Berlinale 2017: Day 4

By Sascha Krieger

Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau (Generation 14plus / Canada / Director: Mathieu Denis, Simon Lavoie)

A three-hour film, formally and narratively challenging, featuring a 5-minute black screen opening and an „interlude“ almost as long: placing this into the Berlinale’s Generation section is a fairly bold move. No doubt: this film challenges the attention level not only of younger audiences. On one hand, a highly theoretical essay on the necessity and futility of revolutions, it centers on a small revolutionary, one might also say: terrorist cell in modern-day Montréal with objectives somewhere between the anti-capitalist and the nationalist. The film has the feeling of a collage: realism follows symbolism, news footage is combined with music-only sequences, there are multi-layered narrative overlaps, theoretical soundbites and text boards, more confusing than structuring title cards scattered throughout the film, time is fluid, no change ever explained. At the centre is the group’s „headquarters“, a darkened, nocturnal, clattered cave-like house, that’s living quarters, art space and lab all at once. Changing but always somewhat encapsulating frame formats heighten the sense of claustrophobia and of people losing any touch with reality – when they are forced into contact, the resulting scenes are the film’s rather bland and clichéd weak spots. For most of the time, this is a challenging, multi-faceted exploration of youthful rebellion, an examination of a society in paralysis, observed through the eyes of not very objective outsiders, a journey underground to society’s underbelly of lost ideals and the despair of a failing desire to change the world. A music-driven elegy, distant and close, a painting, human beings between isolation and a bond that supports and holds back. In long scenes the camera follows the characters around on their paths. Lonely, dark, uncertain. They lead nowhere, so at the very end when the everlasting barrage of theory and appeals stops, when light comes in, this spells a glimmer of hope. Hope for another way. For this has ended in a dead end.

Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n'ont fait que se creuser un tombeau (Image: © Eva-Maude T-Champoux)

Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau (Image: © Eva-Maude T-Champoux)

Una mujer fantástica (Competition / Chile, United States, Germany, Spain / Director: Sebastián Lelio)

Four years ago, Sebastián Lelio enchanted Berlinale audiences with Gloria, now he is back with the story of yet another „fantastic woman“. Her name is Marina. We meet her through the eyes of Orlando, an elderly man who the film opens with. A gentle, clever opening slowly, in which the viewer has to find their way around and are lightly mislead leads the viewer to Orlando’s apartment where, we learn, they have been living together. When Orlando dies, Marina is thrown into a whirlwind of emotions and resentment – fo when Marina was born, she was given the name Daniel. This revelation as everything in this film is delivered without any touch of sensationalism, in a clean, straightforward realism that – after the Orlando-centred beginning – focuses solely on the title character. Her face is often in close-up as she takes the humiliations from the police, doctors and Orlando’s family with determination, stubbornness and a bruised but growing sense of self. Una mujer fantástica is not an emancipation story, it is rather a decidedly unassuming, narratively reduced still portrait of a strong and independent woman despite the world not even seeing her as a woman at all.Daniel Vega’s face, hurt, determined, quietly suffering, unapologetic is the star of the film that lacks the earlier one’s humour, that is much reduced in scope and, consequently, depth. It doesn’t touch as much or charm or engage the viewer but remains distanced. Whereas Gloria was a full-blown portrait drawn from life, Una mujer fantástica is more of a sketch.

Pokot (Competition / Poland, Germany, Czech Republic, Sweden, Slovakia / Director: Agnieszka Holland)

Deer again. Opening Competition films with them has become a bit of a fashion at this year’s Berlinale. This time, they roam through the soft foggy winter morning of the forest countryside somewhere in Southern Poland. At the film’s end they will rest in sunny meadows among a scenery of peace. Peace the film knows little of otherwise – apart from the incessant shots of wild animals in the picturesque forests and meadows. It centers around an older woman, former aid worker turned part-time English teacher and animal lover. when her two dogs disappear, she doesn’t take it well, to put it mildly. It’s hunting territory and it suits the film well to portray the hunting community as comic-book villains conspiring in gang-style to subvert justice. Some good people are there, too, of course, a quirky old neighbour – and film history’s most magnificent Red Riding Hood – and the next generation which, obviously is good at heart and our world’s only hope. Thriller meets revenge tale meets satire meets Tv movie. Pokot  goes for the effect, for the predictable and the black and white to tell us that animals have feelings, too, people are essentially cruel – but have a good core – and are earth’s main, no, strike that: only problem. There is some coming relief and a rather concise one paragraph description of the Polish national spirit, but other wise this parable-style film is a convoluted pamphlet that’s painfully obvious, completely void of any hint of subtlety and an utter, though technically sound and ably filmed, mess.

Viceroy’s House (Out of Competition / India, United Kingdom / Director: Gurinder  Chadha)

In 1947, Lord Mountbatten arrives in Delhi to take over as India’s last Viceroy in order to manage the transition to an independent India. The promise of independence soon led to a nightmare of division, partition, displacement and death that still reverberates today. Viceroy’s House attempts to tell this story and it fails utterly. Focusing on two levels, it tries to combine the political machinations of the major players with their effects on ordinary people. Trying to be a broadly sweeping history tale, the film indulges in grandiose images of richness turning into squalor, on a hopelessly sugary score and characterisation that does not deserve the name. There are heroes and villains on all sides, the „ordinary“ level is enacted in an unbelievably kitschy and formulaic Bollywood-style love story (unfortunately without the singing) with the cheesiest of reunion scenes at the end, the dialogues is atrocious as everything is spelled out in pathos-riddled political speeches, even assertions of love. The film could not be more stilted, heavy-handed, construed even if it tried. It might serve as a reminder of a particularly devastating episode of 20th century history the effects of which are still visible in conflicts today. Maybe the best idea is to watch the first ten minutes and Google the rest. But then, one might miss the saintliness of the Mountbattens. The British, after all, remain superior, even morally, at least in this misguided take on history.

La Reina de España (Berlinale Special / Spain / Director: Fernando Trueba)

It’s the mid-1950s. Two former heroes of Spanish cinema return. But while Macarena Granada is now a huge Hollywood star coming back to play the famed Queen Isabella, director Blas Fontiveros has been presumed dead after spending the war in a Nazi concentration camp and still is far from welcome. When he gets imprisoned, Macarena gathers an illustrious group of actors and crew to free him in a bizarre coup involving a king and his brave knights on horseback. La Reina de España is a loving homage to the art of film-making and the power of friendship. Highly nostalgic it celebrates a time when sceneries were made from cardboard, when the cinema was a place to dream and escape. Bright colours, lovingly created and just a little artificial sets and equally colourful characters people this elegant and bizarre, silly and heartfelt film that marries farce to pathos, serious questions about the decisions people have to make when the right and the easy thing to do are not the same to crude jokes, sexual banter and co-worker gossip. The film is an ironic satire of the film business and, at the same time, a celebration of it as it speaks of the power dreams can have and maintains the subversive nature of art as the realm and refuge of free thinking. Not a topic totally out of place and time these days.

Tiger Girl (Panorama Special / Germany / Director: Jakob Lass)

„You just have to say what you want and you’ll get it!“ That’s the motto of Tiger, a hard-hitting, easy-living-justice-loving, man-beating punk girl living in a Berlin attic or a stationary van, whatever she feels like. When she meets Maggy, a timid girl who’s just failed the police academy entry exam and is now attending a security school, the latter’s life changes as they begin to wage a fun war on whoever happens to treat them or the world at large badly. Random destruction and targeted violence merge into random violence as the new-found power leads to Maggy unleashing long pent-up feelings. What starts as a lesson in breaking free from the bonds of politeness and submission turns into revenge and then into an out-of-control spree of violence. In his first film Love Steaks Jakob Lass proved to be an expert in human relationships on and over the edge. In Tiger Girl, he gives the wheel a few extra spins. The bare, dry naturalism of the opening scenes soon gives way to wilder imagery and a much faster tempo, hard edits and a visual language one could call urban expressionism. As Maggy spins out of control, Tiger begin s to back away in horror from the monster she’s created. Where Love Steaks excelled in violent twists and turns and a multi-perspective look at a relationship that was hard to grasp, Tiger Girl is more straight forward, whereas in the earlier film the radical narrative form and rhythm always served the story, it is now occasionally self-indulgent. It has one direction which leads to increasing redundancy s it goes on. The story is told long before the film ends in a highly impressive martial arts showdown. As a study in pent-up anger and the self-empowerment of women as well as the fine line between breaking out and a course of (self-)destruction, the highly entertaining and at times as much disturbing film works nonetheless. It might have done with a little more complexity though and a little less reliance on effect.

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