characters, their interactions, the changing relationship, going back into memories, and the possibilities for some reconciliation and forgiveness. Bringing to birth, so to speak, a new life of relationships.
T2 TRAINSPOTTING (Out of Competition)
UK, 2017, 117 minutes, Colour.
Ewan Mc Gregor, Ewen Bremner, Johnny Lee Miller, Robert Carlyle, James Cosmo, Shirley Henderson,
Directed by Danny Boyle.
Trainspotting became a classic of the 1990s, based on a novel by Irvine Welsh, it was setting Edinburgh but in the sub culture of drugs in the city, focusing on four men in their 20s, their exuberantly reckless life, the impact of drugs – and a certain move toward self-destruction.
But, here they are again, 20 years later. Have they changed at all? Have they learned from their experiences? And what have they been doing during the previous 20 years? This is a story of four men in their mid-40s, also Edinburgh, and there is still something of a drug-culture.
For those who appreciated the first film, there is no doubt that this film will be more than interesting. One very serious reviewer remarked that all the “magic” from the original film had gone. “Magic” is not exactly the word that comes to mind when considering Trainspotting. There is a lot of sentiment, of the affectionate and affable type as well is the hostile and aggressive type, but there is also a great deal of reminiscing with one character remarking that they were “tourists in their own nostalgia”, something which many of the audience will be indulging in as well.
And what has happened? Ewan Mc Gregor is Mark Renton returns to Edinburgh after 15 years in Amsterdam, a finance course, a job, a wife – but this all now collapsing. Johnny Lee Miller Simon is involved in blackmailing clients of a prostitute that he is set up with a camera and has inherited a derelict pub. Ewen Bremner’s spud, quite an interesting character in this film, has been on drugs, tried rehabilitation, been on several jobs but, there is an enjoyable collage showing how he turns up an hour late for everything and is now on his own, yearning for his wife and son. And Robert Carlyle’s Begbie? In prison all these years, but now with a brainwave to get a fellow prisoner to stab him so that he has to go to hospital and where he can walk out, trying to resume his life, meetings wife and son, the son intended to go to college but his father forcing him to go on a botched burglary expedition.
So, there we are. What will they do now?
Mike finds he doesn’t want to go back to Amsterdam, is reunited with his father, experiences the animosity of Simon but then decides to stay and help on a project where Simon can turn his pub into a sauna (that is, brothel). He is in a relationship with the prostitute he set up, Veronica, who is from Bulgaria and a shrewd operator as well. Spud helps with the renovation of the pub meanwhile writing down his stories which Veronica is fascinated with. And Begbie, he is after some revenge on Mark.
All this happens, more or less, but Simon does get charged for his blackmail, but not before going to members of a fund to appeal for a grant and then going to a club where he and Mark Steele all the credit cards and, in a high point in the film, because all the crowd is loyalist and hasn’t forgotten the Battle of the Boyne, are forced to sing the song, Mark improvising, the song being 1690, and the end of each chorus is “not a Catholic left” which is an amazing hit with everybody vigourosly joining in.
There is a buildup to a climax with Begbie attacking Mark, defended by Simon, and Begbie delivered in the boot of the car to the prison gates. And Veronica, with the help of spud, is no mean exploiter herself, especially with the financial grant money.
Trainspotting fans may well be invigorated by this sequel – but it does present a kind of sub- culture world, some dead ends in life unless one is in exploiter. but spud is a great success with his stories, going to see his wife and son and she suggesting a title for them!
VICEROY’S HOUSE (Out of Competition)
UK/India, 2017, 106 minutes, Colour.
Hugh Bonneville, Gillian Anderson, Michael Gambon, Manish Dayal, Huma Quereshi, David Heyman, Om Puri, Simon Callow.
Directed by Gurinda Chanda.
Where is the Viceroy’s House? It is in Delhi, and it is 1947, the year for Britain’s solving its role in India’s move for independence, which led to Partition into India and Pakistan, Hindu and Muslim.
For those interested in British history, especially in India, this is a film which recreates the atmosphere and dramatises the personalities and events of the time. The viceroy is Lord Mountbatten, who had achieved significantly during World War II in Burma. He is accompanied by his wife, Lady Edwina Mountbatten.
The task that Mountbatten was given by the British Parliament was to move India towards the independence that it for and which had been fostered by Mahatma Gandhi. This independence was not to be an easy task because of Hindu traditions, of the Muslim traditions, the cultural and religious clashes, in 1947 turning into local massacres, uprisings and a general sense of unease. Hindus were led by Nehru and the Muslims by Jinna. It was very difficult times to arrange meetings between leaders.
As a way of bringing the audience into the thinking of the issues, there is a kind of Romeo and Juliet story underlying the political activity. Jeet (Manish Daval) is a Hindu who has worked in prisons but is now promoted as a personal servant to the Viceroy. Also promoted in the Viceroy’s House is a young Muslim woman, Aalia (Huma Quereshi). Jeet is in love with her since he looked after her father in prison. She has been promised to someone else and it would seem that their love has no future.
Hugh Bonneville portrays Mountbatten, an excellent choice, bringing dignity and status as well as some compassion to the role trying with his wife (Gillian Anderson) to move amongst the people, meeting with the governors, the political leaders, facing the reality of a low Partition for many, including Gandhi, are against it.
An expert, who had actually never visited in, is called in to determine the borders between India and Pakistan, as well as establishing East Pakistan, later Bangladesh. He is played by Simon Callow. One of the main advisors to the Viceroy Is General Ismay (Michael Gambon), who eventually reveals to the border expert that there had been a long plan for Partition, sponsored by Winston Churchill, no longer Prime Minister, a plan that had not been shown to Mountbatten who had reported well to the Parliament which decreed that the solution was to be named after him.
In the meantime, the romance between the two young people does blossoms, the girl’s father (Om Puri) appreciates Jeet. At the same time, as the riots and massacres break out, the intense differences are manifest amongst the clashing servants who eventually, when Partition is to have to make a decision whether they want to stay in Pakistan or in India. This leads to an enormous migration throughout the subcontinent.
Audiences interested in British politics in 1947 should see a United Kingdom, the story of the King of Bechuanaland and and his marrying an English woman and the consequent racial difficulties and decisions of the British Parliament under Atlee under Churchill to preserve links with South Africa where apartheid was officially emerging. During the final credits, there is a note that the director’s grandmother was caught up in the searches at the time of Partition so that there is great personal investment in the film as a memoir.
Beautifully photographed, an excellent re-creation of the period, a very watchable political and social film.
WILD MOUSE (Competition)
Austria, 2017, 103 minutes, Colour.
Joseph Hader, Georg Friedrich, Jorg Hartmann, Pia Hierzegger, Denis Moschitto, Crina Semciuc.
Directed by Joseph Hader.
An Austrian comedy.
Wild Mouse is the work of Joseph Hader, actor, writer of the script and director of the film. The Wild Mouse of the title is a restaurant – although the character, Georg, is something of a mouse at the age of 50 but, having been fired from his paper and 25 years of music reviews, he discovers that there is more to life and his being a mouse becomes rather wild – even excessively so.
This is a film that people of middle age will relate to. Those, who around 50, find it difficult to get employment after losing their jobs, will also identify.
Hader creates quite a character, a rather self-satisfied man, and snobbish. He is married to Joanna, a therapist, something which creates a variety of complications especially with a recalcitrant client and his relationships.
At first, Georg does not want to admit the truth, goes out to work every day, sits in the park, is amazed that his successor still uses some of his reviews (with his wife astounded they are so friendly). One day, at a fair, he sits on the train designed for children and families which leads to his meeting the driver, a friend from school days (whom he remembers bullying him). The driver also loses his job but is supported by his Romanian girlfriend with whom he will cannot converse, Georg using Italian to get to know her.
With Georg coming to life, one of the main things that Hebrew on is a possible revenge on his boss who sacked him. And that is where the film leads, with some surprises, Georg failing in his intent, falling asleep in the snow and having to phone his wife to come to help him.
The film ends with the audience wondering whether Georg can ever explain everything to his wife.
Quite entertaining, often amusing – despite the fact that Georg is so often disagreeably petulant.
THE YOUNG KARL MARX (Berlinale Special)
France/Germany, 2017, 118 minutes, Colour.
August Diehl, Stefan Konarske, Vicki Krieps, Olivier Gourmet, Hannah Steele.
Directed by Raoul Peck.
Probably a film about an older Karl Marx might not be all that interesting, the ageing thinker and writer in London, in a kind of exile, sitting in the British Library, writing Das Kapital. So, if he is to be acknowledged in the cinema, then it is definitely best to go for young Karl Marx.
Interestingly, the film is very strong in its depiction of Marx’s friend and co-writer, Friedrich Engels, probably a character more suited to a film than Marx.
The setting is the 1840s, a decade of social unrest, and a decade in which a number of established monarchs and leaders fell and, in 1848, revolutionary leaders emerged – as well as in the culmination of this film, the Communist Manifesto.
The locations are quite varied, from Germany, in the city of Frankfurt, in France in Paris, in Belgium in Brussels and, in England, some significant scenes in mill-factory in Manchester as well as other British locations for socially-concerned meetings.
Marx, as played by August Diehl, is a genial young fellow in his 20s, easily stirred by social injustice, and, not having a comfortable background, having a great empathy for people in poor circumstances and dire straits. He writes articles, the authorities close down his magazine and the editor and staff find themselves temporarily in jail. Which means that Marx has to move on, going to Paris and writing and thinking, and the same in Belgium. He is strongly supported by a young woman from a more wealthy Frankfurt family, Jenny (Vivki Krieps), whom he marries and who is consistent in her belief in her husband and his ideas. He also becomes a family man.
In the meantime, the German Friedrich Engels is in Manchester at one of the mills with his father, an enterprising capitalist who is hard on the workers and intolerant of any outspoken objectors, taking no notice of the injuries and the harsh mill conditions. One of the most vociferous is a young woman, Mary (Hannah Steele). Engel seeks out the workers because he wants to do research work on the conditions. They are initially suspicious, physically assaulting him, but he is saved by Mary who will later become his wife and his most ardent supporter.
Marx and Engels know each other and admire each other’s writings. When they eventually meet, there is a strong collaboration, lots of writing, encounters with significant social writers of the time, especially Proudhon (Olivier Gourmet). As the 1840s go on, Marx and Engels disagree with and are able to oust his followers, Engels demanding to speak and being persuasive so that the leaders of the Justice E allow Engels to be the official delegate and to speak.
In the meantime, Marx, supporting Engels, is finding it hard to make ends meet, is becoming tired, wants to retire from public appearances and to write. Engels meanwhile is fired up and is finally able to persuade Marx to write the draft of The Communist Manifesto.
Audiences will have varied views on this film depending on their admiration or not for Marx and Engels and their perspective on the subsequent history of communism. But the film does offer the opportunity to see the two men and their story, and their action, and their eagerness