Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Berlinale, Part 2

My second and last update for the Berlinale 2012 edition is much smaller as I've taken a much more relaxed approach to the scheduling as mentioned in my previous post. I also recorded a podcast with Rob Beames, who has seen a lot more films than me.

Here's a summary:

Chris Keneally's documentary SIDE BY SIDE was one of the highlights of the festival. A comprehensive doc about the advent of digital technology in cinema, it addresses every single aspect of the debate from the sceptics (Chirstopher Nolan) to the evangelists (David Fincher). Keanu Reeves produced and did the interviews himself, and was on hand to talk about the film afterwards. You'll never think of Neo the same way again.

Zhang Yimou's epic THE FLOWERS OF WAR, starring Christian Bale, was an epic misfire. Tasteless, over the top and frankly offensive, this movie fails on every level. I can't see this working at all outside China.

Billy Bob Thornton's first film in a decade, JAYNE MANSFIELD'S CAR, suffers from both too long a running time and too short a running time; developed as an HBO show this could be masterful, and cut by half hour it could be a real gem. The writing is sharp and some of the vignettes are pure Raymond Carver but too many characters deliver long speeches about the war - bringing the movie to a halt. Robert Duvall on LSD is a sight to behold, however.

Swiss-French production SISTER was another good, but not spectacular, film which was mildly satisfying - with some amazing performances and scenes, but nothing I haven't seen before. Watching Gillian Anderson speaking French is always a pleasure.

German family drama HOME FOR THE WEEKEND was a modest, quiet affair that felt like Germany's answer to ARCHIPELAGO, the story of an upper middle class family facing some internal trauma. Like many of the films in the festival, a decent, 3 out of 5.

One of the worse films to play in a major festival as far as I can recall, CHERRY was like an episode of 90210 turned into a feature by virtue of the presence of James Franco and Heather Graham (in a clear nod to BOOGIE NIGHTS, which this does not even come close to). Poorly directed, acted and written, it was a hard watch.

A nice surprise came from the FORUM section, where German feature SPANIEN played at the beautiful DELPHI cinema in West Berlin. A collection of intertwining stories with a very Kaurismaki tone, the film delivers tension and laughs in equal measure with a keen eye for details. A real gem.

I'm now back in Brighton and will be recording a full round up next weekend on our podcast so you can get the full lowdown on every feature in competition, plus all the awards and buzz.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Berlinale 2012, Part 1

This year I have definitely taken a step back in terms of my film schedule and emphasized networking, socialising and even a touch of partying over serious film-watching. I think I've earned the break.

That said, I've seen a few films so far:

As part of the Retrospective this year, Berlin is looking back at the work of joint German-Soviet studio Mezhrabpom-Film, which released dozens of films in the 1920s and 1930s before the Nazis shut it down. GOLDEN LAKE was an expedition adventure film with a strong Communist message and some daring rock climbing. It's the original Mission Impossible stunts: actors, clearly working with few regards for health & safety, fight, jump and swim through the Mongolian landscape with verve. The film was a little clumsy, and its message none too subtle, but I enjoyed it.

The next of the Soviet retrospective was THE GIRL WITH THE HAT BOX, a charming comedy commissioned by the Government to sell premium bonds, it's one of the wittiest films I have ever seen, and it was silent. I had no idea silent comedies could be anything other than slapstick - this was like a Soviet Lubitsch at work; and some research reveals that director Boris Barnet was one of the leaders of his filmic generation without the fame of an Eisenstein or Vertov. This is the best film I've seen so far here.

The first (and only so far) competition film I saw was the Taviani Brothers' CAESAR MUST DIE, a docudrama hybrid about a group of inmates in a high security prison performing Shakespeare's Julius Ceasar. It was imaginative, inventine, honest and often funny - and made the play come alive. Everything CORIOLANUS, which I saw last year in the same cinema, should have been.

After getting shut out of CAPTIVES, we took a punt on Panorama documentary MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT, which was an emotional and pleasant surprise; a fairly generic HBO doc which is elevated by its subject matter - an incredible artist and woman about which I knew very little and now want to know a lot more of.

Finally, another shut-out pushed me into Tony Gatlif's INDIGNADOS (THE OUTRAGED), a well-intentioned but fairly awful piece of agit-prop cinema that is loosely linked to the Occupy movement which started in Spain last year. Clunky, like a university project created by committee, I really wanted to like this but it just made it impossible to.

Tomorrow I switch gears and will begin to watch a lot more - first screening at 9am!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Berlinale 2012

This year, for the third time in a row, I'll be attending the Berlinale Film Festival. It's become somewhat of a tradition for me since 2009, when I went to reunite with my Venice friends.

This year I've decided to schedule fewer competition films and take some time to explore the retrospective, this year called THE RED DREAM FACTORY, looking back at German-Russian film studio: Mezhrabpom-Film and its German branch Prometheus, which operated from 1922 to 1936.

I'm also keen to do some straight tourism, as my visits to this incredible city have always been mostly contained inside dark auditoriums. I'll be posting updates here as I normally do during festivals, and will be recording a couple of podcasts with Robert Beames, who's at Berlin for the Telegraph.

Bis sp├Ąter!