Berlinale 2021: Reviews Part 2

By Sascha Krieger

Inteurodeoksyeon (Competition / Republic of Korea / Director: Hong Sangsoo)

A young man, a young woman. In almost timeless black and white, a distant memory, a casual story told. By whom? Who knows. Three episodes does Hong Sangsoo build around the pair. Momentary glimpses the spaces between them the viewer has to fill. The stories remain sketchy, much to guess. It’s a film about the unknowable, the other person, that enigmatic being. As so often with Hong, the camera pretends to be a neutral observer but really shapes our view. Subtle zooms, slow moves from one face to the other, it accentuates, loneliness, distance. A film not directly commenting on but being informed by the pandemic. There is just one real physical touch, right at the end, a necessary one, almost apologetic. But it sets the screen on fire, highlighting what is missing in these lives dominated by the unspoken, the unspeakable, by a never-ending series of constant withdrawal. The other remains distant. Is she looking at us, two friemds wonder when spotting one of their mothers in the distance. They don’t try and find out. Don’t bother her, the son says. Just 66 minutes long, Hong’s film is an essay on the human condistion, a semi-abstract poem, a sketchy study on the lengths we go to not to bother each other. Until it explodes in an uncalled for embrace. Black and white magic, a sigh, a cry for love. A humble masterpiece.

Inteurodeoksyeon (Image: © Jeonwonsa Film Co.Production)

Babardeală cu bucluc sau porno balamuc (Competition / Romania, Luxemburg, Croatia, Czech Republic / Director: Radu Jude)

After a teacher’s sex video is uploaded to the internet, she faces an angry meeting of parents demanding her firing. This is the final and central part of Radu Jude’s new film attempting no less than a sharply satirical look at today’s Romanian (and beyond) society, a society full of insecurities, inequality, discrimination, lies, corruption, a society not at all at piece with its past or its present. Part 1 depicts the teacher manically drifting through town. The camera often veers off to side details, grotesque and contradictory images and bizarre soundtracks of a country having raised hypocrisy to its national religion,its breaking points laid bare by the state of emergency brought on by the pandemic. The second part is a collage of key words, images and text, a mosaic of fragments depicting the national psyche as a web of lies, self-deception, revisionism and hubris. Insightful, ironic, satirical and quite bitter. The third part then is a feverish fest of insinuations, hypocrisy, hate, racism, anti-semitism, sexism, you name it, the camera as relentlessly documentary, unsettled, close, unconcealing as in the clandestinely shot opening part. The film start at a hight fever puls and creates a crescendo from there. It piles the hate and jelousy and envy and insecurity so high it becomes bizarre, inescapable and a satirical indictment that never loses its danger even in the three alternative endings. The last finishes on a truly fantastic note. everything is laid bare, nothing is solved. Only looking away – as witnessed by the video shown in its opening minutes – isn’t an option. If the purpose of satire is to lay bare the rotten core of society for all to see, this film does so. This might be Radu Jude’s opus magnum yet and truly a film for our time.

Természetes fény (Competition / Hungary, Latvia, France, Germany / Director: Dénes Nagy)

In his debut film, Dénes Nagy follows a Hungarian corporal during the second World War tasked with checking a Russian village for partisans and later raiding the same village after an ambush that kills his commander. The stony-faced protagonist is the perfect passive observer and executor of orders. He does not change his facial expression even once, no matter what happens. The film adopts his perspective. In cold, dark images, in which faces and hands appears like clay sculptures, events unfold as if in a disrtance. everything is dark, the colours unsaturated, the camera close but as if dsinterested. The first-tine director focuses so much on his chosen visual language and the laconic tone of disillusionment that he entirely forgets about developing any point-of-view towards his subject matter. the formal strictness drowns out any narrative power, the detached viewpoint any interaction with the story. The narrative and visual tools become their own purpose resulting in a carefully constructed yet entirely bloodless piece of craftsmanship that has forgotten what it wanted to tell and stops in the bleakness of „ar is cruel“. Who fights it and why and what it does with those who do are questions lost in the executiuon.

Albatros (Competition / France / Director: Xavier Beauvois)

Laurent is a police seargant on the coast of Normandy who is trying to create his own personal family happiness despite an increasingly demanding job. Built around actor Jérémie renier, a mix of stoic goodwill, nervous edginess, and suppressed anger, the first half of the film flows along as a quiet study in the everyday on the backround of potential trauma. Drenched in the soft hues of the Atlantic coast, the film takes its time to set up its characters and their dynamics in a kind, empathetic tableaux. All of this falls apart when a bad situation becomes catastrophic. Laurent breaks down completely, Renier depicting this transformation admirably. What follows is a psychogram of a man and his family trying to deal with trauma. Quiet, intense, unspectacular, burdened by the increasingly low skies. The third part is the weakest, a somewhat cliché-ridden and music-soaked ourney of redemption, somewhat too stereotypical but saved by the decidely low-key dignified performances of the cast. While dealing with life and death, guilt and redemption, for most of its duration Albatros convices as finely observed study in human’s ability and inability to cope with life. Quite, tender and for much of it quite memorable.

Hygiène sociale (Encounters / Canada / Director: Denis Côté)

Cinema, Antonin says, is the means to bridge the gap between the real and the imagined, a bridge, the would-be film maker cannot find. The real, that is social distancing, an alternative universe in which distance is closeness and vice versa. Denis Côté ha created a film for this place and this time. Everything is distant: the characters from each other, the camera, the world. Antonin, a dandy and robber, meets women in fields and forest clearings. They wearch old-fashioned clothes, scold him for his lack of direction and responsibility, his refusal to commit himself, and leave him. The camera remains static, there are blurry patches in the slightly washed colours of non-committal summer days. The film translates reality into the highly artzificial, reduces human interactions to their bare mechanics, employs long dead linguistic codes. There’s nothing social about this „hygiene“, nothing redemptive, nothing revealing. The masculine codes of persuasion do not work anymore but the wiomen remain pure profjections. Life is absent but it isn’t missed in this rather repetitive film version of aan antiseptic lab. Thank God, real social interaction isn’t like this. Or is it?

It’s a Sin – episodes 1 & 2 (Berlinale Series / United Kingdom / Creator: Russell T Davies, Director: Peter Hoar)

Russell T Davies‘ celebrated new series follows a group of young gay friends meeting in London during the early stages of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. The transformation of closeted youth into flamboyant life and sex lovers contrasts starkly with the undefinable shadow gradually growing darker above them – a shadow they choose to ignore and deny. Until they can’t. As in his ground-breaking Queer as Folk, Davies expertly captures the gay lifestyle as well as the hunger for life, the optimism of the pre-AIDS era, the lust for self-expression, the unapologetic self assertion in his protagonists. The nights are feverish, the day full of slightly patina-covered colours. AIDS creeps in like a ghost, explained away, not unterstood, pushed aside. As it tightens its grips, its victims become ignored, forgotten, erased as what must not be cannot be. Turning its gaze inside, on the mechanisms of AIDS denial within the community, it puts the hood with the bad, the empathetic with the cruel, the honest with the untruthful. They become bedpartners, they enact the sexualised dance of death. In its first two episodes, the 5-part series perfectly captures the spirit of a world desparate to come into the open while at the same time already doomed, the last short blissfully ignorant orgasm of life before the abyss of obliteration. The series depicts its protagonist with an equal measure of warmth and cool distance, an atmospheric density that sucks the viewer into this not so long ago time and drenches everything mith a knowing empathy they sometimes lack. Its is more than a history lesson or a memorial to a lost, a disappeared, a willfully obliterated generation (as witnessed in a short, devastating scene in episode 2), it brings it to life, the forgotten, the dead. They speak to us, the live in front of our eyes, they dance with us. Funny, full of life, passionate, heart-breaking. A must-see.

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