Berlinale 2017 Diary #6
Potter, Villaverde, Schlöndorff, Paravel + Castaing-Taylor.
Sally Potter and her amazing cast had three days to rehearse and two weeks to shoot The Party. And it shows. But that doesn't mean that this 71-minute drawing room comedy isn't a rollicking good time. Our hostess is Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas), who's just been promoted to the UK cabinet as the minister who oversees one of Britain's proudest achievements, the NHS. Her husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), already deep in his cups as the guests arrive, is about to drop a bombshell—and then another. Janet's close friend, April (Patricia Clarkson, deliciously wicked) has brought along her current flame, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz), an aroma therapist. Martha (Cherry Jones) and Jinny (Emily Mortimer) announce they're having triplets. And Tom (Cillian Murphy) bursts in coked up and packing.
Naturally, this constellation turns out to be networked in far more complex and surprising ways than it may at first seem. While Potter insists that The Party was conceived as a film (see the press conference clip), for all the imaginative setups Potter and cinematographer Alexey Rodionov come up with, there's no getting around the night-at-the-theater feel of the thing. And as much as the cast makes the most of the occasionally over-constructed barbs they blowgun at each other, there are clunky moments that suggest that editors Anders Refn and Emilie Orsini simply didn't have the material to smooth over the intermittent lurches, leaving the final cut playing more like a dress rehearsal.
More from Geoff Andrew (Sight & Sound), Peter Bradshaw (Guardian, 4/5), Stephen Dalton (Hollywood Reporter), David Ehrlich (IndieWire, C-), Guy Lodge (Variety), Jessica Kiang (Playlist, B), Rainer Kienböck (Jugend ohne Film), Giovanni Marchini Camia (Notebook), David Mouriquand (Exberliner), Rory O'Connor (Film Stage, B-), Michael Pattison (RogerEbert.com), Vladan Petkovic (Cineuropa), Tim Robey (Telegraph, 3/5), Jonathan Romney (Screen) and Shelagh Rowan-Legg (ScreenAnarchy). Fabien Lemercier interviews Potter for Cineuropa.
Teresa Villaverde's Colo is a mesmerizing, near-silent scream from the depths of the catastrophe that the global financial crisis and its attendant euro crisis have wrecked on Portugal. Marta (Alice Albergaria Borges) is seventeen. Her father (João Pedro Vaz) is unemployed, her mother (Beatriz Batarda) works overtime, and it's clear from the start that this little family is on the verge of going under. That is, essentially, the story. There are plot points, such as the electricity being cut off and so on, but, while there are riverlets within, that's the arc.
If it's hard to put a finger on what makes Colo so captivating, it's likely because there's no single factor, but rather, a combination of Villaverde's unique choices. The mood is set by an unspoken assumption: The absurd has become the norm. Each of the tiny disasters that contribute to the dissolution of this world is met with a preternatural calm. We're way, way into this 136-minute film before a voice is raised. The rhythm overall is unusual, but never off. Then there's Villaverde's eye for the most visually stimulating angle from which to shoot a plain apartment, a beach, a hut, a rooftop. And the tracking shots throughout suggest a slow slide toward the inevitable.
More from Stephen Dalton (Hollywood Reporter), Jessica Kiang (Variety), Lee Marshall (Screen), Joseph Proimakis (Cineuropa) and Zhuo-Ning Su (Film Stage, B+). And Cineuropa's conducted a video interview with Villaverde (8'22").
In an interview that ran in Der Tagesspiegel the other day, Volker Schlöndorff tells Christiane Peitz about the ways Return to Montauk resonates with him personally. Back when he was shooting Death of a Salesman (1985), he fell hard for a woman named Karoline. He was married to Margarethe von Trotta at the time, and today, he's married still to Angelika Schlöndorff, but he quite openly admits to never having gotten over Karoline.
And that's the gist of Return to Mantouk. Max Zorn (Stellan Skarsgård) has written pretty much the same story in his latest novel (and his character, by the way, is a nod to Schlöndorff's friend, Max Frisch). Only now that he's in New York on a book tour, he's determined to track down Rebecca, his Karoline, played by the great Nina Hoss, and God bless her, she tries. It's no fun panning a movie that clearly means so much to its director, particularly when that director has made such significant contributions to German and European cinema.
But what a pathetic little man Max Zorn is. It's not just his prose that's lame (shockingly, the screenplay's co-written by Schlöndorff and Colm Tóibín), it's the very core of his being. A habitual skirt-chaser, he hasn't the slightest ear for a woman's heart, mind or soul, and Schlöndorff's asking for a leap of faith too far if we're to truly believe women keep falling for him. Then there's the sheer lack of believability in the performances across the board, and I certainly wouldn't blame this cast. When Max and Rebecca finally hook up in Montauk, all that's left for them to do is spend the second half of the film talking their long, meandering way through the past toward an inevitable verdict on their future. No novelist, and most definitely no contract lawyer so successful that she can afford an apartment in downtown NYC that has to have cost millions, should be such thudding bores.
More from Nicholas Bell (Ioncinema, 2.5/5), Ed Frankl (Film Stage, B), Ryan Gilbey (Guardian, 3/5), Owen Gleiberman (Variety), Wendy Ide (Screen), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, B-), Michael Pattison (RogerEbert.com), Bénédicte Prot (Cineuropa) and David Rooney (Hollywood Reporter).
On paper, somniloquies, the latest collaboration between Verena Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Leviathan, 2012) of the Sensory Ethnography Lab, is tantalizing. Songwriter Dion McGregor had a hit in the mid-60s with "Where Is the Wonder," recorded by Barbra Streisand, but struggled thereafter until his death in 1994. He'd crash in friends' apartments in New York and soon became famous as one of the most loquacious sleep-talkers known to science. Over a period of seven years, fellow song-writer Mike Barr would sneak into his room and flip on a recorder. Compilations became cult hits and Toronto poet Steve Venright, something of a McGregor archivist, once described these stream-of-subconscious narrations as "vividly macabre as Lautréamont, as decadently vicious as Sade, as comically absurd as Jarry, as sensorially deranged as Rimbaud, as eccentrically inventive as Roussell, and as charmingly splenetic as Baudelaire."
Paravel and Castaing-Taylor have selected deep cuts from these recordings and added a layer beneath, a sort of underwater, Eno-esque ambience that accentuates the background sounds of NYC traffic on the original tapes. So that's a superb, 73-minute remix, right there. What to do for sights? Wander sleeping bodies—not blurred so much as smudged—in extreme closeup. And that'll be that.
I'm with Giovanni Marchini Camia on this one. "It could very well be that the cinema is not the ideal venue," he writes for Filmmaker. "Given that there’s no narrative progression, nor an appreciable visual one, a viewer could walk in at any time and still get the point. Were it screened on a loop in a gallery, for instance, the space and seating could be designed to bolster the film’s experiential dimension, with much greater potential for sinking the viewer into the trance presumably intended by the filmmakers."