Yesterday, in one of those Berlinale film marathons, I watched four films. I must say, I was very happy with my selection. Here are some quick thoughts:
En Terrains Connus (Familiar Grounds)
My favorite movie so far. This very subtle story about the somewhat failed lives of the siblings Maryse (Fanny Mallette) and Benoît (Francis La Haye) impresses through its precise, unpretentious and beautiful visual language and a very fine sense of humor. Director Stéphane Lafleur said after the movie, that he wanted to do a “snow films”. And he achieved it, creating a film with the very specific coolness and melancholy of snow, but never taking itself and its subject too seriously.
Another highlight was the sound design, with a great tune and a good mix a welcome change from the soundless movies that emphasize each step and movement of the actors. But what else can you expect from a movie from Quebec than a great score!
It reminded me of Nord, a Norwegian film about the life of a ski athlete after a nervous breakdown that was screened 2009 in Panorama. There are definitely too few snow films!
[En Terrains Connus Director Stéphane Lafleur (2nd from right) and his actors]
Nesvatbov (Matchmaking Mayor)
This documentary about a mayor in Eastern Slovakia who tries to couple the single inhabitants of his village. It’s funny, often bizarre and always on the line of getting embarrassing. Yet it manages to build up sympathy for its main characters: a single man who just renovated his house, and keeps two 11 year old bottle of original Greek Metaxa for his wedding night, a single woman who works in a sausage fabric and a car mechanic who admits having spent too much time on cars in the past.
The viewer realises that being single at a certain age is still seen very much of a taboo – not only in villages. Director Erika Hníková manages to portray this personal issue with a lot of attention to detail and respect for the lives of the people. Only the mayor, a former soldier who approaches his mission to overturn the demographic development in his village very strictly and quite obsessed, has to hold out for some good laughs. Especially when he preaches to the village using the Soviet era loudspeakers.
My first Albanian movie! And it doesn’t give a thrilling image of the country that still seems isolated and tied up in the past while preparing for Europe. As part of this, one of the measures implemented is easing prison conditions allowing “happy hours” for couples. Through these monthly visits a man and a woman get to know each other and start a romance.
However, the promise of this quite interesting narrative does not tie the individual pieces together too well. Too often the jump from one scene to the other seems arbitrary. The woman’s kids are autistic (they have literally only two lines during the movie) and are moved around randomly, and the man’s reasons never become clear either.
But some characters are great such as the woman’s colleague who shares pastries with his co-workers, or the brother, a fisherman, who thinks about what to do next, until he blows up his boat leaving open if he left the country or not. I’ll be looking forward to director Bujar Alimani’s second movie!
The Stool Pigeon
The Stool Pigeon by Dante Lam, at the Berlinale with the great Beast Stalker a couple of years ago, keeps its promise of being an entertaining Hong Kong thriller with nice shots of the city – especially its markets – a great cast and an interesting storyline. Yet, a bit less time telling the backstory of his main character, inspector Don Lee, would have made the movie even better. But nothing more relaxing than a nice thriller with corrupt cops, car chases (amazing the illegal car chase scene on Hong Kong’s roads) and a long bloody knife fight to finish off a long day
And, Berlinale, I wanted to highlight that I am missing the Zoo Palast this year. The Urania simply does not feel like a movie theater, to tight everything, uncomfortable and no atmosphere. I am avoiding it as much as I can. And Cubix is, well, for popcorn cinema.
But no more lamenting. I love the International, the Colosseum and, with all its challenges of getting inside, the Delphi. And with the Potsdamer Platz screens as a good base.
Now off to my half-marathon today, only 3 films.