Berlinale 2017 Diary #3
Tucci, Hader, Wackerbarth, Emigholz.
How about "Fantasy European Vacations with Armie Hammer," a double feature for audiences in need of an evening of guiltless escapism. You'd begin with Stanley Tucci's Final Portrait, which sends Hammer back to the Paris of 1964—and traps him there. Neither he nor we really mind, though. This is the Paris of cafés and cigarettes, thin ties, a color palette muted just so and a French accordion to keep the pace frolicking. You'd never guess that May '68 is a mere four years down the line.
Hammer anchors the dramatic tone as American art critic James Lord, allowing Geoffrey Rush to take his Alberto Giacometti any and everywhere he pleases. "I never took you for a ham," James tells Alberto as the renowned artist casually tosses a couple of million francs wrapped in brown paper to a dusty corner of his perfectly cluttered studio.
As Annette, Sylvie Testud competently conveys the pain and only very occasional bliss of being married to a genius, while Clémence Poésy is appropriately flighty as Caroline, the prostitute with whom Alberto openly cavorts. Think, maybe, Jeanne Moreau's Catherine in Jules and Jim, subtract the melancholic undertone and double the whimsy. My own favorite turn here, though, is Tony Shalhoub's as Alberto's brother, Diego, resigned to preparing canvases, building stands for sculptures and generally staying out of the way for the rest of his days.
It hardly matters that Giacometti's art as art is barely touched on, even in his conversations with the critic posing in front of him for the titular portrait. Giacometti's position in the high modernist canon, the tight association with existentialism at a time when Sartre and Camus were all the rage, is simply assumed. Geoffrey Rush is free then to make the most of tossing off frivolous comments about the pomposity of Picasso, Cézanne as the last great painter and the sense of humor, or lack thereof, of Madame Matisse.
More from Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 4/5), Ben Croll (IndieWire, B+), Owen Gleiberman (Variety), Jessica Kiang (Playlist, B), David Mouriquand (Exberliner), Rory O'Connor (Film Stage, B-), Vladan Petkovic (Cineuropa), Jonathan Romney (Screen) and David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter).
On to the next feature, scooting ahead two decades and landing "somewhere in northern Italy" in 1983. We already have an entry rounding up reviews from Sundance of Call Me by Your Name, so I won't dwell on Luca Guadagnino's new film long here. Guadagnino is known for his trouble in paradise narratives, but it can hardly be stressed enough just how idyllic the summer is that Hammer bursts in on as Oliver, the young American research assistant to an art historian (Michael Stuhlbarg). The villa (and the help), the meals under the sun-splashed trees, the conversations about music and art, the precociousness of 17-year-old Elio (Timothée Chalamet), fluent in at least three languages and something of a musical prodigy, the erotic sparks sent flying between Oliver and Elio… Ah.
I now understand why it is that so many reviewers have focused on a monologue Stuhlbarg delivers to his heart-broken son, Elio. Rarely has a film dared to sum itself up so succinctly and not just get away with it but to actually add weight and substance. These are words any of us would want to hear, ideally in a setting so splendid.
Many, many years ago, the New Republic ran a cover story on Monty Python arguing essentially that it's the cultural specificity of their humor, the extreme Englishness, and not some sort of supposedly relatable universality that's made the troupe, collectively and individually, giants of comedy. Josef Hader is no giant, but he's made the most of his Austrianness over the past couple of decades on television and in films, his face reflecting the absurdity of all he stares at blankly before, after a substantial pause, dismissing it in a dialect that is itself inherently funny. I'm a fan.
Wild Mouse is Hader's directorial debut, a sort of greatest hits collection of bits he's honed over the years. He plays Georg, unceremoniously fired in the opening scene from his job as a reviewer of classical music for Express, a Viennese newspaper that looks at any rate a little tabloidish compared to, say, Der Standard. When Georg keys his boss's car, he sets in motion a series of tit-for-tat stunts that serves at the spine of the plot, complicated by his lies to his wife, a therapist pressuring him to impregnate her, and sidetracked by a what-the-hell decision to finance the resuscitation of an expired rollercoaster.
Cargo co-editor Ekkehard Knörer pretty much nails the problem with Wild Mouse, observing that, while the comedy is kept in check by occasional notes of despair, there's always a joke thrown in to lighten up the darkness when it gets a little too scary. Wild Mouse is pleasurable enough, moment to moment, but how it secured a spot in the Berlinale Competition is anyone's guess.
The most entertaining film I've seen at this year's Berlinale so far is Nicolas Wackerbarth's Casting, which is probably an odd thing to say about a Forum selection depicting an indecisive director's (Judith Engel) tortured attempts to find the right actors for each role in her remake of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972). We've seen explorations of the upheaval aroused by the slippage between performance and reality on film sets in François Truffaut's Day for Night (1973) and in Fassbinder's own Beware of a Holy Whore (1985). While not as formally accomplished as either of those predecessors, Casting is nonetheless every bit as complex in its mapping of the emotional dynamics between volatile artists and wannabes, every bit as funny, engaging and, here and there, wrenching.
Andreas Lust plays Gerwin, who heretofore has approached acting almost as a hobby and may, for the first time, dare to hope of landing a major role. Rust often pops up on German television, but for cinephiles outside of Germany who know him primarily as the lead in Benjamin Heisenberg's The Robber (2010), his range may come as a pleasant shock.
More from Andrew Horn (realeyz).
Heinz Emigholz has four films screening in the Forum section this year, all of them part of his new series, Streetscapes. The title of 2+2=22 [The Alphabet] is a clear nod to One Plus One (1968, later retitled as Sympathy for the Devil), Jean-Luc Godard's documentation of a studio session in which the Rolling Stones recorded one of their most controversial tracks. In 2013, Emigholz went to Tbilisi, where Kreidler was laying down the tracks for their album ABC. Just as One Plus One cuts away from the London studio for political interludes, 2+2=22 [The Alphabet] jumps mid-tune to pages from notebooks Emigholz wrote in and illustrated at the time, all flashing by too fast to make out much, and most rewardingly, to the streetscapes of the Georgian capital, where Emigholz exercises his talent for framing architectural structures and juxtaposing the odd mix of medieval and classical, Stalinist and Modernist styles the city has to offer.
A voice-over draws parallels between urban layouts and literary syntax and the band plays its music—and I love this: "categorized by critics, depending on the publication, as electronic music, pop, avant-garde, post rock, IDM, ambient, neoclassical, krautrock, or electronica," as the Wikipedia page currently has it—and you can zone in or out, allowing thoughts to drift to how much the guy manning the computer stand in the band might have been a founding member of Kraftwerk were he around all those years ago or to mental notes to check up on what's made Tbilisi such an architectural mishmash. All in all, not one of Emigholz's strongest entries, but it's fine.