The Berlinale has come and gone so quickly, so intensely. Everyone was catching the flu or a cold, and I was left with the sniffles. My last two days I was lucky to be able to catch some films. Before that I only saw Don Jon’s Addiction which I was charmed by. Scarlett Johanssen played the best role of her life, she is a great comedienne. And Joseph Gordon-Levitt was delightful. Upstream Color bit off more than it could chew. The reviews express my feelings about it better than I can.
A quick list of films seen by me and by other discerning women:
Concussion, starring Catherine Deneuve, a bored house wife story has been told before. This time, the two protagonists were attractive lesbian women and it was beautifully filmed, but nothing beats Belle de Jour also starring Catherine Deneuve.
The Weimar Touch is a series of films from the Weimar era in Germany which preceded the Nazi era and films which were influenced by filmmakers of the Weimar era. MoMA Chief Curator of Film, Rajendra Roy and Laurence Kardish, the former Senior Curator of Film at MoMA were members of the Curatorial Board (along with Rainer Rother, Artistic Director of the Deutsche Kinemathek, Connie Betz (Deutsche Kinemathek, Programme Coordinator Retrospective, and Hans-Michael Bock (Cinegraph, Hamburg). Maybe I could catch more of these fantastic sounding films in New York.
Hangmen Also Die! by Fritz Lang sounded so great. I got the ticket, but damn I missed the film because of a meeting. The notes written for Hangmen Also Die by Rainer Rother of the Deutsche Kinemathek, “Prague 1942. Following the assassination of Nazi Reich Protector Heydrich…a professor’s daughter hides the culprit in her parents’ apartment…sadistic, elegant and effeminate.” Doesn’t that sound great? The gender bending in Vicktor Viktoria was charming and funny. Julie Andrews saw this actress and copied her style perfectly. They look like twins. Other films in the Restrospective had me going to the Film Museum to ask for the boxed set, but the prints are from so many places, the clearance on them would be nearly impossible I guess…no boxed set. Other films in The Weimar Touch were so enticing! I had seen A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Max Reinhardt himself and William Dieterle, (U.S. 1935) the last time when I was in high school and then didn’t know who Max Reinhardt was. Car of Dreams was a favorite of those who saw it. Casablanca in which Victor Lazlo and Ilse Lund play out their doomed love was directed by Hungarian born director Mihaly Kertesz (Michael Curtiz) and Humphrey Bogart is almost the only “real” American in the ensemble. I had never been aware of how The Weimar Touch formed that film. Others: The Chase, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, Le Corbeau – what a great film that is, a film that was saved only by Sartre and Cocteau’s speaking out in favor of director Henri-Georges Clouzot. This is a film Michael Haneke saw when he created The White Ribbon. A Dutch film, Somewhere in the Netherlands by Ludwig Berger in 1940, Gerhard Lamprecht’s Einmal Eine Grosse Dame Sein, British film, First a Girl, by Victor Saville, Fury by Fritz Lang, Gado Bravo from Portugal 1934, Gluckskinder from Germany in 1936, The Golem, The Mystery of Moonlight Sonata, Hitler’s Madman, How Green Was My Valley by John Ford in 1941 which was influenced by his friend F.W. Murnau, Max Ophuls’ Comedy About Gold, Letter from an Unknown Woman by Max Ophuls, M by Joseph Losey, Mollenard by Robert Siodmak, None Shall Live by Andre de Toth, Out of the Past by Jacques Tourneur, Peter, Pieges, The Queen of Spades, The Small Back Room, Some Like it Hot, To Be or Not to Be by Lubitsch, Touch of Evil by Orson Welles, Cabaret by Bob Fosse, Dial M for Murder, On the Waterfront, The Student of Prague, Tokyo Story were all touched by The Weimar Touch. What a collection!
Tokyo Kazoku (Tokyo Story) by Yoji Yamada was sweet and sad as the parents travel from their hometown of Hiroshima to visit their grown children in Tokyo – different from Ozu’s Tokyo Story, but “the story of family estrangement and the isolation inherent in modern society” as expressed in the story notes of Rainer Rother along with the reminders of the recent tsunami and its losses make this story deeply touching.
Interesting was Dark Blood by George Sluizer. It was not as spooky as The Vanishing, but to see River Phoenix, so beautiful in this role with such a sexy Judy Davis was a treat, if a bit dated. Elle s’en va with a Catherine Deneuve, aged after Umbrellas of Cherbourg and perhaps the same character takes a funny tour through rural France that I enjoyed. I missed Pourquoi Israel, part of the Homage to Claude Lanzmann but got to see Sobibor, 14 Octobre 1943 which was astounding. The bravery of the hero who was on screen the entire time, Yehuda Lerner, looked like a movie star. The entire story was so unexpected for me; how did it happen that I had never heard the story of the uprising at Sobibor before? I know Shoah and sat through it without a minute of disinterest – but that was in college. Claude Lanzmann justifiably said that this story was too unique and special to include in Shoah.
An odd Romanian film, the comedy A Farewell to Fools directed by Goodan Dreyer and starring child actor Boodan Iancu, Gerard Depardieu, Harvey Keitel and a cruelly beautiful Laura Morante, (and dubbed!) it is being sold in the market by Shoreline. It stands out in contrast to the Golden Bear Winner, the Romanian film Child’s Pose directed by Calin Peter Netzer and produced by Ada Solomon. This feisty portrayal of the nouveau riche seems like a fictional continuation of the doc her husband directed and which she produced in 2010: Kapitalism: Our Improved Formula.
Ada Solomon’s speech at the Awards Ceremony Closing Night deserves an award itself. Starting with the comment that she is more used to fighting than to winning, she pointedly thanked not only those who helped her but also those who did not help her whose resistance to her making this film made her stronger and more powerful. She pointed out the great need to have equal representation of women in the ranks of directors and producers as well, a theme which has been expressed repeatedly during this festival in many forms. (Read Melissa Silverstein’s blog on the joint meeting of women’s films festivals initiated in Berlin by The International Women’s Film Festival Dortmund|Cologone and the Athena Film Festival entitled “You Cannot Be Serious” in which women from many countries discussed the statistics and the status of women directors and other positions in the industry and continued the creation of a worldwide network pushing towards a more level playing field. Check out The International Women’s Film Festival Network for more information).
Child’s Pose, good in the vein of Separation, went head to head with the Chilean critic’s choice, Gloria whose star Paulina Garcia, won the Best Actress Award. Could have gone both ways. The two older women were both great.
Jay Weissberg of Variety describes Child’s Pose best as a “dissection of monstrous motherly love” and a “razor-sharp jibe at Romania’s nouveau riche (the type is hardly confined to one country), a class adept at massaging truths and ensuring that the world steps aside when conflict arises.”
I would like to suggest to the festival event planners that next year the Awards Ceremony’s onscreen presentation (which goes on simultaneously with the announcements of the prize winners) post the name of the winner along with the film title in its own language and in English as well as the country of origin. It’s difficult enough to follow the film with simultaneous translation in English via earphones; at least put the film titles in English for us foreigners.
A friend of mine remarks that the 2 most prestigious prizes at the festival went not to American or West European films, but to those from smaller countries with developing film cultures, Child’s Pose from Romania and Denis Tanovic’s Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker from Bosnia/ Herzogovina.
She goes on with her commentary of what she saw:
“Competition film Gold by Thomas Arslan provoked mixed response, but I liked it – Nina Hoss as the lead is excellent, plus there are long passages of the group on horseback trekking thru Alaska to the Klondike amidst spectacular landscapes. And the camerawork is wonderful. So that’s enough to keep me in my seat.
Night Train to Lisbon has been panned by virtually every trade publication critic as boring at the least. Nevertheless I enjoyed all the famous actors –Jeremy Irons, Lena Olin, Charlotte Rampling, Tom Courtenay, and yes Bruno Ganz. It is a story about the oppressive regime and a secret resistance group of in 1970s Portugal. Circles is a powerful and tough film by Srdan Folubovic about the revelations amidst survivors of a terrible event 12 years after the end of the war in Yugoslavia. Terrific performances support a complex and tough tale of how history permeates memory and behavior down thru the generations. Cold Bloom is the 4th feature of Atsushi Funahashi, who made last year’s powerful Nuclear Nation documentary about the effects if the tsunami. A drama about how the tsunami affected young workers and small businesses in the region is told thru the tragedy of a young couple. The title refers to a fantastic closing sequence under the cherry trees at night illuminated by street lamps, at once beautiful and bizarre. Gloria winner of the Golden Bear was clearly everyone’s favorite (although I could not get into the screening). Portrait of a middle aged woman in Chile (and winner of Best Actress award) it will hopefully make it across the ocean to these shores.
And finally, it is worth noting that the Forum Expanded section was extensive this year, showing diverse kinds of work including off site installations from every corner of the globe. Probably it is the single most important showcase for artists work in the film festival world. Kudos to the curators and the artist/filmmakers for keeping this exciting new work in front of the public year after year!”
Another friend who can’t decide whether to be credited here, a transplanted Los Angeleno who was born in Germany and lives in Berlin now had a very interesting insight into Two Women, wondering out loud if the two women and the two boys were transferring their homosexual feelings upon their cross parental lovers and likewise whether the two mothers were not actually acting out their lesbian affinities.
She also noted the sexual complexities of many of the films was of great interest to her. Examples she sites are the homosexual (BUT NOT) pedophiliac feelings of a priest as depicted in In The Name Of; Gloria – not breaking news that a 58 woman is sexually alive – this film has a popular crowd pleasing charm which almost disqualifies it from the “festival” seriousness of a film like Child’s Pose, but both women are stellar.
I would like to take this further, but it is very late for Berlin and now on to Guadalajara, a fascinating city and the seat of international, Iberoamerican co-productions which I think will become my obsession for the rest of the year.