Berlinale 2012: Diary Day 11

By Sascha Krieger

It’s done: the 62nd Berlinale is history. The awards have been given out, the festival can enter the history books. The Taviani brothers have won the Golden Bear for Cesare deve morire, while the big favourite, Bence Fliegauf’s Csak a szél received the Special Jury Prize, other Silver Bears went to L’enfant d’en haut, Christian Petzold’s Barbara (direction), Rebelle and En Kongelig Affaere (actors). All worthy winners although one can feel a little disappointment that the best and most important film of the festival, Bence Fliegauf’s moving, haunting, radical Csak a szél did not win the big one. For a decidedly political festival that is also committed to new esthetics, younger film makers and regional diversity, this would have been a perfect choice and an important signal that human rights and democracy must be guarded wherever they are under attack – particularly in the heart if Europe. You can find all awards at www.berlinale.de.

What remains from this year’s edition of the Berlinale? It has been a political festival, both the „Arab Spring“ and Fukushima were featured as was Islamist terrorism, the Genova summit riots and the fate if child soldiers. What was striking though was how many films explored the political in the everyday. The question how „big events“ affect the ordinary person was discussed most remarkably in Csak a szel, the overlooked Kazoku No Kuni, which dealt with families divided between North Korea and Japan, and Barbara.

Apart from the obviously political, many films revolved around the fragile state of today’s world in the middle of a global crisis which in many ways and areas is also an identity crisis. The most remarkable phenomenon was that of the parentless child, the absent or incapable adults in films such as L’enfant d’en haut, Á moi seule or Kid-thing. Families fall apart (Was bleibt, Toata lumea din familia noastra, For Ellen), social structures dissolve. Again, the Berlinale has been at the pulse of today’s world, closer and more diverse than Cannes or Venice. It has found and proven its place and reasserted its function as giving a voice to the voiceless.

It has been a good year which leaves me with only two things I still have to do: to thank you for reading and to give you the final two reviews. See you next year!

Electrick Children (Generation 14plus / USA / Director: Rebecca Thomas)

The 15-year-old Rachel has grown up in a fundamentalist Mormon community in rural Utah. One day she comes across a tape of rock’n roll music which turns out to be a revelation in more than one way. When she discovers that she is pregnant shortly afterwards she is convinced that God got her pregnant through the tape. So she sets out on a journey to find the singer which leads her to some teenage drifters in Las Vegas and a veritable clash of cultures. The film tells the story of a girl’s awakening to the fact that there is a larger world out there. While some of her beliefs – and her brother’s who follows her in the hope of getting a confession which would exonerate him as he is suspected t be the child’s father – are tempered they are not lost. In the end one of them will even decide to return home. Not only their views of the world are tested and expanded – also those of the people they meet. The film doesn’t take sides either way – growing up, maturing is not a one-way street as there is not only one way of living. Visually and technically, the film is not very exciting, the story has its glitches, feels a little forced at times and does not completely avoid clichés but it works because of its openness as well as the finely balanced and well-rounded characters. Not a great film but one offering an unbiased look into a very foreign world.

Gnade (Competistion/ Germany / Director: Matthias Glasner)

Niels is an engineer who has just taken a job in Norway, in Hammerfest, 1,000 kilometers north of the polar circle. In summer it never gets dark, in winter it remains night for about two months. It is a harsh land, cold, windy, covered in ice and snow. The marriage is in trouble, Niels has started an affair, not his first, his relationship with his introverted son, who prefers to watch the world and his family through the camera of his mobile phone, is almost non-existent. There is an oppressive atmosphere as if all relationships, all people, all faces are frozen, covered by an invisible layer of ice. Outwardly a happy family, they have nothing to say to each other. Then something happens and everything changes. This is where the actual film begins as director Matthias Glasner observes, with surgical precision and the refusal to look away, what happens in those faces, with those bodies, to the way they function and communicate. This is painfully slow, it hurts and is meant to. He charts and measures the often unwanted changes which occur as people try to deal with speechlessness, numbness, guilt. Each one have their secret but revealing them is rarely cathartic. Claustrophobia takes hold, it is as if people are buried underneath feet of snow, they cannot breathe, maybe they are already dead. Glasner’s film is harsher, more radical, less polished, uncompromising, more brutal than the other two German Competition entries. Yet its climax is more cathartic, there is a sense of liberation or at least the possibility, one that might be fulfilled in the suddenly brighter, more colorful epilogue seen through the lens of the son’s phone. Maybe there can be redemption? There is a lot of hope in this film’s „maybe“.

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