Berlinale 2015: Day 8

By Sascha Krieger

Elser (Out of Competition / Germany / Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel)

In 1939, a carpenter from the southwest of Germany named Georg Elser planted a bom that was meant to kill Adolf Hitler. It missed him by a mere 13 minutes. Oliver Hirschbiegel’s film sets in with the planting of the bomb and ends with Elser’s murder in 1945, just before the war ended. Flashbacks, rather clumsily introduced, show Ekser’s life before and the growing of his decision to do something against the regime. Elser  is a hero’s tale with a conscientious individual whose flaws are minor (mostly women), evil Nazis, nasty opportunists and a sort of decent Nazi. Christian Friedel plays him convincingly although the rather bland dialogue – there is a scene in which he discusses Hitler’s evilness with the chiefs of Gestapo and criminal police – often stands in his way. The colors in the pre-Nazi flashbacks are strutted and slight vintage, they get paler and paler with the advance of the regime and are close to black and white when Elser is killed. The film’s narration is didactic and avoids fully fleshed-out characters, it goes through all the routines of such film’s whether it’s the violent opportunism of the fellow villagers or the cold brutality of the torturers. The man Elser remains pale despite the hagiography and Friedel’s best efforts. What might have been possible shows a short scene just before the end which depicts the fate of one of Elser’s interrogator – plain, unforgiving, documentary-style realism.  The best that can be said about this uninspired piece of craftsmanship is that it will introduce this often sidelined figure of German resistance to man who so far have known little to nothing about this.

Elser (© Bernd Schüler)

Elser (© Bernd Schüler)

Vergine giurata (Competition / Itaky, Switzerland, Germany, Albania, Kosovo / Director: Laura Bispuri)

A rough landscape, dominated by rocky, lifeless mountains, drenched in a grayish, dark cold light, filmed with the raw touch of a hand-held camera. Similarly colorless interiors, almost sterile in the gaze of a stationary camera. These are the two worlds of Vergine giurata, the story of Mark aka Hana, who, to escape from the stark and brutal paternalism of rural Albania, became the „sworn virgin“ of the title, promising to never have a relationship with a man and henceforth being treated as one. It is a world where fathers give the men who marry their daughters a bullet, to be used should the groom become dissatisfied. This is, however, only revealed gradually in this finely spun web of chronological narration and flashbacks. So we start out observing an unexplained Mark who emigrates to Italy, following his, her sister who ran off for love years before. Very slowly Mark becomes Hana again while at the same time we watch her becoming Mark. Laura Bispuri tells her story in stark, darkish, yet clear images that convey the world hitherto unknown to her as she is discovering it while we see her begin to become herself. The film has a slow rhythm only occasionally hinting at emotional depth through a very effective use of music. In one scene, we watch her teenage niece at synchronized swimming – but all we see is what’s below the surface, a fitting image for Hana who has learned to not allow anyone, including herself, see what’s underneath the facade. In another, again at the swimming pool, the camera finds, skin and limbs in extreme close-ups, symbolizing Hana’s slow rediscovery and acceptance of her body and through it her self. The story is mainly told in looks and gestures – most of all in an impenetrable face that ends up almost smiling. And while Vergine giurata cannot entirely escape a touch of pathos in the end it is a quiet and intriguing portrait of a human awakening.

Madare ghalb atomi (Forum / Iran /Director: Ali Ahmadzadeh)

Two women, a car and the Tehran night: Ali Ahmadzadeh doesn’t need much more to create a 96-minute trip to the heart of modern Iran and beyond. The story? Two friends (two of the best comedic performances at the festival: Taraneh Alidoosti and Pegah Ahangarani) drive home from a party, meet a freiend, got involved in an accident, get bailed out by a mysterious stranger (Mohammad Reza Golzar) who will become their nemesis. Saddam Hussein and Adolf Hitler also feature in this film that contains what is probably the greatest musical performance in a car since the Bohemian Rhapsody scene in Wayne’s World. Its first half is painfully funny, its second disturbingly dark though the laughter never completely capitulates. Madare ghalb atom (Atom Heart Mother, named after a Pink Floyd song) is a comedy, drama, parable taking place in narrow spaces, mostly a car. The camera is usually stationary and focusing on close-ups, the night of a cold, yellowish grey light. The car is a protective place as it is in another Iranian film at this year’s Berlinale, Taxi. In Iran’s repressive regime, it is the only place in which one can be in public, as it were, and speak its mind at the same time. Here, everything can be discussed and made fun of: the patriarchal tyranny, the ever-present thought police, the Western sanctions, the Iranian nuclear program, the persistent fear of war. It represents a private space in which one can be oneself and outrageously so. But the reach of a society that wants to control everything gets here, too. So the rescuer becomes a threat, invading the very privacy whose protection is now turned against those looking for shelter. The illusion to find one’s niche where you can have some freedom turns out to be just that. Ahmadzadeh tells this story as a colorful, at times surreal parable that wonders whether there might only be one, rather radical ways out. But then again, it might be completely different. Who knows?

Corbo (Generation 14plus / Canada / Director: Mathieu Denis)

1966: the revolutionary spirit that would soon be spreading around the world is alive and well in the French-speaking Canadian province of Québec, long treated as second class by the English-speaking majority in the country. Amomg those who want to change the status quo are small groups who are convinced that decolonization is only a part of an overall revolutionary struggle can only be successful when using violent means. 16-year-old Jean Corbo, a boy from an affluent family with Italian roots, who has a violent desire for justice, joins one of these groups – with terrible consequences. Mathieu Denis‘ film follows Jean’s radicalization and at the same time depicts a world in which unrest is spreading. Just like the explosive devices Jean ends up planting, it is about to explode. The film paints an observant portrait in calm, tenderly colored, slightly vintage-looking images which occasionally get hectic but come to a sad stand still in the end. Corbo effectively convey a convincing atmosphere of restlessness, a world searching for meaning. Its protagonist, memorably played as quietly angry and determined young man by Anthony Therrien, is exemplary for a generation of young idealists all over the world for whom the answers their fathers and brothers have chosen are no longer an option. Although Corbo does not always avoid the traps of superficial sentimentality and occasionally goes for the easy effect it does convey a feeling for the reasons that drove so many middle-class kids to such violent means. It explains without justifying.

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