The 66th Berlin International Film Festival a.k.a Berlinale is ongoing, and Indieberlin offers you this daily blog to help guide you through the biggest film festival in the world in terms of the number of films shown.
One of the most interesting aspects of this or any Berlinale is some of what happens on the sidelines of the festival. This includes running into filmmakers with whom you’re personally acquainted. If you’ve been a film journalist for any reasonably long period, you find some of them among the festival crowds, and then you catch up and ask them about their current endeavours.
Today in front of the Hyatt Hotel, I was accosted by British independent filmmaker Ben Hopkins, who was on his way to an interview with journalists from a Turkish print magazine. Ben’s documentary on Istanbul Hasret had a theatrical run in Germany and will be released in Turkey in March. Read more about Ben and the film here.
Sometime later, also outside the Hyatt Hotel, it was I who did the accosting. I caught up with storyboard artist Raymond Boy, who works with Turkish-German director, screenwriter and producer Fatih Akin (Head On, The Cut). Raymond led me into the lobby, where he talked briefly about his collaboration with Fatih, and there we met up with a mutual friend, another Turkish-German director Ahmet Tas, who is a very active Berlinale filmgoer.
Ahmet made the short film Bread, which is about an elderly married couple having flashbacks of wartime shortly after World War II. The film stars Bruno Ganz and Angela Winkler, who previously appeared together in Volker Schlöndorff’s 1981 feature film Circle of Deceit (Die Fälschung), and Ahmet used the unique device of incorporating leftover footage from that film into his own to show the characters in their youth. Ahmet’s latest work, Real Fight, a film about underground no-holds-barred sport fighting, is in post-production.
After some brief conversation with these friends, I resumed watching films. It is, after all, a film festival. I rate the films I saw below.
Rating system: Excellent, Good, Average, Poor, Awful
Directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Jaeden Lieberher, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard
Running Time: 112 minutes
Festival Section: Competition
In this worthy-but-iffy social commentary with the trappings of science fiction, writer-director Jeff Nichols explores violence as the outcome of control perpetrated by authoritarian organisations such as cults and government security structures. The film opens with a kidnapping in progress, where, with the aid of an accomplice who is a former state trooper, a father (Michael Shannon) is on the run with his biological son (Jaeden Lieberher) from his adopted home in a cultish Christian commune run by a pastor (Sam Shepard). The boy has mysterious powers, including the ability to fully decode any broadcast transmissions, even secret and encrypted ones. This makes him a target for both the cult, which views him as a savior, and the government, which needs to keep a lid on state secrets it is possible that he could divulge. All of the lead actors, including Kirsten Dunst as the boy’s mother and Adam Driver as a nerdy NSA agent in charge of the government investigation, give good individual performances. However, the script does not allow for Shannon, Dunst and Lieberher be anything like a convincing family, even a broken one. Being a chase movie, the film’s pacing is ponderous and its plot is somewhat predictable, which makes you wish they’d “get on with it,” and the Close-Encounters-style ending feels old-hat. The film does have a notably fine music score by David Wingo.
Release date in Germany: Thursday, February 18
BORIS WITHOUT BÉATRICE
Directed by Denis Côté
Starring James Hyndman, Simone-Élise Girard, Denis Lavant, Isolda Dychauk, Dounia Sichov
Running Time: 93 minutes
Festival Section: Competition
Canadian director Denis Côté, whose film Vic + Flo Saw a Bear was featured in the 2013 Berlinale Competiton, returns with this character study and family drama about Boris Malinovsky (James Hyndman), a surly, ill-tempered but financially successful Russian émigré in Canada whose personal life becomes dysfunctional and disordered when his wife goes into a deep depression. The root cause of the depression is never clearly revealed, but it seems it might have something to do with his meandering, philandering ways. He carries on with his mistress (Dounia Sichov) and allows himself to be seduced by his wife’s young carer (Isolda Dychauk) right in the family’s country home where his wife is convalescing. A mystery man (Denis Lavant) who may or may not be a figment of his imagination serves as a harbinger of change for Boris and an awakener of his conscience. Beautifully shot in a streamlined, minimalistic style, the film is easy on the eyes, and the story has an edifying element of change in the main character, but ultimately it is unbelievable and unconvincing.
Next Berlinale screenings: Saturday, February 13 at 7 p.m. and Monday, February 15 at 12:30 p.m. at Haus der Berliner Festspiele; Monday, February 15 at 9:30 p.m. at ACUD Kino; Sunday, February 21 at 5 p.m. at Friedrichstadt-Palast
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Starring Hidetoshi Nishijima, Yuko Takeuchi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Haruna Kawaguchi, Masahiro Higashide
Running Time: 130 minutes
Festival Section: Special
Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who bears no relation to the late, great Akira Kurosawa, but has proved his filmmaking chops in his own way, brings us this taut detective yarn about the psychopath next door. A former detective (Hidetoshi Nishijima), now working as a criminology professor, becomes embroiled in a missing persons (and possible murder) case re-opened by his former colleagues on his initiative. The detective becomes increasingly aware that his strange next-door neighbour may have something to do with the people’s disappearance and has to use his wits and insight into the criminal mind to the hilt in order to just stay alive. Kiyoshi Kurosawa has made a finely crafted and harrowing thriller, lushly filmed in widescreen with fine performances. A fine example of genre filmmaking, made through Shochiku Studios, the oldest production company in Japan, which also produced films by Akira Kurosawa.
Next Berlinale screenings: Sunday, February 14 at 6:30 p.m. and Friday, February 19 at 8 p.m. Haus der Berliner Festspiele