Berlinale 2017 Diary #8
A lightning round wrap-up—plus rankings.
With this lightning round entry, I'm wrapping our Berlinale 2017 Diary. Nearly 400 films were screened during this year's edition, and I managed to catch a mere 27. For an overview of how over twenty critics have been rating over 160 films this year, see the jury grid at critic.de. The awards will be presented tomorrow.
It's been four years since Calin Peter Netzer's Child's Pose won the Berlinale's top prize, the Golden Bear, and today he's returned to the Competition with his follow-up, Ana, mon amour. It is, in a word, exhausting. For just over two hours, Netzer and his co-screenwriters Cezar Paul Badescu and Iulia Lumânare relentlessly flash forward and back across nearly a decade, beginning with the moment Toma (Mircea Postelnicu) first sees Ana (Diana Cavallioti) suffer a panic attack—they'd been flirtatiously discussing Nietzsche's sister, Elisabeth Förster, and how she skewed the philosopher's legacy toward an association with fascism when terror flashes across Ana's face and she begins gasping for air. Toma falls hard.
Passion swells and thrives, but so, too, does a disastrous mutual dependency. Toma throws himself into caring for Ana to such a degree that he can tell any doctor off the top of his head the exact dosage in milligrams of each of her meds. As for Ana, if Toma's phone dies, she threatens to as well. Both have their hands full with their studies, their parents—and what pieces of work both sets are—and later, a baby boy, but what Toma doesn't see coming is that, one day, Ana will get well.
Especially admirable: Each friend, each doctor is a fully fleshed out human being and a particular highlight is Vlad Ivanov's amazing turn as a priest. Andrei Butica's camerawork is shaky but not to a distracting degree, Dana Bunescu's editing is brisk, and overall, for all the chronological disorder, Ana, mon amour forges ahead in the mode of the severe realism we've come to expect from much of Romanian cinema over the past ten years or so.
More from Geoff Andrew (Sight & Sound), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, B-), Anastasia Lévy (Berlin Film Journal), Rory O'Connor (Film Stage, B+), Bénédicte Prot (Cineuropa), Jonathan Romney (Screen), Jay Weissberg (Variety) and Deborah Young (Hollywood Reporter). And Cineuropa's posted a video interview with Netzer (6'17").
Watch that trailer. It'll tell you more about Julian Radlmaier's delightful Self-criticism of a Bourgeois Dog than a thousand thousand words from me. The compositions. The colors. Big, appreciative shoutout to cinematographer Markus Koob. But also the tone.
What comes across in the trailer is the deadpan flippancy with which ideological treatises are tossed against each other, but what doesn't quite is just how far Radlmaier (himself bravely playing that "quite an asshole for a communist filmmaker") will be taking these arguments to their sublimely illogical conclusions. The perpetual resurgence of Marx has taken various forms since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, swelling during the anti-globalization movement of the late 90s and then again in the immediate wake of the global financial crisis of 2008, but an observation made during Self-criticism, even as it's spoken in utter bad faith, is particularly chilling at the moment in a way that Radlmaier may not have originally intended when he wrote the screenplay: The workers have become fascists.
Once we cross the border into Italy, an adventure sparked by a prophesy, confirmed by a pendulum and driven by the delusion that the land across the Alps has attained that utopian state of "communism without communists," surely we can only be watching a film within a film, this one premiering at the Venice Film Festival. And then, the Q&A, during which Radlmaier says something that so infuriates a Franciscan monk that… well, don't want to give away any of the magic. Self-criticism of a Bourgeois Dog is the perfect antidote to the Berlinale's occasional bouts of self-seriousness.
More from Rainer Kienböck (Jugend ohne Film).
With Joaquim, Marcelo Gomes, still probably best known for Cinema, Aspirins and Vultures (2005), tells a story I knew nothing about walking in, but the film is just intriguing enough to have me looking up Joaquim José da Silva Xavier, also known as Tiradentes, the "tooth puller," a mover and shaker in the revolutionary movement in Brazil in the late 18th century. Like Tiradentes, Gomes's Joaquim (Julio Machado) is a dentist and second lieutenant hunting gold and arresting smugglers on behalf of the Portuguese colonialists, but unlike Tiradentes, who was hanged, Joaquim is beheaded and quartered (not on screen, thank heavens).
In other words, Gomes is turning up the volume a bit, most likely dreaming up Joaquim's fateful love for a black slave as well as the details of his adventures in the rugged Brazilian wild. The grit is admirable, Pierre de Kerchove's shakycam less so; we never lose sense of the geography of a scene in Ana, mon amour, but too often in Joaquim, all bets are off.
Joaquim has its moments, such as the morning an indigenous guide and an African slave discover that there's an unexpected harmony between the songs they've brought from home. Otherwise, for me, anyway, Joaquim has just sort of come and gone without leaving much behind.
While some have argued that Mr. Long doesn't know what sort of film it wants to be, it seems clear that Sabu very intentionally opens it as a bloody action thriller so that when Long (Chen Chang), the hitman whose weapon of choice is a rather disappointingly ordinary knife, is forced to hide out in Japan where he befriends a young boy, Jun (Runyin Bai), and begins cooking for the locals, the contrast between the worldly and the domestic will be all the starker. The long swath in the middle, in which Long weans Jun’s mother (Yiti Yao) off drugs and sells his evidently irresistible noodle soup from a mobile cart, is riddled with cliches but sweet enough, even when derailed by flashbacks. The community of neighbors that coalesces around this ad hoc family is made up of characters that I understand some will find funny, though they strike me as simply silly.
Well, Long's past catches up with him, there's a showdown and an abrupt end to the quiet life, but by this point, you'll know full well what happens next. Sabu's Chasuke’s Journey screened in Competition in 2015, and I never really understood why. Same again.
On to two films that premiered at Sundance, each generating a slew of reviews, and so, to wrap up the wrap-up, I'm going to break with this Diary's format and move things along by leaning on a few choice snippets. I enjoyed looking at Alex Ross Perry's Golden Exits, shot by Sean Price Williams, more than watching it. Introducing his interview with Perry for Film Comment, Nick Pinkerton sets it up succinctly:
Nick (Beastie Boy Adam Horovitz) is an archivist embarking on a project to preserve the effects of the deceased father of his wife, Alyssa (Chloë Sevigny), a project that is overseen by Alyssa’s older sister, Gwendolyn (Mary-Louise Parker). Gwendolyn manages her father’s estate with the help of her assistant, Sam (Lily Rabe), who unloads her existential angst in meetings with her sister, Jess (Analeigh Tipton), who runs a recording studio with her husband and former employer, Buddy (Jason Schwartzman). Buddy’s domestic harmony risks compromise thanks to a budding relationship with the 25-year-old daughter of one of his mother’s friends, Naomi (Emily Browning), who has arrived in New York from Australia to work as an assistant and amanuensis to Nick, who likewise feels stirrings of desire towards her—though the two men’s lives barely intersect, and they never know of their mutual infatuation.
Filmmaker's Vadim Rizov hits on my biggest problem with the film and flips it in a way that doesn't entirely win me over, but his review is nevertheless the one I'd recommend: "There is possibly a lot to pick at, not least the return of Queen of Earth's sister duologues, which do seem to emerge directly from a dude’s brain. And yet this sense of a movie emerging from a mind that can only be itself (rather than one which can accommodate and assimilate genuinely other voices) is a weakness that’s a strength: it’s certainly personal, conveys a strong POV and gives this formally modest film a fever dream aura that would otherwise be absent."
More from Jason Bailey (Flavorwire), Hannah Bahl (Berlin Film Journal), Richard Brody (New Yorker), Sean Burns, Josh Cabrita (Notebook), A.A. Dowd (AV Club, C-), Kate Erbland (IndieWire, B-), Anthony Kaufman (Screen), Guy Lodge (Variety), Todd McCarthy (Hollywood Reporter), Noel Murray (Playlist, C-), Jordan Raup (Film Stage, B+), Dan Schoenbrun (Filmmaker) and Brian Tallerico (RogerEbert.com). Interviews with Perry: Soheil Rezayazdi (Filmmaker), Marshall Shaffer (Movie Mezzanine) and Graham Winfrey (IndieWire). And here in Keyframe, a video from Dominick Nero, "The Golden Smartassery of Alex Ross Perry."
Let's end on an upbeat note. Virginia Woolf's landmark 1929 essay "A Room of One's Own" is never name-checked in My Happy Family, but especially because Manana (Ia Shugliashvili, who proves to be an astounding singer), 52, teaches literature in a public school in Tbilisi, there's no way it doesn't come to mind. She's decided to move out of the apartment where three generations of her family live on top of each other and take one of her own across town. The notion of family in Georgia seems to extend every which way, and yet, for all the cross-networking and claustrophobic proximity, secrets seem remarkably easy to tuck into the loopholes of social protocol.
Halfway into this year's Sundance, the Voice's Bilge Ebiri: "The story focuses largely on one woman’s attempt to free herself of the shackles of a stultifying marriage, but a subdued sense of panic courses throughout, infecting everyone else: This is a movie about obligations, and about what-might-have-beens and what-could-still-bes. Directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross—who work together as Nana & Simon, and who directed the lovely coming-of-age film In Bloom a couple of years ago—My Happy Family is not only the best film of Sundance so far, but it’s likely to be one of the best films of the year."
More from Nick Allen (RogerEbert.com), Andrew Crump (Playlist, A), David Fear (Rolling Stone), Lawrence N Garcia (Notebook), Eric Kohn (IndieWire, A-), Fabien Lemercier (Cineuropa), Lee Marshall (Screen), Jordan Mintzer (Hollywood Reporter), Vadim Rizov (Filmmaker), Brian Roan (Film Stage, B+), Jonathan Romney (Film Comment) and Alissa Simon (Variety). And Tomris Laffly interviews Nana & Simon for RogerEbert.com.
2017 will not go down as a great year for the Berlinale. I saw some good films and some bad films during the 67th edition, some in between. Here's how they line up at the moment, though I fully expect that there'll be shifts over the coming weeks and months.
- Untitled (Michael Glawogger and Monika Willi).
- On the Beach at Night Alone (Hong Sangsoo).
- Bright Nights (Thomas Arslan).
- Colo (Teresa Villaverde).
- The Other Side of Hope (Aki Kaurismäki).
- Casting (Nicolas Wackerbarth).
- My Happy Family (Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross).
- A Fantastic Woman (Sebastián Lelio).
- California Dreams (Mike Ott).
- Self-criticism of a Bourgeois Dog (Julian Radlmaier).
- Ana, mon amour (Calin Peter Netzer).
- The Party (Sally Potter).
- Politics, Instruction Manual (Fernando Léon de Aranoa).
- Call Me by Your Name (Luca Guadagnino).
- On Body and Soul (Ildikó Enyedi).
- Golden Exits (Alex Ross Perry).
- Wild Mouse (Josef Hader).
- Tiger Girl (Jakob Lass).
- 2+2=22 [The Alphabet] (Heinz Emigholz).
- somniloquies (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel).
- Final Portrait (Stanley Tucci).
- The Dinner (Oren Moverman).
- Joaquim (Marcelo Gomes).
- Beuys (Andres Veiel).
- Mr. Long (Sabu).
- Django (Etienne Comar).
- Return to Montauk (Volker Schlöndorff).