Berlinale 2017: Day 5

By Sascha Krieger

The Party (Competition / United Kingdom / Director: Sally Potter)

A politician has just been promoted and is throwing a little afternoon party for her closest friends. This is the setting of Sally Potter’s aptly named film. Impeccable black and white leads the viewer into a cosy, comfortable upper middle class home, not too posh, not too shabby. The crisp cleanness of the imagery cannot hide the disaster that will soon unfold for very long. At the end of the 71 minutes the passing of which hardly goes noticed, a man has almost died, several relationships and friendships have collapsed, one may have been mended and a murder might well be about to be committed. In a fast-paced satirical comedy full of witty lines and characters that are better or worse at hiding their bruises and resentments, The Party feels like a vivisection on the body of the intellectual and reasonable middle class, a body that looks healthy from the outside (again, the carefully composed black and white frame do their purpose) but is riddled with cancer inside. Their subjects have spent so much time at keeping up appearances that substance has long given way. Is there any foundation left to these relationships or is the well-meaning world of those who profess to create a better world but might well be too caught up in their careers to not have lost sight of what’s true. Although: what is truth anyway? A question whose answer doesn’t appear that obvious. Not only here. A hilarious comedy and a devastating social miniature, The Party, performed by an exquisite cast, leaves a smile and a bitter taste. Oh, and the cast is great, too.

The Party (Image: © Adventure Pictures Limited 2017)
The Party (Image: © Adventure Pictures Limited 2017)

Helle Nächte (Competition / Germany, Norway / Director: Thomas Arslan)

A father. A son. a road trip. When his father dies, Michael travels to Norway to bury him, taking with him his teenage son Luis who he hasn’t seen much. After the funeral, they travel through northern Norway. That’s all the story there is in Helle Nächte. That Thomas Arslan used to be a protagonist of what used to be known as „Berliner Schule“ is still visible in the bare, rigid and rather cold imagery and the relentless and unforgiving shots of faces, bodies, movements. Added to this, is a more distanced more formalised approach, the addition of music which anchors and structures this film through its highlighting of the fluid, undecided, volatile state of the central characters‘ relationship. Few words are passed between them, advances to develop some sort of bond are rejected by the hurt son, whenever he starts opening up, the father is sure to keep him at bay. The film moves back and forth between close-ups and shots from long distances, the pale summer and occasional fog of the Norwegian countryside being sometimes apt, sometimes treacherous metaphor for what happens between them. Helle Nächte is a film of the in-between – between the conversations, between the arguments. Faces, car rides, silence, this is where it speaks  most loudly. Arslan takes his time, never finishing a scene when all is said and done for it is this twilight area away from the interaction where failure and hope reside. Arguments, even a would-be cathartic scene, are afterthoughts, moments that might mean something or nor. The journey doesn’t end, the uncertainty isn’t broken, the in-between remains. That’s a good thing.

Mr. Long (Competition / Japan, Hong Kong, PR China, Taiwan, Germany / Director: Sabu)

Two group conversations. First: tattooed thugs sit in a dark room and talk about their latest killings. Later: a bunch of neighbours in a poor but bright kitchen discussing plans over a dish of noodles. Mr. Long is the story of a redemption as unlike as unintended. the title character is a hit man (very capable, as witnessed in a fine martial arts genre scene that ends the first mentioned conversation) from Taiwan who is stranded somewhere in Japan after one of his jobs goes badly wrong. Injured, he is fed and clothed by a little boy who discovers him in the street. Soon, his unlikely cooking talent leads to the neighbourhood setting him up with a noodle stall. Despite his silence, inability to smile or show any kind of emotions and lack of Japanese he becomes his neighbour’s darling. Among Sabu’s films, Mr. Long is an unusual slowly narrated film, told in quiet, still sequences with a reduced colour scale (contrasting with the brightness of the sinful Taiwan night of the opening minutes) that speaks of the slow redemption of a lost soul not quite realising how lost he is. It doesn’t need many words, just a few look, some lively humour and a child as a low-key redeemer. Speaking about low-key: the film eschews the great emotions and when catastrophe strikes, even this happens in a quietly matter-of-fact way. The film is at its best when it follows Long through his everyday-life as a fugitive turned noodle cook. Unfortunately, Sabu does not trust this storyline so he adds a rather kitschy tragic story about the boy’s mother in a long and arduous flashback sequence. And instead of a fatalistic showdown we get a precisely choreographed genre scenes that leaves behind various bodies. At the very end, the film takes us back to the uneventful. Had it stayed there it could have been a lot better.

The Misandrists (Panorama / Germany / Director: Bruce LaBruce)

Somewhere in Ger(wo)many: a group of female activists are training to start a revolution to rid the world not only of the remnants of patriarchy but men themselves in the process. Director Bruce LaBruce is a familiar face in Berlinale’s Panorama section and has a Teddy Award under his belt. His films are bizarre, trashy and provocative – three things The Misandrists would love to be, too. But while it certainly goes for the trashy, imagery and narration are so uninspired that even the feeling of over-the-top-ness soon disappears. The acting performances are on B move level which is intended but even the final pornography-driven utopia is little more than a cheap effect. The so-called cause of the self-proclaimed liberators quickly fade as sex and cheap jokes abound. There is some feminism satire but this, too, is buried in a swamp of what feels like an attempt to recreate 1970s little schoolgirl soft porn. The film is annoying for all the wrong reason and does not even manage to turn a bloody emasculation into an eye opener (or eye closer, for that matter). The Misandrists is not bizarre, not provocative and not even trashy. Just bland and to be honest surprisingly boring.

Tigmi n Igren (Forum / Morocco, Qatar / Tala Hadid)

Tigmi n Igren takes the viewer to the Great Atlas mountains in Morocco, home of the Amazigh, an ancient community still mostly living in very traditional ways. The film follows a family through three seasons. Central figures are two teenage sisters. The older one is about to get married, the younger one dreams of being a lawyer. The film follows them through scenes of their every day lives, occasionally a narrative voice, mostly the younger sister, joins, lifting the ordinary up to the universal, adding these voices to the collective tale that carries the stories and history of the Amazigh through the centuries and into today. Thus, the sisters and their brother speak directly to the camera about their aspirations, their dreams that all involve leaving the mountain village to go to one of Morocco’s major cities, meaning the „modern world“, but also their love for their family and friends, their bond with where they’re from. Tigmi n Igren is a profound as well as light, occasionally even playful tale about people between the past and present, between tradition and modern freedom. At one point the younger sister tells her friend about equality between men and women just before we see the older one being the object of ancient marriage rituals in which she is the passive part. There is no black and white though, the traditions bewilder and fascinate at the same time. Repeatedly the camera focuses on the mundane, food, potatoes, waste on the ground. It’s a life of honest hard work, reduced to essentials but surprisingly full of warmth and openness and enriched by the songs that link the past and present, that overcome time. They are the true story of these people.

Ein Weg (Perspective German Cinema / Germany / Director: Chris Miera)

Andreas and Martin have been together for 13 years, they’ve both been fathers to Andreas‘ now teenage son. Everybody calls them the perfect couple and for the first few scenes, that’s what they are. However, after Martin loses his job cracks appear. The film follows them through a disastrous holiday at the Baltic Sea (where they’ve been coming every year) complete with an elaborate choreography of walking towards, pat, away from each other. Then the film takes us back to the start of the relationship, forward to the first major crisis and forward again to their breakup#s aftermath. Ein Weg moves along at a slow, natural pace, the viewer has plenty of time to get to know these faces and what happens to them (the fact that they don’t age a bit over those fourteen years is among the more technical flaws). Hardly ever is the camera completely still, there is a slightly unsettle feel even to those early scenes.Every thing happens naturally, there is an air of credibility as the film observes but doesn’t explain. Despite some lengths, lapses in rhythm and a rather unsatisfactory, not quite worked out ending, Chris Miera’s debut film is an intimate study of a relationship that fails for no apparent reason. They say this tends to happen.

Weirdos (Generation 14plus / Canada / Director: Bruce McDonald)

It’s 1976. Kit is 15, has a girlfriend (sort of) and isn’t happy about living with his father. So he and Alice conspire to run away. Kit to go and live with his mother, Alice to accompany him so that they can have good-bye (and hello) sex. Weirdos isa gentle, charmingly unassuming road movie meets coming of age story in which not much happens and if something does it takes on a matter-of-fact and by-the-way quality as pivotal events in real (adolescent) life often do, at least when observed from the outside. Quiet observation is the film’s mode, the steady, slowly moving camera and the soft black and white create the impression of a passer by getting a glimpse of an everyday life-changing story and then moves on again. Identities are tested and revealed, Andy Warhole (his ghost? An illusion?) appears occasionally to share some quirky insight on life. When the viewer finally finds out why Kit left his decidedly unthreatening father, this, too, is like an afterthought. Kit and alice’s journey is meandering, full of stops and starts, break-ups and reunions, dead and streets and crooked paths. It may lead them to themselves yet they can hardly hope to ever arrive. Not entirely free from clichés and stereotypes and at times a little too laid back, Weirdos is a gentle and lightly-footed growing up miniature, warm-hearted and a little weird with tenderly sketched and carefully played characters that are strong-willed, optimistic, complex, confused. After all: „We’re all a little Andy Warhol.“

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