Berlinale 2016: Day 1

By Sascha Krieger

Hail, Caesar!  (Out of Competition / United States, United Kingdom / Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen)

The Coen brothers are going back to their roots. Well, sort of. Barton Fink was by msot accounts their first minor breakthrough, turning old days Hollywood into a mystery slash horror thriller, exposing the darkness and the abyss beyond the glamourous surface, a surface that couldn’t be further away from what the Coens were doing. Now, 25 years later, they have revisited the subject in a film satire meets kidnapping thriller means comedy meets – well, you’ll see. Hail, Caesar! tells the story of a studio manager whose job it is to remove any obstacles from movies and stars. In this capacity he needs to solve the disappearing of the studio’s biggest star, Ben Whitlock, in the middle of a film shoot as well as some other problems like an untalented rookie star, a pregnant starlet or his own professional future. Doing so, the film runs through various genres, from monumental history epic through musical and western to romantic comedy and a little hint of film noir. Its characters are quirky, dumb, pathetic, in their world everything is make-believe. See for example the brilliant scene in which Channing Tatum quoting Soviet-era propaganda epics absconds on a Soviet submarine. Through all this fake world wonders Josh Brolin as Eddie Mannix, a devout Catholic, troubled man, fearful husband trying to figure out what his place is in the world – as do George Clooney’s dim-witted movie star, Aldon Ehrenreich’s singing cowboy and Scarlett Johannsson’s starlet. In their own special ways. But alas, Mannix‘ story is also just a movie, told by a narrator framing Eddie’s tale. So the soul-searching aside, Hail, Caesar! is little more than a rather well-meaning and sympathetic satire of the entertainment industry. Which it is part of. The joke is on us. It’s a rather harmless one though.

Hail, Caesar! (© Universal)

Hail, Caesar! (© Universal)

Já, Olga Hepnarová (Panorama / Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, France / Directors: Petr Kazda, Tomas Weinreb)

This face: shy, reclusive, stubborn, closed, full of pent-up anger and rage. Olga feels the world is against her. All her life, Olga has been abused and made the scape-goat, by family, peers, co-workers, authority.Her posture is bent, her walk stiff, her eyes hostile. And she has a point: The film’s world is cold and static. A chilly black and white, long still frames, little movement. The others are cold, brutal, indifferent at best. Já, Olga Hepnarová paints the portrait of a cold, mechanical, inhumane society – and it shows what happens when it means an individual unable and unwilling to compromise. When Olga’s rage finally explodes, the resulting scene is particularly chilling as it is narrated in the same matter-of-fact way as the rest of the film. No great lead up, no emotional climax. Just a simple, random act of violence. The film keeps a distance, it doesn’t let us too close because its protagonist doesn’t. We see the outside and we are as mystified as the world she encounters. The film overdoes the character’s hostility a little too much. At times, Olga seems almost like a caricature, the third dimension is often lacking. Its strength is its weakness. yes, it avoids simple explanations and retains the inexplicable but it is also a little to enamoured by its formal strictness and its distanced perspective, giving it a rather constrained feel.

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