Archive for the ‘2014 Berlinale’ Category

BlindHow can you trust if you cannot see?

If you lose your sight, how can you be sure that your husband is not sneaking into the room to stare at you? How would you know if your hair is graying? How could you read the results of a home pregnancy test?

Sightlessness is not a mere disability in Eskil Vogt’s sublime debut feature, Blind. It is solitary confinement, isolation on a strange, new planet fashioned by one’s imagination with indeterminate physical laws and a time-space relationship unique to a particular universe. Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) has a rare condition that robbed her of her sight as an adult. Her visual memory is fading, and even though she exercises it daily, her doctor informs her that she will lose it all together one day. (more…)

boyhood-stillIt is a gimmick, and one could argue that it is not even original.

Since 1964, 14 British schoolchildren have been followed by documentary filmmakers who have presented their findings every seven years in the so-called Up Series with the titles matching the age of the participants (7 Up, 14 Up, etc.). Still, it may be unprecedented for a feature filmmaker to take the same approach, but that is what Richard Linklater did. Beginning in 2002, and continuing over the next 12 years, Linklater brought together the same core group of actors for a few days of filming with the intent to put together a movie on growing up, which, in fact, was the working title for most of the 12 years.


Note: This film premiered under the title Things People Do at the 2014 Berlinale. The title has been changed to After The Fall prior to its U.S. release in December 2014.

Nothing stays buried.things-people-do02 Family secrets about a dead relative can’t be kept from the kids. Uncomfortable facts about a husband’s ability to provide are discovered by the wife. Even a hastily buried stray animal won’t stay under the earth. And more than anything else, the American Dream is exposed as a sham.

The truth will out in Things People Do, a modest film that looks at one man’s struggles in Middle America in the face of the fallout from the financial crisis. (more…)

ImageIf hell is other people, then paradise is the place without neighbors – or so it seemed to Dr. Friedrich Ritter and his patient and lover, Dore Strauch, who together abandoned Berlin, Germany, and their respective spouses in 1929 and settled on the uninhabited island of Floreana in the Galapagos Islands. While not desirous of neighbors, the pair had no such problem with courting publicity and became known in the international press as “the Adam and Eve of the Galapagos.” That attracted the attention of another German family – the Wittmers – who fancied themselves as a potential Swiss Family Robinson of the Galapagos and moved to the island in 1931. Later that year, a woman claiming to be an Austrian Baroness also made her way to Floreana in the company of her two German lovers with plans to build a lavish resort hotel. Not long after, Paradise Lost turned into Lord of the Flies.


ImageFor all those who have been asking, “When is there ever going to be a Greek version of Leon: The Professional?” please take note. Your wait is over. While not a remake of the 1994 movie starring Jean Reno, who takes in and protects a pint-sized Natalie Portman, To Mikro Psari (Stratos) has the same central dynamic of aging hit man and endangered young girl. Director Yannis Economides film is quiet, meditative, and one could even say, mannered, in comparison to Luc Besson’s hyperkinetic full throttle bullet blitz.


ImageWhen the lights went up after the premiere of Wu Ren Qu (No Man’s Land) at the 64th Berlinale Film Festival in February, the twists and shocks that came with the feature were not quite over. Director Ning Hao and three of the stars, Xu Zheng, Yu Nan und Huang Bo, took the stage to acknowledge the well deserved applause of an appreciative audience.

There they delivered the final surprise: Xu Zheng, who plays the bespectacled and shaggy-haired lawyer in the feature, had assumed the physical appearance of his adversary, Huang Bo, who portrays the film’s bald, stocky villain. Bo, meanwhile, now sported an almost Elvis-like pompadour. It was more than mere make-up, hairstyles, and costumes, the quartet explained. They looked different (the exception being Nan, familiar to Western audiences from her role as Maggie in The Expendables 2, who remains as lovely as ever) because of the amount of time that had passed since filming. The movie was completed four years earlier, but had been kept from release by Chinese censors who deemed it too nihilistic.

And the censors were half-right. Wu Ren Qu is nihilistic. But wonderfully so.


ImageHistoria del miedo (History of Fear) was clearly one of the best films in the Forum section at the 64th Berlinale Film Festival in February. The Forum is home for the more experimental and avant-garde works shown in the program and often provides a first look at outstanding, upcoming talent. Historia del miedo, directed and written by Benjamin Naishtat, serves as an example of just that. In his first feature, Naishtat offers a work that is all atmosphere and mise-en-scène, effectively establishing a time and place where paranoia and anxiety touch every aspect of life inside and outside a gated community.


ImageThe two men in town are an ex-con and the sheriff. The two actors playing the two men are Forest Whitaker and Harvey Keitel. That alone is enough to pique interest in La voie de l’ennemi (Two Men in Town). Yet, director Rachid Bouchareb squanders the opportunity and good will that such a pairing and such a scenario engenders with an uninspired, meandering movie that drew scant attention at the 64th Berlinale Film Festival in February.

The problems begin with the screenplay, credited to Bouchareb and two others. What is needed is a narrative with taut, constant pressure reflecting the vise the ex-con finds himself in, with the screws being alternately turned by a vengeful sheriff and the local crime lord. Instead, the film is a tepid tale, a loose remake of the 1973 French film Deux hommes dans la ville, but without the outrage and passion that director and screenwriter José Giovanni, who was on death row in the French penal system at one time, brought to the previous version. (more…)

ImageThe familiar story of the soldier trapped behind enemy lines, who against all odds must somehow traverse hostile territory, while outwitting and outfighting those bent on capturing or killing him, continues to be the basis for films for one simple reason: it works.

The twist in ’71, a UK entry seen in the 64th Berlinale Film Festival competition in February, is that the setting is something less than war, yet somehow more terrifying. Director Yann Demange sets his first feature in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1971, when sectarian violence was spiraling out of control and the growing number of British troops being introduced were adding gasoline to the fire. (more…)

ImageIn his new film, The Midnight After, director Fruit Chan learns a hard, but familiar lesson: while it’s relatively easy to strand people in a phantasmagorical situation, it’s quite difficult to find a fantastic way to explain why and figure out what’s next.

The premise Chan conceives is as intriguing as any Rod Serling offered for your consideration. A disparate group of passengers board a minibus late at night in Hong Kong. En route, the bus goes through a tunnel. When it emerges on the other side, the city is empty.

Shortly, thereafter, the bus passes a blinking billboard that reads in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese: “A great film pitch does not always a great film make.”

If only. (more…)