By Hemanth Kissoon
The Berlin Film Festival 2012 has come to an end, and I had a serious amount of fun! Here are my thoughts on all the films in competition for the prestigious Golden Bear:
Farewell My Queen
The opening film of the Festival was colourful, and starred three striking actresses: Léa Seydoux, Diane Kruger and Virginie Ledoyen. Unfortunately it was lacklustre and unfocused, looking at Marie Antoinette (Kruger) from the perspective of her well-read assistant Sidonie Laborde (Seydoux) on the eve of the French revolution. It is concerned with class and love between women, and felt exploitative and uninsightful. Whether or not you rate Sofia Coppola’s take, at least her interpretation was infused with energy and consideration for its lead. For all the claimed passion, this was bloodless.
The most imaginative and narratively daring of the Berlinale, it should have won the screenplay award. The first five minutes has a terrific build-up, as the lead, Satché (Saul Williams) is apparently chosen to die – is it a ritual sacrifice? Is he dying anyway? Is he being punished or rewarded? Answers are never clearly provided, as we witness how this Senegalese man spends his last day. TODAY is not a pessimistic portrayal of Africa. While death hangs over, the tone is one of a celebration of the vibrancy of Satché’s culture. We meet the most important people in his life, from his best friend Sele, to his lover, and family. There is one particular sequence where his uncle pretends to wash his prostrate form, showing Satché what will happen to his body – it is calming and unusually moving.
Proceedings are surreal, and sometimes have a conscious theatrical artificiality – like the performers are projecting to the back row. The enigmatic denouement compounds the dream-like sense that intersperses the bursts of energy. Superbly paced.
Opening with a man punching another at work, that same man, Vincent (Reda Kateb), is then seen opening his cellar trap door and a young woman, Gaëlle (Agathe Bonitzer), gets out. She runs away. It is the middle of the French countryside. Gaëlle has been missing a long time, she’s only 17, and was a child when kidnapped. Her attempts to rehabilitate back into society are contrasted with flashbacks to her captivity. COMING HOME needed to be very good to impress. It is unfortunate that the film is shown in the light of recent brilliant cinema looking at home confinement: DOGTOOTH and MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE. Not only that, the recent atrocities in Austria mean something perceptive is surely expected. And on that front, COMING HOME is a total letdown. Not only does it offer little suppositions on psychology, I didn’t believe the characters’ behaviour. While the acting is very solid, it is not good enough to cover the shoddy scripting.
Caesar Must Die
It is ironic that CAESAR MUST DIE is set in a prison, as it is a crime this won the Golden Bear. Even at only 76 minutes there was so little material that the opening five minutes or so was repeated at the end. The story is part of a long line in movies about putting on productions, such as SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE and HAMLET 2. Set in Rebbibia Prison, High Security Wing, Italy, we follow the inmates preparing a production of JULIUS CAESAR. The audience are members of the public. It takes six months. Scenes are performed around the building. The final production is seen in colour, the rest in black and white, bar one moment, when in the library a convict looks at a photo of the sea. That is the one touch I really liked, referring to art as a liberator. However, that message is then hammered home at the end with a clear explanation.
Here was an opportunity to shed light on incarceration and/or Shakespeare’s work. CAESAR MUST DIE does neither. This is amateur hour; like a school play. The only question of note posed was: Are the actors worse off once their play has been performed?
“If she was six, you’d think she was sulky,” Klaus to André, about Barbara (Nina Hoss).
I knew nothing about this going in, and it took me a little bit to work out what period in Germany this was set – it is pre the fall of the Berlin Wall, on the East German side. Those around her continually misunderstand and underestimate the lead. Her frosty conduct is a form of self-preservation and a way of retaliating against a totalitarian and merciless state. Barbara has been punished for an unknown slight against those in power – she is a doctor forced to move from Berlin to the provinces. Klaus is an apparatchik, and shows Barbara no quarter in any breach of her permitted movements. Films like this are an important counterweight to “Ost-algia” (nostalgia for the Communist era) movies like GOODBYE LENIN!, which appear to forget about what happens when democracy is absent.
Along with Barbara’s cloaked motivations, there is the thread of a burgeoning bond between her and another doctor, André. What is so satisfying is that there are no signposts to where we are headed, until about 10 minutes from the end, along with a real tension as to the fate of the sympathetic characters.
Oh dear. What is this lame Spanish horror-thriller doing in the Berlinale, let alone in competition? Spain-set horrors have been knocking it out the park lately: PAN’S LABYRINTH, THE ORPHANAGE, REC. and JULIA’S EYES. This is generic tosh, about whether a girl embodies the spirit of a victim who died at the hands of the lead. Character actions are questionable, and the ending is laughable.
That is it for Part One. We still have two more parts!
Click here for Part Two.
Click here for Part Three.