By Sascha Krieger
24 Wochen (Competition / Germany / Director: Anne Zohra Berrached)
Astrid is a successful comedian who is expecting her second child from her long-time boyfriend and manager when the news hit: her child will have Down’s Syndrome. Even worse: later it is discovered that the boy will also have a serious heart condition. The film follows their emotional journey as they make decisions, make them again and question them. The film stays excruciatingly close to the characters, the handheld camera focusing on close-ups and extreme close-ups. Julia Jentsch and Bjarne Mädel play the couple and they carry this film in an entirely unspectacular way. At times, 24 Wochen feels almost like a documentary, due to the immediacy of images and acting but also to the presence of real doctors and councillors. True, the film has its flaws. It occasionally goes for the predictable, score and sound are somewhat heavy-handed, highlighting a drama that needs no highlighting. Slow-motion swimming pool shots and extreme close-ups of babies in the womb could also be dispensed with. The film doesn’t need any of this. The quiet struggle to come to terms with what is happening, the slowly opening gap in opinions among the couple, their stubbornness and self-doubt are enough. Most of the time (the rather unsatisfactory final scene notwithstanding), 24 Hours is an at times almost unbearingly intense study in people making a decision about life and death – undiluted, immediate, unfiltered. A harrowing, deeply moving and brutally honest film.
Quand on a 17 ans (Competition / France / Director: André Téchiné)
Four years ago, 13-year-old Kacey Mottet Klein was one of Berlinale’s discoveries, playing a prepubescent thief trying to keep some sort of family life alive, helping earn L’enfant d’en haut a Silver Bear. Now he is back. The 17-year-old’d latest role may even be more innocent that his breakthrough performance. Damien is slightly arrogant student and loving son who wages a special feud with loner class mate Thomas (Corentin Fila). They fight various times, eventually getting Thomas expelled. Of course, there is something unspoken between them. It is one of the film’s strongest points that he allows the bond between the two develop very slowly, in somewhat stark contrast to the often nervous handheld camera. It keeps seeking out these young, confident, frightened faces as they move from violence to sex but don’t lose the former completely in the latter. The film tells its story in three chapters, the first two of which are a very gentle coming of age story which never feels rushed even though some scenes are. The snow of the first chapter – the film has a beautiful as well as stark backdrop in the shape of the towering French Alps – melts, but denied feelings do not break that easily. Apart from another rather cheesy closing scene, the film often takes the hard road, retreating two steps after having advanced by one. The bare naturalism works as long as it focuses on its two protagonists and their everyday development. Unfortunately, the film needs to expand its story, there’s a sickness and a death, which leads it to lose its center and direction in the third chapter where the denouement is rushed and some of the dialogue downright crude. what holds it together is the commitment by Mottet Klein and Fila who are entirely convincing in this often-told tale that has not lost all of its freshness here.
Cartas da guerra (Competition / Portugal / Director: Ivo M. Ferrara)
In 1971, young doctor and aspiring author António Lobo Antunes departs for Angola where Portugal is fighting one of the last colonial wars. Cartas da guerra is based on the letters he wrote to his young wife. In them he speaks of his longing for her but increasingly, too, about the horrors he encounters and his responses to the. The film is structured as an elegy in elegant, slightly patinaed back and white, very slow, often moving shots that are underscored by the letters, mostly read by a female voice. We see soldiers and death and the low Angolan skies, there is little movement, a world somewhere between waiting and paralysis. Few scenes are played out and even in them not much happens, António mainly remaining passive, observing. The dissociation of words and images, the latter’s elegiac slowness are supposed to create a philosophical aspect, turning the film into a meditation on war, life and death in the vein of Terrence Malick’s Berlinale winner The This Red Line. But neither level ever breaks the barrier of artificiality, the polished melancholy surface. They don’t merge and neither so the cause any kind of chemical reaction between them. so the film plods along, as aimlessly as the war, taking the viewer nowhere except, possibly, to sleep.
Lantouri (Panorama / Iran / Director: Reza Dormishian)
„I’m not angry“ was the English title of Reza Dormishian’s film shown two years ago at Berlinale. That wasn’t true then and it isn’t now. Ig anything, Dormisahian is even angrier today at his country and the repressive and hypocritical society of present day Iran. Based on a much publicized story of a man who out of unrequited loved poured acid into his would-be lover’s face and was therefore sentenced to be blinded by acid, Lantouri is a multi-voiced panorama of a deeply divided country where modernity and tradition constantly fight. It is a wild collage in which various voices in expert-statement-like segments voice their opinion about what happened and often fight about it. A lot of the film is told in this way and in hindsight and there are conflicting tales ans subjective views clash. Dramatized scenes are interspersed, so are photograph series, giving the film a frantic, eclectic, totally anti-realistic feel. Truth is subjective, it tells us, and depends on one’s own opinions. Even the film itself becomes its subject as the talking heads discuss whether and how it should be made. Dormishian’s stance is clear: a debate how a society deals with those on the outside must be had. Dormishian clearly advocates humaneness, freedom, human rights and he is angry about the state of affairs in today’s Iran. An anger that every second of this film breathes, that is the basis of its structure and its spirit. And after watching this for two hours, it’s hard to say that the anger isn’t justified..
Liliom Ösvény (Forum / Hungary / Director: Bence Fliegauf)
The camera moves over a large Lego structure. The room is dark, the images grainy, the structure appears as if out of nowhere, offering only short glimpses before it return into darkness. Ashes are put into some sort of drawer, there are puppets and a ghost. The opening scene speaks of what is to come: a tale of death and guilt and shame and nightmares. Rebeka tells dark tales to her son Dani, tales of a fairy, a hunter and their child, tales that as it gradually turns out are rooted in her own history. This is the night world but there is also a daylight version. In it the mother, going through a separation from her invisible husband with whom the boy lives, shares precious moments with her son, closesness and happiness in entirely unspectacular ways. There are home video style flashbacks of happy days – and of less than happy moments. The dark is never far behind, it returns in the shape of a brooding and mysterious forest and a boarded up house and in coarse nightmarish visions in black and white. The grip of the past is strong, the danger great to repeat your parents‘ mistake. So the house must be cleaned, leaving empty rooms full of light in which life can blossom again. After winning a Silver Bear with Csak a szél, Bence Fliegauf’s latest film is much less accessible and much more intimate. A disparate collage of never fully reconciled components it speaks of fragmented souls slowly coming together as the unsaid is confronted. Liliom Ösvény is a dark and haunting tale of human grief and love and might be read as a metaphor for a country which is trying to forget its demons.
Tempestad (Forum / Mexico / Director: Tatiana Huezo)
Pagares, payers: this is the name given to people like Miriam, innocent people arrested and jailed for organised crime in order to present culprits to soothe the public. They pay for other pople’s crimes and are often incarcerated in private jails run by the very drug cartels for whose crimes they suffer. In Tempestad, Miriam, arrested for human trafficking, tells her story. Her words provide the soundtrack for a journey through Mexico. Long steady shots of army checkpoints, markets, run-down settlements, flat landscapes and low skies shot through the windows of a bus. And faces: weary, sad, numb, resigned faces. Faces that might tell stories as interesting and as haunting as the one we hear. The images speak of a land in lockdown, a grey country paralyzed by fear. The parallel levels of narration and imagery work in the film’s favour: they strengthen each other, provide different perspectives. as does the third level: suddenly a second voice appears, that of a female circus clown. She tells about her life, we see her (unlike Miriam) at everyday activities. only gradually it is revealed that human trafficking is not unknown to her. Tempestad is a finely constructed prose poem about a world that has turned its values upside down and a moving as well as artistically stunning essay on human suffering, cruelty and perseverance.
Maquinaria Panamericana (Forum / Mexico, Poland / Director: Joaquín del Paso)
At Maquinaria Panamericana, time has stood still. The factory seems as if eternally stuck in the 1960s. The machines are too old, the processes inefficient, the products – whatever they may be – no longer required. Every morning starts with a motivational announcement, the staff spend their time drawing flowers, arranging brochures and miniature machinery or painting their fingernails, incoming calls are ignored or It is only CEO Don Alejandro who keeps it alive, paying the salaries from his own pocket. When he dies, the employees decide to close the gates and keep the factory alive. So Maquinaria Panamericana becomes an isolated island, 1960s technology and overgrown fences barely keeping out the modern world: an international airport and a highway just outside the gates. Pointless activism turns into an alcohol-fueled destruction spree, the presumed harmony crumbles as people start playing their own games. In the end, the gates will open only to close again. Maquinaria Panamericana is a quirky, funny, charming film that tells about the inevitability of change but also mourns an older, better way of doing things although it acknowledges that it might have been an illusion in the first place. It is constructed as a series of lovingly narrated miniature portraits, satirical, ironic, bitingly funny, but always infused with a warmth that never allows judgment. After all, these people do something that is part of the essence of humanity: they resist change. Joaquín del Paso has found a very entertaining way to speak this ancient truth.