Archiv der Kategorie: Berlinale

Berlinale 2020: Day 7

By Sascha Krieger

DAU. Natasha (Competition / Germany, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Russia / Director: Ilya Khrzhanovskiy, Jekaterina Oertel)

DAU is Ilya Khrzhanovskiy’s gigantic but somewhat ill-fated art project about totalitarianism. It is also quite controversial, not least because of accusations of power and sexual abuse during its creation. Centered around many ours of film and embedded in a simulation of a Stalin-era-style society, it evolves around a Soviet-era science institute and its secret projects. DAU. Natasha is a two-and-a-half hour film extracted from the material. And it needs to be said at the outset that some of its graphic details sit uneasily especially in the light of the accusations. Judging the film on its own merits, therefore, is a rather difficult task but will be attempted here nonetheless. The film centers on the title character, a woman working in the institute’s canteen. Through much of the film we see her at work which never seems to cease in the hermetic world everyone is caught in. She banters and fights and reconciles with her younger, insolent colleague Olya, serves and jokes with the scientists, drinks with them after hours, sleeps with a French guest expert. The handheld camera captures the scene in grainy, sepia-tinged images, a close-up of a claustrophobic parallel universe which doesn’t have an outside (until the very end when that outside is revealed as yet wider prison confines. Some of this is redundant – especially when the film moves away from Natasha and shows the experiments conducted but also a few of the women’s squabbles are repetitive. However, the sense of this almost absurd airless universe is strong, the atmosphere dense. Which serves the film’s final third well as the dread becomes real and Natasha gets caught up in the deadly grips of the KGB. The interrogation scenes are conducted in the same mixture of naturalism and archival historicism, which makes the more than drastic brutality – which is indeed over the top and even downright abusive at times, especially in its aspects of sexualised violence – even more poignant. The mechanics of totalitarianism are evident in the matter-of-fact sadism of the officer and the „learning curve“ of Natalia Berezhnaya’s Natasha. So, while the film may be a little long, it presents an almost real-time glimpse into an exemplary totalitarian system. Just as if we’re visiting, looking on as invited voyeurs. Which is precisely what the DAU project was intended to be. Even though there remains a bad taste due to the circumstances and those many unanswered questions surrounding it.

DAU. Natasha (Image: © Phenomen Film)

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Berlinale 2020: Day 6

By Sascha Krieger

Domangchin yeoja (Competition / Republic of Korea / Director: Hong Sangsoo)

Three conversations with three women. That’s all Hong Sangsoo’s latest film is. The connecting element is a young woman visiting or happening to bump into old friends. For the first time, she’s away from her husband. They had never been apart before, he thinks it’s natural. Three times she tells this, every time is pretty much exactly the same words. Yet all we see is female bonding, sometimes awkward, often quietly understanding. Men are intruders, threats, side notes. As always in Hong’s films, he accentuates cinematic means: Zooming in, turns to the same motif as a connector between scenes, unmotivated soppy music, slightly distorted, as if played via a tape deck or radio. This creates distance and sometimes comic relief, always tinged with seriousness as in the scene a neighbor comes to compain about stray cats being fed – a masterpiece of hyper polite passive aggressiveness in which the woman stands her ground almost apparently timidly and the final say belongs to a rather confident cat. Humour is a weapon where others aren’t accepted. The film highlights the women’s independence as well as their socially demanded dependance on their male „companions“, the first woman visited has given up for good and the second ridicules quite brutally. As they straddle the fine line between emancipation and social expectation, the film keeps emphasizing its artificiality. The reality it’s clean though somewhat impersonally rigid imaged capture is fragile, almost illusory. And yet, it cannot be denied. In the end, the mountain gives way to the sea as a visual leitmotif, endless boundlessness instead of something to be overcome. Another quietly symbol to be missed at your own peril. Just like this entire beautiful film.

Domangchin yeoja (Image: © Jeonwonsa Film Co. Production)

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Berlinale 2020: Day 5

By Sascha Krieger

Schwesterlein (Competition / Switzerland / Directors: Stéphanie Chuat, Véronique Reymond)

Sven is a successful theatre actor suffering from leucaemia, his sister Lisa a theatre author on hiatus devoted to her twin brother. Filmed with many of Berlin’s Schaubühne theatre’s actors including their artistic director, partly on the theatre’s premises, the film’s glimpses into the mechanics of the theatre industry ate among its better moments. The style is the usual German realism, softly lit clear images drenched in a pale light, the camera calm yet without much distance. As Sven’s condition worsens conflicts emerge, especially in Lisa’s marriage, enacted in a more theatre style obviousness. Everything is theatre: from Lars Eidinger’s vain suffering to Nina Hoss‘ stubborn outbursts of despair. The fine cast always overacts a little, as does the screenplay which embraces relationship stereotypes while shying away from really following the siblings‘ relationship towards the more symbiotic and dangerous. While the surface is all drama, underneath it is relatively little substance. Emotions and conflicts are derived and acted out, true existential fear remains largely absent, most notably in Eidinger’s self-indulgent performance. Only near the end, Hoss slightly lets down her guard, revealing a hint at what the film otherwise just describes. But the face soon returns to its controlled expressiveness. All the world’s a stage as Shakespeare wrote, unfortunately, here it isn’t anything else.

Schwesterlein (Image: © Vega Film)

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Berlinale 2020: Day 4

By Sascha Krieger

Undine (Competition / Germany, France / Director: Christian Petzold)

„If you leave now, I’ll have to kill you“, she says. Johannes has just broken up with her but Undine won’t accept it. Paula Beer is looking at him in the half-absent, half-defiant way she’ll only lose shortly when accepting her love with Christoph (Franz Rogowski), an industrial diver she meets just after being abandoned by his predecessor. Undine will make good on her promise, becoming her namesake, a mythical water nymph, popularised during Romanticism. Water plays a pivotal part in Christian Petzold’s new film. It explodes, saves, kills, shelters. It has a hazy, darkly greenish colour to which the film succumbs at its very end. It contrasts with the crisp, cold clean colour scheme of reality, a reality – shot as always with Petzold in rigid, calm, uncompromisingly formal frames, a cold, antiseptic reality unlike the murky waters of love to which Undine belongs. Beer always looks a little out of place in this modern world here, only acquiring that look of quiet confidence when she’s in her element. The realism gives way to, squabbles with, gets mixed up in surrealist moments, an exploding aquarium, a giant catfish, Undine becoming the nymph. Driven by a Bach piano piece giving it a more fairy-tale atmosphere, Undine is a stark, poetic, rough-edged, yet – even though just in short, precious moments – surprisingly warm and tender tale on the traps of love, the impossibility and necessity to let go, the choices we make for love and for life. Undine’s relentlessness, her absolute loving isn’t for this world, Christoph’s gentle warmth is, or just might be. While the film at times tends to tilt a little towards the obvious, it delivers the somewhat surreal, fantastic and frightening extension of reality so typical of Petzold’s work. It offers chances and risks. None can be had without the other.

Undine (Image: © Christian Schulz/Schramm Film)

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Berlinale 2020: Day 3

By Sascha Krieger

Le sel des larmes (Competition / France / Director: Philippe Garrel)

Luc loves Djemila. Luc loves Geneviève. Luc loves Betsy. One after the other or at the same time. Philippe Garrel’s film feels like the essence of French love stories. The man who cannot help but love, the women who are left behind. Strong, maybe, but broken nonetheless. The male point of view is strong in this film that seems out of its time. Sure, Luc is not idolised but shown as selfish enough to be criticised while still scrupulous enough for the viewer to feel sympathy for him. The women, at the same time aren’t merely weak objects but victims nonetheless, dependent on the man’s whims. Even when Betsy exercises her rights to do as she is done with and adds a second man to the fray, Luc will take back control. His father, played angelically by André Wilms is a (male!) moral role model who is way too pure to be believed. The narrative gives the whole story an almost parable-like feel, the grainy black and white aestheticise it further. This is a tale about love and the doubt as well as the belief in it – told mainly from a male perspective. Luc may be acting badly and irresponsibly but he is only a man with strong emotions so what can one do? Le sel des larmes is a rather old-fashioned tale of love that is really selfishness, drenched in soppy piano music, driven by a cheesy off narrative, painted in „romantic“ black and white and full of old men’s fever dreams that have bothered French cinema for too long. Sorry to see them still alive.

Le sel des larmes (Image: © G. Ferrandis 2019/RECTANGLE PRODUCTIONS CLOSE UP FILMS -ARTE FRANCE CINÉMA RTS RADIO TÉLÉVISION SUISSE)

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Berlinale 2020: Day 2

By Sascha Krieger

El prófugo (Competition / Argemntina, Mexico / Director: Natalia Meta)

Inés is a voice actor and choir singer afraid of everything: heights, flying, bats, you name it. When her boyfriend dies in undisclosed circumstances while on holiday, she slowly begins to unravel. An „intruder“ has entered her, she is told by an older colleague, an entity entering throiugh her dreams and altering reality. As reality, dreams and imagination begin to overlap – mixing in some of the set pieces of the Asian horror film she is dubbing – it becomes less and less clear which is which. Ultimately, Inés starts to fight her intruder(s) leading her to the point at which she wonders whether she actually wants to get rid of them. El prófugo is a well-produced genre piece, amospherically solid, especially through its focus on dark, claustrophobic rooms, aesthetically consistent with its clean, polished imagery, including some more unusual perspectives but mostly relying on the proven, and its well enough constructed tension arc although the identity of the (main) intruder is quite obvious early on, with the film adding a nicely sexual element at the end as well as the twist that this might not matter all that much. This is a solid, slightly original, slick and bearably subtle psychological thriller that is rather self-sufficient as such. However, as the first entry in an A festival’s competition, this rather slight work is almost criminally misplaced.

ONWARD

Onward (Image: © 2019 Disney/Pixar. All Rights Reserved.)

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Berlinale 2020: Day 1

By Sascha Krieger

My Salinger Year (Berlinale Special Gala / Canada, Ireland / Director: Philippe Falardeau)

Joanna is a young aspiring writer arriving in New York deciding she wants to follow in the footsteps of her literary hero. She ends up in a literary agency, dealing, among other things, with their most famous and reclusive author and being challenged by the agency’s boss Margaret. JD Salinger. My Salinger Year is a good-humoured coming-of age story about a woman trying to find her voice and her way in the world. Margaret Qualley plays a naive girl with hidden potential, Sigourney Weaver – very reduced – a tough business woman with a soft core. This is mass production stuff at first sight – until it isn’t „Corresponding“ with Salinger’s fans who she imagines, who „visit“ them, who end up transforming her reality into a more imaginative (and imaginary) alternative, she incorporates their voices, their views, their perspectives to make hers fuller, more complete, more universal as well as more her own. Much of the story is set pieces, the failed relationship with an overbearing man, the mentor storylines, the tragedy revealing one’s true self, the abundance of writer’s clichés. Yet the gentle storytelling, the warm, half-dreamlike light, the subtle performances and the obvious love director and cast feel for the story and the people they’re telling, shine through, giving the film a more personal, emotional, slightly quirky feel. The end is lazy cliché but well, mustn’t literature sometimes be allowed to do that as well?

My Salinger Year (Image: © micro_scope)

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Berlinale 2019: Day 11

By Sascha Krieger

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Berlinale Special / United Kingdom / Director: Chiwetel Ejiofor)

In his directorial debut, Oscar-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor tells the real story of William Kamkwamba, a teenage boy from Malawi who saved his family and village by building a windmill to irrigate the fields during a famine. Ejiofor himself plays the boy’s father but it is Maxwell Simba as William whose quiet persistence and optimism carry the film. Drenched in yellow and brownish colours and a somewhat gentler sunlight, the film accentuates the hostility of the land, zooms in on the flooding and later the cracked earth of dry season, features corrupt politicians and bookends the story with rituals of rebirth. It is full of tableau-style compositions taken from the textbook of Hollywood drama, with picturesque confrontations and embraces and moments of unity. Everything is nicely spelt out and explained, every look, every word, every gesture meaningful. A rather pervasive score makes sure that emotional attachment never breaks. Ejiofor proves to be a skillful catalyst of emotions and does a good job in helping bring the characters to life. He makes the human roots of the issues portrayed quite clear and while not mentioning climate change, the film can serve as a reminder of what’s to come if humanity doesn’t change course. This is its greatest strength: bringing a part of the world close where hunger means an existential threat and can wipe out whole communities. As a film, it’s too conventional, too much relying on clichéd set pieces, piling one disaster on the other in all obviousness, too routinely executed to be completely convincing. Its timing, too, is somewhat off, feeling artificially rushed near the ending after taking a lot of time early on to establish the height from which these characters fall, making the first 30 minutes or so feel quite slow to move off the ground. A decent first effort that needs to be watched if only for its story.

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind (Image: © Ilze Kitshoff / Netflix)

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Berlinale 2019: Day 10

By Sascha Krieger

The most common feeling to be encountered at the end of the 69th Berlinale is relief. The last festival of longtime director Dieter Kosslick  remindes everyone why it was time for a change. While the motto „The private is political“ was well enough executed, the Competition was even more lacklustre that in previous years. artistically, the festival has long been far removed from Cannes and Venice – this year, even the relevance and an insight into global cinema, long the festival’s strong points, took a plunge. While the winners, the Golden Bear for Synonymes, Silver Bears for Di jiu tian changIch war zuhause, aber or Systemsprenger (two major awards for German films were a good send-off for a director who made the festival a platform for local cinema again) were well-deserved and the one for Grâce à dieu re-inforced Berlinale’s understanding of having a role in current social discourse, a feeling of fatigue and helplessness was inescapable. While declared as a female festival one year on from #MeToo, the Berlinale also hosted Casey Affleck’s new film despite several serious allegations against him. The champion of queer cinema had an awful year in this field, with hardly any queer film standing out positively. And the indecision with which the festival tackled the issue of how to deal with the threat (or promise) of Netflix & Co. was symptomatic: Where Cannes and Venice took strong (and Contrary) stands, the Berlinale wavered.

Skin (Image: © Berlinale)

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Berlinale 2019: Day 9

By Sascha Krieger

Amazing Grace (Out of Competition / United States)

In 1972, famed singer Aretha Franklin decided to record an album of the music of her youth as a preacher’s daughter: gospel. She did so at a Los Angeles baptist church over two nights in a live setting. Director Sydney Pollack was brought in to film the recordings but the film was never finished. Now, after 47 years, it finally sees the light of day. The released version focuses on the two concert sessions with just a very short intro and little interest in the process. There is just one abrupted take, everything else are complete versions. This is basically a concert film but with a twist: for this is not just a concert, the church setting not a coincidence, the religious roots and nature of these songs always obvious. The fervour of the musicians and the choir infects the audience who turn this into a communal experience, a service, a celebration. Franklin is at the height of her skills, she might never have performed in a more passionate, no-holds-barred way. The footage well captures the raw energy on the room as it’s far removed from the slick perfection concert films have since required. The cameras‘ wild zooms and movements combined with rhythmic, fast-paced editing, transports the atmosphere well into the present-day cinema, with an immediacy that astonishes and makes this feel incredibly fresh. In the beginning, band leader James Cleveland directly addressed the audience – and it seems he’s talking to us. Franklin doesn’t talk, she thinks, humbly, powerfully, with a hint of the little girl who sang in her father’s church. The power of this music and its deep connection with things way beyond it is palpable at all moments. The sweat, the laughter, the rapture, the ecstasy, the joy: the cameras capture it all, with a sense of wonder the viewer shares.

Woo Sang (Image: © VILL LEE FILM)

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