Berlinale 2016: Day 8

By Sascha Krieger

Goat (Panorama / United States / Director: Andrew Neel)

College fraternities have moved into the public spotlight in recent years. Especially the wide-spread hazing used to initiate new members has come under scrutiny after students died as result. In Goat, Andrew Neel takes us into this secret world and he does so without holding anything back. The camera remains mercilessly close to the brutal rituals, sparing little. In pain-staking detail we watch every new degrading exercise as if through the eyes of Brad, one of the so-called pledges whose brother is already a member. The rhythm is fast, the hazing is filmed in the same way as the brutal attack on Brad at the start of the film but also as the scenes of heavy partying in the first third. All of them are products and symptoms of a relentless macho culture, a masculinity cult in which decency soon vanishes. Just like girls get reduced to sexual objects, the „pledges“ are seen as little more than objects of violence. Friendships get discarded and so do family ties as only the law of violence reigns. Changed but their bond intact. As the noose gets tighter, the film becomes more and more claustrophobic until tragedy strikes. Suddenly all is calm, the restless camera come to a standstill. Emptiness follows, things have changed. But have they? Almost miraculously, Brad and his brother (a strong performance by ambivalent Ben Schnetzer as Brett and a good first impression by former teen pop star Nick Jonas as Bret) somehow get out this. A magnificently crafted, tightly structure, intense film which should become a must-see at U.S. universities.

Goat (© Berlinale)

Goat (© Berlinale)

Antes o tempo não acabava (Panorama Special / Brazil, Germany / Director: Fábio Baldo, Sérgio Andrade)

Ancient ignition rites in the Brazilian jungle: a couple of 11-year-old boys are made to wear ant-filled gloves Their faces distort with pain. Cut. A factory. A young man, one of the boys from the first scene at the assembly line. The man’s name is Anderson, form between the traditional and the modern, the village and the city, the old, archaic and the new, overwhelming. The film has a slow, calm rhythm, a flow of life going back and forth between the two worlds which are never quite apart. In the village, a woman sings karaoke, when Anderson is walking through the „new world“, an indigenous song appears.Even dramatic events such as the death of his young niece, presumably the victim of a sacrificial right, are presented in a by the way kind of manner. Anderson doesn’t talk much (the first real talking, a monologue to his culture, occurs after more than half an hour. But the film fails to engage the viewer, to clear is the juxtaposition of the two universes and at the same time to small their contradiction. Anders remains at the outside of both and so does the somewhat too languid camera. There is a distance that doesn’t really work in its favour. So the viewer has an interested but rather detached look like something on National Geographic. The film’s almost documentary feel doesn’t lead to immediacy or even intimacy. Interesting but also a little timid.

Kater (Competition / Panorama Special  / Director: Händl Klaus)

Orchestra manager Andreas and hornist Stefan are a happy couple. They love each other and their cat Moses. Then something unforeseen and hitherto unimaginable happens and everything changes. Kater gently explores how one moment can turn closeness into distance and makes us question everything we used to be sure of. Director Händl Klaus focuses on painting-like arrangements, long calm still shots, even though a handheld camera is often used, bright colours, friendly interiors (the film mostly takes place in Andreas and Stefan’s house). The quiet satisfaction of the beginning looks pretty much the same as the later paralysis but not quite. What has changed is in the acting of Philipp Hochmair and Lukas Turtur. Looks harden, distances grow, bodies tighten. Kater asks how much one person can know another and what happens if one does something completely unexpected. It is a psychogram of people questioning each other and themselves but also that of a relationship that used to be so sure of itself. The film also features a rather bizarre sex scene and what might be this festival’s best opening credits. That’s not little.

P.S. Jerusalem (Forum / Canada / Danae Elon)

A scene near the end: three little boys, two Jews, one Arab, walk through Jerusalem streets. In one street one of the boys tells the others only to speak Hebrew. In the next street, the dialogue is repeated, only now it is Arabic that should only be used. It’s a key little scene in this highly personal film. In it, director Danae Elon documents her family’s return from New York to Jerusalem, the city she was born in. The story starts with her father, a famous Israeli journalist who grew so disenchanted with his country that he left and asked his daughter never to return. But return she does – with her French husband of North African descent and her two American children. The focus is on the personal, the way the family copes with the new world which everyone does in their own ways. The eldest son, one of the boys from the mentioned scenes, goes to an Israeli-Arab school, has an Arab best friend and refuses to identify as a Jew, the husband feels more and more foreign and among a hostile populace. It is the film’s strength that it tells the political through the private because in Israel everything is political. The film talks about settlements and the history of the Palestinian people, it shows political rallies and hateful Jewish extremists. In this world, everything is so close together: from the Arab street you can look down to the welcoming ceremony in the new settlement. The husband cannot cope and becomes the driving force for another move. In the end, the experiment has failed but the tearful goodbye between the Jewish Tristan and his Arab best friend Luai allows for the tiniest glimmer of hope. An outstanding film exactly because it focuses on the private and provides a much stronger portrait of a country growing more and more divided everyday than a film concentrating on politics ever could.

Meteorstraße (Perspective German Cinema / Germany / Director: Aline Fischer)

Mohammed is a Palestinian teenager grown up and living in Germany. His parents have long been deported, his no-good brother, however, is still around. So Mohammed is torn between his desire to integrate and learn a job as his father – and, of course, himself – wants him to, while his brother with serious anger management issues is attempting to pull him down with him. Of course, all the world is against him, his brother proves to be the worst influence imaginable while the Germans are indifferent at best but usually quite hostile. So Mohammad finds himself in a corner and becomes as similar to his brother as he can. But, of course, only because he has no choice. Director Aline Fischer goes for the naturalistic but the longer the film goes, the less she can avoid the temptation to overemphasise the desparateness of Mohammed’s situation. The young actor Hussein Eliraqui is a find, playing Mohammed subtly and believably. The problem lies in the formulaic screenplay. The world is black and white, kids like Mohammed have no chance, etc. Unfortunately, a simple essence such as this rarely carries a film. It doesn’t in this case though Elraqui is worth having a look at.

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