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by Peter Knegt
February 9, 2009 3:58 AM
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Berlin Round Up III: "Rage," "Mammoth" Surface, "Treeless" The Fest's Best So Far?, More

The scene at the 2009 Berlinale. Photo by Eugene Hernandez.

Two of most anticipated Berlinale '09 entries - Lukas Moodysson's "Mammoth" and Sally Potter's "Rage" - premiered to tepid responses yesterday, and indieWIRE was on the scene.

"It came as a bit of a surprise to hear a loud 'boo,' then whistles, followed by tepid applause and another 'boo' this afternoon at the end of Lukas Moodysson’s 'Mammoth,'" Eugene Hernandez said. "After the showing, the debate began and filmmaker Moodysson admitted that he’s been surprised by audience reactions to his new movie."

Variety's Alissa Simon was on the fence. "A mixed bag, “Mammoth’s” a good-looking, smoothly directed, continent-hopping drama about parents and children, globalization and the disconnect between rich and poor," she said, "but comes with too much repetitive exposition and without an emotional payoff." The Hollywood Reporter's Kirk Honeycutt believes that the film's "expectations may hurt [it's] ability to move beyond specialty markets," explaining that "the film's vagueness of purpose and elevation of small ironies and self-evident truths to the level of deep-dish revelations may further damage the film with sophisticated viewers."

Screen's Jonathan Romney was even less kind: "Aptly named, 'Mammoth' is an elephantine dud from a director who has plenty to say about the state of the world – and not a whit of new insight to offer nor artistic invention to express it."

The magazine wasn't much nicer to Sally Potter's "Rage," which features a performance by Jude Law as a transsexual. "It's just as well Jude Law looks good as a transsexual," Screen said. "Because there's little else on offer for the audience in Sally Potter's amateurish and self-indulgent fashion-industry satire and murder mystery, except perhaps the emotion that gives the film its name." Variety felt the film's main offering wasn't only Law's aesthetically pleasing transexualism, but both the "novelty of seeing Jude Law in drag and Judi Dench smoking a spliff." Otherwise, "'Rage’s' absurd story about murder on the catwalk, told entirely through straight-to-camera monologs, reps a tiresome 94 minutes."

indieWIRE's Brian Brooks was at the film's press conference, where Potter explained in regard to "Rage": “I don’t think [the film] is about the camera, it’s about the person behind the camera. We live in a society that fetishizes appearance." "For her inspiration, Sally looked internally when creating the film’s characters utilizing a somewhat esoteric method in developing the film," Brooks said. "'I don’t know where [the characters] come from. I suppose I met thm in the solitary process of writing the relationship of thought which is anarchic in addition to experiences in life.'"

As for the dozens of other films that have premiered, The Auteurs offers a list of ten films from the first days of the festival, arranged in order of preference. Their best bet is So Yong Kim's "Treeless Mountain," which many have already seen: "[The film] premiered at Toronto last September, but so far I’ve yet to see a better film than this subtle, carefully observed semi-autobiographical story of two Korean sisters struggling to get by without their parents."

The Auteurs' second choice, Asghar Farhadi's "About Elly," didn't impress Variety's Alissa Simon to quite the same degree. She noted that "while not equaling the depth of characterization of Farhadi’s previous films, 'About Elly' takes the complexity of his storytelling to a fascinating level. However, the variable quality of the thesping also prevents the pic from being his best work." Screen's Lee Marshall begged to differ, calling "About Elly" "one of the most remarkable Iranian films to surface in the last few years."

Other films that screened include Catherine Breillat's "Bluebeard" (which Screen called "an austere, low-budget video-shot venture, this quietly surreal Freudian fable is an elegant exercise of style with a sly humorous undertow"), David Lee Miller's "My Suicide" (which Variety found was an experiment that's "results are exasperating and yet feel genuine (barring one major slip-up)"), and "Bellamy," which The Hollywood Reporter's Honeycutt calls "a surprisingly flat-footed film from the master of French cinema, Claude Chabrol."

Check back with indieWIRE for more coverage from the festival, which continues through the weekend.

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