Our Berlin correspondent Meredith Brody experiences highs and lows as the festival winds down, from the skillfully-made documentary Making the Boys to the huge yet hugely disappointing Nine:
No matter how much you’ve seen, no matter how many hours you’ve spent in the dark, a film festival will remind you of how much you haven’t seen. When asked what I’m about to watch by a fellow attendee, I idly respond En Familie, to be rewarded with a sniff: “I haven’t liked any of her [director Pernille Fischer Christensen] other movies.” Gulp: I haven’t seen any, I don’t remember ever being offered the chance. So I’m seizing the opportunity.
I’m immediately taken with the pert, rapid, documentary-style coverage of exposition and back-story, the more so because the setting is a high-class bakery, and the intersection of food and film is one of my favorite crossroads. But we’re soon in soap-opera territory: should Ditte keep her unplanned pregnancy or take a job with the Gagosian gallery in New York? Once that decision is made, her dying father insists that, instead of moving to New York, she must stay in Copenhagen and run the family bakery that she’s never worked in.
My companion leaves, restless and bored, but I stay, for what I realize are narcissistic reasons, the kind that never show up in film reviews: I’ve just learned that morning of the death of a 45-year-old friend, who succumbed to the third appearance of the breast cancer she’d been battling (apologies to S. Sontag) for a dozen years; and I’m something of a daddy’s girl, as Ditte is. Still, I can’t say I’m truly moved – inertia plays a part in my decision to watch the whole movie, too.
Afterwards I see another of the Competition films, The Killer Inside Me, by Michael Winterbottom, whose extremely varied body of work generally captivates me. I’ve heard, of course, that some of its Sundance audience were horrified by the violence towards women portrayed in it. But I’ve been a Jim Thompson fan forever, and seen both the Burt Kennedy (starring Stacy Keach) and Bertrand Tavernier (Coup de Torchon) adaptations, so of course I intend to see this one. My main concern is that I’m worried that Casey Affleck is too callow for the part.
Affleck’s lack of affect (rhyme intentional) works fine for me, but the tone of the movie doesn’t. And I question my response to the beating scenes. I’m generally a fan of violence in movies – where it belongs, as opposed to real life – but I never got around to seeing Antichrist last year, having never missed a Lars von Trier movie before, even after years of disappointment. Maybe I’m getting soft. Even though I know that the scenes are completely justified by what’s in the book (Winterbottom said, defensively, at a q’n’a in Sundance that one of the women was described by Thompson as having a “face like hamburger meat”), it’s a question of degree. When you read, of course, you make up your own images, and don’t pause to savor a woman’s beating for minutes. Or anyway I don’t. (At the end of the day, when I run across this in my bedtime reading of The Talented Miss Highsmith in reference to Mickey Spillane – “I always say never hit a woman when you can kick her” – it brings the uneasy question up all over again.)
The rest of the day is supposed to be pure pleasure, rather self-indulgent choices from the banquet of film possibilities: two documentaries from the gay Panorama selection, one on Rock Hudson and the other on the history of the play and subsequent movie of The Boys in the Band, a rare Japanese film by Shimazu Yasujiro from 1937, and then finishing up with Nine on the huge screen at the Friedrichstadtpalast. “I’ll lend you the DVD,” says a friend, horrified that I’d waste a slot on such a badly-reviewed commercial effort. But I think my pleasure in it will be directly related to its size.
Rock Hudson – Dark and Handsome Stranger, made for German television, is oddly clunky and rather credulous. Armistead Maupin, who had a fling with the movie star in the 70s, amuses with his racy stories of not being able to function on their first encounter, and later introducing Hudson to San Francisco sex clubs. But the sum of the parts is less than the whole (especially when evaluating the wisdom of such sages as clueless Hollywood tattletale Rona Barrett). (And hey! Lose the distractingly jaunty music underscoring the interviews). The intention is to congratulate, if not canonize, Hudson on humanizing the disease of AIDS for a world that was intent on ignoring it. But for wit and insight about Hudson the icon, I recommend Mark Rappaport’s Rock Hudson’s Home Movies.
Making the Boys is everything I’d hoped for and more. Here’s a skillfully-made interweaving of archival footage and new interviews that really places The Boys in the Band in historical context for both a new generation unaware of gay history as well as those of us who were around in the 60s. It’s amazing to realize that the Stonewall riots, falling as they did between the success of the play and the subsequent, less-appreciated movie adaptation, had the result of making the movie seem stereotypical, self-hating, and behind the times. In a couple of years the quote, “You show me a happy homosexual, and I’ll show you a gay corpse,” elicited a different response. The rise and fall and rise of author Mart Crowley, friend, employee, and confidant of Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner among others, is something of a novel, whether written by Horace Greeley or Anthony Trollope (or Dominick Dunne, producer of the movie and present on screen). The ebullient young filmmaker, Crayton Robey, born four years after the play was first produced, was bouncing around onstage, drunk on the reception of his film at the festival and excited by its context in the Panorama. Making the Boys is one of the movies I’ll be recommending when people ask me what I most liked at the Berlinale. It deserves a long life outside the gay-and-lesbian film circuit.
I have a vague memory of the only Yasujiro Shimazu film I’ve seen (the 1934 Our Neighbor, Miss Yae, screened at the Pacific Film Archive in a series called Taisho Chic On Screen in 2005), but my affection for the films of Ozu, Mizoguchi, and Naruse from the same period means I have to check out the three-film retrospective programmed in the Forum. I only discovered that they were playing by accident, buried in an article in one of the daily trade newspapers available in huge stacks all over the Festival. It was then that I realized that the bulky 464-page giant Berlinale catalogue doesn’t include the Forum films, which are contained in their own separate catalogue. The Shimazu film, about three young men competing for the affections of their big bosses’ daughter despite continuing romantic entanglements of their own, is stylish but a little flat. Shimazu hasn’t attained the ranks of his colleagues in my eyes, but I want to see more. Telluride’s Tom Luddy is impressed by the size of the crowd – the 500-seat room is about 3/4s full at 7:15 p.m., prime Festival viewing time: “At retrospectives in Cannes,” he tells me, “I’ve been among forty people in a room of the same size.”
All the screening of Rob Marshall’s Nine had going for it was the huge screen, as it turned out. I was even surprised at how much of it I’d already seen on the mad round of publicity the actors performed on TV. I feel like I’m seeing well-known numbers separated by rather incoherent segments of non-character-development. It turns out that Penelope Cruz sliding down a pink satin curtain is nowhere near as memorable as Anita Morris naked under a black lace bodysuit. (Yes, kiddies, I saw the original Broadway production in the Eighties). I’m mildly diverted by trying to figure out the obscure origins of Daniel Day Lewis’ accent, and whether Antonio Banderas was ever floated for the role after Javier Bardem dropped out. If memory serves…