Again the lack of wi-fi has hobbled my best blogging efforts. The pace has picked up, and I've seen a good amount of films now. The temperature has risen a bit too, so it's less of a struggle to get around.
The first film I saw at the fest was APART TOGETHER (TUAN YUAN), a sweet family drama from China, this small but endearing film opened the Berlinale after its director won the Silver Bear in 2007. A friend who'd seen it before me warned me, "don't watch it if you're hungry" and boy was she right: scene after scene of cooking, eating, and drinking frame each family encounter and fight. A perfectly observed, often funny, and moving little film.
The morning after, once we'd secured our tickets, we popped two stops on the S-Bahn to the Friederichpalast, a huge theatre turned cinema for the Berlinale. There we saw HOWL. Given its pedigree of producer (Gus Van Sant) stars (James Franco, Jeff Daniels, Jon Hamm) cinematography (Ed Lachman) and subject matter (Allen Gingsberg) this had the chance of being special. Instead it's a car crash of a movie, with embarrassing animated interpretations of Gingsberg's poems, clunky courtroom scenes, and the sight of Franco with a false beard and extended ears. Its a testament to the power of Gingsberg's work that even through the silly conceit of this film you are touched by his poetry.
After a cocktail reception with CICAE, the International Federation of arthouse cinemas, where I ran into many of my colleagues from Venice, we popped over to the Urania cinema, which is a little out of the way of the main festival area. To my amazement, there was a woman outside the cinema asking for signatures for a petition to free Polanski. THE GHOST WRITER - it comes front loaded with the Polish director's personal problems, but I won't address any of the off screen controversy, but suffice to say that this film was partially edited from a prison in Zurich last year. You couldn't tell from the slick, efficient thriller Polanski has constructed from Robert Harris' novel. Pierce Brosnan is almost as sleazy as the prime minister this whole film is clearly based on, and Ewan Macgregor turns in a surprisingly decent performance. All Hitchcock twists and turns, this slightly unbelievable but very watchable story could be a hit.
With just twenty minutes between films for a noddle box and a bottle of water, we sat down for MY NAME IS KHAN. Billed as Bollywood's first Hollywood, this is a really hard film to review: its all about context. Without being familiar with India's commercial style of moviemaking, with long running times, outrageous plot developments and sentimental scenes this might seem like a film from another planet. That said, it does skip the song and dance routines and embrace a controversial subject matter, that of racial profiling in America post 9/11. As if that wasn't enough, it also decides to tackle Asperger's syndrome, American presidential politics, race relations, Katrina and Hindu-Muslim tensions. A tough watch.
Lined up for today is Romanian feature IF I WANT TO WHISTLE, I WHISTLE, Spanish thriller EL MAL AJENO, and then Ben Stiller in GREENBERG and Banksy's EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP at the Palast in the evening. Reviews up tomorrow.