By Sascha Krieger
Espoir-Voyage (Forum / France, Burkina Faso / Director: Michel K. Zongo)
Burkina Faso film maker Michel K. Zongo sets out to retrace the steps of his older brother who, like so many other young men, left his home country to work in the coffee and cocoa plantations of neighboring Ivory Coast, never came home and is reported to have died. Zongo interviews family and friends before he joins other immigrants on a bus journey across the ragged roads of Ivory Coast, meets other workers and farmers from Burkina Faso and finally finds the place where his brother has lived and died. It is first and foremost a personal journey for Zongo but at the same time it is much more. For in the interviews and the impressions of villages, plantations, fields and houses appear other stories: that of a people whose young generation goes abroad in order to earn their living and support their families, and through this example that of the global issue of immigration. Zongo refuses to paint things in black and white: Some actually do find success and happiness, others are at least better off than former generations who were little more than modern slaves. And then there are those like Zongo’s brother who tried to rip out his roots, burn all bridges and completely assimilate in his new country. There is nothing simple about migration and it is to the film’s merit that it hints at the fact that there are just as many emigration and immigration stories as people who leave their home in search of a better life.
Barbara (Competition / Germany / Director: Christian Petzold)
Christian Petzold is back in the Berlinale Competition and so is Nina Hoss who won a Silver Bear in 2007 for the title role in Petzold’s Yella. This time, she plays Barbara, an East German doctor in the early 1980s who wants to leave her country to go to the West. She has been to jail, was then sent to work in a province hospital and is regularly visited by Stasi search teams. But things get complicated as she grows more and more attached to her work – and her new colleague. So in the end, she must make a hard decision. Whether she makes the right choice we can only guess. Barbara has the typical Petzold look and feel: The clear, slightly cold imagery, the hardly moving camera, the stony faces in which emotional changes can only be found using a looking-glass. The people inhabiting his films are damaged souls, hurt too many tomes to still be trusting, locked up closets in which their feelings are well-hidden. If you want to experience Barbara you only have to keep looking at Nina Hoss‘ face: How this distrustful, defiant mask ever so slightly breaks up, gains a tiny touch of openness and suddenly reveals a hardly notable hint of a smile the whole story. Hardly noticeable, too, is the development of the relationship between her and Andre: a look here, a slight movement there. There is no talk about love, just those ever so tiny nuances that can, in Petzold’s films at least, speak louder than any passionate speech. The suffocating atmosphere of her life is well captured and so is the matter-of-fact bureaucratic brutality of the surveillance state. Yet something is missing: The story is too neat, to smoothly resolved, the resolution too simple. What makes Petzold’s best films great is that there remains something missing, that there is a sense of a mystery unsolved that there is something beneath the surface, also an unrelenting harshness that defies optimism. Here all is revealed and resolved, there are no monsters left in the closet, there even is a hope for a happy future. It all feels just a touch too easy.
Dictado (Competition / Spain / Director: Antonio Chavarrías)
Every now and then – and at least once every Berlinale – a film comes along that begs ony one question: How did this film make it into the festival program, let alone the competition? Dictado is such a film. A film allegedly about how the demons of a suppressed past, bout how past guilt continues to haunt and poisons the present, it ends up being little more than a cheap B movie. Instead of traumatic memories there are clichéd nightmares, psychological exploration is replaced by stale effects – and on top of everything is the never-ending music which comes right out of the top drawer in the prototypical thriller music cabinet. Every time the psychological drama seems to have a chance to slide into focus, the screw is turned a little further and well-worn horror genre clichés take over. This is trying to be Hitchcock with a bit of The Exorcist and Poltergeist thrown in but is not even a proper thriller as it is way to predictable to create any suspense. Which brings us back to question number one.