Mies van der Rohe

Nice to honor Ludwig Mies van der Rohe‘s birthday today with a Google doodle. Remembering Mies van der Rohe also fits with reminding forced emigration by German, especially artists, avantgardists, musicians, and of course the Jews who managed to do so, before World War II, an issue that I have been reflecting about lately through my course on Create Nonfiction focussing on immigration.

Interestingly though, Google highlighted the National Gallery in Berlin, his last building opened in 1968 and probably not his most practical when it comes to its function as a modern art museum: All exhibitions are in fact below the ground, bunker-like. Probably a case of function follows form. Here, the word Google had to fit into the building! His Chicago skyscrapers, the Barcelona pavillon, are all works that have been much more influential, interior and landscape shaping.

I like the building though. Transparent, simple. Remember, it was built next to the Berlin wall, effectively shutting off a society.

 

Berlinale 2012

Colosseum Berlin

It is cold in Berlin, it snows, yet, I am excited! It’s Berlinale time, another round of the Berlin film festival. A week standing in lines for tickets, displacing myself from one cinema to another, trying to grab a bite in between films. After last year’s extensive coverage, I still managed to submerge myself a bit despite being in town only for a couple of days. My main theatres this year were, surprisingly, the Colosseum at Schönhauser Allee, one of my favourite spots, a bit off the crowded Potsdamer Platz, and the classic Delphi at Zoologischer Garten for the Forum programme.

And in short, here are the movies that I managed to see this year:

The 62nd Berlinale opened for me with The Last Friday (Al Juma Al Akheira), a detailed contemplation of the life of a former middle class car seller and expat worker in the Gulf from Jordan who now struggles to get along while trying to reconnect with his former life. In long beautiful takes of carefully constructed images an increasingly divided society emerges that is faced with communication problems, between men and women, father and son. It is fascinating to see the isolation of the characters, each following their own dreams. While change is happening throughout the Middle East, director Yahya Alabdallah focuses on the very personal situation of change. After the film, Yahya recalls that the long shots he used to describe the lives of his characters are based on his own experience as a kid when he was used to sit in the back of the room as a spectator of the family life, boring himself to death. His movie, yet, is anything else than boring!

Then, The Woman in the Septic Tank (Ang Babae sa Septic Tank) by Marlon Rivera from the Philippines, describes a group of young film makers planning a film that takes advantage of Western and film festival clichés of depicting poverty to reach fame and win Golden Bears, Oscars or Palms. The movie manages to change our perspective on how to film a delicate issue as poverty revealing the stereotypes involved and results in actually not making a film about poverty at all, but really much more an entertaining view on a group of young artists doing a film with a stellar performance by Filipino movie star Eugene Domingo. There is much more to tell from the countries around the globe than always reducing them to poverty, misery or drug trafficking. Wonderful by the way how the movie plays with the different genres of drama, documentary and musical!

Kuma, by Umut Dag, my last Sunday film, manages to tell a story of the forced marriage of a young girl with an older and married man without the baggage of political discussion, but centered around the nucleus of the familiy. While some elements of the story are a bit stretched and some a bit obvious, Umut creates a warm portrait of the life in a traditional Turkish family living in Vienna.

Meteora (Metéora), the Greek competition entry by Spiros Stathoulopoulos, tells the love story between a monk and a nun. And that’s it. The film lives through the use of some beautiful imaginative animation and the strength of its images, the mere landscape that surrounds the monasteries. Just for the one sublime moment of bells filling the huge space of the Friedrichstadtpalast theatre, the movie was worth watching.

Sister (L’Enfant d’en haut) by director Ursula Meier was my favourite movie this year. It is the story of the young boy Simon who has to take care of his sister Louise (without telling too much of the plot here) in a ski resort in the French Swiss Alps. A social drama that step by step digs deeper into the dark reality of a life alongside the winter joys in the mountains.  Well scripted, two strong actors, and snow (although it never snows during the film) there is not much more you need from a movie.

I wasn’t sure if I would manage to see Spain (Spanien), on Tuesday afternoon, and I was a couple of minutes late, but I am happy I did run to catch it. Carefully constructed characters, all in search for something better, a better life, the words to speak to keep love, yet all of them fail. But director Anja Salomonowitz, with a background in making documentaries, fills the characters with humor and compassion, on the backdrop of carefully researched social realities such as human smuggling, immigration politics in Austria and addiction to gambling.

Finally Living/Building (Habiter/Construir), a documentary by Clémence Ancelin who visited the construction site of a road through the Chad and simply recorded the different people that live and work around the street, French engineers, workers, Nomads, villagers. Without own commentary, her images speak through a strong sense for detail and an eye for the articles of daily use. A life in the desert, entschleunigt, away from a rapid changes of our day-to-days.

In many ways, the Berlinale this year was about shifting and new perspectives. A different take on filming festival movies, on forced marriage, on telling a story about living in a ski resort, not from the slopes but from the apartments in the valley. And finally, as in Living/Building, not showing any perspective at all, without comments, only people talking about themselves leaving the spectator to form an opinion.

I can’t tell if the official bear winners deserved to win, I only saw two in the competition, but I am happy to see the wonderful snow film (the lack of which I mentioned last year) Sister having received an award. Although I could have imagined 12-year-old Simon played by Kacey Mottet Klein winning a bear.

So, this was my all too short but still very rich Berlinale experience this year. Which movies did you see? And which should I definitely not miss should they come to the theatres, or netflix at some point?

Oh, and one final thing: the first time in years I didn’t buy the Berlinale bag! It was just too bad and cheap, in design, material and form. But this deserves another post!

Delphi Berlin

Berlin

Oh, and Washington is only a couple of hours away from Berlin, and a couple of miles from Ocean City. No comparison to Berlin though, the other Berlin, over in Germany, you know. Other than that the Delmarva peninsula shines with Frankford, a lot of British city names (Oxford, Cambridge), and Vienna.

Berlinale 2011: my personal bears

Ok, I have promised it. Here it goes:

Golden Bear for Best Film

En Terrain Connus. Because it surprised me. It kept me intrigued. It made me laugh. And it made me build up a sympethy for its characters as no other film did! And it not only had great actors, but also great sound and a nice camerawork.

Silver Bear: Personal Gran Prix

Man Chu. Because it’s just a wonderful love story that captures the mood of the moment finding a balance between the  hopes and hopelessness of the situation.

Silver Bear: Best Director

Yoshihiro Fukagawa for Byakuyakô (Into the White Night). It’s difficult to make a movie after a novel that has already been adapted as a TV series. But Fukagawa puts the inspector in the focus of this crime story, providing the story with a new angle and managing building up a tension that only resolves until the very end.

Silver Bear: Best Actress

Ángela Carrizosa Aparicio, as Karen in Karen llora en un bus. But here the decision was difficult. There have been quite a number of great perfomances of strong women in this festival.

Silver Bear: Best Actor

Francis La Haye playing Benoît in En Terrains Connus. Difficult role because Benoît really is a loser. But Francis manages to provide him with an underlying strength and determination that is simply wonderful.

Silver Bear: Outstanding Artistic Achievement

Dexter Dela Pena and Arnel Barbarona for the camera in Halaw, who filmed this little but powerful film with a DSLR (Digital Single Lens-Reflex) camera, a Canon 550d,  in such a beautiful way.

Silver Bear: Best Script

Ryoo Seung-wan for Bu-dang-geo-rae (The Unjust), who is also the director of the film, and its great insight into the games of power, corruption and conflicts of interest.

Georg Neumann Prize for a work of particular innovation

Heaven’s Story. This four and a half hour epos by Zeze Takahisa really kept me thinking, and never had me bored. If you have the time to spare, you should watch it.

And again, here the real bears based on the competition movies at this year’s Berlinale. As I only saw two this year, no comment on these. You’ll probably find, as every year, everyone complaining about the quality of the competition, but I’ve been long focussing on Forum anyways. Much more fun.

The documentaries that I’ve seen were also quite good (Matchmaking Mayor, Escuchando al Juez Garzón, Khodorkovsky), no bears here though.

What were your favourite movies? Let me know!

Berlinale: final movies

I was so busy watching movies over the weekend, that I didn’t get to write up a couple of lines as previously. So now the Berlinale is over. I do not (yet) show withdrawal symptoms. They will come though, latest tonight. Nice that the Arsenal repeats some of the Forum films. Make sure you catch En Terrains Connus on Thursday!

But before going into a more general analysis of my personal bear selection (here are the official prize winners) in my next post, I wanted to share with you what I have been seeing during the weekend, in chronological order:

Nan Goldin’s Scopophilia was quite an interesting offside, inside Berlinale event. This special screening of her latest short slide-show/movie was quite a piece to watch (scopophilia means deriving pleasure from looking), no “sexual perversion” though as she, somewhat ironically said herself before the screening. Scopophilia shows details of paintings and sculpures taken in the Louvre arranged with some of her own pictures from the last decades. The focus lies on bodies, and its parts, beautiful to watch, and wonderful in their imperfection. I could very much believe that she found some secret lovers in the paintings and sculputres when spending her nights at the museum. It’s actually quite impressive to see not only the paintings, but also the fotographs on a movie screen! There should be more of this.

Afterwards, I was lucky to see the Philipino movie Halaw (Ways of the Sea), telling the story of the migration from the South of the Philippines, Mindanao, to Malaysia. Sheron Dayoc did a great job to keep his film as documentary-like as possible, using only two actors for his main cast and the rest are lay actors. To shoot the film, a photo camera was used, giving the images a very intimate feeling, very close to the people and their impressions, and thus catching the hopes, fears and challenges migrants confront when starting the journey. Also, the young girl gives a stellar and heartbreaking perfomance. A small, but powerful film about the daily struggles of people in search for a better life, as happening in many countries in the world.

Saturday started well with Belgian thriller Rundskop (Bullhead). This debut film by Michaël Roskam is impressive: powerful, visual, dark, haunting. The story in the hormon mafia milieu turns around Jacky, a deeply disturbed personality, who is like an animal, a bull himself, full of hormons and testosteron, but without future, without anyone taking him seriously. No need for more films on Saturday.

Then Sunday, a bitter cold final Berlinale day and another film marathon:

Starting with Karen starring in Karen llora en el bus (Karen cries in the bus). The best Latin American film I have seen this Berlinale. Ángela Carrizosa Aparicio gives an impressive performance as Karen, a woman who breaks out of her marriage to manage on her own, to not depend on her husband or her mother anymore, and if it means begging for money and stealing an apple to have something to eat. Also great her companion and counterpart Patricia. A great film about a universal issue.

Khodorkovsky is an impressive personality. Cyril Tuschi’s documentary manages to capture the multiple facets of him and situates this ongoing situation well into the developments in Russia. It is quite illuminating to see how his former colleagues are scattered from London to Israel, waiting for a change in Russia, wanted by Interpol. Step by step, the picture of Khodorkovsky becomes more complete, and yet, the person behind the facade remains hidden. But the system, the rules and laws that were shaped, bended and built after the fall of the soviet era become clearer. After all the excitement of stolen hard drives, the film gives a surprisingly balanced account, leaving the viewer maybe not with the truth, but with the idea of how complex the picture really is. On the more technical side a minor detail in a well assembled documentary, I didn’t like the animations…

And then, finally, the two competition movies, both in the Berlinale Palast where I haven’t been in years as I hardly watch the competition but focus on the Forum. By now I already knew I had chosen the slowest competition entries for the two final films of the Berlinale. But I found myself surprised as the Korean entry Saranghanda, Saranghaji Anneunda (Come Rain, Come Shine, or as I read somewhere the more direct translation: I love you, I don’t love you), while slow, did manage to grab my attention and let me observe how this relationship must have been, full of respect for each other, but also missing the excitment, the new, the argueing. He, always perfect in whatever he does – cooking, in his work, in always knowing everything. She, confused about her own decision of leaving him, waiting for something to happen that could make her change her mind. The camera, distant, often shooting from high up, observing. While not as refreshing as previous movies, I like This Charming Girl, director Lee Yoon-ki managed to give a hermetic study of a relationship.

The same issue, a different director, Rodrigo Moreno, a failed exercise. Un mundo misterioso (A Mysterious World) tells a similar story of a break-up. However, the loser male character does not convince at all, he doesn’t talk, doesn’t react, doesn’t act. It’s annoying to see him walking around, smoking, following other girls by chance. He talks about loving books, but he doesn’t read them. Contrary to the Korean movie, I have no idea how the relationship with his girlfriend must have been. Or maybe, I dare not to believe that theyjust sit on their bed for days and days without saying anything?

There may very well be people like that, but I don’t want to see movies about them. Cinema is about telling a story. Even though his friend tries to convince me otherwise by saying at some point during the movie that it’s good if nothing happens. Cheap trick. Sorry. Actually, the world is no that mysterious. It sometimes is simply boring. But you don’t have to do a real-time movie about it. Argentina, oh you failed me this year!

Final film of the Berlinale. Fine of this post. The curtain falls.

A detailed summary, and my personal award ceremony to come tomorrow.

 

Relaxed Berlinale Thursday

Yesterday was a nice evening with two very different movies, from two very different areas of the world.

I loved Man Chu (Late Autumn)! It’s maybe my favourite film during this year’s Berlinale (together with En Terrains Connus, Into the White Night and Unjust…).  A very sensible movie, but never sentimental. Korean director Kim Tae-Yong tells a love story set in Seattly between a Anna that is serving a sentence for murder who meets a callboy, Hoon, during three days of leave to attend her mother’s funeral.

Much has been written about the wonderfully scripted and shot scene at an amusement park. But many other moments come to mind, from the unexpected ghost hunting tour at a local farmer’s market to the hillarious funeral dinner. The woman’s family situation is masterly depicted: what happens with the house after the mother’s death? what have relatives told their partners about the woman? All this combined with the woman’s own troubled world of how to deal with her situation, being free but not free at all. Impressing the scene when she receives the call on the cell phone she received to surveil her. But also Hoon’s life, hidden beneath a smiling mask of the person who does “everything you ask for”, is slowly changing rails after meeting Anna.

The film is embedded in a stream of melancholy, with opaque colour tones, and the weather masterly reflecting the moods of the  moment. He sure has watched Wong-Kar Way, but he does finds his own language and has the help of the great actors Tang Wei and Hyun Bin. You may have to be in the mood for an emotional film, but if you are, you will be rewarded. Hao.

State of Violence is an engaged movie from South Africa about a successful businessman who seeks revenge after his wife was killed. Nick-named “Terror” he goes back to the township he grew up to confront his past and find the killer. It is a slow-paced thriller that reveiling the gap that still exists between those who made it, and those who remain stuck.  A bit more background for those unfamiliar with the details of recent South African history would have helped, and some details of the films narrative don’t seem really credible. I don’t think that driving around with a new Mercedes in a townsip is a very good idea when you try to find a killer… But all in all, some very moving and strong scenes, reflecting how difficult it often is to apologise and let the past be the past.

One movie, two non-movies

Over the last two days, I’ve seen only three movies, with a bit of a break yesterday and one film for a change. Getting a bit tired by now.

And it seems that I have the slowest and most boring movie ahead for Sunday night: Un Mundo Misterioso (A Mysterious World) by Moreno. The last movie. If the critiques are right, that’ll be the time to sleep after 10 days Berlinale.

Escuchando al Juez Garzón (Listening to Judge Garzón) by Isabel Coixet is not really a film. It’s an interview by the writer Manuel Rivas and Baltasar Garzón from mid December. The interview is exciting, revealing, and provides for a deep insight into Garzóns life and work, his believes and pillars as a judge who moved boldly forward against organized crime and terrorism in Spain, went head on for Agosto Pinochet and was finally appointed to look into possible crimes carried out under Franco’s regime. “Corruption is a cancer to democracy,” says Garzón during the interview, dedicating his life to fighting it, bravely and without shying back.

But finally, maybe most importantly, it gets his views on the accusations against him, the Gürtel case. The interview gives no doubt on whose side on the film-maker is. But it also gives a very human picture of the main character deeply disturbed by the lawsuit that now involves him as the accused and leaves him clueless on how to defend himself on unknown charges.

No doubt that Garzón is a fascinating personality. But I must say I had to take my glasses of and focus on the interview, more as a podcast, rather than a film. Hastily edited and merely polishing the poor imagery and sound, it is an important and timely statement. But don’t expect anything else.

Dernier Étage Gauche Gauche (Last Floor Left Wing) is a wonderful small comedy, set in the suburbs of Grenoble in one of those banlieu like apartment buildings. Not much hope to find there. When François, a bailiff, gets to the apartment of an Algerian family (father and his son) he is kidnapped by the son who is afraid that the 5 kilos of cocaine stored in his room are being discovered. The story unfolds when the son realises that his father is not the loser dad he always thought to know while outside the city’s police force and anti-terrorists units gather. All this happens on an 11 of September. Serious issues of migration and integration, terrorism, urban poverty lightly treated, respectful, but funny. Very much recommended.

Argentinean film Ocio (Idleness) has maybe the best soundtrack so far. Great 70s rock by Argentinean bands such as Malan and Invisibles that I haven’t heard before but sound amazing (any links welcome). Images are fascinating as well, great shots of a run down Buenos Aires with closed shop doors everywhere, trains that pass without going anywhere. The main characters are well acted. So all great ingredients.

But there’s only one problem: the screenplay simply doesn’t work. I know, and the directors made it very clear after the movie during the Q&A session, that’s on purpose, not fulfilling the expectations of the audience. Putting songs with lyrics that are actually saying the contrary of what is happening in the film. Still, I don’t understand the reasons for making a film especially slow and dull. (And I am not against slow movies, look at my review of Heaven’s Story) Sorry for that. But, I am left the movie with wanting to listen to more of that sound. So thanks for that.

The obvious and the misterious: Berlinale, day 4

It’s difficult to balance a 40h work week with watching as many Berlinale movies as possible. So I didn’t get to write up anything yesterday on my latest movies. So here go some thoughts on Mondays movies, Japanese crime film Byakuyakou (Into The White Night) and the Russian sci-fi story Mishen (Target). Later today, I’ll try to write up yesterday’s movies (Escuchando al Juez Garzón and Dernier Étage Gauche Gauche).

Into The White Night

This movie, directed by Yoshihiro Fukagawa, is one of my favourite Berlinale movies so far as it combines all that I love about Japanese cinema: an intriguing story and sufficient time to develop the story and the main characters with all their facets and deep black holes. Into the White Night tells the story of the assassination of a pawn shop owner and its investigation over a period of 20 years.  After the initial suspect commits suicide, the official investigation is dropped. But Inspector Sasagaki continues on his own, a brilliant police man with an eye for detail, too brilliant to climb up the latter, asking too many uncomfortable questions. In many ways, he seems to be a Hercule Poirot following the leads of his one big case.

The main female character Yukiho, the daughter of the suspect, is a misterious character, frightening beautiful, and so determined in her actions. Every man would fall for her. Amazing the acting of her as a kid.

Also the other building blocks are just perfect: the jazzy, reduced soundtrack, the wonderful cinematography, and the attention to detail: I love those 80s style police cars, the green public phones. Writing about it, I could to see it again…

Oh, and maybe most importantly: I love a non-conventional ending.

I was glad to see Into the White Night after Mishen that left me a bit unsatisfied.

Mishen

Mishen comes in the tradition of Russian science fiction. Not in space, but, what is basically the same, in a time where Russia is an ecological democracy (maybe as far away as Mars). Admittedly, the movie has some fascinating shots of landscapes, great sets and gadgets (the cars, television in 2020, the view of Moscow). Also, the political realities the film uses as a background are refreshing, everyone speaks Chinese as a second language for example. A fact that American movies playing in the future haven’t been realising.

But the story is too simple to satisfy. The conflicts that arise amongst the characters are too conventional. It is the neverending search for freedom, youth and happiness brings together a group of people in their journey to a modern Fountain of Youth (a fascinating piece of set the director Alexander Zeldovich found here). But of course, happiness and youth won’t make you really happy and will turn into destruction. Hm.

It would have been nice to see some innovation here as well.

More later!

Photo credit: Conrad @coneyislander