Berlinale 2018: Day 4

By Sascha Krieger

La prière  (Competition / France / Director: Cédric Kahn)

Thomas is a beaten young man – or boy, which never really becomes clear. Bruised are his face, his body, his soul. He checks into a religious retreat for addicts such as him. Angry at first, he becomes milder as he first falls in love and then  finds God – which v´creates a new conflict. The film indulges in long shots which at their most effective when they document Thomas‘ struggles, especially early on. Anthony Bajon plays him as a blank page, but one previously written on. Close-ups abound, there is a restlessness in the images that corresponds with Thomas‘. The narration is linear yet there remain gaps between the scenes. Which is the film’s main issues. Its unwillingness to explain what happens in-between to Tomas does not open rooms for imagination, it fragments Thomas‘ character and eventually the entire story. None of his developmental steps feel plausible, yet all are quite predictable – not a great combination. The film dwells long on the community’s rituals, the prayers, the testimony, the ritualised apologies. Scenes are repeated with different personnel to showcase Thomas‘ growth. The problem is that a predictable plot the effects and objectives of which are always in plain sight clashes with the film’s refusal to take a stance. It seems to look at its subject with rather little interest. The problem isn’t that the film doesn’t provide answers, it doesn’t seem to care about the questions. So it leaves the viewer with the most clichéd possible endings. And the impression that mechanics beat substance here.

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Genezis (Image: © Genesis Production)

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Berlinale 2018: Day 3

By Sascha Krieger

Transit  (Competition / Germany / Director: Christian Petzold)

In Anna Seghers‘ novel Transit, people trying to flee France just as the German occupation sets in during World War II wait for their passage, their visas, the way out. One of them is Georg played by Franz Rogowski, one of this festival’s „European Shooting Stars“, who through a number of coincidences assumes the identity of a German writer granted a visa to Mexico. Director Christian Petzold adds a special twist: while the story remains intact, the scenery in present day Marseille. This achieves several things: for one, it opens paths into today, to the refugees of our time, languishing in other port cities, waiting to flee in different directions but with the same urgency and despair. And of course, also to a present in which fascist ideologies snd „us versus them“ are becoming more mainstream every day. It also creates a distance adding to the layered approach of the film. For as the story unfolds in front of our eyes, a second narrative layer appears, the report of a bar tender, telling Franz‘ story in the pest tense. Fort the present is just remembered, the past present. It repeats itself in a never-ending cycle of waiting. The fate of the refugees is far away, viewed through the distance of Petzold’s cold, still, immaculately clean frames, the bar tender’s reading, the chiseled and always just a little abstract, formalised lines, attributed to those characters, those ghost of unseen humans from outside. A film seemingly old-fashioned and straightforward, yet layered, complex, not telling a story but the telling of it, its invention, the need for it, for giving names to the nameless. Transit is a highly intelligent and well-structured film that is also a reflection about film’s own power and limits to tell stories. However, its strength is also its weakness: the distance it creates hold the viewer at bay, makes them appreciate it intellectually but emotionally, leving them as cold as those images.

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Transit (Image: © Schramm Film / Marco Krüger)

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Berlinale 2018: Day 2

By Sascha Krieger

Damsel  (Competition / United States / Directors: David and Nathan Zellner)

Once upon a time in the west. A man sets out to rescue his woman from a kidnapper. Along with a preacher (co-director David Zellner as a rather pitiable specimen) to officiate the wedding and his wedding gift, a pony, he goes forth. They reach her, kill the man and, well, things go south from here. For this lady, the „damsel in distress“, has no intention of being rescued. By no-one. And yes, by the end of the film, a few have tried. Several marriage proposals later, she sets out, alone, leaving behind several corpses and one beaten down fake preacher. No, Damsel is not your usual Western despite its imagery and musical score, it isn’t even a harmless Western comedy, this is the Western film’s #MeToo. For this lady, played by Mia Wasikowska, not only will not be controlled or subdued, she will demand her own space, sets her „personal boundary“, and no, she’s not joking. The film’s strength is that it’s several rolled into one. What it sets out to do, along with Robert Pattinson as its supposed rather ridiculously serious protagonist, gets thwarted pretty soon by Wasikowska’s Penelope. She usurps the film, breaks up the male narrative and sets her own. In a whirlwind, Western role clichés are – literally, at times – blown up, the initial sunrise exposed as an unattainable fantasy. Yes, some of the humour is not too complex, yes, the point is made fairly early on, but it works almost till the end, due to man’s inability to understand he’s not in charge. Not the first time, not the second, not ever. So it has to be brought home again and again and again. Great fun and a littler more than that.

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Black 47 (Image: © Berlinale)

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Berlinale 2018: Day 1

By Sascha Krieger

Isle of Dogs  (Competition / United Kingdom, Germany / Director: Wes Anderson)

Wes Anderson opened the Berlinale Competition before. With Grand Budapest Hotel, he created a wild ride through genres and European history, a story of redemption, human cruelty and kindness. This time, he goes east. Far east, to be precise. Isle of Dogs, his second animated film, pays homage to the great film tradition of Japan, its anime culture, its samurai tradition, its theatrical aesthetics. It tels the story of a young boy setting out to rescue his dog among a violent campaign to exterminate the entire species. And it is that of a pack of dogs he meets rescuing him, themselves, the world. The film is a parable about racism and any other movements to ostracise entire groups of people in order to preserve power through sowing fear and delegitimising consent. One of its greatest ideas is to have the humans speak Japanese – and only translated arbitrarily – and the dogs in plain English. That dogs are the better humans is not an entirely new idea, the latter’s unintelligibility a smart little twist. It doesn’t even need a few hints about the age of Trump to make sure where this is heading. The film has the brutality but also the simple moralism of the fairy-tale. Which isn’t a bad thing as the way it tells its story is inventive, highly entertaining and deeply touching. Anderson’s visuals feel nostalgic, harking back to the days of stop motion, he quotes richly from the genres he takes inspiration from, but he does everything with an eye that is both loving and laughing. Beautiful, quirky, silly little ideas abound but they’re all woven into a rich tapestry that is a love letter to the art of film, a commitment to the imagination and an optimistic perspective on humanity. It’s always great for a festival to open with a highlight. This one does.

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Isle of Dogs (Image: © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox)

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Food for Eyes and Thought

Film review: Phantom Thread (Director: Paul Thomas Anderson)

By Sascha Krieger

Breakfast. It used to be regarded as the day’s most important meal. Andy while experts have long denied it, for many people a good and harmonious breakfast is still a key ingredient in starting the day right. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscars candidate Phantom Thread, it is perhaps the most important plot element. When the current love interest and muse of celebrated 1950s London couturier Reynolds Woodcock offers his the wrong bakery, she gets thrown out of his life and house. When waitress Alma holds her own and smiles steadfastly in the face of an excessive breakfast order, she enters his life forcefully. And when he explodes at her buttering her toast to noisily, their relationship changes dramatically. Woodcock is a man of many and inflexible rules, his life carefully structured. He knows what he wants and needs and that’s basically for everybody to conform to his whims and regulations. Alma poses a threat: she questions his rules, subverts them, stubbornly insists he meet her at eye level. There is only one person in his life who has done this: his sister Cyril on whom he relies in everything. When she checks him and tells him quietly he wouldn’t survive a fight with her, he gives in.

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Im digitalen Regen

Junges DT – Nach dem Roman von John von Düffel: Klassenbuch, Deutsches Theater (Box), Berlin (Regie: Kristo Šagor)

Von Sascha Krieger

When it rains, it pours, sagt ein englischsprachiges Sprichwort. Man kennt das aus der Pubertät, wenn jede noch so kleine Krise, die schlechte Note, der erste Liebeskummer, der Streit im Freundeskreis, das verlorene Fußballspiel, apokalyptische Züge annehmen kann. Doch was, wenn der Regen nurmehr digital ist, im Zwischenraum des passend so genannten Inter(!)-Nets stattfindet? Was, wenn zur ohnehin schon unmöglich erscheinenden Identitätsfindung in der realen Welt eine solche, die eher einer Identitätserschaffung ähneln mag, im digitalen Raum hinzukommt, wenn sich die eigene Welt unendlich erweitert, die Echokammer, in der man sich befindet riesengroß und zugleich winzig klein wird? Im Laufe der Inszenierung von John von Düffels Roman Klassenbuch mit dem Ensemble des Jungen DT fällt er tatsächlich, der digitale Regen. Fahl und weiß ziehen seine Fäden über die Rückwand und bilden digitale Pfützen auf der angeschrägten Spielfläche, die eigentlich weiß ist, wie das Blatt, welches das junge Leben der Protagonist*innen dem Klischee nach darstellt? Diese Pfützen sind schnell laufende und sich multiplizierende Counter, Leben im digitalen Zeitalter werden zu Datenmengen reduziert, aus- und verwertbar.

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Bild: Arno Declair

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Himmel und Hölle

Chgefdirigent Robin Ticciati dirigiert das DSO mit Werken von Lindberg, Berg und Bruckner

Von Sascha Krieger

Keine Angst vorm Kernrepertoire: Natürlich sollen Chefdirigent*innen ihre eigenen Akzente und Schwerpunkte setzen, aber wer am Pult eines deutschen Spitzenorchesters – welches das Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester ohne Zweifel ist – steht, muss sich auch im klassischen und romantischen Repertoire der deutsch-österreichischen Musiktradition zu Hause fühlen. Für den Engländer Robin Ticciati, seit Beginn dieser Spielzeit „Chef“ beim DSO, gilt das ohne Abstriche. Schon bei seinem ersten Auftritt an deren Pult hatte er Anton Bruckner auf dem Programm, die Vierte, ein mutiges Statement für einen Debütanten. Jetzt eröffnet er sein erstes volles Kalenderjahr in Berlin mit der Sechsten, jener, die „selten gespielt“ zu nennen, sich eingebürgert hat, aber mittlerweile kaum mehr als Koketterie ist. Ticciati, das ist jetzt schon klar, ist ein Freund thematischer Programmgestaltung. Und da Bruckner einmal sagte, der Gesang sei das Wesen der Musik, strickt er seinen Abend um das gesangliche.

Robin Ticciati am Pult des DSO (Bild: Kai Bienert)

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Lasst uns summen

She She Pop: Oratorium. Kollektive Andacht zu einem wohlgehüteten Geheimnis, Hebbel am Ufer (HAU2), Berlin (Regie: She She Pop)

Von Sascha Krieger

25 Jahre gibt es sie jetzt schon. She She Pop sind längst eine Ikone der freien Theater- und Performanceszene im deutschsprachigen Raum, auch eine eines vor allem weiblichen Blickes auf gesellschaftliche Phänomene und Themen unserer Zeit. Was schenkt man sich da zum Vierteljahrhundert? Vielleicht eine Arbeit, für die so richtig Zeit bleibt, die man entwickelt, indem man zunächst durch die Welt reist, von Festival zu Festival, ein Work-in-Progress, dass auch nach seiner jetzt erfolgten offiziellen Premiere wieder hinauszieht in die Theaterwelten. Und vielleicht lässt man auch erst einmal das Publikum arbeiten. Tatsächlich bleibt es zunächst dunkel auf der Bühne. Eine Videowand spricht die Zuschauer*innen an, gibt ihnen wie ein Teleprompter Text, den sie sprechen sollen. Mal alle im Chor, mal Einzelne, mal einzelne Gruppen, die gleich zu Zugehörigkeitsentscheidungen des Publikums führen: Gehöre ich zum „Chor der reichen Erb*innen“ und wenn ja, will ich das zugeben? Bin ich ein „junger Mann ohne festes Einkommen“ oder vielleicht eine „Mutter ohne Absicherung“, definiere ich mich als „pragmatisch“, „skeptisch“ oder gar als „Klassenkämpfer*in“?

Bild: Sascha Krieger

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The Absurdity of Redemption

Film review: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (Director: Martin McDonagh)

By Sascha Krieger

Three decaying billboards on a road no-one travels on anymore. In Martin McDonagh’s film, the celebrated Irish playwright’s third, they’re all it takes to trigger a series of events evolving into an Old-Testamentarian fireball of guilt, violence, fate, revenge and redemption. With one exception: there is no hand of God in all of this. Mildred Hayes, played by Frances McDormand as a modern-day mixture of Job and Moses with a dose of Cain thrown in and just a hint of Jesus, a stubborn, dry-witted, relentless woman, holding up staunchly her facade above a bottomless sea of sorrow, has lost her daughter to an unspeakable crime. Months later the investigation has stalled, so she rents those billboards and uses them to ask the local police chief (gentle and imposing all in one, loving husband, reasonable authority, quirky clown: Woody Harrelson) what’s going on. A spark that lights a fire. Factions form, the police overreaches, dentist drills turn into weapons, people get injured or even die, Molotov cocktails fly. It doesn’t take more than a few large letters to strip away the illusion of civilisation, of a peaceful town where people face each other with decency.

Image: © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox

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Wider die Eindeutigkeit

Nach „Franziska“ von Frank Wedekind: Betrunken am Highway, P14 – Jugendtheater der Volksbühne Berlin (3. Stock) (Regie: Charlotte Brandhorst)

Von Sascha Krieger

Willkommen in der Zeitkapsel. P14, die Jugendtheatergruppe der Volksbühne, ist ja so etwas wie das Gallische Dorf des Hauses. Ganz Volksbühnenland ist von den „Neoliberalen“ besetzt? Nein, eine Enklave harrt aus, lässt die Fahne der viel beweinten und vermissten guten alten Castorf-Zeit flattern, wenn auch ein wenig versteckt im 3. Stock („Wir wussten gar nicht, dass das hier existiert“ ist ein Satz, der vor gefühlt jeder Vorstellung zu hören ist). Und Caesar alias Chris Dercon? Der hat gar keine Absicht, auch diesen letzten Winkel zu erobern, lässt P14 die gleiche Autonomie wie Castorf. Gut fürs Feindbild ist das nicht. Dafür umso besser fürs Spiel, ohne das Theater ja bekanntlich nicht kann. Wo an anderen Häusern Jugendliche eingeladen werden zum Theatermachen, laden sie sich hier selbst ein, schreiben ihre Stücke, führen Regie, machen Bühne, Kostüme und Licht. Unterstützung gibt es, wenn sie sie wünschen. Sie haben das Sagen und das macht diesen Ort so besonders. Mitunter auch besonders anstrengend.

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