Archiv der Kategorie: English

Fading

Film review: Burning (Director: Lee Chang-dong)

By Sascha Krieger

If nothing else remains from the almost two and a half hours of this film remains, some small, easy-to-miss images will: the flicker of light on the wall, the only fleeting moment of sunlight in the tiny one room apartment, the protagonist focuses on during the sex with a childhood acquaintance; the closeness, breathing distance, of the young man crouching behind a car, to the object of his observation, watched across the distance that separates their lives; the very ending, a panicked confused face on a naked body driving through the pale semi-darkness, observed through a dirty windscreen. Lee Jongsu is an observer. An observer of life. An aspiring writer who we only see writing in the film’s last few minutes, a man working odd jobs who we only see doing so in the opening, a city dweller hiding away at his father’s defunct farm where the only remnant of farm life is a sole calf that gets picked up at some point. Lee, a university graduate, is waiting for a life that is not likely to come. Early on, director Lee Chang-dong inserts news snippets reporting on the scourge of youth unemployment in South Korea. His protagonist is a member as well as a symbol of a lost generation, a by-product of Korea’s fiercely competitive turbo capitalism, but also a universal lost young man, played by Yoo Ah-in with an open-mouthed emptiness that half conceals a longing slowly dying as all objects it can hang on to slip away or are revealed as meaningless right away.

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Signing Off

Film review – Avengers: Endgame (Directors: Joe and Anthony Russo)

By Sascha Krieger

It all ends here. In a new beginning. 11 years, 22 films: from its first outing with Iron Man, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has become one of the most powerful and successful franchises in film history. And while it will continue – the next instalment will follow in about two months time – an era ends here. With the double punch of Avengers: Infinity War and  Avengers: Endgame, the franchise and the Russo brothers as directors have put the superhero genre on a whole new playing field. But while the devastatingly apocalyptic first instalment took all the storytelling freedoms a first part can take, knowing that all the necessary continuations and conclusions can be dealt with in the second part, the latter’s task was significantly harder. It had to keep up the storytelling level and still find a way to serve the franchise and find that happy ending. A task it solves masterfully in three hours that feel much shorter. It starts with a domestic scene of such tenderness, it feels light years removed from the usual superhero tropes – and it ends there, too. The MCU franchise has managed over the years to emphasize the humanity of its heroes and the authenticity of the world they operate in. This essentially is and feels like our world – with the addition of a few heroes we could truly need. And that, nonetheless, never feel too different from us.

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Family Love Triumphant

Film review: Boy Erased (Director: Joel Edgerton)

Von Sascha Krieger

When a film opens with amateur footage of a small boy filmed by his family, you know a shattered idyll family drama will follow. Accomplished Australian actor Joel Edgerton chooses this beginning for his directorial debut just like he ends it with another set piece: a young man driving and holding his hand out of the car window – still apparently Hollywood’s go-to image for closing out a coming of age story and symbolising a new, free life beginning. What comes between is, as far as its topic is concerned, less Hollywood standard fare. Boy Erased, based on an autobiographical book by New York writer Garrard Conley leads the viewer into a world far removed from what most of us understand as civilised modern society: gay conversion therapies. Still allowed in more than 30 U. S. states even for minors, young men and women, boys and girls are still subjected to this kind of comprehensive mistreatment, particularly rampant in the so-called Bible Belt, the ultra-religious American south. Boy Erased tells the story of 18-year-old Jared, son of an Arkansas preacher, who after going to college is outed to his parents and persuaded to undergo this kind of pseudo-therapy.

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I Is All the Others

Film review: Can You Ever Forgive Me? (Director: Marielle Heller)

Von Sascha Krieger

What does it mean to speak with your own voice? Is it possible to find it through impersonating others? Telling the story of mildly successful writer Lee Israel who had specialised in biographies and who turned into a forger of literary letters, Marielle Heller’s film poses questions of identity, authenticity and the truth that may be at the heart of a lie. She places her protagonist into the half-forgotten Manhattan of the early 1990s, a decrepit inner city full of dirty, dark interiors, a rotting metropolis. Painted in patina-covered browns, the film’s setting is lightyears away from the glamour we associate with today’s version of the place. Only once does it foray into the lusher richer universe normally closed to the likes of Israel. Melissa McCarthy plays her as a caustic misanthropist, who loves her cat but tends to be hostile around people. A dark whiskey-coloured office – from which Israel is instantly fired – is the film’s starting point and will be mirrored in the faintly lit pub she frequents, her own crammed and dirty apartment, the old-fashioned book store she will sell to, themselves cave-like remnants of a once thought-filled world now more resembling drug dens than cathedrals of poetry.

Image: © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox

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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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Berlinale 2019: Day 8

By Sascha Krieger

Di jiu tian chang (Competition / China / Director: Wang Xiaoshuai)

Wang Xiaoshuai’s film spans the last 30 or so decades in Chinese history, telling the story of a family and their friends. This year’s Berlinale motto is „The private is political“. This film is its embodiment: on a very personal level it tells about private tragedy, personal guilt, forgiveness but also the consequences of China’s long-time one-child policy, the effects of a society in which even your private lifestyle can become a crime and the price individuals pay for the market-economy reforms. When the political enters the private, the price might be unbearable. Wang floats through the times with ease. Time is not linear, the past remains present and the present often seems past. Events repeat, scenes mirror each other, there are tunnels and passages, symbolising the connections that haunt these lives and make them possible. Wang’s narration emphasises this. His images are calm, gently flowing, often standing still, just as time does and at the same time cannot. The pale warm light of that moment when spring first announces itself lingers on, it connects life and death, births and funerals. There are second chances and repeated failures. The second time repeats the first if lessons aren’t learned. Forgetting is hard, secrets can save but also allow the hurt to continue. The present-day China has nothing in common with that of the past and yet they are hardly distinguishable at a deeper level. Often the camera remains in mid-distance, sometimes, as in the case of the central tragic event, it looks on from far away, from the present into a past never quite understood. Distances are hard to overcome – for the camera, the viewer, the characters. But it’s not impossible. „So long, my son“ reads the English title and hints at the core of love that prevails through all the mistakes, the social pressure, the betrayals. Love proves strongest through all the turmoil, it is what gives hold and hope. The love is passed on from one generation to the next, and  it must be hard fought for but will not permanently be rejected. The final scenes: a gathering by a graveside, a smile during a phone call: peace with the past opens up a future. Will it be different? No-one knows. Until then, the world has this deeply moving masterpiece.

Image: (© Li Tienan / Dongchun Films)

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Berlinale 2019: Day 7

By Sascha Krieger

Synonymes (Competition / France, Israel, Germany / Director: Nadav Lapid)

A young Israeli man turns up in Paris, leaving everything behind: his family, his country, his language, himself. Ar the start, he literally loses everything, stands there naked, ready to start a new life. Tom Mercier plays this nervous man as if continually haunted, daring himself to never look up, repeating French words obsessively, particularly negative adjectives for his native Israel, a kind of exorcism through language. He is repeatedly lashing out, freaking out, turning himself into  a god of vengeance. Repeatedly he revolts at perceived falsehoods. A madman or a saviour? Both? Noav is a man without a home, without an identity, looking for his own synonym. He meets a young French couple, begins a fragile, fluid relationship with them, calms down only to get lost again among his stories he tries to give up but cannot. Stories of heroism, violence, death, running away. Which he is, the hand-held camera always close. A personified state of emergency, a man constantly on the edge in a world constantly on the edge. Colours are pale, washed-out, the images always on the brink of exploding. Because he denies where he came from he has nowhere to. Sitting on the wire, he can smell a new home but never reach it. He arrives from a place about to be extinguished at all times at one that’s slowly reaching this point, too. The normal is always on the edge of turning into the bizarre, absurd, surreal. Director Nadav Lapid’s film is like a nervous breakdown permanently about to happen and happening. He puts things on too thickly at times but that, too, is part of the disease. Welcome to this world. It’s about to end. A demanding film, an annoying film. And one that haunts you.

Synonymes (Image: © Guy Ferrandis / SBS Films)

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Berlinale 2019: Day 6

By Sascha Krieger

Ich war zuhause, aber (Competition / Germany, Serbia / Director: Angela Schanelec)

What an opening: a dog chases a rabbit across a meadow. Casually. Later it eats the rabbit inside, a donkey walks in and looks out of the window. A dream? A vision? A nightmare. Nightmarish is the world in Angela Schanelec’s radical new film. A family coping with the loss of the father as we later find out. A mother, a run-away son, a daughter. everyone is as if sleepwalking. Images antiseptic and rigid, movements painfully slow, shots unbearably long. Every word – and they come in pretty late in the film – seems fought for. A class is playing scenes from Hamlet, motionless, emotionless. A boy wearing a prince’s crown, seeks a home in supermarket depot, a couple debates about the meaning of love and life and children. Sleepwalkers all, zombies. Ich war zuhause, aber is relentless in its formal rigidness. When the mother (Maren Eggert) freaks out at her kids, breaks the pauses and monotony for a moment, it’s almost a relief. It’s a film like a trauma, a collective one or are we on the inside of the woman who once argues with a film director about truth and lies? Good, bad, true, false, words whose meaning eludes these sleepwalkers. But still they chase them, want to grasp them, each other, themselves. This world is in shock, suspended between life and death, removed from the natural cycle, in shock, in grief, at a standstill. The donkey can look out into the world, they can’t. At the end, a slow walk in a river, the boy carrying his sister. Where? No-one knows. But the idea that there might be a where for them, that the rest is not all silence as Hamlet claims, that there might be an order to all those loose ends, perhaps suggests something like, well, hope?

Ich war zuhause, aber (Image: © Nachmittagfilm)

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