By Sascha Krieger
Keep the Lights On (Panorama / USA / Director: Ira Sachs)
Erik and Paul are in their thirties when they meet via a phone sex line. They meet again and soon move in together. Unfortunately, Paul has taken a liking to crack and as they try to settle down in their mutual happiness, Paul slides more and more into addiction. Keep the Lights On follows their relationship over the course of nine years, dropping in on them every now and then after long intervals. The focus remains with the two protagonists rather than move to a study of the effects of drug addiction. It’s the people who matter, their feelings, their attempts at living and staying together, their desire to love and how hard it is to do so. Keep the Lights On goes for the big feelings and issues and it does so in an utterly unsentimental way, developing a laconic matter-of-fact narrative style. It lets the faces who are often in close-up tell the story – and sometimes the bodies, too. An unassuming and honest portrait of the power and the limits of love in which clichés aren’t absent but don’t feel like clichés at all. Life, as they say, is what happens while you’re busy making plans. This, ultimately, is what Keep the Lights On is all about.
Aujourd’hui (Competition / Senegal, France / Director: Alain Gomis)
„Around here, death announces itself.“ And as the opening titles say, so it does. When Satché wakes up one morning, all his family and friends are assembled because this is the day he is going to die. They are here to celebrate and mourn him, to send him off in style. There will be a session in which everybody shares what needs telling, a celebratory procession through the streets of Dakar, meetings with friends and an ex-lover, even a ceremony in the town hall. Through all this, Satché hardly speaks a world, as he goes on his journey, calm, bewildered, a little amused and, as the day goes on, increasingly sad and regretful. Director Alain Gomis tells the story of a man’s (assumed) last day as his journey through life all wrapped in one day. A joyful and meditative dance, a light-footed procession, Aujourd’hui has a strong and distinctive rhythm which is best exemplified with the beautiful silent dance of attraction and rejection, Satché dances with the girl he used to love. The rhythm is broken up a few times – when everything, even sound, stops for a few seconds or when the whole world around Satché slows down. It is his eyes through which we see this wonderfully life-asserting story unfold, the eyes of a man who is not even really there, already gone while still present. Right to the ambivalent ending in which life and death finally come together.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (Out of Competition / USA / Director: Stephen Daldry)
Meet Oskar Schell: a highly intelligent, vulnerable, fear-ridden, arrogant, charming little boy whose many issues are multiplied when his father dies on September 11, 2001. Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel tells the story of a search for an assumed clue his father left him, an attempt to hold on to his father a little longer as well as a journey into life, the chance for a new beginning, and it does so in that quirky, humorous as well as brutally honest and deeply moving fashion which is typical of Foer’s wrtiting. Stephen Daldry has managed to translate not only the story but this special atmosphere to the screen and the main reason is that he has found the perfect Oskar Schell. Thomas Horn is the heart, soul, brain and guts of this film, moving effortlessly from smart, annoying brat to deeply traumatized child and back. 9/11 is told not from the inside, not from what happened that day, but the effects it had on one family and one child in particular. Daldry allows Oskar to drive the narrative and dictate the rhythm, the film’s pace, its editing and cinematography reflects the state this boy is hin. By taking it to the very personal level, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is, just like the novel, deeply moving without being overly sentimental. The story is told in a much more straightforward way here, but the cracks and abysses remain. The pain steel feels rough, undiluted, honest. Only Alexandre Desplat’s music could have been put on a little less thickly.
À moi seule (Competition / France / Director: Frédéric Videau)
When she was ten years old, Gaelle was kidnapped. Since then she has been held captive in a basement room – Natascha Kampusch’s case certainly comes to mind. Now she is almost eighteen and manages to escape but the new life she is seeking is hard to find as she and the world have become strangers. A psychologist, her mother, an old friend – they all try to help her pick up where she had left but those formative years she spent in captivity cannot be erased, cannot be bridged. In the end she will have to flee again in order to start again, on her own. Flashbacks provide a glimpse into the years in the power of the kidnapper – it is one of the strengths of the film that this Vincent is no monster, but an ordinary guy next door. His motives never become clear but are apparently not sexual. Where A moi seule fails is that it never succeeds in building a bridge to the viewer. The narration is too distanced, old-fashioned and uninspired, the kidnapper too nice, the girl too one-dimensional. No, she has never learned to allow feelings but the cracks in her personality which must be somewhere, never show, her attempts to find an identity end in annoyingly often repeated changes in her hair color. She dies her hair in order to be someone else. OK, got it.. All is too smooth, all seems a little superficial.. The constant going back and forth in time fragment the story and don’t allow it to go anywhere. And so we look on from a distance at something that doesn’t seem to be of much interest. And isn’t looking away the greatest problem in cases like this?