As the 2011 Berlin Film Festival crosses the halfway mark, indieWIRE looks at three of the top competition titles from Bela Tarr, Ralph Fiennes and Asghar Farhadi.
Bela Tarr's "The Turin Horse"
Tarr's new film takes a look at the life of the horse that, legend has it, broke Nietzsche. As the story goes, Nietzsche witnessed a horse being flogged in the streets of Turin; in protest, he put his body between the horse and his master and mysteriously fell to the ground. The philosopher was never the same afterward, suffering a mental breakdown. Tarr's film tells what happened to the horse and his master in the six days following that event.
Told in Tarr's signature style of long quiet moments, "The Turin Horse" clocks in at two and a half hours. Still, the film was widely admired by its audiences for the careful and deliberate exploration of its mostly silent characters.
Actor János Derzsi, who plays the horse's master, said, "It's both very difficult and very easy to work with Bela. He tells us what he needs and what he wants... You're there as kind of a puppet in his hands. You start to try things out in the productions and just after that you have to be present."
When an audience member asked Tarr about rumors of retirement, the director seemed to suggest that the material would need to be incredibly compelling in order to make a new film, "People who know me know what the reason might be. We've come full circle and after this point we might end up repeating ourselves. The problem with that is it's hard to be creative without intellectual vitality. There is a real danger that I might always end up repeating myself."
Ralph Fiennes' "Coriolanus"
In his directorial debut, Fiennes created a contemporary adaptation of Shakespeare's "Coriolanus." Shot in Serbia with no change in references to Roman history, this is an alternative reality in which Rome is the center of a politically tenuous empire.
The film tells the story of power struggles between political factions and one powerful man, the titular Coriolanus, to determine his allegiances. Fiennes took his cues from a recent stage adaptation of "Julius Caesar" and Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet" to make a contemporary take on Shakespeare.
In the press conference following the screening, Fiennes described the script as "urgent," adding, "I kept on seeing images in the newspaper or television that seem to come from this story, whether it's the war in Chechnya, the riots in Athens and Paris, the last few years' economic uncertainty and crisis." The roles in the film held particular sentimental value for Fiennes and co-star Gerard Butler; Fiennes played the title character on stage and Butler's first acting gig was in a production of the play.
Vanessa Redgrave, who plays Coriolanus's mother, spoke of uttering the bard's words, "If you can find it, it can come out of our mouth as yours. We're listening with the ear, with the tongue, with our heart, our mind, to each other. Listening to each other evokes a human response."
Fiennes added, "I think Shakespeare deliberately provokes and asks questions of an audience. I don't think he gives the audience any answers. I think he asks very strong questions. The end is quite a devastating picture of how we so often fail to find the solution because we are always in some sort of conflict or unrest."
After facing a slew of questions comparing this role to his performances in Hollywood movies like "300," "The Ugly Truth" and "The Bounty Hunter," Butler joked, "Something intellectual is always challenging for me." He added that his critics, who either want less romantic comedies or less macho epics, can't be pleased.
Asghar Farhadi's "Nader and Simin, A Separation"
In the latest film from Farhadi (whose last title, "About Elly," is among those wrapped up in the recent Regent imbroglio), "Nader and Simin" follows the title's couple when the husband, Nader, calls off plans to leave Iran in order to take care of his father, who suffers from Alzheimer's; Simin responds by heading to court to file for divorce. As the film unfolds, so does the relationship.
"I always see [the stories in my films] as something in human nature and also in society. It depends on your [the audience member's] vantage point... Audiences have realized how I end my films. The end of a film doesn't have to be the end of something. It can be the beginning of asking questions. Finishing a film this way means the audience takes the film with them. When I make films, I never want to close the story, I want the audience to take it with them."
Farhadi also addressed the recent sentencing of his fellow Iranian filmmaker and friend, Jafar Panahi. "I'm very sorry about what has happened," he said. "You are familiar with him through his films; I know him personally... All directors around the world feel in a similar way."