Archive for the ‘2014 Berlinale’ Category

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…)

ImageThough the war stories of Afghanistan and Iraq are still being written, the overarching theme is increasingly clear. This generation’s tales will not be of heroism, although that has been on display, or cowardice, although that is inevitable, or of atrocities, triumphs, intrigue, or geopolitical struggle. The ground truth of these conflicts as reflected in the movies already made and those still to be filmed is ambiguity. Setting aside the motivations – real or supposed – for the onset of hostilities, the question of whether the noble commitment of bringing freedom to oppressed people through armed intervention by outsiders is possible or whether the definitions of freedom, oppression and commitment differ so greatly across cultures that the matter can never be resolved will continue to overshadow a more traditional military cinematic narrative.

This maddening, unresolvable ambiguity is at the moral heart of Zwischen Welten (Between Worlds), a simple, powerful tale of one German army unit’s experience in Afghanistan as seen through its squad leader. (more…)

ImageBlack Coal, Thin Ice (Bai Ri Yan Huo) winning the Golden Bear as Best Film at the 64th Berlinale Festival in February came as no surprise – not because the film merited the honor, but rather because Berlinale juries are notorious for their idiosyncratic and unpopular choices, and the film was not considered a candidate for the top prize leading into the award ceremony. Festival organizers should consider crowdsourcing the selection of the winner of the Competition category. The effectiveness of that approach is on display in the Panorama section of the Berlinale, where audiences picked The Act of Killing and The Broken Circle Breakdown as winners in 2013. Both films went on to earn Academy Award nominations.

It is doubtful that the future holds such promise for Black Coal, Thin Ice though one could argue that there is a crackerjack 90-minute noir locked inside the current 106-minute version.  (more…)

ImageAt the beginning of Kraftidioten, Swedish transplant Nils operates the snow plow that keeps his adopted Norwegian town running through the other worldly winters. For this effort, he is being acknowledged as the Citizen of the Year and, as one of the good townsfolk tells him, a role model for the integration of immigrants in Norway. If and when Kraftidioten is remade as an American movie with Bruce Willis playing the Canadian-born plow driver now operating in upstate Minnesota, you can see that gag working every bit as well. Sly Scandanavian humor is on full display in this subversive and sublime revenge story featuring a stoic Stellan Skarsgård as Nils going full Death Wish on those responsible for the death of his son.

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ImageWord of a new French film version of Beauty and the Beast brings with it certain expectations. The timeless story did begin as a French fairy tale, and the 1946 movie directed by Jean Cocteau is considered a milestone in fantasy filmmaking. Would this latest effort wrest back the title of Most Popular from Disney’s animated gem? Would it be a dark rendering, an adult version emphasizing the sensual themes? Or perhaps a more smart ass, satirical take with a sassy 21st century heroine?

The answers arrived with a leaden thud last month at the international premiere of La belle et la bête at the 64th Berlinale Film Festival.

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