3 Dias (Before the Fall) ***
F. Javier Gutiérrez, Spain
I pray that this one comes to Hamburg simply because I had to leave before the end and my nerves are shot, worrying about the outcome. What happened to Ale and the four children who were isolated in the country house with a sinister man camped outside? Why did the grandma die? In this doomsday film, a meteorite will collide with the world and all will end in three days. Everyone panics and flees. The black-white-grey cinematography, the plot and the bongo-drumbeat music combine to heighten the threatening atmosphere with no release in sight. The four children are wonderful actors. What a mistake to walk out on this film, which reminded me of The Night of the Living Dead or The Time of the Wolf. (bt)
Auge in Auge (Eye to Eye) ****
Hans Helmut Prinzler and Michael Althen, Germany
110 years of German film history were painstakingly compiled by Hans Helmut Prinzler und Michael Althen. It is great fun to watch snippets of old pre-war films, the pompous era of propaganda films during the 1940s, to see famous, familiar faces of the ‘50s, and scenes of the ‘60s with girls in swinging petticoats. The authors highlight typical German mannerisms, i.e. zooming-in men’s eyes with exaggerated expressions of suffering, or glamour girls with close-ups of eyes all shining and seducing. Other themes concentrate on landscape, modes of transportation, or the art of smoking in films, which nowadays is good for a hearty laugh. The sequences are well timed with frequent changing pace of clips.
Woven into the screenings are spontaneous and lively comments by Wim Wenders, Christian Petzold, Doris Dörrie, Dominik Graf, and others, placed before a running film sequence or the entrance of well-known cinema buildings. Auge in Auge was shown in German only (no subtitles) and the film seems to be aimed mainly at the German viewer who already knows and remembers most of the filmed material. It is an amusing, nostalgic look back at “the good old days” of cinema. One leaves the theatre smiling but with a touch of melancholy. (bs)
Avaze – Gonjeshk-ha (The Song of Sparrows) ****
Majid Majidi, Iran (Farsi)
Karim (Reza Naji), a conscientious worker on an ostrich farm, contently lives with his wife and three children in his mud and brick house on the outskirts of Tehran. One day an ostrich runs away into the surrounding hills. Karim is made responsible and loses his job and his meagre income. When driving into town on an errand, a business man hurriedly jumps onto his scooter and pays him for the ride. This is the start of Karim’s new occupation. From now on he regularly drives to the city, coming back with money as well as discarded goods from building sites or other items that the rich folks no longer have use for. Soon his backyard is overflowing with all his accumulated junk. The kind, generous and loving husband is becoming greedy and self-centred, infected by the city people’s way of life.
When his wife gives away window frames and an old door to her neighbours who will put these things to good use, he flies into a rage and carries the door back to re-join the rest of the junk. It is a striking shot of cinematography when Karim, buried under the bright-blue door on his back, slowly walks all the way across the fields. Karim’s senseless accumulation of possessions does not do him any good. One day the whole pile collapses, burying him under his treasures. Immobilized by a broken foot, he looks on helplessly as his wife manages the household, clears the yard and earns an income, surrounded by helping neighbours.
The children in the village had ideas of accumulating riches too. They dreamed of breeding fish in the well which would multiply and make them millionaires. They worked hard for their goal and nearly succeeded. When they dramatically lost all their fish, they were heartbroken. It is Karim, becoming his old self again, who tells them philosophically that “the world is a dream,” whilst watching the sparrows fly against his newly fitted window pane.
Reza Naji is an excellent actor and brings the changing moods of the worried and craggy-faced Karim realistically to life. For this role he received the Silver Bear for Best Actor. At the awards ceremony he graciously thanked God and dedicated the prize to his country. Most of the cast were drawn from non-professionals who came over very naturally. They were well suited to their roles and characters, placed in the rural setting of present-day Iran, which was perfectly highlighted by the beautiful cinematography of Tooraj Mansouri.
In brief: At the press conference
The director Majid Majidi and actor Reza Naji talked about The Song of Sparrows, telling us that the title was a parable. “Sparrows are one of the smallest birds in Iran. They are not demanding and make do with what is at hand. We too should not have ever-increasing demands. The children particularly are like little sparrows, sweet and innocent, happy and naïve. Children are ever present in the film as they are in Iranian society with about 70 % of the population under 25 years.” When asked how he prepared for playing his character Reza Naji replied, “I carefully read the script and then fully emerged into the character; I stopped being Reza and become Karim.” The rural world and simple life and faith of the village people are well known to him but the filming conditions were a real challenge. “With my 63 years it was physically hard. I often was out of breath when driving the motorcycle over hilly country or through the busy streets of Tehran.” With his film director Majid Majidi wanted to show that all our new possessions and knowledge don’t improve our lives but that we are growing distant from each other, getting lonely. “The concept of family as the base of society is victimized by modern developments. But there is hope, we can go back to the simple things, be more like the children, discover a bird’s nest and listen to the song of sparrows.” (bs)
Boy A ****
John Crowley, Ireland
Based on an award winning novel by Jonathan Trigell, this brilliant drama explores the moral questions and issues around what happens to those children that end up serving time in juvenile prisons for committing crimes so brutal that society may never be able to forgive them. Set in Manchester the film begins with Jack (Andrew Garfield) who has served 14 years in prison and now has been released under a new identify so that he will have a second chance at life. Director John Crowley shows us a nice, sweet-natured boy who, although insecure and inexperienced about life outside the prison, immediately seems to have success with work friends and even has a girlfriend. The performance from Garfield is outstanding. From the beginning the audience really likes this character and wants him to succeed until we are faced with his past. After a preview of this horrific crime, comes the inevitable question: can society really forgive this guy and has he reformed after committing an extremely brutal crime? Does he deserve to be forgiven? Can he forgive himself as well as live with what he did? There are many questions surrounding the crime in which a young girl was murdered; Jack is one of the two boys involved. At the trial they blame each other which leads us to believe that they both played a part in what happened. Jack survives his prison sentence and is lucky to have the caretaker Terry( Peter Mullan) who sincerely wishes him a second chance. But with the tabloids looming in the background and the jealous son of Terry, does he stand a chance? This made-for-television film was a gem among films at the Berlin Film Festival this year. It’s a modern-day Tolstoy where the audience is required to look at themselves and their own judgments on crime, punishment and redemption. (ss)
Caos Calmo (Quiet Chaos) ****
Antonello Grimaldi, Italy
A careless summer day brutally comes to an end when Pietro Paladini (Nanni Moretti) returns to his summer house to find his beloved wife dropped dead on the lawn and his 10-year old daughter beside herself with grief. What irony of fate! He and his brother Carlo (Alessandro Gassman) had just rescued two unknown women from the strong currents of the ocean. After the summer vacation, his daughter Claudia (Blu Yoshimi) reluctantly returns to school, feeling insecure. Her father, who is a TV company executive, is expected at his office, where an important deal is in the making. Instead, he promises his daughter not to move until she finishes classes. Business is handled from the park bench in front of the school building and his secretary informs him per mobile of the most important developments. Claudia is happy. The next day, same procedure. His whole life style changes unexpectedly. Business associates and friends come to see him, but instead of consoling him, they bring their problems, confide in him and seek his advice. This in turn gives Pietro a new look at his own life, and little by little he reconsiders his priorities. Throughout the film Moretti plays his character very low-key, therefore, it comes almost as a shock when we watch him and Isabella Ferrari in a spontaneous, very steamy sex scene. All of Pietro’s incomprehensible calm is suddenly surrendered in his raw and violent outburst, finally opening up and accepting life again.
The book Caos Calmo (by Sandro Verenesi) is very successfully adapted by Nanni Moretti and co-screenwriters Laura Paolucci and Francesco Piccolo, transporting the action from the confines of a car to the wooded Roman square. The process of mourning is handled very sensitively but not without humour, like Valeria Golino trying to seduce Moretti on his park bench. I enjoyed the contemporary music with compositions by Paolo Buonvino, often using a solo guitar only.
In brief: At the press conference
The most-discussed scene of Quiet Chaos was the hot sex scene towards the end of the film, and it was one of the subjects discussed with the director Antonello Grimaldi and his crew, who appeared in full force at the press conference. I learned, there was even open criticism coming from some Italian church. Nanni Moretti answered to the following, “Why did the sex scene have to go on for so long?” – “It is a very serious and important scene, without any distracting music in the background. All intense and cleansing emotions are to be released. When the protagonist finally starts to understand his enormous grief and his loss, suddenly all his inner chaos is set free. The woman is in a similar situation. She too has to let go of all her pain, her disappointments with men, her anger and her past before she can start a new life. It is not a love scene; it is violent, raw and realistic.” (bs)
Darling! – The Story of Pieter-Dirk Uys ***1/2
Julian Shaw, New Zealand/South Africa/Australia
See detailed article and review on page ….
Isaac Julien, Great Britain
Derek Jarman (1942-1994) wished to “take all my works and evaporate” after his death from aids. This wish was not to be granted. He was too well-known, too successful, and had too many dedicated friends, among them actress Tilda Swinton. This documentary reviews thirty years of his life works and tremendous influence on British art, theater and cinema, 1960 -1990. He was also influential in New York City and San Francisco; contemporaries were William Borroughs, David Hockney, J. Procter, Ken Russell and the Pet Shop Boys. He was one of the first to experiment with super eight cameras, making 72 films one minute to one hour in length between 1969 and 1980. Caravaggio, 1986, is just one of his better known full-length films. The Berlinale viewing coincided with a Jarman exhibit, curated by the director of this film, which showed at the Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, London, February 23-April 13. (bt)
Det som Ingen ved (What No One Knows) ***1/2
Søren Kragh-Jacobsen, Denmark
The opening is humorous when a 39-year-old puppet theater operator Thomas Deleriran (Anders W. Berthelsen) entertains small children at school and runs into his daughter. She is mortified that the kids will know that he plays with puppets, not a serious real job. Later his sister pays a visit. She needs to speak to him about something serious, but before this is possible, she drowns in a swimming accident. This political, family thriller takes off from there. Thomas finds records of old chemical poisonous compounds in his sister’s home which relate back to his father’s Secret Service days. With many twists and turns Thomas tries to unravel the mysteries with the help of his sister’s girlfriend Ursula (Maria Bonnevie) but no matter how hard they try to work secretively, the agents are on to them. Director Soren Kragh- Jocobesen said that he made this film with one purpose: to make his countrymen aware of how many surveillance cameras there are in Copenhagen. He also did extensive research on the Danish Secret Service and how much access it has to the private lives of civilians. These cameras are a big debate in Denmark since it curtails freedom. So the question is: are we safe with all these cameras? Who watches and controls them? Is the evaluation unbiased or is power being enforced to torment an innocent person? This film is an interesting critique on the opinion that cameras can be used for incorrect reasons. (ss)
Isabel Coixet, USA
Elegy is based on Philip Roth’s novel The Dying Animal and the film starts with David Kapesh (Academy Award-winner Ben Kingsley) bemoaning the fact of aging and contemplating the virility of men. He can hardly wait for the university semester to finish when traditionally he gives a party for all students at his house, allowing himself to be a “private person” – shedding the “professor.” For months he has been yearning to lay his hands on the attractive but dignified, innocent-looking Consuela Castillo (Oscar-nominee Penelope Cruz). By way of talking to her about art and showing her his impressive collection, he makes her feel at ease. He takes her out to restaurants and – at long last – takes her to his bed. She has no suspicion that this was his only intention in the first place. She falls in love, believing they are true friends.
Carolyn (Oscar-nominated Patricia Clarkson), his mistress for 20 years, also thinks they are honest with each other. Whenever her business commitments give her a chance to be in town, she appears on his doorstep unannounced. This arrangement has worked well, giving them a solid continuity, a feeling that they could depend on each other. This turns out to be an illusion as one day Carolyn discovers some of Consuela’s belongings in his apartment. Pained, but gracious, she calls off their longstanding relationship.
Another old friend to depend on is the poet and fellow womanizer George O’Hearn (wonderfully portrayed by Dennis Hopper). They play squash and tell each other their little secrets. George is married and enjoys short-lived affairs with younger women but does not believe in falling in love with them.
Kapesh gets more and more captivated by Consuela’s beauty, considering her body a “real work of art,” fuelling his jealous fantasies. George advises him: “Beautiful women are invisible. No one can see the actual person. We are so dazzled by the outside; we never make it to the inside.” Kapesh cannot grasp that there is more to Consuela than her outer appearance. When she invites him to her graduation party to meet her family, he feigns an accident, letting her down yet again. Disappointed and hurt, she ends the love affair.
Two years later Consuela phones him unexpectedly on New Year’s Eve, wanting to see him urgently. His momentarily high-hopes are rudely shattered when he listens to her sad news. Too late he can see the true and warm-hearted person in this stunning woman.
It is a pleasure to watch Penelope Cruz, seemingly at ease with her role. Her presence brings the film to life, whereas Ben Kingsley (otherwise my hero) is not very convincing. He remains awkward, too aloof and too theatrical in his speech. There is absolutely nothing charming and seductive about him; no chemistry shines through between the two protagonists. (bs)
Heavy Metal in Bagdad ***
Eddy Moretti/Suroosh Alvi, USA
In 2003, after the invasion of Iraq, film maker Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi travelled to Bagdad. The five musicians of the heavy metal band “Acrassicauda” (Black Scorpion) greeted them excitedly, making fun of Saddam Hussein and hoping that in the future they could play their music freely. In 2005 it was clear that disappointment had set in as it became more difficult to meet for jam sessions. Fundamentalists threatened them, confusing the wild head-banging with Jewish prayer movements. These ambitious young musicians were no longer joking. The change of government did not bring the desired freedom but war instead, with restrictions and losses. They became frightened and frustrated young adults. When the daily fighting became heavier, resulting in up to 300 people dead in the streets, they fled their home country seeking refuge in Syria. During 2006 the film team met four members of the band in Damascus, living in safety but totally disillusioned and having capitulated, envisioning no future in a foreign land with an increasing population of refugees. Every other country had refused them entry. To survive, they were considering selling their instruments.
This is a documentary of young people trying to survive the turmoil of war with the help of their music. When faced with death and the ugly noise of mortars, heavy metal music sounds like a very comforting alternative. (bs)
Ralph Ziman, South Africa
Although Lucky Kunene (Rapululana Seiphemo) started out as a minimum wage employee in Soweto, South Africa, he has big dreams: BMW, a big house in the right neighborhood, and money but, unfortunately, he received no university scholarship which leaves only one option: crime that pays. He and his best friend Zakes Mbolelo (Ronnie Nyakale) learn the business of car theft and move into armed robbery but quickly find it too dangerous. So the two try to make a clean break to an honest living and become taxi drivers. The pay is bad and the competition is stiff. Finally they land on something really big. They take over all the buildings in the center of town, where drug lords and prostitutes reign, although they are owned by whites living outside the city. Lucky collects the rent, manages and repairs the buildings, and kicks out the scum. The white real estate owners and the drug dealers begin to hate Lucky Kunene and it becomes a dangerous way to earn a living. He makes himself venerable when he falls for a rich, white girl, Leah Friendland (Shelly Meskin), who has a brother with a cocaine problem. Since the film is so stylized, often, we are not really drawn into the emotional impact that the characters feel during intense times despite excellent acting. This fast-paced film shows the inside of Johannesburg with its crime and corruption which reminds me of Goodfellas. (ss)
Jesus Loves You (Jesus Liebt Dich) ****
Lilian Franck, Michaela Kirst, Robert Cibis, Matthias Luthardt, Germany
The 2006 World Cup attracted all kinds of people to Germany. Probably the strangest were evangelical Christians from New York City, Germany and Africa, e.g., Kenya. For them Germany is a religious third world country full of dissatisfied sinners in need of conversion. They came under the leadership of Scott Rourk whose Church 411 is relatively new (2001) and Youth with a Mission which sent 10,000 missionaries to “work on the tourists” during the games. Mostly, they went to the parks and soccer fields where huge screens were set up for spectators or they talked to people on the streets, outside restaurants, etc. Beforehand, they met to discuss a clear marketing strategy such as, “Say you are a tourist, because missionary has a negative connotation.” They preyed on young people who were away from home, had time to talk, and needed a friend. They started conversations with, “Where are you from? Which team will win? Have you ever had a problem in your life you couldn’t solve alone? Did you look to Jesus Christ?” Often the answer was “bugger off” or “That’s too serious, we’re here for fun.” Or “I believe in Germany.” Possibly they were at a disadvantage, because they spoke only English. In the end, the missionaries were unsuccessful. In fact they returned home shaking their heads, frustrated that their message fell on the hardest of granite.
But Germany is an exception. Worldwide, evangelicals are the largest growing group with 52,000 new converts a day. The directors researched this movement five years before making their film. According to them, the U.S. is a prime example of the evangelical movement with born-again Christian George Bush their most prominent member. In the U.S. there was a groundswell against sinful activity such as premarital sex and homosexuals. Under the Bush government no money was donated to groups which were not specifically Christian. These missionaries are not necessarily preaching for the monetary reward. Most of them had “real” jobs and they paid their own way to the World Cup. They are extremists in their thinking. The directors said, “Mix religion and politics and the result is terrorism.” Director Matthias Luthardt said, “…Ask where the borders are between faith, ideology and fraud.” This was almost the equivalent of a scary movie and certainly opened my eyes. They plan to attend the 2008 Olympics in China. (bt)
La Hija del Engaño (The Daughter of Deceit) ***
Luis Bruñel, Spain
Each year the Berlinale features a series of oldies by some famous, successful director in a special section called “Retrospective.” This year we honoured Luis Buñel of Spain (1900-1983) with all 32 of his films on view during this one festival. Always a real treat, this year was no exception. I saw La Hija del Engaño, which first showed 1951 in Mexico. Don Quintin (Fernando Soler) throws out his unfaithful wife, but not before she claims that their infant daughter is not his. He brings the baby to foster parents in the country where she grows up with a “sister” her own age, not knowing her true heritage. Don Quitin lives alone, bitter at his unjust fate. Years later the daughter is more than a match for her father. She teaches him a thing or two, which he is forced to accept and all are happily reunited, except for the wayward wife who gets her just reward. The film was as fresh and interesting as if it had been made in 2008. Someday I plan to concentrate on at least ten films by some famous director in the “Retrospective” section, which may well be more satisfying than watching many of the newest films. These directors, especially Buñel, aren’t famous for nothing. (bt)
Night and Day (Bam Gua Nat) ***
Hong Sang-soo , Korea
Lonely Seong-nam (Kim Yeong-ho) aimlessly explores suburban Paris, meets with other Korean expatriates, discusses life, flirts half-heartedly with young art students (Park Eun-hye, Seo Min-jeong), and even make love, but all in a very detached manner. Kim, a celebrated painter in his early 40s, landed in Paris to avoid the police and a heavy fine for smoking pot. The film develops at a very leisurely pace, never getting too near to any of the characters. It evolves almost entirely around Seong-nam, a rather naïve, indecisive, self-deluding male, lost in the big city with nothing to do. At night he holds long, often very intimate, telephone conversations with his wife in Korea who eventually lies in order to achieve his return.
There is nothing very profound in Hong Sang-soo’s story; fragments of human behaviour are put together, making for a certain naturalness and spontaneity. The look at a small Korean community living in a strange country, I found the most interesting. One funny incidents is Seong-nam and his landlord disrupting their serious smoking session in the back yard and deciding to formally exchange handshakes. But also the insecurities, subtle tensions and the wish to break away from the norms and customs of their home country become clear. The film could easily have been edited from a 145 to 90 minutes, particularly in the second half.