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Berlin Round Up IV: “Beeswax,” “The Countess,” and the Discontent of Berlin ’09 Critics.

Berlin Round Up IV: "Beeswax," "The Countess," and the Discontent of Berlin '09 Critics.

“If Berlin 09 will be remembered for anything,” indieWIRE‘s Shane Danielsen’s said in his critic’s notebook yesterday. “It will be for its eagerness to tell us, with every ounce of anguished sincerity it could muster, the bleeding obvious.” Danielsen referenced both Sally Potter’s “Rage” and Lucas Moodyson’s “Mammoth” in this regard (both discussed in yesterday’s roundup), as well as Hans-Christian Schmid’s “Storm” (discussed in an earlier roundup).

But Danielsen saved his strongest words for Andrew Bujalski’s “Beeswax,” explaining that Bujalski “has what appears to be complete creative control, enjoys healthy critical support, and has access to major festivals—a situation approximately 30,000 filmmakers around the world would kill for. To then abuse this privilege so thoroughly, and present a film like this one—which says nothing of even the slightest interest, displays no care or forethought in its conception, and positively revels in its slipshod amateurishness—displays either a breathtaking arrogance, or a solipsism even greater than that of his characters.”

His harsh critique drastically contrasted with Mike Goodridge’s intense praise. Goodridge called “Beeswax” “another memorably natural character piece evoking the spirit of Rohmer, Cassavetes and Woody Allen in a uniquely young American style.”

indieWIRE‘s Eugene Hernandez had a conversation with Bujalski this morning in Potsdamer Platz, which included discussion of the divisive responses to his work. “As with his other work, Bujalski’s latest film already seems to have supporters and detractors alike, at least among early reviews from film critics,” Hernandez said. “But, Bujalski admitted that he doesn’t spend a lot of time on either the praise or the criticism. ‘I have an ego to be stroked, so I am very flattered that people write about the films, but I dont think it’s very healthy for me to pay too much attention to that.’”

Danielsen also noted in his critic’s notebook that his Berlinale thus far has come “amid grumblings of discontent from critics (‘Twenty films so far,’ said one colleague, “and I haven’t seen one thing I’d champion’). This grumbling was exemplified in an article by Variety‘s Derek Elley. “Halfway through the 59th Berlinale, the lights of discovery were still burning low in the festival’s official selection,” Elley said, again citing “Rage,” “Mammoth” and “Storm.” His optimism lied “tucked away in Berlinale Specials”: “Amid the sea of unfocused scripting and issue-oriented failures, the virtues of ‘classical’ filmmaking were acutely demonstrated by 77-year-old French vet, Claude Chabrol, whose throughly likable detective riff, ‘Bellamy,’ tucked away in Berlinale Specials, has proved the hit of official selection so far.”

Elley didn’t mention Rebecca Miller’s “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee,” despite colleague Alissa Simon’s dismissive review. Simon finds the film, which features a star-studded cast including Robin Wright Penn, Winona Ryder, Julianne Moore, Keanu Reeves and Maria Bello, features “cardboard characters and severe problems of tone [that[ fatally flaw the awkward satirical relationship drama.”

Screen, on the other hand, was much kinder to “Pippa Lee” in its review. Though this can’t be said of Julie Delpy’s “The Countess,” which it called “a turgid and joyless biopic of notorious 17th-century Hungarian countess Erzebet Bathory.” indieWIRE was on the scene at the film’s press conference, where Brian Brooks reported Delpy drew parallels with contemporary society’s hypnotic ifatuation with youth and beauty through the film. “People with power [today] are also exposed,” Delpy said. “You see it in the entertainment industry with plastic surgery. Some people have a fear of losing youth and beauty. Some people associate that with losing power, and I think ppeople are afraid of aging because they associate it with death – and yeah, I have that fear too.”

indieWIRE‘s Eugene Hernandez reported from another press conference, that of Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross’s “work-in-progress,” “The Shock Doctrine.” The doc, based on the Naomi Klein book of the same name, “looks at the current global economic critis and a pattern of strategies—dubbed ‘disaster capitalism’—employed throughout the world to destabilize institutions and exploit their economies.” Despite it being unfinished, Variety reviewed “Doctrine,” calling it “eminently sober, polished and persuasive.”

Some additional (and needed) cinematic optimism was offered by Stephanie Zacharek’s roundup for Salon. “Now that I have a better sense of the festival’s low-key but adventurous character,” she said. “I can’t help seeing it as a hopeful barometer of the year ahead in movies.”

With half of the festival still to come, it will be interesting to see how Zacharek’s characterization progresses.

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