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!