By Sascha Krieger
And so the madness begins again: eleven days, over 400 films, time enough to dive into strange and unknown – or way too well-known – worlds, regret that one has, once again, missed the best films and argue passionately about their worth or lack thereof. No doubt, the Berlin Film Festival is special: It’s in winter, it is – unlike Cannes or Venice – truly an audience’s festival and it has always prided itself on being political and contemporary. Although newspapers and some star-gazers like to rate it by its star power, the Berlinale is first and foremost a working festival and a place for serious insights into today’s world – all of it. So it is no surprise that the Forum – a formerly independent festival dealing with new, independent and world cinema – has been such a key part of the festival as a whole. This year is no exception: Many films, particularly in the forum, deal with what it means to live in a world of – actual or presumed crisis. So what could be a better way of starting the festival with two offerings from that very section before the serious business about who will get the Golden and Silver Bears this year?
I kóri (Forum / Greece, Italy / Director: Thanos Anastopoulos)
A timber truck moves through the forest, the camera looking up. Tree tops, blue sky. Near the end of the film the same scene. Only this time the perspective remains close to the ground. We follow the trunk dragged along. Dead wood, defeated. No sky anymore, just dirt. The imagery is as clear and telling as it lacks subtlety. I kóri tells the story of a teenage girl who kidnaps the son of her father’s business partner who she blames for his bankruptcy. Restlessly we see her hustle along, through a city in dissolution. There are rallies, riots, family breakups. And on all of this a stone-faced girl beyond despair, the camera close, as restless and unsettled as her, as this whole country. Greece, 2012. What happens in the workshop where she holds the boy captive is less well told. The difficult relationship is never truly developed, too much is the dialogue used primarily for exchanging empty phrases. Myrto reads articles from the dictionary, on „responsibility“ or „debt“. Her outbursts, her sadistic treatment of the boy are routines the film goes through but they’re never made to breathe. In the end, the film’s naturalistic look and feel clashes with its one-dimensional characterization and its rather lifeless dialogues and constructed story. The soul of the film lies somewhere else: in the wood, its caressing, admiring, almost envying at times. The only real love these list people feel is towards the timber, a love not returned but not cast away or betrayed either. And maybe that’s all there is.
Za Marksa… (Forum / Russia / Director: Svetlana Baskova)
Crisis again. This time it’s Russia. We have 2010 and times are getting worse for the workers in a downtrodden factory. There are pay cuts, lay-offs and the food is horrible, too. So some start an independent union and later plan to go on strike. Something the factory’s owner cannot accept, after all he’s paying the official union enough to keep the workers quiet. Or so he thinks. This cannot end well and of course it doesn’t but what happens in-between is somewhat unusual. For on the one hand the film is all realism. There’s no music, narration and photography are almost documentary-like. It zooms in and out, jumps from one group to another and occasionally feels almost arbitrary. But what we see is not so ordinary: sure, these workers talk of pay and cuts and fear of unemployment but they also converse on Marxist theory, Russian history or literature, culminating in a wonderful soliloquy on the opposing esthetic principles of Brecht and Hollywood. Secondly, there is the management level, visually contrasting in its antiseptic luxury with the grey squalor of the factory. When, in the end, both spheres briefly meet, they hardly seem part of the same species. The owner is a brutal, vulgar, fidgety, choleric cliché of a capitalist. While there is some believability to the worker characters, there is no realism here, just pure caricature. Za Marksa… is an interesting, eclectic, somewhat jumbled film which works because nothing really fits. In the end it tries to add a storyline too many and it sure ends on the bloody side but with its breaks and edges even its bloodbath is a bit more Brecht than Hollywood. Nice try, one might say, and it would be a compliment.