Berlinale 2014: Day 10

By Sascha Krieger

Diplomatie (Berlinale Special / France , Germany / Director: Volker Schlöndorff)

In 1944, when allied forces were about to take Paris, the German commander General von Choltitz received the order from Hitler to completely destroy Paris before leaving the city. In the end, Choltitz surrendered Paris and the city was not destroyed. In Diplomatie, director Volker Schlöndorff condenses the process leading to the decision into one night’s conversation between Choltitz (Niels Arestrup) and the Swedish diplomat Raoul Nordling (André Dussollier) which never took place in this way. Diplomatie works best when it remains in Choltitz‘ office, unfolding a battle of arguments between duty and humanism, pragmatism and idealism, diplomatic flexibility and military rigor. Schlöndorff films this as a nocturnal conversation play, with reduced light and creating a sense of a narrow, confined space representing the little room both men have. It is an exemplary discussion about courage under pressure and despite some weaknesses in the screenplay and a rather heavy musical it works rather well on that level. The problem is that it doesn’t stay in the room and when it doesn’t, the film gets rather stale and loses all intensity. A clearer focus would have served it well.

Diplomatie (© Jerome Prebois)

Diplomatie (© Jerome Prebois)

Mo Jing (Panorama / China / Director: Dante Lam)

After a shootout with police, policeman Dave unknowingly saves the life of gang leader Hon. Feelings of guilt set him on a journey that begins as a hunt fir a killer but ends up as a trip into the darkest places of himself. Dante Lam’s new film Mo Jing (That Demon Within) is a highly complex thriller that is a brilliant genre piece and so much more. For Dave not only has to deal with robbers and corrupt policemen but with his own demons which soon blur the lines between inner and outer reality, past and present, truth and imagination as the internal world manifests itself and the external one seems more and more unreal. Mo Jing is a dark film full of pale colors, yellow, blue, red. The color scheme is symbolistic, camera and editing reflective of Dave’s inner state, so is the sound. The colt red plays a key role, so does the equLly symbolistic body language of Daniel Wu who plays Dave. Acting and image and sound and editing create a compelling unity in this intense and highly complex film, bringing together its many strands and levels. Violence is short and matter-of-fact-like, there are no greatly choreographed fight scenes in this noire-influenced thriller that goes where it hurts. Masterfully, Lam interweaves observations on what humans do to each other with excavations of the dark places in oneself, leading from one to the other and back. The source of evil is the individual, the only solution to deal with one’s own demons. Mo Jing is intelligent, full of action and suspense, philosophical and gripping. What more could one desire?

Asabani Nistam! (Panorama / Iran / Director: Reza Dormishian)

In English, the film’s title Asabani Nistam! means „I am not angry!“. It is the mantra Navid is advised by his doctor to repeat whenever he is about to snap. The job he is doing at this is not very good. Navid lives in Tehran, was expelled from university for dissident activities, is engaged to a former fellow student whose father beseeches him to dissolve the engagement in order to allow her to marry well. Navid is under pressure from all sides: Islamic morals, a repressive state, an anarchic economic system, a patriarchal society – they all come together to suffocate a young man trying to do things right. Reza Dormishian’s film is esthetically ambitious. It starts with a woman’s face, first blurred, then moving into focus. The expression goes from sadness to puzzlement to fear to terror. The film’s plot is all in this opening close-up. Dormishian makes ample use of fast motions, hard edits, stop motion like collages. When Navid gets angry, extreme close-ups show body parts, like twitching hands, or partial face views, often only shortly, as if in a flash. Often the violence is just in the imagination, when it really happens, we do not get to see it. The film has a unique, disjointed, fragmentary rhythm with symbolic interludes, tableaus of what might but cannot be, with calm narratives and frantic series of images, producing an atmosphere of constant emergency, permanent pressure. Unfortunately, the ending goes a notch too far, losing the density of most o the film in the process, but overall this is an impressive and visually strong portrait of a society always on the verge of bursting – and its effect on the individual who just wants to live their life. Not an easy task.

Unfriend (Panorama / Philippines / Director: Joselito Altarejos)

Two teenage boys on a rooftop: dancing legs, floating hands, playfully entangled limbs, a tender embrace. Unfriend opens with poetic black and white images, the carefree love of youth. With the color comes the unease: matter-of-fact sex, a parting loneliness. Joselito Altarejos‘ film tells the story of David who cannot accept it when his boyfriend breaks up with him and begins to unravel, going from grief and longing to numbness and hatred. The film’s strength lies in how it mirrors its protagonist’s disintegration: where the camera was calm and clear early on, it gets more and more unsteady, light and colors gain contrast, the editing gets faster and harder, the sound more disjointed, the images blurred and distorted. A central rile is played by devices and platform of the difital age, as the virtual drama is added ro the inner turmoil, the latter is only intensified. Moments of seeming calm are reflected in a calmer narration and imagery, but the focus remains on details which reveal that all is not well: twitching, nervous movemts, harrassed looks. Unfriend is a well-composed study of an unravelling soul after the loss of love. The fact that David is gay is not at tee film’s center but that it might add to the pressures David collapses under is subtly hinted at. True, the film falls apart a little towards the and as subtlety disappears and plausibility reduced but overall this is a compelling film about youthful love and grief and the grip they have on a young soul.

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Ein Gedanke zu „Berlinale 2014: Day 10

  1. […] not angry” was the English title of Reza Dormishian’s film shown two years ago at Berlinale. That wasn’t true then and it isn’t now. Ig anything, Dormisahian is even angrier today […]

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