Berlinale 2014: Encore

By Sascha Krieger

Anderswo (Perspective German Cinema / Germany / Director: Ester Amrami)

Noa is lost in translation: a young Israeli woman, she lives in Berlin, torn between her family and new life, her mother and sister who cannot understand why she left and her German boyfriend who has no clue what tears her apart. Culture, languages, guilt: they all clash in her head, failing to be translated, reconciled. She sets out to write a dictionary of untranslatable words. when that stalls she spontaneously visits home. Her boyfriend follows, a sometimes funny, sometimes deeply touching whirlwind of misunderstandings and misguided attempts at coming to terms with all the wounds and scars individual and wider history as well as a troubled present have inflicted ensues. The film uses conventional set pieces and clichés taken from family reunion and culture clash comedies and occasionally relies on them a little too heavily. For long period of times it plods along quite routinely only for the permanent mental state of emergency that being an Israeli includes and that the well-meaning rest of the world will never understand to intrude. The pieces of video footage in which people from various countries explain their untranslatable words offer some kind of frame that allows the viewer to look beyond the dysfunctionality of the family depicted. Narratively and cinematographically, Anderswo is, as they say, nothing to write home about. Its virtue lies in the unassuming way it lays out in front of us a society that carries a heavy baggage, that is always between translation and permanently in more than one place at a time, Just like Noa. Ester Amrami suggests a happy ending for Noa. For the world she’s coming from the film is not so sure.

L’enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq (Forum / France / Director: Guillaume Nicloux)

The French writer Michel Houellebecq is an elusive individual. He tends to disappear occasionally, plays his games with the media and does his best to escape any expectations the public confronts him with. L’enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq can be seen as both another chapter in this long story and a highly ironic comment on it. In the largely improvised film we mainly watch Houellebecq talk, curse, insult, charm, hide. At first he converses with and tries to avoid friends, business partner family, later he does the same to his captors. Why he is kidnapped is unclear, the possibility that he himself was the source of the plot remains an option. Houellebecq discusses literature with his highly cultivated and rather nice kidnappers, he teaches them poetry while they instruct him in the martial arts. The film is a series of improvised scenes with a documentary feel, as banal and everyday in „freedom“ as in „captivity“. It is hilarious and touching, absurd and gentle, ironic and melancholic. A collection of people who are expected to play roles and are even regarded as doing so when they don’t. Houellebecq is the master actor among them, a sly manipulator, a dictatorial charmer, an arguing egotist, he is the captive of the public eye just as he is prisoner to these well-being criminals. There is obviously a metaphorical level to this, but the ironic distance and ambivalent vagueness play with the fragile balance between public pressure and self-fabricated roles, between being object and controlling subject. The roles change, yet Houellebecq remains resigned: to his stardom, his captivity, the impossibility to stop being who everyone sees him as. So all that remains is playing that absurd, bizarre and strangely funny game of life. L’enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq depots and exemplifies nothing less than this.

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