SIGNIS FILM REVIEWS BERLINALE 2018
The winner of the Ecumenical Award: Im den Gangen/ In the Aisles
A commendation was awarded to: U: 22 July
CENTRAL AIRPORT THF
DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOR
HAPPY PRINCE, The
HARD PAINT/ TINTA BRUTA
HEIRESSES, The/ LAS HEREDERAS
IN THE AISLES
ISLE OF DOGS
JOURNEY DE MA TETE/ DIARY OF MY MIND
MY BROTHER’S NAME IS ROBERT AND HE IS AN IDIOT
SILENT REVOLUTION/ DAS ZWEIGENDE KLASSENZIMMER
SUNDAY’S ILLNESS/ LA ENFERMEDADA DEL DOMINGO
TOUCH ME NOT
U – JULY 22
AGA (Out of Competition)
Bulgaria, Germany, France, 2018, 91 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Milko Lazarov.
This is an ethnographical film, portraying the life of Eskimos in the Arctic Circle as well as focusing on the changes in temperature, availability of animals for hunting, mysterious deaths of animals, and the younger generation moving into the city and to different kinds of work.
As with this kind of film, the cinematography is beautiful and vibrant, wide screen. It opens with scenes of the tundra, the lone man with his dog and sled traversing the screen. The film focuses on the man, older, living alone with his wife who is ill. There is a great deal of detail for those who like this kind of documentary, close-up of the couple, their communication, their being busy all the time with tasks in the home as well as preparation for the hunt, the wife making a hat from the skin of a dead furry animal, attempts at fishing in ice holes…
The son has gone to the city but does pay them a visit with news of other relatives.
The couple endure a heavy storm, putting great strain on the wife who recounts a dream she has about meeting a polar bear, turning into a young man, his inviting her to his home, it being a vast hole, very deep, with all the stars of the heavens, where she loses her memory and her consciousness. It is clearly a premonition of death.
When his wife dies, the older man decides to visit his daughter with whom the parents have quarrelled, Aga. He travels along way, spring coming on and, instead of snow and mountainous rocks, there are hills with trees, a road with a truck driver and a logging load, his finding the diamond mine where his daughter works, an extraordinary excavation, truck tracks on the sides of the mountain. He eventually sees his daughter. She weeps. And the camera with a helicopter crane sequence lifts out of the vast mountain up into the air, over the works, over the town, over the modern world.
The film makes the point that the Eskimos lived an ancient way for centuries but this is now coming to an end with the younger generation moving out and into the cities as well as the effects of climate change.
Ireland, 2018, 96 minutes, Colour.
Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Stephen Rea, Freddie Fox, Barry Keoghan, Moe Dunford, Sarah Greene, Jim Broadbent.
Directed by Lance Daly.
The title refers to 1847 in Ireland. Very black times. The potato famine. The rule of the British and their oppression.
The film will have quite an impact in Ireland, an opportunity to look back at a particular time, not frequently shown in film, and to reflect on the subjugation of the Irish by the British, the nature of the oppression, the impact of the potato famine and the consequences on starvation in Ireland itself as well as the migration to Britain, Canada and Australia.
Those who have Irish ancestry will find it particularly interesting, especially if some of their ancestors suffered in the famine and migrated at this period.
The framework for the film is a vengeance story. It opens with a British soldier, fraternising with the police and the local authorities in a bar, then going to the prison and brutally interrogating an Irish rebel, choking him for information – and then being charged with murder. The soldier, Hannah, is played with his usual intensity by Hugo Weaving.
But the central character is another soldier, an Irishman who fought with Hannah in Afghanistan, but who left the Army, deserting, taking some weapons, returning to Ireland and finding his family devastated. His mother has died in the famine. His brother has been executed. His brother’s widow and children are destitute. This character is Michael Feeney, played by Australian actor James Frecheville, and made to look up like an outlaw, bushranger of the times, severe in demeanour, long beard, travelling by horse.
When Michael Feeney begins to kill those who are responsible for the deaths of his family, the authorities decide to send a young British officer, Pope (Freddie Fox) to capture Feeney. He is to take Hannah along to identify him as well as helping in the arrest. Also in the group is very young recruit played by Barry Keoghan, in charge of the horses, who later is shocked to discover the repercussions of the famine. Interestingly, in 1847, they travel by train to the north to pursue Feeney in Connemara, the bleak and often barren landscapes of the county.
Along the way, the group pick up an Irish traveller, who can spin a yarn, can give information, Conneely (Stephen Rea). He leads them to the town where the local landowner has a mansion. The landowner is played with enormous arrogance by Jim Broadbent, the landowner who loves the land but despises the Celtic people and longs for the day when they will all be eliminated.
Feeney encounters owners of shops who betrayed his family, various officials, and kills them in dramatic and symbolic ways.
It all builds up of course to a dramatic climax, the bond between Hannah and Feeney somewhat rekindled, Feeney skilful in destroying his enemies but ultimately destroyed – with Hannah having the option to stay in Ireland and face prison or, as Feeney advises him, to go to America.
Perhaps a bit specialist for non-Irish and non--Irish ancestry audiences.
THE BOOKSHOP (Berlinale Special)
Spain, 2018, 113 minutes, Colour.
Emily Mortimer, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Honor Kneafsey, James Lance, Hunter Tremayne, Frances Barber, Reg Wilson, Michael Fitzgerald, Nigel O'Neill, Harvey Bennett.
Directed by Isabel Coixet.
A title like The Bookshop seems a box office risk. With the closing of so many bookshops, with the reliance on Internet, social media, online books, the title seems, despite so many readers’ regrets, something of an anachronism.
However, Spanish writer-director, Isabel Coixet, is certainly an admirer of books. In 2007, she made a film with the evocative title, The Secret Life of Words.
While the director is Spanish, she has made quite a number of films in English, in the United States, in England. This one is very much in England, though the location photography for the British coast was done in Ireland.
The setting is 1959. Florence is a war widow, still grieving and unsettled but who now decides to fulfil an ambition to open a bookshop in a small town on the coast. She feels she is ready. She loves books. She has legal advice, she has financial advice. Could it go wrong?
The answer lies in a character of a local grande dame, exercising power in the town, seeing herself as the leader of the town. She is the wife of a retired general, Mrs Gamart. She is played, all stops out, as very British by American actress, Patricia Clarkson. While Florence had taken possession of an empty residence, The Old House, Mrs Gamart had intended the house to be used as a local arts centre.
The film shows Florence’s exhilaration in setting up the bookshop. She is helped in the store by a young local girl, Christine (Heather Kneafsey), quite outspoken, quite determined, but, as she says, not a reader, although she enjoys geography and maths. Another ally for Florence is the local recluse, Edmund Brundage, played effectively and quietly by Bill Nighy. Edmund makes contact with Florence and she supplies some books, getting him interested in the works of Ray Bradbury (especially Fahrenheit 451 and the story of bookburning) and asking his advice as to the literary quality of Lolita and whether she should stock it.
The atmosphere of this film is very British, old-style. And audiences who appreciate going back into the lives of 20th century Britain will enjoy this. The performances are excellent, Emily Mortimer charming and determined as Florence, Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson, Heather Kneafsey, all quite persuasive. There is a local cad played by James Lance.
The film is told in voice-over, the voice being that of Julie Christie. And, at the end, it is revealed who her character is.
As with so many British stories, there are bittersweet tones in the film which also make it engaging if sometimes saddening.
CENTRAL AIRPORT THF (Panorama))
Germany, 2018, 100 minutes, Colour.
Directed by Karim Ainouz.
This is an arresting documentary, especially in the light of the migrant movements from Africa and the Middle East to Europe. From 2015, the numbers increased considerably, with Germany leading in accepting a large number of migrants but other Middle European countries closing their borders.
The central airport of the title is Templehof, the Berlin airport.
This film gives a brief history of the airport itself, its being established in the 1920s and immediately becoming too small, Hitler’s ambitions to make it a large airport in the 1930s. Subsequently, it served as a central focus for Berlin, especially with the dividing of the capital after World War II and, particularly with the famous Big Lift of 1948.
Templehof was closed in 2008.
This is a vast space, the arrival and departure areas, the large number of hangers. There is also open land on the outskirts of the airport.
What happened in 2015 was the decision to make the space available for incoming migrants. The area provided an opportunity for people to stay, receive care, be classified for documentation and status.
The director of this film is Brazilian, with his ancestors coming from Algeria. He has a sympathy for the refugees. He also has a background in architecture which makes him interested in the airport itself and its plant.
He accompanies two refugees over a period of a year, telling their stories, all the time photographing the reality of life in the iarport, the dormitories, the rooms, the services, shops, eating areas…
One of the refugees is a young Syrian who turned 18 during his time at the airport, finally getting permission to stay for three years and so to move outside Templehof and to begin some studies. The other refugee is a doctor from Iraq, prevented from officially working as a doctor but giving his time and energies and skills to those who are ill in Templehof.
While the film gives an overview of the airport and this important use for refugees, it is personalised with interviews conducted with a number of the people there but, especially, with the two central subjects of the film.
US, 2018, 113 minutes, Colour.
Robert Pattinson, Mia Wasikowska, David Zellner, Nathan Zellner, Robert Forster, Joseph Belingerie.
Directed by David Zellner, Nathan Zellner.
When we see the word “damsel” in the title of the film, the expectations are probably to find something of a “damsel in distress”. The damsel in this film does experience some distress – but she is one of the last women who needs to be rescued!.
This is a Western. But it is not the kind of Western we are accustomed to. There are beautiful location sequences, in the mountains, as well as a town by the sea. There are unusual characters, especially some old hands in the town, some men roving the wilds, people living in isolated huts.
We soon learn that the tone of this film will be different. In the vast deserts, with towering mesas, a lone man is sitting waiting for a stagecoach. He is a Parson, disillusioned with his work and his congregation and their lack of interest, wanting to go back home East. Another young man turns up, his wife having died in childbirth, wanting to go West and make new beginning. The former Parson sheds his clothes and gives them to the young man and wanders out into the desert. Where to from here? (Somebody remarked that this is in the vein of the Coen Brothers.)
At the opening, we see some joyful scenes, the two protagonists, Samuel and Penelope, dancing in a town celebration, an eager band, smiles on the faces of the two. Surely a romance in progress or coming up!
Well, not exactly.
The first half of the film focuses on Samuel, played by Robert Pattinson as an earnest young man in the West, and a gold tooth which makes him more striking, but wandering the West, eventually arriving at the town in a rowing boat with a big box containing a diminutive horse – a gift for Penelope. But, what Samuel is doing in the town, despite some derision from the old fellows, is looking for a Parson and take him back to his town to perform the marriage ceremony with Penelope. The Parson is dead drunk, sees himself as a failure – and is the young man we saw earlier who wanted to go West to make a new beginning.
The first half of the film then is the trek with Samuel and the Parson going back to find Penelope so that Samuel can get on his knees and propose to her. He feels she has been abducted by a rival and he is there to free her, give her a ring – and the horse.
As might be expected, it doesn’t all turn out as Samuel expected – nor as the audience expected. Penelope is no damsel in distress and Samuel has misunderstood the situation completely. And then there is a twist in the plot for audiences to discover.
The second part of the film focuses on Penelope, her response to Samuel and the consequences, her hold over the Parson, not trusting him, and their trek back to the town. It is a reverse proceeding, troubling for the Parson, encountering the wild man that Samuel and the Parson had confronted earlier in the film as well as a Native American offering an occasion for some reflection on rights and prejudice.
Where are they going? Do they know? How much does it matter? It is not spoiling the ending to indicate that the ending is quite open, leaving the audience to determine just what they think will happen to Penelope, or not. Penelope is played by Mia Wasakowski in a very vigorous performance.
The film was written and directed by brothers Nathan and David Zellner. They both appear in the film, one as the Parson encountered during the journey, the other the brother of the alleged abductor of Penelope.
Using the Western conventions – but tongue-in-cheek.
DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT (Competition)
US, 2018, 113 minutes, Colour.
Joaquin Phoenix, Jonah Hill, Rooney Mara, Jack Black, Beth Ditto, Olivia Hamilton, Udo Keir, Kim Gordon, Emilio Rivera.
Directed by Gus van Sant.
Every new film by writer-director, Gus van Sant, is something of an event. Over almost 30 years, he has produced some offbeat films, as well as some conventional films, but focusing on characters and the human condition. This is no exception. It is based on the life of cartoonist from Oregon, John Callahan (1951-2010).
Of interest, the star of the film was meant to be Robin Williams, to whom there is a dedication at the end of the film. Interestingly also, the star, Joaquin Phoenix sometimes looks made up like Robin Williams, also with some of the angles at which is photographed.
But, this is definitely a Joaquin Phoenix film, an intense and powerful performance with playful and ironic moments. There is a very strong supporting cast led by Jonah Hill as a wealthy facilitator of AA meetings, Rooney Mara as a Swedish airlines flight attendant, and quite a number of very effective character actors, especially in the AA meetings sequences.
The screenplay is something of a collage of events in John Callahan’s life. It is also something of a jigsaw puzzle, the audience watching, observing, reflecting, and putting the pieces together – and they have not been presented in chronological order.
The film opens with an AA meeting, some powerful stories being told about people’s alcoholism and their experiences. John Callahan eventually comes to a meeting. However, his background is working in Oregon, moving to LA for better opportunities, a hard-drinking man, adopted but with an obsession about knowing more about his birth mother, but also being shown on stage, in a wheelchair, and a literary event in his honour.
And so, the audience begins to put the pieces together. There are initially quite a few flashbacks, especially to John Callahan making acquaintance with a hard-drinking LA type, Dexter (Jack black in a very Jack black kind of role – which does contrast finally when Dexter appears later in the film, not typical Jack Black) which leads to a bout of drinking, driving, an accident which leaves John Callahan paralysed from the chest down.
So, there are many sequences of Callahan in physical rehabilitation, especially visited by Annu, Rooney Mara, and showing life confined to a wheelchair. But, there are also the AA meetings where we meet the initial group, learn more about them, see them interact. However, the revelation is Jonah Hill as Donnie, wealthy, a gay man, ill. It is often fascinating to watch Donnie in his interactions with the group, very honest, very challenging, checking humour and its appropriateness or not, guiding people along the 12 steps. John Callahan gets to know him, to like him, to accept the challenges that Donnie makes, especially in the later steps in acknowledging some belief in the transcendent or God as well as the apologies to all the people hurt.
Callahan does this in a very moving way – and, of course, Donnie urges him to forgive himself.
The creative thing is that John Callahan can draw, even with his hands almost clenched with disability. He develops his own style – and there is a continued cartoon he draws in trying to illustrate human evolution. His cartoons certainly have black humour – and, while universities and other presses give him a column, he receives quite a number of hostile and aggressive letters of complaint.
This is a story of human hope, a seemingly hopeless man and prospects for his life, even before his being put for life in a wheelchair, but with support and solidarity, finding himself and a creative outlet.
One of the final sequences of hope is John Callahan in his chair going along LA Street where previously he had fallen out of his chair and a group of youngsters, skateboarding, putting back on his chair even while holding their noses at his catheter. He goes back to join them to share in their play. The song over the final credits was composed by John Callahan and is sung by him.
Russia, 2018, 126 minutes, Colour.
Milan Maric, Artur Beschastny.
Directed by Aleksey German Jr.
This is a film of major appeal to Russians, aficionados of Russian cinema, and those who live in northern Europe. To others, the settings may seem quite remote, distant. And Russia in 1971 may seem even more distant, the post Stalin and Kruschev era, the era of Brezhnev, the control of the bureaucrats, censorship.
This is a comparatively long film especially for the audiences who are not drawn into the situations in the characters. The focus is on a writer, brought up in past decades, married and divorced, with a daughter. He finds it difficult to get published, being rejected by most magazines having to make a living by writing for in-house magazines for factories, social stories, reporting of a propaganda film made for the factory. He loathes this experience.
The film also shows other writers, poets, artists, or feeling the suppression – and gathering in bars for entertainment, music, talk, comparing notes, comparing regrets and frustrations.
There is a particular colour tone to the film, not bright at all, suggesting some of the toning down of life in that era.
Most audiences will accept the film is fiction, the story of writers, poets and artists of the clamping down their experience. It also shows the bureaucrats, their views, interviews, threats. It is very much a period of socialist ideology. There is an emphasis on workers, factories, socialist issues.
It is only at the end of the film, with information given about one of the chief characters, Jack Brodsky, Russian poet, exiled to the United States, Novell literature prize winner in 1987, indicates to non-aware viewers that this is not exactly fiction.
In fact, the title character was real. However, his story doesn’t demand full attention. He seems rather self-centred, more than a touch narcissist at times, giving his views, not exactly a great listener to others or it is met with his ex-wife and his daughter, and communicate with his mother. But, one of the things we do not see him do, hear about only, is his writing.
So, it comes as rather a shock when the final information is given that he went to the United States, died in his late 40s and, after the fall of the Soviet Union, is considered one of Russia’s greatest writers. The film does not quite give the evidence for this – rather giving the difficulties is background and life in the 1970s and 1980s.
ELDORADO (Out of Competition)
Switzerland, 2018, 90 minutes, Black-and-white, Colour.
Directed by Markus Imhoof.
El Dorado is that long-desired for destination, and the finding of riches and gold. There are images of gold during the credits of this film.
However, this is not a film about the search for riches at least in the basic material sense. It is a documentary about contemporary refugees. The El Dorado is a country where they can settle after dangerous flight from their home country and its operation.
The director of this film, Markus Imhoof, is a German Swiss director who married an Italian and a spent a lot of time in Italy. In 1980 he made a significant film about refugees of the period, The Boat is Full.
The basis of this storytelling is the director’s memory of a young girl, from Milan, who is assigned to his family in Switzerland as a refugee from the war in the mid-1940s. She lived some time with the family then had to return to Italy and suffered ill health and an early death. The director is now composing a verbal and visual letter to her, telling her that she is the reason why he is exploring this contemporary theme of refugees, especially in the Mediterranean and the work of the Italian Navy in rescue.
Significantly, at the opening of the film, there is a celebration of the Eucharist, the priest and some of the Italian Navy personnel at Mass, scripture readings, personal intercessions and intentions, and the priest commenting on how Pope Francis is very concerned about the refugees, remembering his early visit to the island of Lampedusa in 2013, his pleas for care and concern as well as justice.
While the film does tell the story of the young girl and her influence on the director, her life in Switzerland, her return home, the film moves into documentary mode immediately showing a helicopter shining light on troubled waters, survivors of overturned boats struggling in the Mediterranean.
What follows offers a lot of detail about what happens to the refugees, the initial rescue, sitting in the boats, cold and wet, the welcome from the authorities, their being transferred to a larger boat. Unfortunately, we know that there would be no immediate El Dorado of a country where they can settle. The film indicates there is a rule that whatever our the first steps by a refugee on Europe, that is the country where they will have to stay, even if, as some of them indicate, their families are in other countries.
The film is critical, of course, about the people smugglers and the risks that Africans, especially, coming from Libya, run in their attempt to cross the sea. And, there are also the refugees from the Middle East who come by sea.
Some of the aspects of the film in its later moments are rather depressing. Some of the refugees get their status and are able to stay. Others stay in detention centres, better looked after than in some other countries, but still experienced as a kind of incarceration. There are interviews, questions and tests, rejections.
And, in Italy, when some of the refugees to get work, there is the Mafia influence. The vivid example is given of the growing of tomatoes, the picking, the transport, with everything under the control of the Mafia.
The director remembers the caution that there was during the war but also the important effect of people finding safety, some freedom, a better life. And, this is the hope that many in the audience would have as they watch this moving film. Unfortunately, it is a moving film but the situations in so many countries around the world, northern and southern hemispheres, means that politicians are not moved.
France, 2018, 100 minutes, Colour.
Isabelle Huppert, Gaspard Ulliel, Julia Roy, Marc Barbe, Richard Berry.
Directed by Benoit Jacquot.
This is a 21st-century adaptation of a novel of the 1940s by James Hadley Chase, with a French setting. It is a contemporary film noir, harking back to the 1940s, although there was a film version of Eva directed by Joseph Losey in the early 1960s with Jeanne Moreau and Stanley Baker.
The film focuses on a young man played by Gaspard Ulliel, contracted to home help for an exiled British playwright living in Paris (a touch of the Oscar Wilde) who has fallen on hard times, is failing physically, but has written a play. While the young man is helping to bathe the playwright, he dies. So, the young man takes the manuscript, and the next thing we see is that there has been a successful theatre season and that audiences and producers are clamouring for more.
While the young man relishes his success, he also tries to avoid the limelight, quite unsure as to what he is to do next. He is encouraged by the producer. His encouraged by his girlfriend.
One of his devices for getting some kind of lead for a new work is to jot down pieces of conversation that he hears. When his girlfriend suggests he goes to a mountain chalet owned by her family, he does but immediately discovers people inside. He ousts a man who turns out to be a client of an older prostitute whom he finds in the bath – but she hits him and he escapes.
When he comes across her again, he is fascinated, more than fascinated, has conversations with her, transcribes pieces of their discussions, learns more about him – although she is reticent about the truth of her prostitution, raising money for her husband who is in jail and for his court case while pretending that he is an international traveller.
The young man’s interest in the prostitute become something of an obsession, partly sexual, but partly intrigued by her character, her behaviour, her intentions.
When his girlfriend unexpectedly arrives at chalet, it is time for melodrama, for a car chase, for a car accident, for the young man to be injured, for the prostitute to be more involved with her husband.
While the film does come to something of an end, a crossroads for the characters, we are left to surmise
FIGLIA MIA/ DAUGHTER OF MINE (Competition)
Italy, 2018, 105 minutes, Colour.
Valeria Golino, Alba Rohrwacher, Sara Casu, Udo Keir, Michele Carbone.
Directed by Laura Bispuri.
This is a slice of Italian life. It is set on the island of Sardegna, in a close community.
The film focuses on a girl, about to turn 10, played convincingly by Sara Casu. She wanders to a fair, watches the riders in a rodeo, comes across a couple copulating and runs away. She does not look particularly Italian, especially with her reddish hair.
It emerges that her birth mother, played by Alba Rohrwacher (who has reddish hair), has given her away to her sister, played by Valeria Golino. The little girl does not know her birth mother. Her adoptive mother, along with her very gentle and devoted husband, has been a carer for the girl for 10 years.
The birth mother is a kind of party girl, always out and around, drinker, promiscuous. However, she does own some horses to one. But the authorities are demanding money from her and she has dilemmas about whether to sell the horses, to move away. She decides that she would like to have some time with her daughter. Her sister agrees, somewhat reluctantly.
The surprise is that the little girl is fascinated by her actual mother, supportive of her, travelling around with her, criticising her adoptive mother. She even misses out on the 10th birthday party that her adoptive mother has arranged for her and invited all their friends.
A climax comes when the birth mother asks her daughter to go down a hole in the necropolis where there is some alleged treasure. The little girl is at first reluctant because the hole is so narrow but eventually goes back and goes down. Her adoptive mother is alarmed by her absence and goes anxiously searching. In fact, the little girl is quite enterprising does get out of the hole.
Eventually, there has to be a facing of the facts interfacing of the future for the absent mother, the adoptive parents and for the little girl herself.
The film was directed by Laura Bispuri who made quite an impact with her previous film about gender questions, Sworn Virgin.
THE HAPPY PRINCE (Berlinale Special)
Germany/UK/Luxenberg, 2018, 105 minutes, Colour.
Rupert Everett, Colin Firth, Emily Watson, Colin Morgan, Edwin Thomas, Tom Wilkinson, Anna Chancellor, Julian Wadham, Beatrice Dalle, Antonio Spagnuolo, John Standing, Ronald Pickup.
Directed by Rupert Everett.
A very interesting take on the life and, especially, the last years of Oscar Wilde.
For many audiences, Stephen Fry is the face of Oscar Wilde, so forceful in the film of 1997. In the 1960s he was portrayed by both Peter Finch and Robert Morley.
This time the portrayal is by Rupert Everett who has appeared in film versions of An Ideal Husband as well as The Importance of Being Earnest. He has also portrayed Wilde on the stage in England and in France. And, not only this, he has written the screenplay, directed the film and played Wilde. Quite an achievement.
So, this portrayal of Wilde moves away from the Stephen Fry debonair style. It is glimpsed sometimes in the flashbacks, Wilde on stage charming the audience after a performance of a play. However, these the same people who turned against Wilde, many spurning him or rejoicing in his humiliation.
Everett has entitled his film The Happy Prince after a story by Wilde from 1888. It is a fable about a statue of happy Prince, standing above the town, is one ordinary people, a privileged kind of life. It is also the story of a swallow, flying over the city, dying. But, God looks on the rubble of the statue and on the dead bird and raises them back to life. In the film, Wilde is seen reading this story to his two young boys.
But, it is an appropriate image for Wilde in his life and career, a statue on a pedestal, feted by everyone, clever, playwright, short stories, Dorian Grey, a philosophy of pleasure, a master of wit but only to crash in unhappiness.
Everett’s Wilde also looks the worse for a blend of dissipation in life as well as hard labour for two years in prison. We hear of the Marquis of Queensbury but do not see him. We hear about the charges of crimes of sodomy as well is a severe sentence of the judge, hard labour. We see Wilde going to prison, stripped and humiliated, transferred from Wandsworth to Reading, sitting on Clapham Junction Station in prison clothes, mocked by the public – and Wilde later linking this severe scene in his life with the passion of Jesus.
There are also scenes with Wilde’s wife, Constance (Emily Watson), supporting him financially, but humiliated, unwell, dying.
A lot of the action actually takes place in France after Wilde gets out of prison, lacking money, still frivolous, still spending, going to taverns, attracted to the boys, calming taverns fights by singing. His also supported by the faithful Robbie Ross and by his friend Reggie (Colin Firth).
Wild has told everyone, including Constance, that he will have nothing to do with Bosey again. But, as soon as he turns up, foppish, selfish, irresponsible, Wilde is immediately won over again. They decide to go to Naples, live the high gay life, until Bosey’s allowance is cut off.
Wilde’s last year is a sad one. Bosey has gone. Robbie Ross is devoted – and, Catholic, conscious that Wilde may have been baptised as a child, and appreciating Wilde’s fascination with Catholicism, calls a priest (Tom Wilkinson as a jovial Irish Father Dunne) to administer the last rites.
There is another important priest in the film. Wilde and his friends are pursued in the streets by a homophobic group with Wilde taking refuge in a church. He sees an old priest going to the altar, kneeling, praying desperately – and Wilde realises the reality of life’s sufferings.
Wilde’s poem from Reading Gaol was called De Profundis. In so many ways, in his last years, Wilde’s life was, as the Psalm says, calling out to God from the depths.
TINTA BRUTA/ HARD PAINT (Panorama)
Brazil, 2018 118 minutes, Colour.
Shico Menegat, Bruno Fernandes.
Directed by Filzembacher, Marcio Realon.
A Brazilian film, set in the northern town of Porto Alegre.
The central character is a young gay man, Pedro, rather introverted, making his living by the Internet, his own website with paying viewers. His specialty is painting himself with a variety of luminescent colours. He is supported by his sister, a journalist, to whom he has been close since they were children. He also has a good relationship with his grandmother.
He is in difficulties because he was bullied as a child, tormented at college, dropping out of his course, taunted and suddenly breaking out in anger at one of the bullies, piercing his eye and blinding him. He is about to go to a court case, being advised by lawyers to be honest about the situation and the taunts – but careful about the prejudices of the judge.
As his customers drop off, he encounters a hopeful-dancer, Leo, with whom he formed forms a bond. In fact, Leo joins him online with performance – some of which is quite explicit.
Leo has an ambition to get a scholarship to train in dancing in Argentina but misses out, one of his close group of friends getting the scholarship. As he and Pedro continue their relationship, a strong affection between the two, it emerges that Leo has been offered another scholarship, this time in Berlin, and intends to go.
At a party, Pedro leaves early and is followed by some gay-bashers and he is involved in a fight with him, Leo coming to his rescue.
There is a sequence with a twist when he goes to a bar and thinks he is being picked up by a customer only to find, after the sexual encounter, that the man was picking him up and demands money. Once again, Pedro breaks out in violence against the man.
He has some time alone with Leo before his departure but then is left on his own, a broken relationship, facing the court case – and eventually weeping. It is over two and the audience to imagine his future.
There is quite some pathos and empathy for the characters – and both Pedro and Leo are played by actors in their first film roles.
THE HEIRESSES/ LAS HEREDERAS (Competition)
Paraguay, 2018, 95 minutes, Colour.
Ana Brun, Margarita Irun, Ana Ivanova, Nilda Gonzalez, Maria Martins, Alicia Guerra.
Directed by Marcelo Martinessi.
It is not often that we see a film from Paraguay. This is a rather intense personal drama, focused on a woman in her 50s, aristocratic in her manner, having to face changes in her life when her longtime companion has been involved in fraud and many of the valuable possessions in the house have to be sold.
While we do not see many films from Paraguay, we do not see many films from Latin America with a lesbian theme. The relationship between Chela (Anna Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irun) is taken for granted, the background to the women’s lives, love and intimacy that they have shared for a long time.
However, Chiquita has to go to jail. Chela visits her there, finding the atmosphere of the jail rather distasteful. She is withdrawn, does some painting at home, looks through the door at various clients who come to examine cutlery, furniture that they intend to purchase. She has delegated the care for the clients to one of the maids.
Where is this portrait of Chela to go? One day a friend asks her to drive her to a meeting and then to do some other jobs with her car. An anxious woman accosts Chela asking her for a lift to get away from her violent companion. What emerges is an opening to the world for Chela, driving the mother of this woman to doctor’s appointments, becoming something of a taxi driver, even, though fearful, venturing onto a busy freeway. It is the first time that Chela has had to do any ordinary living and is rather exhilarated by the experience.
There is a testing of her sexual feelings when she continues to drive for the woman and is attracted towards her.
There is some delicacy in the portrait of the women, in the changes that Chela must face during her 50s and the consequences for her own life. Anna Brun, as Chela, won the Best Actress award at the 2018 Berlin Film Festival.
ISLE OF DOGS (Competition)
US, 2018, 101 minutes, Colour.
Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Greta Gerwig, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Scarlett Johansson, Courtney B.Vance, Konichi Nomura, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Frances McDormand?, Fisher Stevens, Harvey Keitel, Ken Watanabe, Yoko Ono.
Directed by Wes Anderson.
An animated allegory written and directed by Wes Anderson, whose 20 year career has provided an enormous range of genre films, serious undertones, humorous overtones, all kinds of comedy and parody. He also ventured into animation with The Fantastic Mr Fox. Audiences will have their different favourite Wes Anderson films This reviewer remembering happily the Royal Tennenbaums and, especially, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
The animation in this film looks a bit rough and ready, all to the film’s advantage. There is no smooth drawing for characters most of whom are dogs. The movements of the characters are not smooth either, but humorously jerky and angular. There is a great deal of attention given to the backgrounds, especially the wastelands of the actual island where the dogs are exiled. This is not a pretty-pretty location film. Which means that just visually, there is a great deal of edge.
And the voice cast! It is led by Bryan Cranston and Koyu Rankin. Many of the cast have appeared in other Wes Anderson films and are welcome back, some having much more to say than others – and, some silent!
The film has a Japanese setting – which some would-be purists object to, Americans capitalising on Japanese characters and themes. But, this seems to be too much objection. One of the writers, who voices the Mayor in the film, is Japanese. And the central character, a young lad of 12, is reminiscent of and probably a tribute to the many animated films from Studio Ghibli and other studios.
The dialogue is certainly worth listening to, full of humour, full of spoof, full of parody – but, with quite an underlying seriousness.
The film goes back into earlier centuries with history of the status of dogs in Japanese households. It leads to a revolution where the population turn against their dogs, preferring cats, and the powers that be of a leading family decree the exiling of all dogs to an island off the coast. The population seeming to agree complacently and all the dogs are rather brutally rounded up and even brutally deposited on the island where they have to survive, make do, scrounge, break friendships, fight amongst each other.
The life of the dogs on the island is often very amusing, often very challenging. The key event is the arrival of the adopted son of the Mayor taking a plane and crash landing on the island to find his pet dog. So, the film becomes something of a quest, the outlaw dog, voiced by Bryan Cranston, becoming a friend and an ally. There is also a show dog, voiced by Scarlett Johansson, who has an interesting history and contributes to the quest.
Most of the reviewers spent their time talking about the animation, the cast, the humour, Wes Anderson’s perspective. But, when one comes to think about it, the film serves as a contemporary social allegory, getting rid of the dogs seems to be an allegory of any ethnic cleansing. Those who are ethnically cleansed have to move into exile as do the dogs on their island. The critique is also of the wealthy, their corrupt use of wealth and power, manipulation of the public.
This means that Isle of one works on two levels, that of popular entertainment – but, very seriously, an allegory of contemporary social injustices.
THE INTERPRETER (Berlin Special)
Slovakia/Czech Republic/Austria, 2018, 125 minutes, Colour.
Jiri Menzel, Peter Simonischek.
Directed by Martin Sulik.
The Interpreter proves that there is still plenty of room on cinema screens and on television for stories about World War II, the plight of the Jews, the harshness of the Nazi regime and the actions of the SS.
This film is a collaboration between Slovakia, where a lot of the action takes place, the Czech Republic which at the time of the war was united with Slovakia as Czechoslovakia, and Austria, this film opening in Vienna.
The Interpreter of the title is played by veteran Czech actor and director, Jiri Menzel. At the beginning of the film, he arrives by train in Vienna, seeks help from people of the station, eventually finds his destination and confronts a middle-aged man, George, played by Peter Simonischek (whom international audiences may well remember for his role as Toni Erdmann), accusing his SS father, who had published a book about his exploits, and threatening to kill him. This doesn’t happen and the interpreter decides to go back home, a sense of failure, a sense of failure to his parents, and the mystery where they are buried still unsolved.
But, the visit, has an effect George. He contacts the interpreter and they meet, George proposing that the two of them go on a journey into Slovakia, revisit some of the villages and see the families where his father worked, to try to get some understanding and information. The interpreter agrees but is rather hardheaded and makes a contract as regards payment.
This is certainly rather an odd couple in all kinds of ways. The interpreter is burdened by decades of unhappy memories, of injustices, of memories of the persecution of the Jews. George, on the other hand, leads a rather carefree life, knows very little about the father whom he resents.
And the beginning of the journey is odd. The interpreter very serious, trying to track down people, documents, information. George on the other hand goes to clubs, lives the high life, flirts, drinks… And actually gets robbed by a pickpocket whom he lets go. The interpreter is rather reluctant to go on in this vein. George offers more money.
The latter part of the film has the two actually visiting some of the villages in Slovakia, in the mountains, meeting the farmers, trying to remember the past, but many of the farmers very reluctant to talk about those days. George’s father had left many photos, annotated with names and dates so they have clues to pursue.
So, what follows, is the interpreter at least venturing on his quest. What follows also is George learning more about his father, more about the war, the role of the SS, the persecutions and deaths. Maybe that is all is possible in the early part of the 21st-century.
There are not a lot of answers in this film – the journey and the process is what is important.
IN DEN GANGEN/ IN THE AISLES (Competition)
Germany, 2018, 125 minutes, Colour.
Franz Rogowski, Sandra Huller, Peter Kurth, Andreas Leopold.
Directed by Thomas Stuber.
This film has a delightfully playful opening. Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers comes up immediately. And the visuals are of corridors in a supermarket warehouse with forklifts going up and down the corridors, crossing the corridors, all in the rhythms of Tchaikovsky waltz, forklifts as flowers! Later the music will go to Bach and to Strauss and then to more modern songs, especially with the setting of Christmas.
This is a film which offers more than you ever thought you would need to know about forklifts! And, at the end of the film, one might be tempted to think: somebody made a bet with the director and writer of the film that he couldn’t make a film of over two hours, no explicit sex and violence, mostly set in the supermarket and the warehouse. But he has.
In the Aisles won the Ecumenical Award at the 2018 Berlin Film Festival. The criteria for this award Included a dramatisation of basic human values. And this is certainly a film of humanity, human values.
The film focuses on Christian (emerging star Franz Rogowski, who appeared as Isabelle Huppert’s son in Happy End and as the hero in Transit) a rather reticent and shy young men who applies for a job in the supermarket. The manager treats him sympathetically and sends him down the corridors to Bruno who is the manager of forklift staff. Christian is rather awkward in personal manner as well is in driving forklifts at first but we know that he will ultimately succeed.
One of the qualities of the film is showing the camaraderie amongst the workers in the supermarket. There is a room for the coffee break and Christian is immediately attracted by Marion, played by Sandra Huller who was seen effectively as the daughter in Toni Erdmann. Christian tentatively talks with her and she is encouraging. However, we later learn that she is married to a rather violent husband and has to take time off work. But Christian continues devoted.
Christian also makes friends with Bruno over the time. Bruno lives alone, used to be a truck driver, enjoys his work in the supermarket but wants more. He plays chess with the manager of the supermarket. The group will take time off at Christmas for a drink and get together with some playful mockery of various members of the staff. Bruno even invites Christian to his home for a visit and a drink. But there is a sadness about Bruno.
As has been mentioned, the audience sees more about forklifts, the way they are driven, the height of the lifts, the working of the gears, the shifting of goods from one part of the warehouse to another, more than we might ever have expected – but it may make us sympathetic to workers in larger warehouses whose work we never think about in any detail!
Christian is accosted at one stage by his past friends and we learn that he was something of a juvenile delinquent, spent time in an institution, but was young and this has not been held against him. Despite his awkwardness and shyness, and our seeing him alone at home, he does have prospects for a future.
Ordinary people, ordinary lives, ordinary work, ordinary situations – all presented quite engagingly and with a deep sense of humanity.
JOURNAL DE MA TETE/DIARY OF MY MIND (SHOCK WAVES) (Panorama)
Switzerland, 2018, 70 minutes, Colour.
Fanny Ardant, Kacey Mottet Klein.
Directed by Ursula Meier.
This short film is a contribution to a program called Shock Waves.
The Swiss setting is very attractive, mountainous background, while the action takes place in the town, in a home, at school, in court and in a prison.
The film opens with a young man sitting naked at a desk writing. He is Benjamin, played by Kacey Mottet Klein. He dresses, puts the material which she has been writing in an envelope, goes on his motorbike to post it, then, with a gun, goes to a police station. He appears very odd, there is a struggle and he is handcuffed.
It emerges that he has killed his parents.
The manuscript was posted to his French language school teacher, played by very dignified Fanny Ardant. In the manuscript, he explains all that he is done and his motivations. This is disturbing for the teacher, making her wonder how her classes have contributed to his mentality and to his disastrous actions.
The teacher is summonsed, has to appear before the judges to give some explanation. However, Benjamin’s defence lawyer is hostile to the teacher especially after a visit from a number of the students with the teacher. The students are extraordinarily supportive and wanting to help Benjamin in prison and with his studies and to complete his exams. He tells the teacher that they are not to return.
The question is about his mentality, mentally disturbed, or responsible.
He receives a rather lighter sentence and has permission to have visits outside. His uncle is unwilling to have him. It falls them to the teacher to take him for the outing, bringing him into her home, setting him up in a room, sympathetic but advising him to keep his distance. He visits his parents’ grave.
This continues for several years until his final release when, again, it is over to the teacher to help him. She sets him up in his own house. We can’t guess what kind of future he will have. But the past has a disturbing effect on the teacher, her quitting her job, her asking herself what contribution she made to the young man’s behaviour.
KHOOK/ PIG (Competition)
Iran, 2018, 90 minutes, Colour.
Hassan Majooni, Leila Hatami, Leili Rashidi.
Directed by Mani Haghighi.
This is a very striking title for a film from an Islamic country, especially the Islamic Republic of Iran. It sounds offensive, profane.
It takes a while for an audience to work out what is happening in this film and how seriously it should be taken and how much is satire and parody. In fact, it is a parody – although, the opening sequence sets a tone about social media in Iran, a group of veiled schoolgirls are walking in the street, busy with their mobile phones, with their cameras, taking selfies. Then there is a change as one of the girls sees decapitated head lying in the gutter.
The background of the plot is that a number of significant film directors are being beheaded, their heads left behind and their bodies disappearing. But, the central character, Hassan, a film director who has been banned from filmmaking for several years is quite upset that he hasn’t been murdered. He is quite a narcissistic man, vain, full of self-importance, but one of the scruffiest- looking film directors one will ever see, loud clothes, T-shirts with band logos like AC- DC.
Actually, he is making a commercial and there is a sudden song and dance routine, the women all in bright red. But it is a television commercial for a spray against insects! The director is working on it, clashing heartily with the producer, his daughter also producing.
In the meantime, the Hassan is upset with his favourite actress with her appearing in a film by his rival – some comic touches in the scene of a story of Iranian antiquities.
When the directors continue to be murdered, Hassan is upset, especially when his favourite star is also murdered. In the meantime, he is in discussions with the police. He plays tennis with his best friend but, is eventually arrested on suspicion.
There is a climax in a warehouse where he is setting up a pose with his friend to be photographed to prove his innocence and that he had alibis for the other murders. This has been complicated by young actress taking a video of his confrontation and angry outbursts against his favourite actress and this has had over 1 million hits on YouTube?.
The villain, who has confessed, eventually appears, with a pig mask over his head. There is some mayhem – but the director’s eccentric mother, previously seen with a rifle, comes in and there is some effective blasting to save the day. Wife and daughter are both men busy on social media, putting the video of everything up on Instagram …
Tehran may not seem so isolated as it may have seemed in the past…
TWARZ/ MUG (Competition)
Poland, 2018, 91 minutes, Colour.
Mateusz Kosciukiewicz, Agnieszka Posdiadlik, Malgorzata, Gorol, Roman Gancarczyk.
Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska.
In English, Mug has several possible meanings. Apart from something we drink out of, mug is slang for somebody stupid. It is also slang for a person’s face – and that is the particularly relevant meaning here.
If anyone was wondering what contemporary Poland is like, the first 25 minutes of the film, with the quite extensive array of quick vignettes, in the city, travelling the countryside, country towns, homes, issues of migration, traditions of the church, all rapidly glimpsed giving an overall impression.
The centre of the film is something of the other mug, foolish man, in himself. The opening scene, is a very amusing exaggerated (we hope) parody of Boxing Day sales with the forces camped outside the shops, the doors opened, a passionate invasion, squabbles and fights to get the goods which, in this case, are underwear. Jacek (Matthieu’s Kosciukiewicz), get his packet, gets into the car to go back to his village in western Poland, speeds through the countryside.
Actually, Jacek has a lot of conversations with his extensive family about the possibilities of migrating to England, obviously a Brexit theme. There are divided opinions. And, it is Christmas, there is a lot of traditional devotion in the town so visits to mass, hymn singing…
Actually, Jacek works on a huge project, (an actual project in western Poland) where the citizens of the town collected enough money to build a statue of Jesus which was to rival Rio de Janeiro – and, in fact, is larger. So, the religious tradition is to the fore, visually, with the head of Jesus standing ready to be lifted up, the body, hands lying on the ground.
And what about mug in terms of face? Jacek has an accident on site, falling down a considerable height, with damage to his face. It is pointed out that he has the first face transplant in Europe. Lest the audience feel over sympathetic towards him, he seems to be a cheerful bloke and not as put out about the injuries to his face as we might expect (or we would have had).
But, it all has its consequences. He had proposed to his girlfriend and they had engagement photos taken. She is put off by his appearance. Jacek’s sister, however, is his main support, while his mother is hugely upset, thinks that he is another person altogether, feels that he is something of a devil – which later leads to the parish priest getting in and exorcist and a parody sequence of The Exorcist. Traditional devotion might still be prevalent in Poland but there are also bizarre superstitions.
We follow Jacek’s troubles, a strong critique with a scene where his application for disability benefits is harshly rejected, where he has problems getting jobs, where he does frighten some people although, the surgeons had done a fairly good job on his face.
In the meantime, the writers introduce some themes about parish priests. At first, the parish priest seems reasonable enough, celebrating Mass, making appeals for the statue, making appeals, in fact, for financial support of Jacek. But, it is where the confessional sequences start that there is something of parody and an audience will realise why a lot of people are put off going to confession. Jacek’s brother-in-law turns up first. He is rather loud mouthed, talking before he thinks… His confession is about sexual temptation (so many thinking that the word temptation has only sexual connotations rather than for sins of anger or exploitation). The priests response is reasonable enough though a touch too curious. Then the mother comes with all that story about her son being a devil, wanting to get the devil out with the subsequent parody of the film of The Exorcist with Jacek screeching only to burst out laughing! Then the fiancee, the ex-fiancee comes and talks about sexual matters with the priest going far too far in wanting explicit detail.
Eventually, the statue was erected and the Bishop and his secretary are called to bless the statue with the Bishop being made to look rather foolish when the statue is looking in the wrong direction and there will have to be subsequent work and he remarks that he is not against Muslims working there (and being corrected to indicate that it is Gypsies who are working there who are not Muslims). So, some direct as well to one tongue-in-cheek criticism of the church.
And what will Jacek do? Is there a place for him and his town? Or, will his solution be in fact to migrate?
All Mexico, 2018, 128 minutes, Colour.
Gael Garcia Bernal, Leonardo Ortizgris, Simon Russell Beale, Ilse Salas, Lynn Gilmartin, Alfredo Castro, Leticia Bredice, Bernardo Velasco.
Directed by Alonzo Ruiz Palacios.
With a title like Museo/ Museum, one can expect a film about works of art. But, in so many of the movies, museums are a target for robberies. And this is the case here on both counts.
The film opens with an emphasis on ancient Mexican monuments, their cultural value, their significance in the present – and with the work done to transfer monuments from their sites to museums. This theme of culture pervades the film.
However, this is also the story of Juan, a rich young Mexican who had been taken as a little boy by his doctor father to witness the transferring of one of the largest statues to the museum. Juan is dissatisfied with his life, his health, his prospects, even taunted by his sister as “Shorty” – and he is short because he is played by Mexican actor returning home, Gael Garcia Bernal.
Juan has a good friend from school days, Wilson (Leonardo Ortizgris), more genial than Juan, less complicated. Juan also has some domination over him.
Which leads to the main action of the film. It is Christmas. Juan has a plan for himself and Wilson to get into the museum at this quiet time and steal a number of the precious artefacts. Juan is well-prepared and the two young men are successful.
What Juan is not necessarily in need of money, he has perhaps been too much influenced by popular thrillers and decides that he will sell the artefacts to rich clients who are avid collectors. Actually, Juan is fairly shrewd in making contacts – though his shrewdness will rather evaporate after his experience with clients. He has a connection, a guide on a historic site who puts him in touch with an Englishman, Frank Graves, played by the fine British theatre actor, Simon Russell Beale. Selling off artefacts is not as easy as it might sound. Graves indicates that he works within the restrictions of the law and so this kind of treasure is not one that he wants to have.
The scenes with Simon Russell Beale a dramatic high point of the film.
An alternative? Going to Acapulco, trying to track down another fence for artefacts, finding the singer in a club, an actress admired by Juan because of the film she appeared in and danced in. And this does not quite work out in the way that Juan intended, complicated by the fact that Wilson’s father is ill and dying and he wants to return home. Cineastes will enjoy the Fellini and Nino Rota with the dense on the beach
How can this end? Will the two young men give up? Will the police have investigated and will they become suspects? How does Juan’s father react when his son tells him the truth?
While there is a lot of comment and dialogue about Mexico’s cultural heritage and the need for preservation, it is the questions above that prevail at the end of the film, turning it into a rather low key thriller.
MY BROTHER’S NAME IS ROBERT AND HE IS AN IDIOT (Competition)
Germany, 2018, 174 minutes, Colour.
Joseph Mattes, Julia Zange, Urs Juscker, Stefan Konarske.
Directed by Philip Groening.
This is a long film which may appeal to audiences in northern and central Europe rather than audiences in English-speaking countries. It was directed by Philip Groening who made an impact with his portrait of the Carthusian Abbey, Into Great Silence.
This is a contemporary story focusing on twins. They have a strong relationship with each other, sometimes antagonistic, often a rivalry. The sister is about to sit for a philosophy exam and wants to discuss the issues with her brother. While he is interested in philosophy, he is more interested in machines making a bet with his sister so that he can win one.
This means that a great amount of the dialogue in the early part of the film is quite philosophical, especially probing the nature of time, the issue of entities. There is also reference to the philosophy of Martin Heidegger – with memories of his rather fascist stances in 1930s Germany.
Some may find the philosophical dialogue difficult in comprehension and tedious to listen to – and, as has been said, not everybody is enthralled by the aesthetics of abstraction.
The locations are not particularly imaginative, the house, the fields with the various crops and an isolated service station. There are not too many of the characters either. The associates of the brother who turn up at night demanding service when the service station is closed, and that includes his former girlfriend. There is also the passive young man who sits at the counter waiting for spasmodic customers.
The other main character is the proprietor of the garage who knew the two when they were young. The sister has a bet that she can seduce someone and she set her sights on the proprietor who resists her but then succumbs – with later very severe and fatal consequences.
Because the central characters are not particularly engaging for an audience, it is rather hard to sit through their discussions, their rivalries, his drinking, her seductive behaviour, the ultimate violence.
For specialists in German cinema.
LA PRIERE/ THE PRAYER
France, 2018, 107 minutes, Colour.
Anthony Bajon, Damien Chappelle, Alex Brendemuhl, Louise Grinberg, Hanna Schygulla, Antoine Amblard.
Directed by Cedric Kahn.
La Priere/ The Prayer is a film with Catholic themes more suited to the contemporary church in many places, the Catholic Church in a secular world.
Cedric Kahn, the director, stated that he is agnostic but he has some respect for the transcendent.
The plot concerns a young man, a drug addict, suicidal, who is taken to a rehabilitation centre in the mountains, a Catholic rehabilitation centre founded 30 years earlier by social-minded nun (played in the film by Hannna Schygulla). While there is a priest at the centre, it is a lay-run centre, modelled on contemplative monasteries with their ethos of work and prayer. It is former addicts who form the staff, exercise disciplinary authority, serve as the carers. (There is a neighbouring centre with the founding nun some distance away from the men’s centre.)
The image of the church that the film communicates is very much that of service and solidarity, and a justice response to problems in the modern world, the need for affirmation, care, and hope through rehabilitation.
The young men are seen doing a lot of work in the fields. They are also seen at prayer in the Chapel as well as at the Eucharistic celebration. There are traditional hymns, sacred music in the background. There are also enthusiastic popular gospel hymns, sung with great zest.
The filmmakers obviously believe in the power of reflective silence, some contemplation, finding one’s own capacity for prayer whether it be in the gospel tradition, in other traditions, in reflection.
As regards the priest, while he is seen at the celebration of the Eucharist, when there is a gathering of visitors in the summer and everyone sits down at outdoor tables, he quietly comes in, wearing his clerical collar but sits unobtrusively at one of the tables. The more significant scene where he appears is in the discussion with the young man who has had his ups and downs over the months at the centre, initially resentful and refusing to cooperate, touched by some of those who look after him, running away but encouraged to return by the daughter of a couple who run a farm nearby, settling down, actually learning all the Psalms by heart and able to recite them, becoming more devout.
When the group goes on a mountain hike and he is left behind, stranded on the mountain overnight, praying to survive, he believes that he should enter the seminary and serve God there. The discussion between him and the priest is very interesting and a vocation is counsellor would shout out from their seat in the cinema that he really should do a lot more preparation and thought). The priest goes through the young man’s reasons, testing them, commenting on his faith experience, on the repercussions of his being lost in the mountains but found again.
There is a great deal of respect for the church in its contribution to healing, on the power and beauty of prayer, of work, and of social justice service as well is its sense of solidarity throughout the film. When the film was screened in competition at the Berlin, the organisers programmed it for 9 am on the Sunday morning!
THE REAL ESTATE/TOPPING AV INGENTING
Sweden, 2018, 88 minutes, Colour.
Leonore Ekstrand, Christer Levin, Christian Saldert.
Directed by Mans Mansson, Axel Petersen.
This is a bizarre curiosity from Sweden.
While it might echo some of the contemporary problems about housing and accommodation in our cities, it is also the portrait of very selfish woman, greedy relatives, tenants in apartments who have got contracts under the carpet, problems in ownership and maintenance.
While, the film can be looked at with touches of realism, the whole visual impact of the film is very much stylised, light and shadow, bright colours, unexpected editing – which makes some of the impact rather unsteadying.
One of the reviewers at the Berlin film Festival commented on the audio clash of the musical score, commenting that it sounded as if it had been composed by “a psychopath with a huge arsenal of power tools”. Which actually is a fairly accurate comment about the audio impact and can serve as somewhat symbolic for the visual impact.
The focus is on Nojet, Leonore Ekstrand, a Swedish woman who has lived in Spain for decades, Living in absolutely hedonist life, luxury, husbands and lovers, completely self-absorbed. When she inherits an apartment block in Stockholm, she wants to sell it in order to get finance for her accustomed lifestyle. In one sequence, she visits the apartments, intruding into the world of the various inhabitants, finding that deals have been done for them to reside there. However, she is not interested in the least in the plight of anybody except herself.
She has a half brother who is also involved in the inheritance. His son is the maintenance manager of the apartment block and he and his father start to scheme against Nojet.
In the meantime, she carries on as usual back home in Sweden, taking a lover, planning how she might take possession of the block. Her main plan is to build an explosive and to cause havoc in the building. It is not entirely certain what she actually intends by this – but it happens.
However, the filmmakers think that that is enough to offer us and the film goes no further.
A bizarre tale, bizarrely told.
SILENT REVOLUTION/ DAS ZWEIGENDE KLASSENZIMMER
Germany, 2018, 111 minutes, Colour.
Jonas Dassler, Judith Engel, Tom Gramenz, Leonard Scheicher, Michael Gwisdek, Lena Klenke, Isaiah Michalski.
Directed by Lars Kraume.
A very interesting film from Germany, taking its audience back to East Germany in 1956 and noting that this was five years before the building of the Berlin Wall. The film recreates the place, homes, school, the families, the harsh Soviet style government, the ideology of socialism. It also has people from the East travelling by train, being checked, for visits to the West, something which was to come to a bitter end with the establishing of the Wall.
We are introduced to some young students in their final year at school, full of hope, but their expectations of future in the East. Two of them, Theo and Kurt, go on a trip to West Berlin, cheeky to the guards who check their identities, going to visit Kurt’s grandmother’s grave – but also wanting to go to see a sexy movie in a West Berlin cinema. When they return, they gather with their friends to discuss the visit, some excited by the experience, some rather censorious about going to that kind of film. They are again cheeky to some of the Soviet soldiers who pursue them but let them go.
The focus on this group of students, as well as Eric and Paul who are also in the class and some of the girls, including Lena who is attracted to Theo, means that the film offers us a microcosm of the East Germantown, Stalinstadt, and the comparatively small drama that affects the students. And this microcosm is a symbolic drama of what was happening in the rest of the East and for the following 35 years until the Wall came down and there was reunification.
The students hear news of the Hungarian uprising in October 1956. This excites them, possibilities for freedom, of getting away from Soviet overrule. Without thinking of the consequences, they decide to hold a two minutes silence period in the classroom. The keep looking at the clock. The teacher does not know what is going on, the tension begins.
Kurt comes from a family where his father is on the town Council, a respected authority. Theo’s father, on the other hand, works in the steel mills and has two younger brothers. He is the first in his family to complete his secondary schooling and his father has high hopes. Later Theo will learn that his father participated in an uprising in 1953.
Paul takes the group to his uncle, with a reputation as a gay man, to listen to radio from the West in order to learn more about Hungary. The principal, originally a blue-collar worker, is anxious for his job and talks with students. However, an official visits, Miss Kessler, a severe interrogator and, later, the Minister for Education will visit the school.
There are divisions amongst the students, Erik idealising his resistance father but rather conservative. The others, on the other hand, are eager for solidarity with Hungary. Questions are asked about who is responsible.
Ultimately, the state will come down on students and they will have to make decisions about staying, being expelled from school, the consequences for their careers or travelling to the west.
Well acted, well written, always interesting – and, though it is the history of a small group in 1956, still challenging.
LA ENFERMEDADA DEL DOMINGO/ SUNDAY’S ILLNESS (Panorama)
Spain, 2018, 113 minutes, Colour.
Susi Sanchez, Barbara Lennie, Richard Bohringer, Miguel Angel Sola.
Directed by Ramon Salazar.
This is a very strong character study.
The film opens in the Spanish countryside, the camera still, no musical background. In fact, throughout the film there is very little musical background, occasionally with the drive into the country, some countryside scenery. Otherwise, there is soft music in a restaurant, music at a fair, the use of the song, Dream a Little Dream and its impact on Anabel.
Anabel is one of the central characters. She is in her 60s. She moves in significant and wealthy circles. Her husband is an economist, businessman and was a professor. She dresses very fashionably. She also hosts society dinners, giving orders to her servants, wanting them to be exact, no earings or piercings… She has one daughter.
The other central character is Chiara. She is in her early 40s, seen initially visiting the forest where she grew up, a significant tree contemplated. Then she appears as one of the servants at the Society dinner. She upsets Anabel by pouring her red wine instead of white wine. There is a confrontation between the two women after the meal and the emerging of a significant secret.
Anabel had been previously married, had Chiara as her daughter, left husband and daughter when the little girl was eight. She wanted more in life, studied, married, became something of a celebrity hostess. In the meantime, Chiara had had a difficult life, some rebellion, drug addiction, and the need to reconnect with her mother. She proposes now that the two women spend 10 days together.
The two actresses are most convincing. Susi Sanchez has great bearing as Anabel, a woman of style, who has created herself but finds her creation now challenged by the appearance of her daughter. Barbara Lennie is also most convincing as Clara.
The 10 days together are episodic. They talk. There are long silences. Anabel goes to town to visit her husband’s grave at the cemetery. Chiara recovers her dog from a friend who is minding the dog and invents a story about discovering it down a well, covered in mud, encouraging Anabel to hose the dog and then Chiara turning it on Anabel. There is a gradual change in the mother. This is typified when she puts on a recording of Dream a Little Dream, begins to sway and then to dance, Chiara observing her.
There is a very significant sequence at a fair, Chiara riding the carousel that she remembers from the past. Then her drinking (when she denied that she was a drinker), some outrageous flirting, dancing with a man in the square with Anabel stepping in to discipline her daughter, take her home, care for her when she is sick.
The audience may come to guess why Chiara wants the two women to spend the time together, a certain urgency and, as the title indicates, illness. Significantly, and a challenge to the audience in principles and in emotions, the issue of assisted suicide. Whether one agrees with assisted suicide or not, this is a story that brings home the reality, testing principles and emotions.
Often very impressive drama, and two performances well worth watching.
TOUCH ME NOT (Competition)
Romania, 2018, 125 minutes, Colour.
Laura Benson, Thomas Lemarquis.
Directed by Adina Pintilie.
Touch Me Not won the Golden Bear prize at the 2018 Berlinale.
The director is a documentary maker who also appears in the film herself, seen behind the camera, seen reflected, doing interviews with the central character played by Englishwoman, Laura Benson, and giving her opinions on the making of the film as well is its subject.
This is a film about the human body. It is the major concern for Laura Benson, a British actress in her 50s, often rather inhibited, feeling a great deal of internal anger. This is one of those performances usually called courageous where Laura Benson exposes her complete self, her inner psyche, mind and emotions, sexual concerns and energies, her body.
For audiences there are two aspects for the film. Firstly, there is a certain amount of prurience about the subject, about sexual behaviour, about watching sexual behaviour on screen. Secondly, there is the therapeutic aspect of spending over two hours considering the subject, listening to points of view, agreeing and disagreeing with the points of view, about the behaviour, of observing the naked body, in watching Laura discuss the situation with psychologists, acting out some of her angers, as well as the audience testing their own attitudes towards their own bodies.
While the attention is on Laura and herself and her body, there are some of the women, especially involved in sexual therapy, where there is a great deal of the female gaze, director and actor, on male bodies, beginning with a call boy and masturbation, followed by an Icelandic man, Tudor, who has a particular condition where, at a young age, he shed all his hair who is in group work with a dwarf sized man, full body, ordinary sized head (and distracting large protruding teeth) who is particularly frank about his own urges and his sexual activity.
Audiences can remain rather calm during the therapy interviews with psychologists – although the man, is rather forward in his approach, wanting to touch Laura, to get a reaction from her – which he certainly does, her talking about her comfort zone, feeling uncomfortable, letting out screams.
At one stage, there is a group of naked men and women, a great deal of groping. At another stage, there is a look at some sadomasochistic behaviour.
Ultimately, Laura achieve some kind of self-knowledge and self-awareness, understanding herself better, becoming more comfortable – culminating in her being able to dance naked for herself and in front of the camera.
As has been said, a blend of the prurient and the therapeutic.
France\Germany/France, 2018, 101 minutes, Colour.
Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Lilien Batman, Maryan Zaree.
Directed by Christian Petzold.
This is a German film about France during the Nazi occupation. It opens in Paris, focuses on a range of people, some about to go to the resistance, others trying to get out of the occupied zone, going south to Marseille. But there is also the ominous threat of the occupation moving south towards the Mediterranean.
The film is directed by Christian Petzold whose films are always interesting, especially Barbara which has an East German setting and Phoenix which has a World War II setting. Many of Petzold’s films feature Nina Hoss as the leading lady. In this film it is Paula Beer who had appeared in François Ozon’s war film, Frantz.
However, unless an audience is warned beforehand, it might find it very difficult to appreciate what is actually going on. What Petzold has done is to take the historical story but film it in contemporary Paris and contemporary Marseille, relying on the dialogue and situations to communicate the Occupation but counterbalancing it with contemporary images. At times, this is disconcerting. However, it makes the point that events like the Occupation can occur at any time.
The central character, a young man called Georg, played by Franz Rogowski (Isabelle Huppert’s son in Happy End, the lead in In The Aisles) who is called upon by a friend to deliver letters to a famous author who is trying to migrate to Mexico. He has been abandoned by his wife but she wants to contact him. What the young man discovers is that the author has killed himself – and he takes a completed manuscript as well as the author’s letters only to find that the friend who commissioned him on his mission has been arrested.
While the contemporary situation does not look threatening, the action of the film is. The young man has to accompany a very ill associate on a freight train to Marseille, which he does, forming a plan that he will assume the identity of the author and make his way to Mexico.
The bulk of the action takes place in Marseilles. There are a number of humane touches, especially with Georg encountering a young boy, a contemporary refugee, and plays soccer with him before he meets the boy’s mother who is deaf-mute. Georg forms an attachment to him and helps him when the boy’s asthma has a bad attack and Georg tracks down a sympathetic doctor, Richard, also trying to get to Mexico to build a hospital, to treat him.
Georg also visits the various consulates, getting his papers ready to go to Mexico, going to the United States for a visa for passing through, being challenged by the official thinking that he is the real author because the official has been dealing with the author’s wife.
There are some emotional complications with the wife anxious to find her husband, finding emotional support from Richard, being offered some hopes for travel by Georg.
This is the kind of film which won’t have a completely happy ending, some experience tragedy, others living with hope and acting on hope. So, it is a reminder of the events of the past while echoing some of the constraints of the present.
U: JULY 22
Norway, 2018, 90 minutes, Colour.
Andrea Berntzen, Aleksander Holmen, Brede Fristad, Elli Rhiannon Muller Osbourne. Cambridge for a start,
Directed by Erik Poppe.
For Norwegians, July 22, 2011 was a sombre day. It was the day that terrorist Anders Breivik exploded a bomb outside government offices in Oslo and then went on a rampage on the island of Utoye where many young people had gathered for a summer camp and shot 79 of them and wounded many others.
Breivikk was an extreme rightwing fanatic and made outlandish declarations during his trial. It is important for this film that he is never named and is never seen – and, in prison, he has no possibility of praising himself for being at the centre of the film.
The film is based on the events of the day, many of the stories told. However, the director, Erik Poppe, says at the end that the film is a work of fiction but based on true stories, one of many possible interpretations.
The device used is a handheld camera and the story told in a single take, using real-time to capture again the atmosphere and events of the 72 minutes of the pursuit of the students.
The film opens with newsreel footage of the explosion in Oslo causing concern on the island with parents ringing children and checking on safety. The camera then focuses on one character, Kaia, and follows her through the next 72 minutes. We see her impatient with her younger sister who is out for a good time and is very careless, rubbishing the tent. Kaia then joins a number of friends. Soon they begin to hear gunshots and are puzzled.
From then on, the camera follows Kaia, huddling with the group, taking cover, bewildered, trying to use the mobile phone, concerned about her sister and crawling to the tent but finding the sister absent as well as her leaving her mobile phone in the tent. Kaia also encounters another little boy who is terrified and she encourages him to run towards the water (with some pathos when he is later discovered dead and she blames herself).
Kaia eventually moves towards the water where a number of taken refuge. All throughout the film one hears shots, screams, glimpses people running in all directions. At the water’s edge, Kaia takes refuge with the young man whom she had earlier encountered, has conversations with him about her ambitions to be a politician, sings a song from the choir to which she belongs. As the danger gets closer, she is siezed to make a move and his shot down.
Ironically, her companion is rescued by a boat – and the audience sees on the boat, Kaia sister looking after those who have been wounded.
It is important for a nation to come to terms with such a disastrous day and the number of people dead, especially their being so young. This film is very respectful to the survivors and their stories, enabling audiences to remember and to understand.
Erik Poppe has directed fine films like Troubled Waters and The King’s Decision.
This film received a commendation from the Ecumenical Jury at the 2018 Berlin Film Festival.
UNSANE (Out of Competition)
US, 2018, 98 minutes, Colour.
Claire Foy, Joshua Leonard, Juno Temple, Jay Pharaoh, Amy Irving, Matt Damon.
Directed by Steven Soderbergh.
Do we actually use the word “unsane”? Is it something of a mixture of sane and insane? Can it imply that somebody can be sane and insane at the same time?
Director Steven Soderbergh, with a strong career in films, Cannes award for Sex, Lies and Videotape, and an Oscar for Traffic, decided that he would stop making films and turn his attention to television. His decision for a new direction in work did not last long and in 2017 he released Logan Lucky and in 2018, Unsane.
The star of the film is British Claire Foy, who made such an impression as the Queen in The Crown and appeared also in Breathe. We first see her in her office at a bank, in a Pennsylvania city, treating a phone client with some severity. The worker in the next desk comments on her harsh approach. However, Seymour (she explains her name, that she was called after her maternal grandfather) is a success at work, praised by the boss, suggesting she travel with him to a conference in New Orleans – though she seems to have a quizzical response, suggestive that he is being suggestive.
Then, she goes to a bar, meeting up with a man whom she had contacted through an app, seemingly permissive but then suddenly stopping. So far, perhaps so ordinary.
However, she has been troubled by a stalker for two years, moving away from her mother (Amy Irving) and from Boston. She decides to go to a therapist and explains her fears and answers questions about contemplating suicide. Suddenly, she is interned in an institution for 24 hours, the staff suspicious of her responses, rather Cuckoo’s Nest in their application of rules and regulations. She finds herself in a dormitory, tormented by the young woman in the next bed, Allison (Juno Temple).
An explanation is given that institutions like this are dependent on insurance income and can keep intended patients as inmates for as long as companies are prepared to pay the insurance. (To be a particular interest for Soderbergh who explored the exploitation of medication and institutions in his film, Side Effects, 2013.)
As the film develops, and Seymour finds herself confined, she denounces one of the workers as her stalker. The authorities say that he has been definitely checked and, in fact, he is in charge of the distribution of the medication each night.
At one stage, we might have been suspicious that all this was going on in Seymour’s head, that she had imagined the stalker. Yet, here it is (Joshua Leonard) and sometimes in charge of Seymour.
She does make friends with another inmate, Nate (Jay Pharaoh) who tells her about the insurance scams and lends her his mobile phone so that she can make contact with her mother who hurriedly drops everything at home and hurries to her daughter, making demands, taking strong stances.
The plot does get quite complicated as it goes on, Seymour and her dealings with the alleged stalker, his behaviour, his interactions with Nate, his plans for a happy life with Seymour.
There is plenty of melodrama here, especially in a final confrontation, police investigations, media investigations into the ethics of the institution…
And, with Seymour returning to work, and some of her behaviour, we begin to wonder what has really happened…