Archiv der Kategorie: English

Berlinale 2018: Day 4

By Sascha Krieger

La prière  (Competition / France / Director: Cédric Kahn)

Thomas is a beaten young man – or boy, which never really becomes clear. Bruised are his face, his body, his soul. He checks into a religious retreat for addicts such as him. Angry at first, he becomes milder as he first falls in love and then  finds God – which v´creates a new conflict. The film indulges in long shots which at their most effective when they document Thomas‘ struggles, especially early on. Anthony Bajon plays him as a blank page, but one previously written on. Close-ups abound, there is a restlessness in the images that corresponds with Thomas‘. The narration is linear yet there remain gaps between the scenes. Which is the film’s main issues. Its unwillingness to explain what happens in-between to Tomas does not open rooms for imagination, it fragments Thomas‘ character and eventually the entire story. None of his developmental steps feel plausible, yet all are quite predictable – not a great combination. The film dwells long on the community’s rituals, the prayers, the testimony, the ritualised apologies. Scenes are repeated with different personnel to showcase Thomas‘ growth. The problem is that a predictable plot the effects and objectives of which are always in plain sight clashes with the film’s refusal to take a stance. It seems to look at its subject with rather little interest. The problem isn’t that the film doesn’t provide answers, it doesn’t seem to care about the questions. So it leaves the viewer with the most clichéd possible endings. And the impression that mechanics beat substance here.

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Genezis (Image: © Genesis Production)

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Berlinale 2018: Day 3

By Sascha Krieger

Transit  (Competition / Germany / Director: Christian Petzold)

In Anna Seghers‘ novel Transit, people trying to flee France just as the German occupation sets in during World War II wait for their passage, their visas, the way out. One of them is Georg played by Franz Rogowski, one of this festival’s „European Shooting Stars“, who through a number of coincidences assumes the identity of a German writer granted a visa to Mexico. Director Christian Petzold adds a special twist: while the story remains intact, the scenery in present day Marseille. This achieves several things: for one, it opens paths into today, to the refugees of our time, languishing in other port cities, waiting to flee in different directions but with the same urgency and despair. And of course, also to a present in which fascist ideologies snd „us versus them“ are becoming more mainstream every day. It also creates a distance adding to the layered approach of the film. For as the story unfolds in front of our eyes, a second narrative layer appears, the report of a bar tender, telling Franz‘ story in the pest tense. Fort the present is just remembered, the past present. It repeats itself in a never-ending cycle of waiting. The fate of the refugees is far away, viewed through the distance of Petzold’s cold, still, immaculately clean frames, the bar tender’s reading, the chiseled and always just a little abstract, formalised lines, attributed to those characters, those ghost of unseen humans from outside. A film seemingly old-fashioned and straightforward, yet layered, complex, not telling a story but the telling of it, its invention, the need for it, for giving names to the nameless. Transit is a highly intelligent and well-structured film that is also a reflection about film’s own power and limits to tell stories. However, its strength is also its weakness: the distance it creates hold the viewer at bay, makes them appreciate it intellectually but emotionally, leving them as cold as those images.

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Transit (Image: © Schramm Film / Marco Krüger)

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Berlinale 2018: Day 2

By Sascha Krieger

Damsel  (Competition / United States / Directors: David and Nathan Zellner)

Once upon a time in the west. A man sets out to rescue his woman from a kidnapper. Along with a preacher (co-director David Zellner as a rather pitiable specimen) to officiate the wedding and his wedding gift, a pony, he goes forth. They reach her, kill the man and, well, things go south from here. For this lady, the „damsel in distress“, has no intention of being rescued. By no-one. And yes, by the end of the film, a few have tried. Several marriage proposals later, she sets out, alone, leaving behind several corpses and one beaten down fake preacher. No, Damsel is not your usual Western despite its imagery and musical score, it isn’t even a harmless Western comedy, this is the Western film’s #MeToo. For this lady, played by Mia Wasikowska, not only will not be controlled or subdued, she will demand her own space, sets her „personal boundary“, and no, she’s not joking. The film’s strength is that it’s several rolled into one. What it sets out to do, along with Robert Pattinson as its supposed rather ridiculously serious protagonist, gets thwarted pretty soon by Wasikowska’s Penelope. She usurps the film, breaks up the male narrative and sets her own. In a whirlwind, Western role clichés are – literally, at times – blown up, the initial sunrise exposed as an unattainable fantasy. Yes, some of the humour is not too complex, yes, the point is made fairly early on, but it works almost till the end, due to man’s inability to understand he’s not in charge. Not the first time, not the second, not ever. So it has to be brought home again and again and again. Great fun and a littler more than that.

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Black 47 (Image: © Berlinale)

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Berlinale 2018: Day 1

By Sascha Krieger

Isle of Dogs  (Competition / United Kingdom, Germany / Director: Wes Anderson)

Wes Anderson opened the Berlinale Competition before. With Grand Budapest Hotel, he created a wild ride through genres and European history, a story of redemption, human cruelty and kindness. This time, he goes east. Far east, to be precise. Isle of Dogs, his second animated film, pays homage to the great film tradition of Japan, its anime culture, its samurai tradition, its theatrical aesthetics. It tels the story of a young boy setting out to rescue his dog among a violent campaign to exterminate the entire species. And it is that of a pack of dogs he meets rescuing him, themselves, the world. The film is a parable about racism and any other movements to ostracise entire groups of people in order to preserve power through sowing fear and delegitimising consent. One of its greatest ideas is to have the humans speak Japanese – and only translated arbitrarily – and the dogs in plain English. That dogs are the better humans is not an entirely new idea, the latter’s unintelligibility a smart little twist. It doesn’t even need a few hints about the age of Trump to make sure where this is heading. The film has the brutality but also the simple moralism of the fairy-tale. Which isn’t a bad thing as the way it tells its story is inventive, highly entertaining and deeply touching. Anderson’s visuals feel nostalgic, harking back to the days of stop motion, he quotes richly from the genres he takes inspiration from, but he does everything with an eye that is both loving and laughing. Beautiful, quirky, silly little ideas abound but they’re all woven into a rich tapestry that is a love letter to the art of film, a commitment to the imagination and an optimistic perspective on humanity. It’s always great for a festival to open with a highlight. This one does.

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Isle of Dogs (Image: © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox)

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Food for Eyes and Thought

Film review: Phantom Thread (Director: Paul Thomas Anderson)

By Sascha Krieger

Breakfast. It used to be regarded as the day’s most important meal. Andy while experts have long denied it, for many people a good and harmonious breakfast is still a key ingredient in starting the day right. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscars candidate Phantom Thread, it is perhaps the most important plot element. When the current love interest and muse of celebrated 1950s London couturier Reynolds Woodcock offers his the wrong bakery, she gets thrown out of his life and house. When waitress Alma holds her own and smiles steadfastly in the face of an excessive breakfast order, she enters his life forcefully. And when he explodes at her buttering her toast to noisily, their relationship changes dramatically. Woodcock is a man of many and inflexible rules, his life carefully structured. He knows what he wants and needs and that’s basically for everybody to conform to his whims and regulations. Alma poses a threat: she questions his rules, subverts them, stubbornly insists he meet her at eye level. There is only one person in his life who has done this: his sister Cyril on whom he relies in everything. When she checks him and tells him quietly he wouldn’t survive a fight with her, he gives in.

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The Absurdity of Redemption

Film review: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (Director: Martin McDonagh)

By Sascha Krieger

Three decaying billboards on a road no-one travels on anymore. In Martin McDonagh’s film, the celebrated Irish playwright’s third, they’re all it takes to trigger a series of events evolving into an Old-Testamentarian fireball of guilt, violence, fate, revenge and redemption. With one exception: there is no hand of God in all of this. Mildred Hayes, played by Frances McDormand as a modern-day mixture of Job and Moses with a dose of Cain thrown in and just a hint of Jesus, a stubborn, dry-witted, relentless woman, holding up staunchly her facade above a bottomless sea of sorrow, has lost her daughter to an unspeakable crime. Months later the investigation has stalled, so she rents those billboards and uses them to ask the local police chief (gentle and imposing all in one, loving husband, reasonable authority, quirky clown: Woody Harrelson) what’s going on. A spark that lights a fire. Factions form, the police overreaches, dentist drills turn into weapons, people get injured or even die, Molotov cocktails fly. It doesn’t take more than a few large letters to strip away the illusion of civilisation, of a peaceful town where people face each other with decency.

Image: © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox

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Hail to the Hero

Film review: Darkest Hour (Director: Joe Wright)

By Sascha Krieger

Winston Churchill, Britain’s Prime Minister during the Second World War, never seems to go out of fashion as a leadership role model. Adding that the stubborn, choleric, idiosyncratic and anything but slick politician is a feast for every actor, it seems hardly surprising that a wave of Churchills has recently hit screens small and big. The fact that there seems to a shortage of leaders universally trusted these days might add to his popularity. Darkest Hour depicts the first few weeks of Churchill’s tenure as Prime Minister. Unloved and unwanted by his party, faced with the annihilation of the British forces as continental Europe collapses under the force of Hitlers blitzkrieg, under pressure to enter negotiations with Nazi Germany, Churchill fights what appears to be an impossible battle. Hell-bent on defeating Germany, his days seem to be numbered, his swift forced resignation inevitable. Almost faltering, he remains steadfast and wins the day – for now. The film ends with the temporary triumph of his „We shall never surrender“ speech, a pivotal moment in Britain’s battle for survival.

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Where the Monsters Are

Film review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Director: Yorgos Lanthimos)

By Sascha Krieger

The ancient Greek king Agamemnon was a mighty man. But compared to the gods, he was nothing. Long before he would die at the hands of his wife and her lover, the beginning of the final chapter of his family’s pre-destined downfall, while he was on his way to lead the Greek troops in the Trojan war, he killed a deer. A sacred deer, it turned out. Artemis, goddess of hunting, didn’t quite like that, so she manipulated the winds so that the Greek fleet was stuck where it was. in order to free it, she demanded a sacrifice of Agamemnon: that of his daughter Iphigenia. Being the dutiful king, general and subject he was, Agamemnon complied. And even though many later attempts have been made – some unknown ghostwriter seems to even have added such a turn to Euripides‘ original play – to have Iphigenia survivor, this is how the original story ends. Greek film maker Yorgos Lanthimos no doubt knows his Greek mythology. And he likes this ending. Be4cause it gives his a great blueprint to explore motives of guilt, sin and redemption in a world only seemingly far removed from ancient Aulis. And he does so in a film as cold as the hearts of the gods – and as radical in its constistency, as brutal in its straightforwardness as the Greeks consider faith. A film you’ll either love or hate. There is no in-between.

Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell (Image: Alamode Film)

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„See you around, kid!“

Film review – Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Director: Rian Johnson)

By Sascha Krieger

Now, the hard work begins. Not just for the protagonists in this, the eighth official instalment of the Star Wars saga, but also for its creators. The key task for the previous film, The Force Awakens, was to exorcise the last trilogy, released in the early 2000’s, that bubble-gum-like prequel which was badly received at the time and has aged even worse. J.J. Abrams‘ film who had done similar things to the Star Trek franchise, did that and he paired this with a film that continued the story in an ingenious, captivating but also very intelligent and fairly deep way. But in comparison, this was easy. Now, his successor Rian Johnson has a different task. He has to now find a narrative that is unique to this new trilogy, that defines it, that becomes entirely its own – one, obviously, that still connects to the franchise as a whole. And he does so, among other things, by departing from Abrams‘ template. As strong as The Force Awakens was, there was still a clear polarity between light and dark, good and evil, white and black. Johnson breaks this up. Sure, there still is an essentially „good“ and a rather „bad“ side here but the distinctions become a lot more blurred as Johnson inserts an ingredient that drives the film and turns it into the best of the entire series and by quite some distance: uncertainty.

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The Power of Survival

Film review: Dunkirk (Director: Christopher Nolan)

By Sascha Krieger

What a beginning: a few soldiers are roaming a deserted street, peep into windows, look at the fliers sailing down from a peaceful sky. Suddenly a shot. One of the soldiers collapses. They start running. More shots. One by one they fall. With one exception: a very young soldier jumping over a fence, running until he reaches a beach. Vast. Full of people waiting. Waiting to be rescued from this deadly prison the town has become. This is how Dunkirk opens, Christopher Nolan’s film about one of the turning points of the Second World War. When after being stranded in the northern French town of Dunkirk, completely surrounded by German troops closing in, 350,000 mostly British soldiers were evacuated, this giving Britain the basis to continue and eventually win the war. A miracle many call it.

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