By Sascha Krieger
Dark Blood (Out of Competition / Netherlands / Director: George Sluizer)
Twenty years ago, Dutch filmmaker George Sluizer was in the middle of shooting a film when his star, 23-year-old River Phoenix, died of a drug overdose. Twenty years later, Sluizer has finally finished his film or rather, he has released it unfinished. Several scenes are missing. Sluizer himself narrates them over other scenes, frozen images or stills. Dark Blood is some sort of mystical late Western about a couple of actors (Judy Davis and Jonathan Price) stranded in the desert when they are found by a young man living in the middle of nowhere (Phoenix). There is plenty of Native American mysticism, an apocalyptic foreboding (we’re in an area in which nuclear testing took place) and a bit of a psychological thriller in which a potential psychopath traps two helpless victims. The story is rather stale, the screenplay uninspired standard fare. This is all extremely predictable, a genre piece, little more. The acting, on the other hand is superb: Price is a passive-aggressive arrogant would-be movie star with a bag of complexes, Davis a wonderfully expressive former beauty with a desire to be admired and a love for alcohol. The real attraction, however, is Phoenix. His immaculate beauty contrasts masterful with his slowly growing psychopathic behavior. His acting is a masterful study is subtlety, nothing is overdone, minimalist acting at its very best. At the same time, there is always, even in the early scenes, a sense of mystery, something hidden, a hardly perceptible sadness or grief. Phoenix‘ eyes, his face, his brilliantly orchestrated movements – a hardly noticeable hesitation here, a slightly overly hectic gesture there – have more depth than the entire film around it. If Dark Bloodachieves anything, it gives us this final performance of an actor the magnificence of whose loss the film brings home forcefully one last time. Currently, Sluizer tells in the press conference, there are still unresolved rights issues which might prevent Dark Blood from being released. Despite all its shortcomings and its rather slight character, one must hope this doesn’t happen.
Uroki Garmonii (Competition / Kazakhstan, Germany / Director: Emir Baigazin)
At the beginning of Kazakhstan’s first ever Competition entry at the Berlinale a teenage boy slaughters a sheep. He chases it, ties and holds it down, kills and guts it, cuts it up. A long, immediate, strong scene. It is, we understand, the beginning of a circle of violence that will leave two fellow students dead. Aslan, the boy, a quiet recluse, will be at the center of it all as he first fights, then becomes a part of the system of power, violence and suppression that is at work at the school but is no more than a mirror image of what’s going on in society as a whole. The film has an antiseptic look and feel, the imagery consists almost exclusively of clean still shots. Director Emir Baigazin doesn’t aim at naturalism, his film develops more like a parable with obvious thriller elements. What we see is a young soul distorted and ultimately corrupted by a world in which the strong and violent call the shots. The film manages to show the workings of a system operating on hierarches of violence which mirror and reproduce each other, it lays bare the mechanics of how such a system works and how someone must function to survive in this system. The film shows this in clear, clean, memorable images. On the other hand, its symbolism is rather heavy: animals killing each other, torture experiments with cockroaches which foreshadow, mirror and comment what happens among the human animals here. This is all a little obvious, too superficial and disrupts the film’s narrative flow which isn’t all that smooth as it is. Too much is the film in love with its esthetic, too much it aims at going beyond its story, which sucks much of the energy out if it. The polished surface, the film’s esthetic mechanic which shows throughout the film somewhat stifle its ability to tell its story, contrasting with the shocking and lucid insights into a world controlled by violence the film provides. It is very well constructed, changing pace, tone and genre several times throughout, starting out as a portrait of a troubled teen but ending up as some sort of clever and at times even gritty thriller. The most chilling moment, however, came in the press conference: asked about the scenes in which Aslan and another boy are tortured by police, Baigazin said: „This is the only language criminals understand.“ A chilling statement which suggests that the film might be a little too close to the culture it describes.
Um Fim do Mundo (Generation 14plus / Portugal / Director: Pedro Pinho)