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

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 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

Why movies about bad people are good: Berlinale Sunday

Let’s start with the highlight: Bu-dang-geo-rae (The Unjust), a movie about bad people and the corrupted system. No one is good, even less those who work on the good side, the Police, the State Prosecution. The rivalry between the police investigator Choi and the State Prosecutor Joo pushes the movie forward constantly and drives each of the characters to the limits of what they are willing to do to save themselves. But they only get tangled up worse.

And I loved it. No character to identify with, no scene that makes you feel like it will turn out well. I fuck you, you fuck me. The testosteron, the anger, the power of images raises hopes for more to come.

As director Ryoo Seung-wan, very cool in his leather fur-collared coat, said after the screening: Whatever you feel about the movie is right. Well, I think everyone should watch it.


A film about being lost, lost in your past and your future, between cultures, between farang and Thai. Main character Ananda returns to Thailand after studying in the US to act in a movie. While feeling a bit lost at times during the movie myself, too many loose ends in the story, director Aditya Assarat manages to catch the feeling of being disconnected from your environment quite well, that sometimes there are no words, or explanations. Where are you at home? Why do relationships end? In Hi-So, Ananda’s relationship to his American girlfriend Zoe ends (or better, phases out) after she visits him on a set for a Thai movie. Probably, she tried to understand more of Thailand than Ananda himself who just continues being the cool guy, giving interviews, having a romance, without commitments. The worst moment is probably the fact that the movie Ananda is doing seems to be completely boring. The best moment is when Zoe visits the beach with one of the hotel staff and he tells her about his trip to the US. But he only made it to the airport of Los Angeles, as he would not get a visa, and he shows her a key fob that he brought back as a souvenir from his trip.

Qualunquemente (Whatsoeverly)

What can I say. It’s trash. If you like trash, you might like this satire of the electoral race for mayor in a small village in Calabria between a decent and law-obiding candidate (Transparency International’s choice), and a corrupting, tax evading playboy (the Mafia’s choice).

It’s fun for the first half hour, but then it gets annoying. Of course, we all wonder how Italian President Berlusconi keeps himself in power despite all his affairs and cockiness. There are numerous references to his scandals in the movie, one for example asking during his campaign speech: “Anyone doubted my sexual virility?”.  But you might just read this good article in the German weekly Die Zeit by Roberto Saviano: Warum lieben viele Italiener Berlusconi?. So of course, much of what people say about taxes, construction permits and women may have a lot of truth to it. But more than a satire it is a trashball comedy, everything that happens is exaggerated, over the top.

If you want an amazing movie about a mayor and how power corrupts you, watch the Mexican film La Ley de Herodes by director Luis Estrada instead.

Missing Berlinale days already. During the week, it’s only Berlinale nights. More tomorrow about Russian movie Mishen, and the Japanese film Byakuyakou (Into the White Night).

Berlinale Saturday and why there are too few snow films

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.

Amnistia (Amnesty)

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.

And… action: Berlinale rush begins

… with standing in line. But all in all, the lines have been quite alright, at least the first couple of days. When I went to the ticket counter on Tuesday I got 7 movies for one day simply because I wasn’t prepared yet. You can count on the line.

But yesterday was the big day: the first film, and what a film. Heaven’s Story by Zeze Takahisa, one of the legendary directors of Japanese “pink films”. But pink was nothing in this movie, so don’t get excited.

Heaven’s Story goes for the big themes that move us, life, death, revenge, even love, in an odd non-romantic way. Where others would have taken two hours to tell the story, this film took us through four and a half hours (I have been thinking that it can be considered a quality that three quarters of the audience stayed until the very end).

The story picks up after two homicides that interrupt two very different families which the surviv0rs’ search for revenge connects.

The human stands in the very center of this movie. The camera hardly ever leaves the characters alone. It doesn’t shy away from their anger and despair (maybe a bit less shouting would have worked as well). The film follows the characters in their search “to be remembered by the unborn”, as one of the murderers explains why he has killed. The individual is contrasted only by the anonymous city suburbs full of apartment buildings, just a couple of people, out of millions and millions. And the landscapes, the ocean, heaven, the mountains, in their four seasons. The camerawork (Atsuhiro Nabeshima) is outstanding, always focusing on the characters, and how they fit, or rather, how they do not fit in their environment.

One of the characters asks: “Take me some place that surprises me and I let you go.” He takes her to the beach where she can finally let out her anger and frustration. They are all outsiders, without a social life. Yet they go on, in search of being remembered by someone, anyone.

After this great start yesterday, four films to come today. More here!

My favorite movies of the Berlinale – over 20 films in one post

Feeling somewhat depressive and lost in space, but also finally being able to get some sleep after 10 days of this 60th Berlinale, I would like to bring some order into the over 20 movies I have seen during the last two weeks. I’ll mention all of them here!

my eyes are 16:9

my eyes are 16:9

Generally, I really liked all of this year’s movies. There was none that I would have happily left out, or that I regretted. At the contrary! But let me highlight some of my favourites, totally in disregard of the section. By the way, I saw more competition movies than in other years, but maybe simply due to the fact that I saw a lot of movies, or that there are no other movies being shown at 9 am. Well, maybe I should have simply slept until the next function a little later in the day.

The top three (and more)

Here are my top three: The movies that I probably liked best were

  • the Japanese Sawako Decides (Kawa no soko kara konnichi wa, by Ishii Yuya), hilarious in mixing comedy, drama, and even a musical scene.
  • The hermetic Bolivian family and society study Southern District (Zona Sur, by Juan Carlos Valdivia), which showed the changing society in Bolivia through the little changes in a once rich upper class family.
  • Then I’d add the beautiful animation film The Illusionist by Sylvain Chomet, about an old-fashioned magician who is on his way down professionally, when he meets a little girl who still believes in his magic. It reminded me very much of the melancholy and beautifulness of Ishiguro’s Remains of the Day.

But of course I can not miss  mentioning the epic Taiwanese underground thriller Monga by Niu Chen-Zer Doze, the Japanese Lee Harvey Oswald variation Golden Slumber (Goruden Sarumba, by Yoshihiro Nakumara), and the latest masterpiece of Yoji Yamada, About her brother (Otouto), portraying once again, an outsider and looser in a society that looks at professional and personal success, with a job, a wife, children and all that. Unfortunately, I did not make it for his movie in the forum – Kyoto Story. About her Brother was in a way also a variation of the themes of family unity, taking decisions and dealing with death, that made the Danish competition entry A Family (En Familie, by Pernille Fischer Christensen) a very personal, and very strong movie on being faced by the decisions life confronts us with.

shahada in snowThe German production Shahada, by Burhan Qurbani, has been criticised a lot in the German media, but I really liked for its somehow unbound energy and the will to tell a story, I miss in so many other productions. Its characters, mostly Muslim Germans, feel new and fresh, and maybe not always as round as they could be. But it is important that they finally find their place as main characters in the stories of German cinema.

My maybe favourite Q&A statement was by the lead actor Rodrigo Vélez of the Colombian movie Crab Trab (El vuelco del cangrejo, by Oscar Ruíz Navia), who said that the movie had to adjust its “movie” time to the “real” time of the village and its people it was playing in. A new and intense experience. German movie Im Schatten (In the Shadows, by Thomas Arslan) captures a similar necessity with its direct and focussed images, showing what needs to be shown, and leaving everything else aside. Driving, driving, and slowly building up the plot, that disintegrates without any reason, and without being able to do anything about it.

Failed men we saw a lot

Eastern Europe seems to be full of failed men. Romanian competition entry If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Eu cand vreau sa fluier, fluier, by Florin Serban), shows how the imprisoned 19-year old Silviu tries to make sure his brother is still there once he gets out, and not taken by his mother to Italy. Afraid of being alone, afraid of not knowing what to do, without a task, confronted with society.

Breaking out of the environment you’re in is difficult when you’re in the drug business. Eastern Drift (Indigène d’Eurasie by Sharunas Bartas) mixes Vilnius, Moscow, Poland and Paris, dark and hopeless streets and clubs and rooms populated by futureless people that have nothing to say, nor to each other, nor to the world. Where Igor Voloshin dived into the Goth-Trash scene in 2006′s Nirwana, he goes back to his own live entitling his latest production I am (Ya), depositing the audience right into the lostness of a change of society in Glasnost Russia and with the freedoms of drugs of the early 90s, creating the need to create a new, your own religion.

A Czech movie, Kawasaki’s Rose (Kawasakiho ruze, by Jan Hrebejk), looks at the construction and de-construction of ideals, in an imperfect world.  A great reflection of dealing with a past in which everyone had its share on what society was. The only thing I didn’t understand is why on earth the daughter of the main character had to had a unique disease, and her husband had to play around with Buddhist philosophy to explain why he did cheat on her. Another failed man we see in On the Path (Na Putu, by Jasmila Zbanic) where a husband tries to find his way, or rather looses it, when radicalising his beliefs.

The Korean movies Our Fantastic 21st Century (Neo-wa na-eui i-shib-il-seki, by Ryu Hyung-ki) and I’m in Trouble (Na-neun gon-kyeong-e cheo-haet-da!, by So Sang-min) were nice stories, but did not compete with Park Chan-Woks Sympathy series that grabs you and rattles your bones. With a final twist the Japanese shared flat thriller Parade, by Isao Yukisada, asks who is normal of these four young Japanese who share a flat – and a monster – and maybe it is simply the gay callboy, as he states himself. A Somewhat Gentle Man (En ganske snill mann, by Hans Petter Moland) was a simple black comedy, the perfect movie for a mid-way Berlinale late night show.

The Documentaries

The Oath by Laura Poitras really surprised me as provoking and shifting thoughts through the unusual, unique and human perspective the story of Al Qaeda was told. Also, the other documentary I saw, Sona, the other myself (Sona, mo hitori no watashi, by Yang Yonghi), the story of little Sona growing up in North Korea, surprised through an unusual, very personal perspective that allowed to get a glimpse of North Korean society. Small details were hidden in images and the daily live of people, such as the songs sung by little Sona, that were always about the Great Leader Kim Yong-Il.

And some shorter movies

The Mexican recollection of short movies on the occasion of centenary of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 Revolución, has some very strong little movies, such as La Tienda de Raya, by Mariano Chenillo and Lindo y Querido by Patricia Riggen, and some weaker ones. It struggled with getting all contributions under one banner and limited itself of basically showing any kind of revolutionary action.

As part of the Perspective Deutsches Kino I saw the amazing Glebs Film by Christian Hornung, portraying a hairdresser who tells his clients the story of a film he would like to see in the movies and that he has invented – every hair-cut a new scene, a new aspect of the story. The best though is the hairdresser himself who would not let go of the microphone after the screening.

Talking about microphones, a new technology that really surprised me were the films done with a RED ONE camera, such as the Ugandan film Imani, by Caroline Kamya. Really amazing quality, especially with regards to contrast.

A lot of movies. And so many I did not see and had to add to my ever-growing list of unseen movies.

I hope you get hold of the one or other movie that I mentioned here in this post. And let me know what you think!