Cannes 2012 Daily Report


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28 November 2012

DAY THREE 11 February

BARBARA (dir: Christian Petzold, Germany).
As Berlin demonstrated, Barbara is a festival natural, with its Cold War, divided-Germany story, neatly plotted and scripted, and with a starry performance by Nina Hoss, who had Berlin success with Petzold’s previous film Yella. Barbara (Hoss) is a dedicated doctor, exasperated by the inhumanities of the DDR, and with a lover who is plotting her escape to the West. Demoted to a provincial hospital, she awakens the personal interest and professional admiration of her boss – a charmer, albeit maybe a Stasi informer. At the last moment, dedication to her patients (as well as growing affection for the boss) keeps her in the East as she yields her planned escape opportunity to an abused young patient. It is creditably low-key in portraying the DDR way of life in all its day-to-day human meanness without over-dramatizing it into a 1984 nightmare. The problem for a non-German audience is that two decades after the events many will already be unfamiliar with the implications of the East-West divide; while those who are better informed might be critical of Barbara’s chic dress styles and other details of the film’s portrayal of the former East.
DICTADO (CHILDISH GAMES)(dir: Antonio Chavarías, Spain).
This very contrived “psychological thriller” is scripted by the director himself, from a story by the Catalan playwright Sergi Belbel. The story involves a man’s deep-ingrained guilt for having, as a boy, caused the death of his sister; and his lethal compulsion to recreate the people and events of that time. It doesn’t make much narrative sense as it lurches from one dramatic climax to another; and is a very bizarre Berlin competition selection. Only for very tolerant audiences who like a tall story and occasional frissons.

19 February 2012

Berlinale 62

BIENNALE 9-19 February 2012

PRIZES OF THE INTERNATIONAL JURY

GOLDEN BEAR FOR THE BEST FILM : Cesare deve morire (dir: Paolo & Vittorio Taviani)

JURY GRAND PRIX-SILVER BEAR: Csak a szél (dir: Bence Fliegauf, Hungary

SILVER BEAR FOR BEST DIRECTOR: Christian Petzold (Barbara)

SILVER BEAR FOR BEST ACTRESS: Rachel Mwanza (Rebelle (War Witch), Dir: Kim Nguyen

SILVER BEAR FOR BEST ACTOR: Mikkel Boe Følsgaard (En Kongelig Affære (A Royal Affair), Denmark

SILVER BEAR, OUTSTANDING ARTISTIC CONTRIBUTION: Lutz Reitemeier (photography, Bai lu yuan (White Deer Plain).

SILVER BEAR FOR THE BEST SCRIPT: Nikolaj Arcel, Rasmus Heisterberg (En Kongelig Affære (A Royal Affair))

ALFRED BAUER PRIZE, for a work of particular innovation: Tabu (dir: Miguel Gomes)

SPECIAL AWARD-SILVER BEAR: L'enfant d'en haut (dir: Ursula Meier)

18 February 2012

DAY 10

EN KONGELIG AFFÆRE (Denmark/Cz/Ger/Swe; director Nikolaj Arcel).
A historically careful and handsomely dressed reconstruction of the career and downfall of Johann Friedrich Struensee, a physician of liberal leanings who for a brief period acquired a strong influence over the mentally sick King Christian VII of Denmark and hence over the state.
It’s quite startling to encounter such a traditional, “well-made” film in festival competition, but critics and audiences seemed equally to respond to its 130 minutes; while it won Silver Bears for best script and for the best male performance - Mikkel Boe Følsgaard as the erratic King Christian.
SHADOW DANCER (dir, James Marsh, UK/Ireland). Not a particular innovative variation on the Northern Ireland conflict, but an intelligent and painstakingly handled study of the psychological drama of a young IRA-implicated woman coerced (under threat of imprisonment and separation from her young son) into informing for the British secret service. Her situation becomes acute when she finds herself at once having to spy on her own Republican family, and to pretend a romantic interest in her British contact. The script is adapted by Tom Bratby – a hugely experienced television political commentator, particularly concerned with Ireland – from his own 2001 novel and acutely portrays the ultimate impersonality of the two conflicting forces and the helpless vulnerability of individuals caught between. The director’s documentary background shows in the solid mise-en-scène.

17 February 2012

DAY NINE

REBELLE (WAR WITCH)(dir, Kim Nguyen, Canada). In the setting of an unidentified civil war somewhere in Africa, Kim Nguyen skillfully integrates with a picture of the irrational brutality of guerilla wars, legend, dream and a touching human portrait of a young adolescent girl seeking and briefly finding affection. The Best Actress award to the central performance by Rachel Mwanza was deserved
WHITE DEER PLAIN (Wang Quan’an, China). Its length of close to three hours, and the uncompromising panoramic format of its narrative of four decades of Chinese history - from the establishment of the republic to the establishing of the Communist People’s Republic in 1949 - make this a pretty demanding experience. All this history is reflected through its effects upon a small village controlled by two ruling families, few if any of whom attract much human sympathy. The film is based on a historical novel by Bai Lu Yuan, which was long banned for its explicit and extravagant sex scenes. These have been embraced with delight and often startling effect by this film version, providing a calculated distraction when the history gets too heavy.

16 February 2012

DAY 8

PICTURE: Postcards from the Zoo

CSAK A SZÈL (JUST THE WIND) (Bence Fliegauf, Hungary).
The film’s Silver Bear is a kindly gift to the Hungarian cinema, struggling for economic resurgence, even though something of a surprise in relation to the film’s accomplishment. An opening title explains that it is an impression but not a reconstruction of recent unsolved racist killings of Romany in Hungary – and indeed its approach is essentially impressionist. A relentlessly wandering camera never really permits us to come to a close awareness of the terrain or the characters, whom we eventually understand constitute a family of five people, with ambitions to emigrate to join their happier family in Canada. We never glimpse the assassins. A brief scene of the police investigators allows a horrific glimpse of an officer who regrets that the criminals are killing the “good” Romany rather than the “bad” ones. The film ends with the inevitably slaughter of the family, leaving us in uncertainty whether the young son, the character of whom we have been permitted the closest gimpses, has survived. There is no doubt of the film’s good intentions, but it could give as much comfort to intending assassins as indignation to the general viewer.

POSTCARDS FROM THE ZOO (dir: Edwin, Indonesia-Ger-Hong Kong, China).
Jakarta Zoo becomea animage of worlds of fantasy and yearning. The young heroine, abandoned in the zoo as a child, has grown up among the animals. She encounters fantasy, in the form of a cowboy magician, and reality in her adult job as an erotic masseuse as a spa. The film has style, but substance only for a three-reel essay.

15 February 2012

DAY SEVEN

BEL AMI (dirs: Declan Donnellan, Nick Ormerod, UK). A transparent attempt to capture two markets – the vast Robert Pattinson fan-following and the “quality” film audience. It looks likely to fail on both counts. As art picture, it is heavy-going – a fairly faithful but uninspired adaptation of the Maupassant novel, only slightly tweaked to favour the star. It is glamorously staged, with fin-de-siècle Paris quite convincingly recreated in Budapest locations. The whole picture however is smothered in an unremittingly heavy musical score by Rachel Portman and the Sri Lankan composer Lakshman Joseph de Saram.
Pattinson makes a serious and sincere attempt at the role and at shedding his teen-star image, but lacks power and charisma for such a subtly demanding character. Given his rather rapidly maturing looks, his teen fans are unlikely to follow him through the plot elaborations of Bel Ami.

14 February 2012

DAY SIX

L’ENFANT D’EN HAUT (SISTER) (dir, Ursula Meier, Switzerland/Fr).
Ursula Meier has survived her experience as second assistant to Alain Tanner, acquiring good film-craft without grimness; and she brings a light touch and a lot of comedy to this essentially grim story of a child who survives by stealing saleable ski-gear in a rich winter sports resort, living with his feckless and unpredictable young mother, who pretends to be his sister. There is a debt, whether conscious or not, to the Dardennes; and the 14-year-old Kacey Mottet Klein, in the leading role, is a child actor whose performance would do credit to the Belgian brothers (he already played in iGainsbourg).

JAYNE MANSFIELD’S CAR (dir: Billy Bob Thornton, USA)
A messy film that goes on for forty minutes after it should have ended, but with many good qualities – not least the performances of Robert Duvall and John Hurt. Duvall plays a rich and tyrannical old Alabama patriarch, whose independent-minded wife long ago left him to marry in England. Now she has died and her English husband and son will bring her to be buried in her native place. The uneasy meeting of the two husbands mercilessly exposes the neuroses and resentments of both families, before the closure with a degree of understanding and rapprochement throughout the ensemble. It pays watching for its intermittent excellent scenes and concepts.

13 February 2012

DAY FIVE

METÉORA (dir: Spiros Stapthoulopoulos, Greece/Germany).
The initial critical response was sharply divided, with some total dismissals, but throughout the festival there was a growing swell of appreciation for the film. Visually, certainly, it was the most original film on show. It centres on the Metéora monastery complex in Thessaly, where monasteries are perched on top of high natural sandstone pillars: the nuns from the convent can only ascend and descend by being winched down in nets. There is practically no dialogue, and the story relates only how a monk and a nun meet, fall in love, enter an oddly chaste sexual union,and return to their devotions. Visually it is staggering. Immense long shots of tiny figures in the unique man-manipulated landscape melt into icon images of the same scenes, or subtle and elegant animations (Matthias Daenschel, Anna Jander) that brings the icons to life. Given advance publicity, audiences would respons very positively and enthusiastically.

CAPTIVE (dir, Brillante Mendoza, Fr/Ger/UK/Philippines. Brillante Mendoza is not a story-teller! CAPTIVE is based on an incident in 2001, when a group of tourists were snatched from their hotel by the Muslin Abu Sayyaf group, marched grueling miles through the Philippine jungle, and were rather fruitlessly held to ransom. The two hours of the film have no visible construction except the day-by-day, incident-by-incident record of the long ordeal. Alongside non-professional actors, Isabelle Huppert bravely provides a star turn. But individual characters are not developed, so that the ambition to depict the changing relationship of captives and captors comes to nothing.

12 February 2012

DAY FOUR

PICTURE: Home for the Weekend

GNADE (MERCY) (d: Matthias GlasnerGer/Norway).
An accomplished if cheerless work, set in the Norwegian town of Hammerfest during the endless night of the winter months of November to January: Jakub Bejnarowicz’s photography brilliantly captures the eeriness of this “polar night”. A German couple arrive with their young son, the philandering husband to work in a gas plant, the wife in a hospice for the dying. The family’s self-effaced conflicts and guilts are precipitated when the wife, driving through the night on her way from work, hits and kills a teenage girl returning from a party. Husband and wife share the secret, while the son yearns for mercy for having driven an alleged gay pupi out of school by his bullying. The 132-minute moral drama is a painstaking and often painful depiction and resolution of the traumas of this displaced family.

WAS BLEIBT (HOME FOR THE WEEKEND)(d: Hans-Christian Scmid, Germany)
A well-to-do middle-class family come together for the weekend at the home of the parents, a prosperous retired publisher and his acutely depressive wife. But as cracks begin to appear in the entire family edifice, the sick mother begins to seem the best-balanced of the lot. Watchable like an easy novel, but not particularly persuasive.

11 February 2012

DAY THREE

BARBARA (dir: Christian Petzold, Germany).
As Berlin demonstrated, Barbara is a festival natural, with its Cold War, divided-Germany story, neatly plotted and scripted, and with a starry performance by Nina Hoss, who had Berlin success with Petzold’s previous film Yella. Barbara (Hoss) is a dedicated doctor, exasperated by the inhumanities of the DDR, and with a lover who is plotting her escape to the West. Demoted to a provincial hospital, she awakens the personal interest and professional admiration of her boss – a charmer, albeit maybe a Stasi informer. At the last moment, dedication to her patients (as well as growing affection for the boss) keeps her in the East as she yields her planned escape opportunity to an abused young patient. It is creditably low-key in portraying the DDR way of life in all its day-to-day human meanness without over-dramatizing it into a 1984 nightmare. The problem for a non-German audience is that two decades after the events many will already be unfamiliar with the implications of the East-West divide; while those who are better informed might be critical of Barbara’s chic dress styles and other details of the film’s portrayal of the former East.
DICTADO (CHILDISH GAMES)(dir: Antonio Chavarías, Spain).
This very contrived “psychological thriller” is scripted by the director himself, from a story by the Catalan playwright Sergi Belbel. The story involves a man’s deep-ingrained guilt for having, as a boy, caused the death of his sister; and his lethal compulsion to recreate the people and events of that time. It doesn’t make much narrative sense as it lurches from one dramatic climax to another; and is a very bizarre Berlin competition selection. Only for very tolerant audiences who like a tall story and occasional frissons.

10 February 2012

DAY TWO

CESARE DEVE MORIRE (dir: Vittorio and Paolo Taviani)
At 83 and 81 respectively, and after almost 60 years in films, Vittorio and Paolo Taviani took the Berlinale’s Golden Bear (only their second major festival top award) for a 76-minute film, oddly poised between fiction and documentary contrivance. Cesare deve morire (Caesar Must Die) recounts a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by inmates of Rome’s Rebibbia high-security prison. They are, as we learn while they are being auditioned, serious criminals – mafiosi, murderers, big-time drug dealers – and Shakespeare’s story of power-play, with the its emphatically reiterated “honourable men”, often seems acutely relevant to their own lives and temperaments. The film opens with the climactic scene of the finished stage production, in colour, then flashes back, in black and white, for the scenes of preparation and rehearsal, to return to colour and to the finished performance only at the end. The on-screen producer of the play, Fabio Cavalli has in real life actually been producing similar theatrical projects in Rebibbia for some years, though Julius Caesar was evidently the Tavianis’ own choice. The “documentary” element of the central section is qualified: the phrasing and delivery of some of the “impromptu” lines sounds awkwardly rehearsed, and though Salvatore Striano was an inmate until 2004, he has since blossomed as a film actor (Gomorrah) and graciously came back only as a professional guest in Cesare deve morire. Though we may not learn much either about the play or the people in the process, the film may stir not-too-profound reflections on physical incarceration and spiritual liberty.
By one of those artistic coincidences, just days before the Berlin, a film of identical purpose – Julius Caesar rehearsed and performed by inmates of South African prisons - was shown at the Sundance Festival. This was Paul Schoolman’s String Caesar, which emerged in late 2011after several years of production.

9 February 2012

Films from non-competitive sections

PAZIRAIE SADEH (A MODEST RECEPTION)(Dir: Mani Haghighi, Iran; Forum).
This enigmatic Iranian film starts out somewhat irritating, with its excess of dialogue, and ends genuinely shocking – In the process it is intermittently intriguing, but never seems to decide where it wants to take us. A city couple of somewhat uncertain relationship are travelling through bleak wintry terrain with a carful of plastic sacks packed with money; late in the film we learn that they are brother and sister, carrying out their rich mother’s instruction to distribute these gifts to the deserving rural needy. As the journey progresses however, the male of the couple becomes more and more sadistic in the conditions he imposes on the beneficiaries, culminating in his insistence that a poor teacher hand over the corpse of his dead baby. The film is comic and painful; and any social statement it is aiming to imply remains elusive. Watchable but puzzling.

KASHI (CHOKED) dir: Kim Jong-hyun, Korea; Forum)
An attractive and accomplished first feature, developed out of a graduation project. The young hero’s mother, addicted to disastrous money-making schemes, has absconded. The angry creditors pursue the unfortunate son, who is himself in thrall to a demanding and materialistic girl-friend. His plight leads him to ever more dubious ventures – and finally his crazy and impenitent mother returns – which is no help to anyone. The film gives a vivid sense of a society entirely dominated by money transactions – even though the nature of small-time Korean finance is sometimes incomprehensible to the uninitiated – and the director has a gift for character portrayal, if not development.

WESTERLAND (Tim Stoffel, German; Perspektive Deutches Kino)).
Set on the Island of Sylt, this is a sad and touching love story of two young men - a serious-minded and ambitious young Turk and a dispirited, defeated and addicted boy. Their love is intense, mutually redeeming, yet finally doomed. The film is the directorial debut of the author of the original novel, Jesús und Muhammed (2008) on which it is based

1 January 2012

2011 RETROSPECTIVES BELOW