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Berlin 2013: 19 Reviews From This Year’s Festival

Berlin 2013: 19 Reviews From This Year's Festival

The door is almost closed on the 63rd International Berlin Film Festival and while none of this year’s awards have yet to be handed out, you can find all of our reviews from the festival below. Indiewire’s Eric Kohn was in Berlin where he reviewed eleven of this year’s entries, including Wong Kar-Wai’s “The Grandmaster” which opened the festival. Also included are seven reviews written from Sundance and elsewhere of films that screened during this year’s Berlinale and a review for Steven Soderbergh’s “Side Effects,” which had its’ European premiere during the festival.

“A Single Shot”
Even before John Moon, the lonely woodsman played by Sam Rockwell at the center of David M. Rosenthal’s “A Single Shot,” accidentally shoots a young woman while hunting the desolate area near his trailer, his world has fallen apart. Rosenthal’s adaptation of Matthew F. Jones’ 1996 novel features a familiar arrangement of criminal events and showdowns, but the movie compensates for much of its familiar shortcomings with an effectively ominous atmosphere. The opening minutes, in which the grave-faced, bearded John roams the countryside in search of prey, establish a sense of isolation that dominates the movie and nearly rescues it from the formula that eventually takes shape. Read more here.

“Act of Killing”
In Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing,” a pair of gangsters — responsible for murdering an untold number of suspected communists in the years following the 1965 overthrow of the Indonesian government — get the chance to recount their experiences. At first showing no visible remorse, the men boast of their achievements, and Oppenheimer capitalizes on their enthusiasm with a twisted gimmick: The men are given numerous opportunities to reenact the murders for Oppenheimer’s camera, sometimes emphasizing their brutality and occasionally delivering surreal, flamboyant takes that offer a grotesque spin on classic Hollywood musicals. Playing make believe with murderers, Oppenheimer risks the possibility of empowering them. However, by humanizing psychopathic behavior, “The Act of Killing” is unparalleled in its unsettling perspective on the dementias associated with dictatorial extremes. Read more here.

“An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker”
Danis Tanovic’s “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker” has plenty to say, but as tragic observations go it’s curiously dry. A dramatically compelling social realist parable about the underprivileged Bosnian and Herzegovinian lower class, it’s closer to conventional cinema verite than to fiction. Shot in nine days with lightweight handheld cameras, the movie reconstructs the experiences of an uninsured war veteran struggling to scrounge resources that will save his wife’s life. The director cast a family who actually went through this ordeal and realizes their story with a pared-down efficiency that foregrounds its authentic roots. Read more here.

“Before Midnight”
With “Before Midnight,” Richard Linklater has completed one of the finest movie trilogies of all time. Nearly 20 years have passed since Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy) met on a train in Vienna and spent a passionate night together in “Before Sunrise,” then abruptly parted ways, only to tentatively pick up where they left off nine years later with “Before Sunset.” That movie ended without resolving a tantalizing possibility: Would Jesse, now a successful writer stuck in a dead-end marriage, truly miss his flight back home and spend more quality time with Céline? “Before Midnight” answers that question while asking many more as it consolidates the full power of the earlier movies into a masterful treatise on the evolution of romance. Read more here.

“Camille Claudel 1915”
As its name implies, Bruno Dumont’s “Camille Claudel 1915” captures a moment in time for the woman in question with tremendous precision. In a incredibly contained performance that ranks among the best of her career, Juliette Binoche portrays a woman trapped by mental and physical constraints alike. As Claudel, portrayed on the big screen once before in the Oscar-nominated 1988 Isabelle Adjami vehicle, she personifies tragedy: A sculptress born in the middle of the 19th century in France, once the mistress and disciple of Auguste Rodin and eventually confined by her family to a remote asylum in the south of France, Claudel inhabits a frozen life. Read more here.

“Closed Curtain”
In 2011, shortly after he was banned by the Iranian government from making movies for 20 years, Jafar Panahi pulled off the impossible with “This Is Not a Film,” a bold, diary-like production shot in the confines of his apartment. Given the circumstances, “This Is Not a Film” looked like the only legitimate means that Panahi could still manage to produce work. Instead, his restless mind has yielded an even more ambitious achievement with the cryptically self-referential “Closed Curtain.” Tough to categorize but weighted with meaning, Panahi’s latest fascinating defiance of the constraints placed on him illustrates his deep commitment to the art form at all costs — including, perhaps, his own sanity. Read more here.

“Frances Ha”
A slight and largely charming portrait of post-college woes, Noah Baumbach’s deceptively simple “Frances Ha” is breezier than any of his previous ventures and indeed features considerably less ambition than his earlier work. However, that’s hardly an indictment for a movie so eager to please and thoroughly in tune with the themes percolating throughout Baumbach’s career. Shot in black-and-white video that lends this New York odyssey a scrappy feel, “Frances Ha” foregrounds a characteristically endearing Greta Gerwig performance defined by her usual onscreen combination of high energy wit and awkward self-effacement. Read more here.

The first and last time we see Gloria (Paulina Garcia), the 58-year-old Chilean divorcee who gives writer-director Sebastián Lelio’s touching midlife crisis drama its name, she’s lost in the shuffle of the dance floor — at once buried by the world and free to roam it. Anchored by Garcia’s nuanced performance, the movie explores this fragile state of being with extraordinary astuteness. It’s an open-ended question whether Gloria ever finds the happiness she seeks while dodging the current of middle-aged isolation, but her constant search is a valiant and deeply involving one. Read more here.

A universe away from the German bounty hunter roaming the Old West in “Django Unchained,” the European adventurers in “Gold” hail from a more traditional playbook. Director Thomas Arsland’s watchable oater only maintains a uniqueness for the sheer presence of German characters involved in a plight most commonly associated with American explorers. But as gold rush expeditions go, this one’s just another perilous outing we’ve seen countless times before, competently realized in parts but lacking ingenuity at every turn. Read more here.

“The Grandmaster”
In the years leading up to its completion, the prospects of a kung fu movie directed by Chinese art house auteur Wong Kar Wai have fascinated those familiar with his distinct blend of lush images and poetic encounters simply because “The Grandmaster” sounded so unlike him. However, the finished product remains satisfyingly in tune with the contemplative nature of the director’s other work, only breaking his trance-like approach to drama for the occasional showcasing of martial arts techniques. Read more here.

“Interior. Leather Bar”
William Friedkin’s 1980 East Village crime drama “Cruising,” in which Al Pacino memorably goes undercover as a gay leather enthusiast to apprehend a killer, remains as divisive and controversial as it was upon its initial release. “Interior. Leather Bar,” a 60-minute collaboration between queer filmmaker Travis Mathews (“I Want Your Love”) and James Franco, aims to reenact the 40 minutes Friedkin cut from the film in order to secure an R rating, footage that was subsequently lost. In doing so, it also attempts to provoke strong reactions from the audience, but with far greater intellectual finesse. Instead of merely presenting imagery bound to titillate and create unease in equal measures, “Interior. Leather Bar” takes the form of a behind-the-scenes peek at the production to question the societal forces that engender the material’s contentious nature. As a fleeting essay on sexual biases, it encourages a thoughtful debate, but leaves too many questions dangling to solidify into much beyond a dashed experiment. Read more here.

“It’s All So Quiet”
Not much happens in “It’s All So Quiet,” a tender portrait of middle-aged frustrations set on a desolate farm, but nearly every moment is steeped in deep sadness. Dutch filmmaker Nanouk Leopold’s adaptation of Gerbrand Bakker’s bestselling novel moves with such extreme patience that it’s borderline experimental, but the atmosphere ultimately provides a vessel for the tragic backstory only revealed once the feelings takes shape. By then, it’s nearly an afterthought; “It’s All So Quiet” foregrounds mood ahead of its context, universalizing the emotion therein. Read more here.

“Les Misérables”
I never “Dreamed a Dream” or pleaded for “One Day More.” But fans of “Les Misérables” — the original stage musical adapted from Victor Hugo’s novel, that is — know those references well. Tom Hooper’s big-screen adaptation works hard to pander to them. The moment Claude-Michel Schonberg’s score kicks in, with the solemn baritone chorus of “Work Song,” as hordes of imprisoned Frenchmen jointly lament their downtrodden lives, those smitten with this sprawling, mournful tale of the French Revolution might get goosebumps. That’s mostly conjecture, of course, since when I saw this scene and countless others in Hooper’s “Les Misérables” I felt no excitement over familiar tunes or the return of a beloved tale. Read more here.

Linda Boreman, née Linda Lovelace, took the porn world by the storm with her breakthrough performance in 1972’s seminal blue movie “Deep Throat,” but few audience members cared about her life offscreen. That’s technically the focus of “Lovelace,” a tame look at the actress’ rise and the abuse she faced from husband Charlie Traynor behind the camera. The very existence of the project suggests most people don’t know the whole story. But many do, thanks to Lovelace’s tell-all memoir “Ordeal,” the publication of which arrives at the climax. Like the public narrative of Linda Lovelace at the height of her fame, the movie lives in a fantasy where it has something important to say. Read more here.

“Paradise: Hope”
The best movie trilogy to encapsulate epic struggles against evil impulses spanning generations isn’t “Star Wars.” Austrian director Ulrich Seidl, a divisive auteur on the world stage widely considered to produce sadomasochistic provocations, has delivered a grander three-part statement on the human condition. Seidl’s “Paradise” trilogy, which kicked off last year with the Cannes-competing “Paradise: Love” followed by “Paradise: Faith” at Venice that fall, comes to a satisfying conclusion in the surprisingly warm-hearted “Paradise: Hope.” Viewed individually, the movies deliver a series of divergent investigations into the nature of desire and its emotional ramifications, but when seen as a whole Seidl’s work goes to even greater lengths to represent the spectrum of ways those issues manifest in the fabric of modern society. Read more here.

“Pirate Bay: Away From Keyboard”
A funny thing happened in the moments leading up to the Berlin International Film Festival world premiere of “The Pirate Bay: Away From Keyboard,” a documentary about the prosecution of the titular Swedish file sharing site’s founders. Minutes before the screening, director Simon Klose called a friend up in front of the audience and asked him to unlock a version of the movie uploaded to YouTube, appropriately setting the stage for a tale focused on internet freedoms. The lights went down; the screen lit up. But before “TPB AFK” started, the same warning sign preceding all movies at the festival appeared. Read more here.

“Side Effects”
According to Steven Soderbergh, “Side Effects” is the filmmaker’s final feature-length directing credit — and it shows, partly because this rambling genre exercise, while skillful, offers nothing new. Soderbergh’s future plans contain far more ambiguity and details: He has the HBO Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra,” insists he may still direct more television and theater, and generally maintains the restless spirit of an artist quite likely to pull a Stephen King and dive back into the art form for a second round after purging it from his system. As anyone familiar with Soderbergh’s amazingly versatile work knows, anything is possible — including the possibility that with “Side Effects,” he’s effectively phoning it in. Read more here.

“Upstream Color”
Shane Carruth’s 2004 time travel drama “Primer” provoked endless scrutiny for its heavy reliance on tech speak that the director refused to dumb down. His long-awaited followup, “Upstream Color,” also maintains a seriously cryptic progression that’s nearly impossible to comprehend in precise terms, but its confounding ingredients take on more abstract dimensions. An advanced cinematic collage of ideas involving the slipperiness of human experience, Carruth’s polished, highly expressionistic work bears little comparison to his previous feature aside from the constant mental stimulation it provides for its audience. This stunningly labyrinthine assortment of murky events amount to a riddle with no firm solution. Read more here.

“Vic and Flo Saw A Bear”
Montreal-based filmmaker Denis Côté’s work is always both cryptic and heavy with meaning, but his latest narrative feature, “Vic and Flo Saw a Bear,” stands out because at first it seems deceptively simple. From the purely avant-garde “Bestiare” to the restrained father-and-daughter portrait “Curling,” Côté’s movies invite viewers to search for clues to his motives. “Vic and Flo” is no exception and it takes a long time getting there. Sharply drawn characters and fine-tuned performances follow a meandering trajectory that finally upends expectations at the very end. Côté puts viewers at ease before throwing them off. Read more here.

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