This post will not be quite as epic as Jessie’s, but I thought I’d sum up how my favorite film festival went this year. Once again, in what is rapidly becoming a tradition, my friend Kate came down for the festival and we braved the daunting task of organizing which movies to see at which theaters on which days using only her credit card, the same poorly made official website as every year (Dear organizers of the Berlinale, if you are reading this, please add an option to the site that allows you to search by THINGS THAT ARE NOT ALREADY SOLD OUT) and of course stathat delightful box office line at Potsdamer Platz, where you anxiously wait for the showing of your choice to appear on the screen for 10 seconds while you try to remember what the English or German title was since you don’t speak Polish or Japanese…
The first film, which I saw with Gaby before before Kate arrived was “La voie de l’ennemi/Two Men Walking”. An enjoyable watch, but also somewhat predictable. A guy gets out of jail after ages and wants to start a new life but his past keeps getting in the way. Based on some French thing from the 70s but set in New Mexico, although the Berlinale program will tell you it’s Texas… Unlikely to rewatch since there might not be enough left to make an interesting plot once there was no more suspense. ALSO, this showing was managed quite poorly in that they started the movie TEN MINUTES EARLIER THAN SCHEDULED and then refused to let in anyone who arrived only a few minutes early. By the time they had changed their minds, we had to take some kind of secret delivery passageway and had missed the first ten minutes. Their excuse: They had to check whether there were enough seats. Except actually they didn’t, because there is this helpful thing called a computer which is what the box office uses to tell when a showing is sold out. And since we all had tickets, that meant that there were enough seats. Ugh. I may have made some snarky remarks about this festival being held “in der Provinz” but I didn’t really mean it.
Once Kate arrived, our first film was “Huba/Parasite”, a 90s Polish film made by some artists. I would definitely never watch this film again. Although the cinematography was great, there was no plot at all and you never learned the whole movie long who the characters were or what their relationship to each other was. Unfortunately, the only character to speak the whole time was a screaming newborn baby. I know the directors made this film to reject mainstream cinema, but you have to ask yourself whether there IS a right audience for this kind of film who can pay attention to over an hour of virtually meaningless shots, no matter how artistically filmed. If so, I am not this audience. But it’s a crap shoot — we actually wanted to get tickets for Black Coal, Thin Ice, that night, but it sold out immediately. And then of course ended up winning the Golden Bear…
We also saw some Retrospektive films from the series on light and shadow, including two Japanese silent films, Light of Compassion and A Hero of Tokyo. Light of Compassion featured excellent live accompaniment by a British composer and was a heartwarming story about a poor little boy getting ahead through his virtue and hard work. The kind of black-and-white story (no pun intended) that probably wouldn’t work as a “talkie.” A Hero of Tokyo, like the other film, brought it home that it would have been difficult if not impossible for a woman to survive on her own in Japanese society at that time. This film had more moral nuances as it followed the story of an abandoned mother’s sacrifices for her three children and the effect on their lives. Surprisingly explicit references to prostitution in a social context where divorce seemed to be a scandal. Might rewatch either in the unlikely event that I came across one of them again.
It wasn’t in the competition, but the REAL winner of the festival for me was OBIETNICA (The Word), which had its world premiere at Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt. This movie was completely gripping from the first scene on, and the acting was incredible. Although set in a modern teenage context of Skype and text messages, this story about a girl demanding that her boyfriend prove his love to her in a horrifying way drew us in so intensely that we found ourselves feeling echoes of the characters’ guilt and desperation even after the credits rolled. A passive moral struggle that felt reminiscent of reading certain scenes in Crime and Punishment. Would definitely rewatch this, but only when I was really up for something this intense. As usual, audience members asked stupid questions during the Q&A with the director, cast and crew, but luckily someone had the good sense to tell them that, if they’d wanted us to know what happened after the movie ended, they would’ve put that part in. Kate and I wish the festival would plant a few fake audience members with scripted, intelligent questions. Not like the person who saw Mo Sheng/Forgetting to Know You last year and asked whether it was a common practice IN CHINA for couples to check each other’s cell phones if they suspected a partner of cheating. UGH.
Blind Massage, which follows the complex relationships of a group of blind employees at a Chinese massage parlor was well acted, but at times difficult to follow since so many characters and stories were introduced in a relatively short period of time. Still a good watch although quite (unexpectedly) bloody at times. We think an audience member may have fainted since they had to pause the movie and call a doctor after one blood-spattering incident. Possible a case of too much material in a novel being packed into the film version, but still a good watch. Wouldn’t not rewatch.
Arete ou je continue/If You Don’t, I Will follows the story of an unhappy married couple headed towards a separation. The wife takes off from a hike and decides to live in the woods indefinitely. But the movie was not as farcical as it sounds. It managed to walk a fine line between humor and moving drama, with a lot of successful gags but identifiable emotional moments. Would rewatch.
Macondo was one of several recent festival films to make good use of a child protagonist, in this case a young Chechnian boy living in a home for refugees in Austria. Another movie that struck the right balance: It didn’t sugarcoat the harsh realities of life for refugees, but it wasn’t unnecessarily grim. Heartwarming but not excessively, and subtle — enough was left unsaid. Might rewatch if it came up.
I’m too lazy to go into all the shorts but I have to say I was displeased that Laborat got the Silver Bear. This was a lengthy, close-up film of someone dissecting and sewing together a lab mouse, during which many people had to leave the theater. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t much of a message, unless the message was “Look how unpleasant it is to watch someone snipping open the skin on a mouse’s underbelly and removing its organs with tweezers.” Again, I have to ask who the intended audience was. My favorite of the shorts was “As Long as There Are Shotguns,” a slightly absurdist French short about a boy who wants to find a gang to keep his brother company after he kills himself so he can hang out with his dead friend. Well shot with good musical accompaniment.
And now to cocoa and bed, because the festival’s over and so is my staycation in Berlin.