As it winds down, “the 60th Berlin Film Festival has been feeling the cold,” reports Geoffrey Macnab in The Independent. “The thick layers of ice made the streets around the Potsdamer Platz, the festival’s main venue, treacherous in the extreme. A chill was felt in other ways, too. In spite of the presence of Martin Scorsese’s ‘Shutter Island’ out of competition and of Roman Polanski’s ‘The Ghost,’ this has been a very low-wattage festival.”
Macnab’s sentiment that this has been a somewhat dreary festival seems to be shared by a number of the critics who attended this year’s Berlinale, including indieWIRE’s Shane Danielsen who writes: “I have never meet [Festival Director] Herr Kosslick, but having now witnessed nine years of his programming, I feel I know him a little. And I therefore feel confident in saying that I have never seen a festival director with less idea of what constitutes a Competition selection. This year’s choices are once again mostly small and inconsequential, films like Rafi Pitt’s flawed, frustrating ‘The Hunter’ and Semih Kaplanoglu’s ponderous ‘Honey.’ They lack the necessary sense of weight or significance. They’re B-sides, not singles.”
“Yesterday was a total train-wreck of a day film-wise, as for various reasons too tedious to relate I only ended up with two features on my schedule—’Crossing the Mountain’ and ‘108’ and I walked out of both at the 20-minute mark,” writes Neil Young in his latest dispatch from the festival for The Auteurs. “The latter was a particularly unfortunate Berlinale experience, as it involved an uncomfortable crush of bodies outside the sold-out screening in the subterranean multiplex Cinestar (never an ideal venue at the best of times), followed by a 20-minute delay because of technical snafus (something to do with screening the picture from a digital server). Eventually I got into the cinema and found a decent seat, only to find that before the main attraction 108, one of what is reckoned to be 16 gay-themed documentaries in this year’s Panorama section, there was to be a short. This turned out to be John Greyson’s dire and gratingly pretentious ‘Covered,’ which officially runs 15 minutes but felt more like twice the length.”
The palpable sense of disappointment many have been feeling at this year’s Berlinale was compounded by the premiere of Oskar Roehler’s “Jew Suss – Rise and Fall.” “A big-budget German movie about the Nazis’ most successful propaganda picture and the pact with the devil sealed by its lead actor premiered to boos Thursday at the Berlin Film Festival,” reports Deborah Cole for AFP. “The new picture had been one of the most eagerly awaited at this year’s Berlinale but it drew scornful howls as the credits rolled at a press preview.”
“‘Jew Suss’ is uncomfortable on many levels for German moviegoers,” explains Scott Roxborough in the Hollywood Reporter. “First its controversial subject: the making of the notorious anti-Semitic movie ‘Jud Suss’ in 1940. The original film is still largely banned here — you can only watch it under tightly controlled conditions and accompanied by explanatory commentary. Then there is Roehler’s approach. Instead of the solemn serious tact typical of German World War II films, he opts for melodrama bordering on farce.”
Despite the prevailing sense of pessimism, at least one writer has found more than a little to like at this year’s festival. “The Berlinale is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, and the organizers seem to have squeezed even more than usual into a multifaceted program,” writes Dennis Lim in the New York Times. “But abundance suits this festival, which draws crowds to commercial movies and challenging experimental work alike, even in the dead of a snowy, bitterly cold winter. While Sundance and Cannes can seem at once hermetic and frenzied — somewhat surreal media happenings in resort towns crammed beyond capacity — the Berlinale takes place in an art-saturated city that comfortably accommodates eclecticism and excess.”
More thoughts on the festival from Time Out New York’s Geoff Andrew, Andrew McCathie at Monsters and Critics, who contemplates which films Werner Herzog and his jury will honor, and the Wall Street Journal’s J.S. Marcus.