By Sascha Krieger
Pardé (Competition / Iran / Directors: Jafar Panahi, Kamboziya Partovi)
This is a film that shouldn’t exist. Two years ago, Jafar Panahi, who won a Silver Bear in 2006 for Offside and a Golden Lion in Venice for The Circle, was barred from making films for twenty years by an Iranian court. The fact that Pardé was made and is now premiering at the Berlinale is a little miracle of perseverance. It opens with a long single shot: We look through bars (an iron shutter) towards the sea. In the distance a car stops, a man get out and slowly walks towards where we are looking from. A simple, powerful image, a metaphor on today’s Iran which we encounter as a closed, claustrophobic society in which paranoia is a means to survival. Once inside the man shuts all curtains and hangs up heavy black drapes. No light is to get in and, more importantly, out. The man is clearly on the run. His crime: he owns a dog, an unclean animal by Islamic standards. Later he will be joined by a young woman who had celebrated with friends on the beach for which the police hunts her. fear, distrust, the urge to be alone dominate their dealings with each other. Both seem on the same side but how can one be sure. Panahi and his co-director Kamboziya Partovi concentrate this interior play into a dense parable of people in a stifling world. The girl urges the man to get out, rips down the curtains, there is no way one can forever be imprisoned. Then the film changes, suddenly Panahi himself appears, first as a ghost almost, the taking control. The man and the woman, we understand, are characters in a film Panahi cannot make. They crave for his attention, they want to stay alive, they want him to give them a voice. A complex game ensues that is political, philosophical, human. For in all this repressive atmosphere, the desire for life, freedom, expression never dies. Panahi and Pardovi show this in long, factual, decidedly non-poetical images which is precisely why the space of the imagination is so large in this film. Somethings are heard but not seen, at times all goes black, yet light always returns. In the end we return to the opening shot. But now there are people, a kite, a dog running free. „You’ll work again“, an old neighbor tells Panahi at one point. Pardé is a moving, deeply human, poetic masterpiece which stubbornly defends its belief in the power of the human will.
Side Effects (Competition / United States / Director: Steven Soderbergh)
This is not going to end well: Right in the opening scene there is blood on the kitchen floor. The first third of the film will explain how it got there – it will take a longer to figure out what it means. We meet Emily who is about the welcome her husband home after he spent four years in prison for insider trading. What should be the start of a better time turns really sour when Emily develops a severe depression. After several failed attempts she discovers a new drug which works well – but appears to have severe side effects leading to a quickly spiralling turn of events. Steven Soderbergh begins his film as a gripping psychological drama that revolves all around and completely belongs to the superb Rooney Mara. Then suddenly things turn and almost unnoticed the film becomes a dense and beautifully choreographed, photographed and narrated thriller that reminds one just a little of Hitchcock, unagitated but impossible to escape. Steven Soderbergh proves to be a master of yet another genre, a director who knows his trade. As suddenly the perspective shifts to Emily’s doctor (Jude Law) who tries to rescue his life and career. The film offers many twists and turns, changes tone, genre, direction several times without ever falling apart. It is a highly intelligent thriller that doesn’t bore even for a second. At the same time it portrays America’s love of psycho drugs, which is in essence a tendency to take the apparently easy road, as well as the interdependency of doctors and pharmaceutical companies without ever turning it into a pamphlet. It’s simply part of the story, one might even say it is the story – and it certainly does have its side effects.
Camille Claudel 1915 (Competition / France / Director: Bruno Dumont)
Juliette Binoche’s face, sad, in close-up. Juliette Binoche’s face, smiling, in close-up. Juliette Binoche’s face, expressionless, in close-up. This sums up Camille Claudel 1915 quite precisely. A star vehicle if ever there was one. We meet Camille Claudel, famous sculptor and once lover of the even more famous August Rodin, in 1915 at a mental institution near Avignon to which she has been committed by her family. She doesn’t understand why she’s here and wants out. One can understand why as apart from her the asylum is inhabited by your usual panopticum of cliché mentally disabled people none of which seems capable of normal speech. The contrast to the noble beauty of Binoche is planned which doesn’t make this any better. At times director Bruno Dumont as much as parades these people, the line to ridiculing them is very fine and he might occasionally overstep it. Other than that, it’s Binoche. We learn nothing about the artist Camille or the person for that matter we just watch her suffer with beauty. The film falls totally apart when her brother Paul appears and we have to endure his long ramblings about faith, full of hollow pathos. Everything his grave, movements are slow, emotions serious. Which weren’t as bad if there were any. As it is, Camille Claudel 1915 is as uninspired as it is unambitious. It is great to see Juliette Binoche back in Berlin but this film is a fairly high price to pay.
Inch’Allah (Panorama / Canada, France / Director: Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette)
Chloé is a Canadian doctor working at a UN-run clinic in a Palestinian refugee camp. Her best friend is an Israeli border soldier, she crosses the Israeli-Palestinian border everyday. Inch’Allah takes the viewer into the fragile normality of the Israeli-Palestinian border region – full of poverty and uncertainty, but also plenty of moments of ordinary joy and happiness. People sitting in a café in Israel, a family dinner in the refugee camp, scenes that could happen anywhere else, too. but then there is the wall, are the raids, the close-by settlements, the harassments at the checkpoints. Inch’Allah is particularly strong whenever it does little more than depict the everyday life in this zone of constant emergency. The hectic business of the clinic, a few stolen moments at a concert, the nervous conundrum at the border. Ordinary life and tragedy, happiness and suffering are so close that sometimes they can hardly be told apart. One moment, children are playing joyously, the next a boy is killed when he gets run over by an army truck. Anaïs Barbeau-Lavalette takes the viewer right in the middle of this, the hand-held camera varying between stillness and high levels of agitation to the point of everything getting blurred and mirrors perfectly the duality between everyday life and a permanent state of emergency. Unfortunately, Barbeau-Lavalette does not trust this almost impressionist look at life on the edge to carry her film, so she ups the emotional level towards the end that the film ends up piling cliché upon cliché, drifting into pathos, turning melodramatic including some rather heavy overacting, particularly by Evelyne Brochu as Chloé. There is an unlikely love story, there is a good amount of black and white, jailed husbands, a family tragedy and, of course, a suicide bombing. Inch’Allah is one of those instants in which less would have been more. As it is, the film becomes a rather clichéd routine dealing with issues so complex that they would deserve the observing, non-judgmental treatment of the film’s first half.