Berlinale 2017: Day 7

By Sascha Krieger

Return to Montauk (Competition / Germany, France, Ireland / Director: Volker Schlöndorff)

Max and Rebecca used to be in love years ago. Now Max, a successful novelist, returns to New Your City, where Rebecca has made a lot of money as a top lawyer. Max has written a book in which she’s heavily featured which doesn’t leave her cold. So she takes him on a trip to Montauk at the very end of Long Island. He wants to rekindle their love, she doesn’t. That’s the story which is peppered with motives of regret, lost love and the wish to rewrite the past, correct the wrongs, start over – the business of writing, of course. Stellan Skarsgård and Nina Hoss play the couple and they do so with a restrained routine that it shares with the entire film. Sure, Volker Schlöndorff can create a nice narrative flow and exquisite images that rely heavily on the strained and pained faces (the only interwsting performance is Susanne Wolff’s as Max‘ loving and used current girlfriend). And of course. Schlöndorff and Colm Tóibín are fine story-tellers and perfectly capable of writing a good script. So where did it all go wrong? Maybe it was the dedication to Max Frisch, a hero of Schlöndorff’s that curtailed his creativity. For what we have here is a heavy-handed doomed love story meets artist drama meet sentimental looking back movie that’s full of meaningful looks, big lines and characterisation using the big brush. Everything is existential and turns out to be bland. Return to Montauk is what it would look like if Schlöndorff ever directed a Rosamunde Pilcher film.

Return to Montauk (Image: © Wild Bunch Germany 2017 / Ann Ray)

Return to Montauk (Image: © Wild Bunch Germany 2017 / Ann Ray)

Colo (Competition / Portugal, France / Director: Teresa Villaverde)

A Portuguese middle class family, mother, father, daughter. That all is not becomes clear during the first few moments. Everybody moves along and talks as if sedated, sleep-walking, permanently depressed. The mostly unmoving images seem under sedation, too and so does the snail’s pace with which the film unfolds. Everything is dark, even the sunshine. People are often observed through windows, sometimes at great distances. People miss each other, constantly leave when someone arrives. At some point the father snaps but the unfolding and multiplying crisis that will end up leaving the family scattered sees the film return to its monotonous and sedated ways. This sucks out all life of what is clearly meant as a comment on the crisis- and unemployment-ridden Portugal of today (perhaps direction-less western society in general) but is choked by the stifling corset Teresa Villaverde has given her film. The somnambulic characters remain cardboard cutouts, the crisis pure effect as the film creates an impenetrable distance. Melancholic rock is played and at the very end, during a long – and slow – tracking shot towards and away from a hut in the dark, sentimental strings can be heard. By far the worst Competition entry so far.

Não devore meu coração (Generation 14plus / Brasil, Netherlands, France / Director: Felipe Bragança)

Felipe Bragança’s film starts with paintings, battle scenes from a half-forgotten conflict between Brasil and Paraguay, to be precise: white Brasilian soldiers and Paraguayan Guarani natives. A conflict that is still festering in the Brasil-Paraguay border region. The film portrays this conflict through a Romeo and Juliet style love story. 13-year-old Brasilian boy Jaco is in love with 14-year-old Guarani girl Basano. She „steals“ his art in a symbolic act but acting as the river queen (the communities are separated by the Apa river) and a revenge goddess she spurns his advances then softens only to assert her power once again. This back and forth would be enough for a film but Bragança wants more: he wants to discuss historical injustice, colonial violence and the poisonous power of hate and resentments, including racism. Especially Basano suffers from this. While the film tells his story through Jaco’s character, the girl remains distant. Her pseudo-religious speeches and rituals melt with symbolic scenes of an ancient pride that feels little more than symbolic. Where realism should have been the method of choice, Bragança often goes for tableaux of enmity, for symbolic images of gratuitous violence and a rather ludicrous story-line involving the biker gang of Jaco’s brother. In the end, it’s two deaths that might spell a future for the loving boy and his adored symbol. With all the show of complexity, there is a simplistic feel to what is a film a little to pretentious for its own good.

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