Archive for the ‘2015 Berlinale’ Category

HFilm audiences in Berlin have enjoyed two opportunities to see the film H. this year, first at the Berlinale in February and then, more recently, at the Fantasy FilmFest in August. It is a movie that does well with a second viewing as the allusions to the Helen of Troy mythology from the Iliad and The Odyssey can be distracting rather than illuminating the first time around. As the events slowly unfold on screen, filmgoers can feel as if they have wandered into a graduate school literature class without reading the assignment or even having access to the CliffsNotes version. Letting go of these concerns during a subsequent viewing allows audiences to escape a sense of frustration and enjoy the pleasures of understated storytelling within a technically sound framework. Of course, you still need to devote more mental energy than in most films, but here, one feels as if it is worth the effort even if there are elements that must be pushed to the side.

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Last SummerImagine that Shakespeare wrote one more play in the vein of Titus Andronicus, a story replete with palace intrigue, villainy and violence, and a bit of rough sex. Now, envisage a film based on that play with the screenwriter transposing the action from an incestuous royal court to a contemporary family-owned corporation. Dress the heir apparent in a sheer blouse, black bra, seamed stockings, and peep toe shoes rather than purple robes and a tiara. Substitute conniving bankers for devious cardinals. Keep the castle and the attendant nun, but swap out the throne for a real seat of power – the position of CEO. The end result of such a scenario might look strikingly similar to Der letze Sommer der Reichen (The Last Summer of the Rich), an over-the-top tale of under-the-sheet and behind-the-back maneuverings within the modern monarchy of a Vienna-based corporation. (more…)

FúsiIronic as it might be, “slight” is the adjective that best describes Virgin Mountain, an Icelandic drama comedy that features an enormous manchild’s first tentative steps into adulthood at the tender age of 43. The 94-minute film, the fourth feature from Dagur Kári, is largely (no pun intended) an exercise (too little of that for the main character), in walking a narrow path between cliche and implausibility. While the sheer likeability of the two leads will have audiences rooting for their, and the film’s success, ultimately director Kári, working from his own screenplay, cannot overcome the limits he imposes on himself in attempting a retelling of a too-familiar tale. (more…)

rl_galerie_005Too often it seems as if the programmers for the Berlinale Film Festival use the H.L. Mencken definition of puritanism as their maxim for selecting films. They display a haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy after seeing one of the movies they choose to showcase at the annual event. Working your way through the Competition or Panorama category can be an eat-your-vegetables exercise. Where then can the intrepid filmgoer go for a nice slice of genre pie after days and nights of sampling overdone highbrow fare? The task is not an easy one. Berlinale has yet to follow the lead offered by the world’s other premier film festivals like Sundance, Tribeca, Toronto, and London and added a Midnight section for horror, science fiction, fantasy, off-beat comedy, and other films that don’t so much push the envelope as rip it a new one. (more…)

Queen of the DesertRemember the great disaster movies of the 1970’s, films like The Towering Inferno, The Poseidon Adventure, and Earthquake? The formula was simple: put as many stars as you could find in the path of a natural disaster and let God and Irwin Allen sort out the winners and losers. Credit Werner Herzog with resurrecting the genre. For his latest film, Queen of the Desert, Herzog collected a handful of household names, put them in a rickety vehicle, and crashed them over and over again. (more…)

ChambermaidIf there had been an award for Most Unnecessary Film in the Competition program at the 2015 Berlinale, Diary of a Chambermaid would undoubtedly have won by acclamation. The third time is most certainly not the charm for film adaptations of the 1900 naughty French novel Journal d’une femme de chamber by Octave Mirbeau, which saw prior incarnations in 1946 and in 1964, the former directed by Jean Renoir, the latter by Luis Buñuel. That pedigree is perhaps the only reasonable explanation for why director Benoît Jacquot dusted off a 100-year old novel that long ago lost its power to scandalize. Remaking the past movies of legends does not confer the same status onto those who purvey in the present, however. Jacquot’s effort pales in comparison to both previous efforts and looks even worse when measured by the standards of contemporary cinema. (more…)

NWTNOne thing can be said for the selection of Nobody Wants the Night as the opening film for the 2015 Berlinale – it established a theme that recurred with regularity throughout the festival, most particularly in the Competition program. Unfortunately, that theme can most charitably be termed “unfulfilled expectations.” (A less diplomatic, but equally accurate description would be “bad movies from good directors.”) Five of the 19 films angling for the Golden Bear for Best Film fell under this description as audiences suffered through subpar products from Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick, Benoit Jacquot, and Peter Greenaway in addition to the disappointing film that kicked off the proceedings. Director Isabel Coixet’s contribution was not the worst (that distinction belongs to Greenaway’s Eisenstein in Guanajuato), but it may well have been the most amateurish.

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