Berlinale 2016: Day 7

By Sascha Krieger

Kollektivet  (Competition / Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands / Director: Thomas Vinterberg)

The expectations were quite high. 20 years after his celebrated Festen, the first film of the famed „Dogme 95“ movement, Thomas Vinterberg has shot another ensemble piece. This time it’s not about a family but a commune founded by Anna (enthusiastically) and Erik (more grudgingly) after the latter inherited a huge house from his estranged father. But while the restless handheld camera – well, a little less restless much of the time – is back, most is different. There is music, artificial light, a rather polished look in earthy colours pretending warmth. Most importantly, however, where Festen had an immediate intensity, Kollektivet is little more than a collection of formulaic plot points. There’s dictatorial behaviour, a man leaving his wife, her subsequent breakdown, first love and even a tragedy. In addition, the film has a hard time deciding what it wants to be. It starts as a rather light and witty comedy – the auditions of the roommates are nicely done – mixes in some family drama before it turns into the portrait of a woman in a heavy bout of midlife crisis. There are some wonderful scenes, usually including Trine Dyrholm who handles both the dry comedy and the intense desperation of an individual drama. But the film also contains what should count as one of the worst final ten minutes in Berlinale history. While for most of the film things struggle to come together, they entirely fall apart at the end. Easily this year’s festival’s biggest disappointment.

Kollektivet (© Berlinale)

Kollektivet (© Berlinale)

Zero Days (Competition / United States / Director: Alex Gibney)

In 2010, Stuxnet was discovered, the most sophisticated, perfect and dangerous piece of malware ever seen. In the following weeks and months it became increasingly clear that the virus specifically targeted Iranian nuclear facilitate. Who was behind it? Why was it launched? And what does this mean for the future of cyber warfare? Alex Gibney has talked to politicians, security specialists, intelligence officials and cybersecurity aspects to come closer to the truth of the attack which most experts agree was launched by the U.S. and Israel but is still shrouded in secrecy. It wants to enable a debate which some of the interviewed agree is necessary even though they themselves refuse to talk about it. The film also appeals for a control system for cyber warfare similar to what we’ve seen in the space of nuclear proliferation. It does so in a rather uninspired way: with talking heads, archive video and TV footage, stereotyped „cyber“ graphic and some rather heavy-handed visual symbolism (often involving images of nuclear bombs. The film has a hard-time stopping itself to repeat again and again pints already made, it is largely devoid of opposing views and a rather conventional effort that is mostly a summary of the debate so far for those not closely following it. A potentially valuable PBS-style documentary but not a Berlinale Competition entry.

Des nouvelles de la planète Mars (Competition / France, Belgium / Director: Dominik Moll)

Philippe Mars is a loser or at least that’s what his teenage daughter thinks – and tells him! In fact, Philippe just cannot say no – not to his sister, his ex-wife, his boss, even the colleague who cut his ear off with a butcher’s knife. And when he does, people don’t care and just walk over him. He believes in moderation and democracy but it doesn’t really get him far. Only in his dreams he’s in control, floating around space as an astronaut. Dominik Moll’s film tells an emancipation tale often heard, with little surprises, no stilistic innovation to tell of, as plain, TV movie-style standard fare. But he does so in such light-handed, gentle, unassuming manner, with warmth, sly humour and a wonderful cast (special mentions belong to François Damiens as the friendly and helpless Philippe and Vincent Macaigne playing the choleric and overenthusiastic colleague Jérôme) that overdo when they need to and tone it down when that fits better. A small film, inconsequential – but heart-warming and enjoyable throughout.

Miles Ahead (Berlinale Special / United States / Director: Don Cheadle)

First things first: Don Cheadle’s film about jazz, or rather music legend Miles Davis is not a biopic. We are not led through his life, see nothing of childhood or family, do not follow his career, get no sense of his musical development. Instead we first encounter him in a failed interview at the time of his comeback in the early 1980s before being plunged into a rather strange episode some time before that. It involves a slimy British journalist, a tape and a car chase. Flashbacks lead the viewer back into Davis‘ heyday, into moments of musical and personal bliss but also times of self-destruction and the genius getting lost in his own drug haze. Cheadle attempts to structure the film like a long jazz number: free-flowing and full of breaks and jumps (sometimes across time), associative (particularly impressive: the scenes in which past and „present“ are intertwined), seemingly improvisational. Occasionally this is overdone but it is also the best part of the film: when the often nervous camera, the film’s structure and the – obviously great – music are in harmony. The film’s problems lie elsewhere: first, the frame story is little more than a B movie mini-thriller, secondly, Cheadle’s own portrayal of Davis is flawed. He indulges in the husky voice, the mannerisms, the narcissism but mostly remains on the surface. The „present-day“ Miles is a somewhat funny but mostly ridiculous wreck, the earlier remains way to sketchy and elusive. So while Miles Ahead is n interesting tribute to the man’s music, Miles Davis remains as distant as ever.

Mãe só há uma (Panorama / Brazil / Director: Anna Muylaert)

Coming on the heels of last year’s Panorama Audience Award winner Que horas ela volta?, Anna Muylaert’s new film revolves around 17-year-old Pierre, lanky, sexually active and ambivalent, playing in a band and a loving son and brother, His world is shattered when he learns that both he and his sister were stolen as babies. His mother is arrested and Pierre is forced to move into his biological parents‘ house. Extreme close-ups abound in this restless, somewhat fragmentary tale in which scenes remain sketches, seemingly disparate story lines are jarringly combined (there are, for example some scenes from the everyday life of his biological little brother). The viewer gets a series of more or less disjointed scenes (memorable the welcome home party in which we mostly see Pierre’s back while everyone throw their expectations at him). Naomi Nero plays Pierre whom his new family insist on calling Felipe as a quiet, mostly observing boy whose confusion and mounting anger is mostly in his eyes as well as in small, subtle acts of rebellion. While his biological parents act out, he withdraws, providing the disturbing eye of the storm. Mãe só há uma is a story of identity and shattered life plans and especially of people being overwhelmed. This goes also for the clingy mother and the passive-aggressive father who both are essentially confused and scared. The film’s restless visuals (often the camera is out of focus) and fragmentary structure that spells little out mirror the earth-shattering effect of existence and identity suddenly being wiped out completely, a fate son and parents at least partly share. The film’s tone is dry, unsentimental, almost like a mirror image of emotional numbness. There is a tiny, wordless glimmer of hope at the very end. A string, intense, moving film.

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