By Sascha Krieger
Als wir träumten (Competition / Germany, France / Director: Andreas Dresen)
„Listen, Dani“, Mark says as they’re sitting on a roof, „they’re playing our song.“ A police siren can be heard in the distance. Als wir träumten chronicles the youth of five friends who grow up in Leipzig around the fall of the Berlin Wall. It moves back and forth between they’re late East German childhoods and teenage years without limits, with drugs and crime and violence and alcohol – and loads of dreams. At the end, most will be shattered and a taxi driver will ask Dani: „Where to?“ The film ends here, without an answer. This is a rather untypical film for Andreas Dresen: fast-paced, two hours of tripping through the night which had just promised to be a new morning. The story focuses a little too much on ritual battles with rather prototypical skinheads, it features a heavy dose of sex and drugs and techno music clichés and has a rather bleak perspective in store for its heroes. But it does succeed in sucking the viewer into these lives, enacted by a young, enthusiastic and fearless cast which lends more credibility to the story than Wolfgang Kohlhaase’s script based on Clemens Meyer’s novel. The result is an atmospherically dense film which might lack the depth of some of Dresen’s other efforts but makes up for it with plenty of life and energy, captured by Michael Hammon’s sensitive and variable cinematography whose images tell their own story of a time in which everything seemed possible. Not a great film but one that holds the audience’s attention for two hours. That’s not too small an achievement.
El Club (Competition / Chile / Director: Pablo Larraín)
A dog running in circles chasing a bait he’ll never catch. An old man sitting on a sofa. A woman working in the garden. Futility and normalcy, one and the same. El Club takes place in a home for fallen priests. When a new inhabitant arrives, so does his past in the form of a drunken accuser. A suicide, an investigation and a morally strict priest deciding about the house’s future follow. Dark, hard, almost dissonant string music, a constantly grey sky, twilight that never ends. Director Pablo Larraín has created a stark tale of guilt, penitence, redemption and power in which soon notions of innocence and guilt get blurred, no one seems fit to throw the first stone but all are eager to do it. Calm, precisely composed frames depict a world that is intricately interwoven, in which all depends on the other and which has declared everything outside the enemy. A dark parable of the Catholic church and totalitarian power structures in general, in which the faith ends up not counting at all. Whose sins count heavier, where is goodness, where innocence? The viewer will have to make up their own minds in this film that, at its end, has no other way out than bitter laughter that hurts. Whether it also cleanses is a question much harder to answer.
Body (Competition / Poland / Director: Małgorzata Szumowska)
An experienced coroner who lost his life and has a strenuous non-relationship with his daughter who is anorexic and hates her father before moving into therapy with a woman who lost her child and communicates with the dead. Body examines how people deal with grief, what outlets they find, what escape routes and how they might be able to reconnect with the living. It is a film that enjoys laying out false paths. In all seriousness it establishes the presence of the dead, a presence first int introduced in a poetically funny prologue. The images are pale, drained of color which only fills them in the very last sequence as life reclaims the protagonists. Suddenly, all the esoteric framework appears as just a delusion, a way of avoiding the pain, an avoidance which eventually puts the characters on the path to redemption. The direction is precise, unassuming, careful, the camera a seemingly attached observer that in fact manipulates our glance and suggests explanation that are later, with a fine and subtle humor, revealed to be nothing but illusions planted to mislead us. Such a setup can hardly fail to feel somewhat strained at times, yet in the end it works in a remarkably light-hearted essay on death, grief and survival.
Life (Berlinale Special / Canada, Germany, Australia / Director: Anton Corbijn)
In 1955, at a party of director Nicholas Ray an ambitious photographer named Dennis Scott, to this date mainly confined to working red carpets meets an unknown actor who just finished his first film in a lead role and was hoping to be cast in Ray’s next film. The actor’s name was James Dean. In Life, Anton Corbijn, a more than accomplished photographer himself, depicts the short but complex relationship of the two, the former founding his career on the pictures he made of Dean, whose rise to an immortal icon is supported especially by one of the pictures which would appear in Life magazine (hence the film’s associative title). Dane DeHaan gives an astounding performance as a moody, brooding, insecure, confused and at times wonderfully sharp and witty Dean, while Robert Pattinson works surprisingly well in his role as an edgy, nervous Scott, constantly not far from snapping. Corbijn gives his mesmerizing, clear, crisp images, beautifully composed a very light patina, enhanced by a jazz score that moves along perfectly with the films entirely unobtrusive relaxed flow that allows his protagonists plenty of breathing room which they use admiringly. Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s sure-handed camera moves effortlessly between carefully composed still frames and tender tracking shots. In his last film A Most Wanted Man, Corbijn proved himself as a master of subtlety. In Life, he succeeds in turning the lightest of directorial touches into a stunning and fascinating essay poem about life, ambition and the price you pay for your dreams. This is not a biopic but a double portrait of young men trying to find a balance between the public and private spheres, trying not to lose themselves in the process. And it might finally put DeHaan on the map as the major talent that cinema goers have known him to be at least since Chronicle.
I Am Michael (Panorama / United States / Director: Justin Kelly)
Michael Glatze used to be a gay rights activist. He was involved in a documentary about gay youth in America, was editor at a leading LGBT magazine and later founded his own. Then, following a health scare he discovered Christianity, publicly turned away from his gay „lifestyle“, married a woman and became a pastor. I am Micael charts this unusual journey, starring James Franco in the title role who is as convincing as a gay man in a loving relationship as he is as a budding Christian fundamentalist never entirely free of doubt. First-time director Justin Kelly tells the story quite straightforwardly in clean, crisp images that keep looking for Franco’s face. The narrative does have its weaknesses, particularly the actual conversion happens rather abruptly and not entirely credibly. The way there and from this point is better executed, even though the constant repetition of Glatze’s newly found belief becomes a little strenuous near the end. What the film depicts rather well is a soul in turmoil, besieged by pressures, many of his own making but not entirely unrelated to the virtual religious thought dictatorship of certain strands of Christianity prevalent in the United States. When the crisis hits , the slow and relaxed pace suddenly becomes hectic, the images more expressionistic, the editing faster paced. All in all, I am Michael is a rather conventionally told story with a first-time director’s flaw here and there, a script that occasionally creaks and stalls, a direction that struggles with the story’s turning point but an intriguing subject and a convincing star.