Berlinale 2015: Day 9

By Sascha Krieger

Cha và con và (Competition / Vietnam, France, Germany, Netherlands / Director: Phan Dang Di)

A river, a forest, shabby makeshift huts, illegal sidewalk drinking places, a boat, a brightly colored nightclub, an operating table. This is the world through which Phan Dang Di is sending his young protagonist Vu, a photography student from a poor family who wee strangle with his identity, a patriarchal system, social expectations and a world in which the stronger tend to win. In Cha và con và, everything is ambivalent: fatherhood, sex, affection, family. Women are second-class family members, homosexuality is not considered acceptable, young men get sterilized to make money, sex and love are – literally – muddy. Yet, there is plenty of love and warmth and support, less in the words but in gestures, looks, the simple fact of being there for one another. The important things happen between the lines, when bodies speak, even if they don’t do much. The film is narrated in calm, unmoving sequence, clear, somewhat cold colors and images that pay homage to photography, the trade Vu is learning at the outset. Dramatic things happen but they are depicted in a laconic, matter-of-fact way if they don’t happen between the scenes, open spaces with are crucial to the way Phan Dang Di lets his story unfold. Not everything can or should be explained, life, after all, tending to just happen. The songs one of the character sings is the main outlet for a depth of emotion and longing usually kept under the surface. Cha và con và is a quietly poetic film that flows along like the river, without beginning or end. We’re just sitting in on two hours of life unfolding in the unspectacularly spectacular way that it does. We should be grateful.

The Forbidden Room (© Galen Johnson)

The Forbidden Room (© Galen Johnson)

Ten no Chasuke (Competition / Japan, France / Director: Sabu)

Chasuke is a tea server in heaven. He services the script writers busy with creating the life stories of humankind. When one writer kills the another“s character, a young woman, Chasuke goes to earth trying to save her. As he does he gets into a war between writers and, ultimately, between destiny and self-dermination. Ten no Chasuke is a highly inventive and wild trip through almost every conceible film genre, with melodrama, screwball comedy, mystery thriller and gangster movie featuring particularly striongly. Director Sabu changes mode, color scheme, light and aesthetic mid-scene, using all the range from glossy to coarse-grained, realism to surrealism, long stationary shots to hectic hand-held camera, long sequences to heavily-edited montage. The variability of the art that is film mirrors that of life and at the same time parodies the pretense of TV-style sensationalist story-tellingg too many mistake for what they should aspire to in life. Because in the ende, the ordinary may well trump the avant-garde. Ten no Chasuke is unashamedly imaginative but unlike the Chinese competition entry Yi bu zhi yao, it has an intellectual foundation and a strong, yes simple, but convincing message. Sabu’s creation is a celebration of film as it is of life and on both levels, the often surprising and always entertaining film works exceptionally well.

El incendio (Panorama / Argentina / Director: Juan Schnitman)

What a beginning: a couple lying in bed, shot from above. He is on his belly, eyes closed, she’s lying on her back, staring into the camera. All the tension we’ll see unfold in the next 90 minutes or so is already present in this opening sequence. Lucía and Marcelo are about to buy a house. When this is delayed by a day, long buried tensions break lose. Emraces, kisses, sex: all becomes a kind of war, a constant struggle in which the role of the aggressor is fluent, a battle for power which leaves both of them bruised at an ending that is completely devastating in its ordinariness. To get there, there are no holds barred in arguments that become more and more violent, both verbally and physically. The aggressive Marcelo and the cruelly passive Lucía are constantly on edge, ready to explose as is Argentinian society which director Juan Schnitman hints at with a few brutally precise strokes of the brush. The camera remains relentlessly close to these tense faces , making the interor spaces wven narrower and more claustrophobic. El Incendio is a devastatingly intense chamber piece that shows what can happen when pent-up feelings are released. On a meta-level, it is a miniature portrait of a society that has lost itself in fear, insecurity and a struggle for identity. On both levels, El Incendio is one of the most memorable and impressive films of the festival. Among its more optimistic works, however, it is not.

Misfits (Panorama / Denmark, Sweden / Director:  Jannik Splidsboel)

Tulsa, Oklahoma is a city with 400,000 inhabitants, 2,000 churches and one LGBT youth centre. Being different from the norm isn’t easy in what some call the „buckle“ of the United States‘ Bible Belt. Misfits portrays three of them over the course of several years: the 17-year-old Larissa who’s gone through plenty of rejection since coming out as lesbian, the flamboyant yet vulnerable 19-year-old Ben whose family has gradually come around to accept him and the 16-year-old D who defines himself as asexual and has a long history of abuse and therapy. The frame is provided by the centre’s discussion sessions in which a wide variety of subjects concerning the realities of the kids are debated. In-between we watch the three of them going through their lives and setting out to find out where their path will lead them. The film lets their remarkable personalities shine, allows us to marvel at D’s quiet strength, admire Larissa’s toughness coupled with tenderness and occasionally laugh at Ben’s drama queen behavior that contrast with his panic attacks. The film provides snapshots, it observes instead of expelling, only the repeated images of churches and excerpts of fundamentalist hate speech are a little superfluous. Misfits is an unassuming documentary that presents the reality of KGBT teens in a deeply religious town in a direct and intimate way that never feels heavy, stressing the parallel worlds of living totally normal lives and yet being under so much pressure that almost everyone has a suicide story to tell. And as if that wasn’t enough, it features one of the visually most beautiful kissing scenes at this year’s Berlinale.

The Forbidden Room (Forum / Canada / Directors: Guy Maddin, Evan Johnson)

A lumberjack wandering through a forest and ending up on a submarine miles below the sea’s surface. An exploding giant brain at sunset. Vampire bananas and poisonous skeleton, all of it framed by a short history of taking a bath. In Guy Maddin’s new film, the experimental film anarchist, has pulled out all the stops. Based on real or remembered mostly lost silent films, he sends the viewer through two hours of an associative and hallucinatory stream of unconsciousness in which all laws of logic and probability are no longer valid. Aesthetically, the film is consistently sticking with its silent movie theme, the credits are in the shape of early film credits, the images constantly disintegrating to suggest the loss of our heritage and, ultimately our memory. In a mix of silent horror film, B movie and a strong dose of surrealism, Maddin transports uns into the depth of dream and nightmare, those hardly separable twins in which the night goes where the day is not allowed to. The Forbidden Room is a wildly meandering nocturnal vision in which everything is connected and one: the here and there, the past and the present, memory, the fickle and treacherous friend and enemy. A highly associative and aggressively inventive essay on desire, memory and death in which the skeletons leave the closet and the loss of the past in equal to losing present and future, The Forbidden Room is also an unusual homage and love letter to film. But maybe it’s all something else and the joke is on us. Who knows?

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