Blesok no. 53, March-April, 2007
Berlin Writes Current History through the Past
On Berlin International Film Festival, 8-18.02.2007
The fifty-seventh Berlin International Film Festival, which took place from 8-18 February was completely dedicated to celebrating cultural diversity. Oriented towards this idea, the organisers have obviously prepared the program in such a way that different cultural backgrounds were stressed, not only in the sense where the authors came from, but also with respect to topics. It is interesting that both past and present were unavoidably present in this determination, that is, both historical themes and the topics that deal with modern living, burdened with the past but also with everything the present brings. The goal of Berlin, as it was stressed at the very opening of the festival, was for Berlin to be re-established as a leading European cultural residence that will cherish and support the diversity of cultures. However, what makes you believe these usually formal statements, is the fact that is visible for each visitor of this interesting city – that this determination is present at every step, and Berlin has already been living this diversity, unlike some other European cities. Maybe that is why this year’s program of the film festival was so exciting, challenging and interesting, for it really managed to fit it all in, offer it, and in its own way break the barriers and open the road to the viewers who responded in a fantastic way.
This year’s main program was largely criticised, predominantly due to two reasons: first of all, because it has become more and more oriented towards Hollywood; second, because of general opinion that it was of a lesser quality than last years. As far as the presence of Hollywood is concerned, it indeed exists, however, it is a fact that it did not bring poorer quality to the festival, but on the contrary. The comments on the poor programme, on the other hand, are absolutely not true, especially if one takes into consideration that as many as 12 out of the 26 films in the official programme were really solid. This is a result that each festival strives for.
The Chinese movie “Tuya’s Marriage” of Wang Quan’an in a special way pays tribute to Mongolia, a way of living, tradition, and roots that lose their meaning more and more. Wang Quan’an who gives a fantastic image of these steppes, among other things, tries to keep the land that is about to disappear, preserve it in his own memory and in our memories as long as he can. Mongolia painted by Quan’an brings life in harmony with the nature; a life which is essentially simple, completely dedicated and sacrificed, honest and pure, but also cruel and ruthless – if you want to survive, you have to follow the laws of nature. Tuya is a beautiful young woman who wants to break this vicious circle, and it will have its consequences. What is most interesting in this beautiful love and life story is that Quan’an made it according to real people. “Tuya’s Marriage” was one of critic’s favorites, and took this year’s Golden Bear for the best film. This was not the case with the other awarded films, which was an additional disappointment. Some of them were Argentinean “The Other” by Ariel Rotter, German “Yella” of Christian Petzold and Israeli “Beaufort” of Joseph Cedar.
It is interesting that the film that was not received well and very highly valued by the critics, the Korean “I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK” by Park Chan-wook, was actually the most original expression that could be seen at this year’s festival. This film deservingly won the award “Alfred Bauer” for a work of particular innovation, because everything that Chan-wook managed to put together in this film is not only exceptional and new, but his vision is one of a genius. However, the story that takes place in a psychiatric hospital where the kinky stories of his character are told with a fantastic probability, reality and convincing tone, while his ideas reach unbelievable limits, was difficult to digest for many people. It is a fact, nevertheless, that he managed to talk about the complete philosophy of living in un unbelievable way, and offered it in a fiction that basically disturbs precisely because of its fantastic touch with reality.
“Hallam Foe” is the British film of David Mackenzie that won the music award. This was a bit unusual, or maybe a compensation, because this film indeed deserves a lot more. “Hallam Foe” is actually a film about an misfit teenager that seemingly does not promise anything, and that is why its original approach was a lovely surprise. Mackenzie leads this film in a very dynamic, fierce and unusual way, and all pathetic solutions in such a constellation remain on the side. Mackenzie dares to examine the dark boundaries of the upset mind and he manages to shock us with seemingly very usual things. The brilliant acting of Jamie Bell as the teenager certainly contributes to it. One of the better films this year was the Austrian “The Counterfeiters” of Stefan Ruzowitzky, who took us back to concentration camps again, in a quite different way. Ruzowitzky tells the real story of Salomon Sorovich and the well-known “Bernard Operation” when the Germans wanted to destroy British economy; he shows quite a different world in the camp, a different logic and battle that has the same intensity, but different psychology.
War is the topic of the films of Steven Sodrebergh “The Good German” and Robert De Niro’s “The Good Shepherd”, films that were big favorites, but nevertheless failed to meet the expectations. Sodrebergh made his film in the destroyed post-war Berlin during the Potsdam peace conference, in black and white and in the film noir style, but except the pretentious secrecy and the tributes to stars like Marlene Dietrich and Humphrey Bogart, he did not manage to give his film the necessary intriguing power. It seems that, wanting to make this thriller more intricate and more challenging, and to authentically present the film time of events, he loses himself in his own labyrinth and he does not mange to complete his characters and event, leaving them pale and unconvincing. Robert De Niro, on the other hand, in his story about the birth of CIA
, where the focus is on the fact that sooner or later it eats its children, has a very personal, boring and monotonous approach. Nothing from the expected conspiracy, excitement or revealing, it is a film seem through the eyes of the agent played by Mat Damon, and a film completely turned to his inner psychological state. Robeet De Niro, with his gradual and systematic approach seems to want to give this film epic dimensions; however, it is far from what it aspires to as a script and as a director’s work, and even in terms of acting, although it won the outstanding artistic contribution award in Berlin (besides Damon, other actors are Angelina Jolie, Timothy Hutton and the German Martina Gedeck).
It is interesting that at the very opening, this festival set high standards by screening the French film “La Vie en Rose”, by Olivier Dahan, dedicated to the life story of the French icon Edith Piaf. This film was in competition, and what is the most important thing is that it fascinates with its authenticity and intensity of penetrating deep in the intimate and artistic world of one of the most recognizable world chanson singers. The life of Edit Piaf was very dramatic, difficult and unhappy, and her role is played fantastically by young Marion Cotillard who definitely deserved the “Golden Bear” which unfortunately went to actress Nina Hoss for the very poor and unconvincing German film “Yella”.
One of the most beautiful films of the festival as definitely “Notes on a Scandal” of Richard Eyre, with the brilliant Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett. “Notes on a Scandal” speaks of homosexuality discretely and indirectly, a topic very present at the festival, through the complicated relationship of a forced friendship that should conceal the real intentions. Richard Eyre fantastically leads his film through the labyrinths of passion, the non-allowed, the problematic family relationships, but also the possessiveness and obsession, desperation and awful feeling of unreturned. One of the better films was also “Letters from Iwo Jima” by Clint Eastwood, which was in the official selection together with the previous film, but outside the award competition. “Letters from Iwo Jima” brings us back to the legendary battle of the Pacific and is second film made by Eastwood on this topic (the first one is “Flags of Our Fathers”).
It is a film that manages to speak of Japanese tradition via an unusual perspective. In other words, although Clint Eastwood goes back to this battle (where 20,000 Japanese and 7,000 Americans were killed) from the Japanese side, he tries to create the profile of soldiers led by the excellent general Kuribayashi (played by Ken Watanabe) through their letters that never reached their destinations, but also to speak of many things that in their own way create Japanese mentality and tradition.
Best audience reaction was towards the film of Sam Garbarski from Belgium, first of all because of the lucidity of the story entitled “Irina Palm”, with Marianne Faithfull and Miki Manojlović. Although “Irina Palm” was one of the weaker films, the audience and the critics were thrilled with the story of an adult woman who starts working for a sex-club in order to make money for her grandson’s surgery. It is really a warm, cute story, full with humor, witty and honest, but a film without any artistic value.
The only South-East European film, the Czech “I Served the King of England” by Jirí Menzel, did nit have such a reception, although it was one of the most quality pieces of this year. Menzel showed that even after a 15-year break he had not lost his irony and sharpness in filming one of the works of his favorite writers, Bohumil Hrabal and won the critics’ “Fipresci” prize again. “I Served the King of England” is an ambitious film dedicated to 20th century history, but also a film that through the eyes of an unqualified waiter in a very subtle, humorous and precise way draws the “weird” side of European history and plays with it.
Everything that was missing in the main program could be seen in “Panorama” program, which brings the invention, artistic approach, imagination and surprise, and the reflection of social processes in its documentary part, as well as in “Forum” program, which brings the cinema of the future. These two programs had more interesting films that played both with esthetic and narrative borders. The Canadian film “The Tracey Fragments” by Bruce McDonald was made in images of different sizes that passed through the screen all the time, to tell us a very sick story about a girl that does not belong anywhere, via her fascinating monologues and awful, but often logical solutions of escaping from her own reality. “Interview” by Steve Buscemi was made as a remake of the film of the Dutch director Theo Van Gogh, who was killed two years ago, and fir certain it had the most unexpected story, intelligent and sharp, about the interview of a political journalist with a movie star, where Steve Buscemi and Sienna Miller have excellent roles. The Canadian drama “Away from Her” of the young Sarah Polley spoke about Alzheimer’s disease, but in a really unexpected way, in which you reveal the shockingly intimate truth after 45 years of living together. In her almost fully author’s work “2 Days in Paris”, Julie Delpy makes a fun, but very precise parallel of Europe and America which speaks of stereotypes, prejudices, fear and cultural shock, in an excellent way.
Berlin festival simply managed to touch history in an impressive way, but also deal with the present with all of its implications, fear and isolation, all misunderstandings and expectations. The topics related to war somehow stood up; these were not related to battles and killing, but to people and everything that they won or lost, their illusions, delusions, non-sense. Although there might not be war in today’s globalization era, still complete cultures disappear, as the festival director Dieter Kolsick said. Many things disappear before our eyes, and we can not do anything about it. The films showed the modern threats that we are not aware of in a very open way, stating that their consequences are sometimes the same.
But, when we speak of films in general, what is visible is the fact that there were good films, cultural diversity was the reality in which one was drawn consciously or not, there was a broad and intriguing scope of films at the festival, and yet, despite everything, an overwhelming fact is that we could not point out a cinematography of a leading author such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder was once, as he changed the face of the German film; or what Arthur Penn, this year’s winner of “Golden Bear” for life work was in the 1950es, when he was the leader of the “new Hollywood”; no movement such as the “new wave” of French cinematography or neorealists in the “golden period” of the Italian film can be distinguished. It is interesting that Berlin International Film Festival, intentionally or not, had tributes to some great names to remind us of a time or vision, some other handwritings whose influence existed and still does. One of the most interesting, by all means, was the honor given to Fassbinder, on the 25th anniversary of his suicide, showing the complete cult 1980 series “Berlin Alexnaderplatz”. This series, which lasts for 15 hours, was screened daily at the Berlin Festival, and there was also a digital re-mastered version, which was sought for even after so many years.
One of Hollywood legends, Arthur Penn was also here, known for his demystifications of Hollywood. He happily spoke about his work and pointless American wars, demystification of American history and his bold plays with myths. Arthur Penn created the unforgettable “Bonnie and Clyde”, “The Left Handed Gun”, “Night Moves”, “Little Big Man”, “Alice’s Restaurant”, “The Miracle Worker”, “The Chase” and many others.
In this whole tribute to timeless art, the photographs of the well-known “Magnum” agency, which has been writing our visual memory for 60 years, founded in 1940es by Henri Cartie-Breson and Robert Cappa, fitted in interestingly. These photographs really brought to life the legends in a different way, as Magnum does it spontaneously, and they revised myths. All of this was even more interesting if there is a parallel made with what Berlin has to offer to visitors in its modern film museum found at Postdamer Platz itself. Everything in it is digitalized and made with the most contemporary technology, but many things are missing for it to have its true essence, because the German film, to which this museum is dedicated, can not make it. Within all of this, it seems that Berlin tries to bring artistic and contemporary history together, revise world myths and focus and open towards different cultures and their heritage that, in line with it being turned towards the future (in any way) should also bring the necessary freshness.
Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska