BERLIN 2002: Change is Good
by Eddie Cockrell
(indieWIRE/ 02.20.02) -- Through the time-honored tenets of skill, hard work, personality, and luck, Dieter Kosslick's first year at the helm of the Berlinale will go down in the history of this sprawling, majestic festival as a success.
Yet in the early days of post-fest analysis, success has meant different things to different people. Some are calling the competition section "soft" -- that is, without hard-hitting and/or structurally visionary films. Others are decrying the snazzy additions: sexier music in the trailer that precedes each film, splashes of color in the main catalogue, that sort of thing. Still others are mixed on the new and none-too-subtle emphasis on German films -- as if it should be some sort of surprise that the Berlinale would use its influence to promote homegrown product.
But these changes, which initially were as jarring as the move from the cramped comforts of Budapester Strasse to the challenging, "gee-whiz" architecture of Potsdamer Platz two years ago, are emerging as shrewdly pre-planned pieces in a jigsaw puzzle of international scope and balance. Some critics' idea of "soft" was the decision to share the coveted Golden Bear grand prize between Hayao Miyazaki's follow-up to "Princess Monopole," the prodigiously imaginative "Sen to chihiro no kamikakushi" ("Spirited Away"), and "Bloody Sunday," Paul Greengrass' blisteringly verité account of the 1972 Northern Ireland massacre. But Kosslick's mantra is "accept diversity," and it's time for supporters and naysayers alike to meet the new Berlinale.
The selection of Mira Nair as jury president was an early indication that more humanistic values would be emphasized in the competition section. (Is there a more life-affirming film out there now than Nair's unabashedly emotional "Monsoon Wedding?") And so it went, from the endearing complexity of a large family grappling with a matriarch's sudden death in Annette K. Olesen's mischievous Danish entry "Små Ulykker" ("Minor Mishaps"), to François Ozon's instantly-acclaimed "8 Femmes," and Bertrand Tavernier's epic recreation of French cinema during World War II, "Laisser-passer" ("Safe Conduct").
The same was true among the German selections. Andreas Dresen's "Halbe Treppe" ("Grill Point") uses a raw, digital video presentation to temper a largely-improvised story of marital discord and the appealing personal eccentricities that sometimes draw us to people so unlike ourselves. Wim Wenders out-of-competition "Viel Passiert: Der BAP Film" ("Ode to Cologne: A Rock'n'Roll Film") is a valentine to Cologne rocker Wolfgang Niedecken and his road-hardened brand of confessional balladeering. Even Tom Tykwer's "Heaven," imbuing as it does a terrorist act with a justification built on passionate moral outrage, left one with the feeling that the director's own fervent brand of love on the run can be at once political and profoundly personal. Of the German competition films I saw, only Christopher Roth's "Baader" failed to impress; for all its propulsive cinematic swagger, the movie drenches the early 1970s "Baader-Meinhof Gang" episode of post-war German society with an attitude more befitting a photo shoot (or Oliver Stone's "JFK") than a serious investigation of the issue.
In truth, only a few of the main prizes invoked the ire of the assembled press. The Australian road movie "Beneath Clouds" was generally disliked, with young Danielle Hall's performance seen as an amateur misfire. On the positive side, Halle Berry's award for "Monster's Ball" was warmly embraced, as was the bestowing of the Best Director Bear to European film circuit favorite Otar Iosseliani for "Lundi Matin" ("Monday Morning").
This new feeling trickled down to other sections as well. Christoph Terhechte, in his first year as Forum of New Cinema director, found room in the always adventurous lineup for such humanistic fare as Henner Winkler's nuanced "Klassenfahrt" ("School Trip"), the story of two German teenagers on a class outing to Poland's Baltic coast. And it's hard to imagine a documentary more sentimental than Matthew Ginsburg's "Uncle Frank," presented as a Special Screening with co-executive producer Kevin Spacey on hand to answer questions.
"I want to have 'Braindance,'" Kosslick told indieWIRE's Eugene Hernandez only a few days ago, using England's "Raindance" festival as a way to get to the heart of what he's going for in Berlin. As he is in the process of learning, those who wear their hearts on their sleeves must be resolute if they are to present the world with something as "soft" as the 2002 Berlinale.