TRIBECA 2015: ALBERT MAYSLES’ ‘IN TRANSIT’ LEAPS INTO THAT RIDE TO NOWHERE

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“We’re on a road to nowhere/ Come on inside/ Takin’ that ride to nowhere/ We’ll take that ride”, as a Talking Heads song goes, could have been the soundtrack to the late Albert Maysles’ last documentary, In Transit. However, a less upbeat, more melodic and melancholic remix may have been needed to suit the rhythm of this deeply humanistic film that builds on the romanticism associated with long train journeys.

The film follows a multitude of characters aboard the Empire Builder long-distance route from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest, conveying, amongst this diversity, an existential angst and a predisposition towards kindness common to them all.

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We see a mother have a late-night conversation with her freshly graduated daughter about the meaning of not knowing what’s coming next, a theme that comes up throughout the film. A black man sits next to a 20-something white girl on her way to a skiing holiday and tells her off for complaining about life, making decisions and money. Struggling to really stay afloat, he tells her he had no time for that when he was her age and, after all, she’s going on a skiing holiday, so things can’t be all that bad.

People get off the train and the camera follows them for a few instants after. The relief of sharing a space with others that are open to admit to not knowing where they’re headed (sometimes literally, mostly metaphorically) disperses. They greet family and are thrown back into rootedness.

The pure moments in which we observe the interaction between various characters are interspersed with individual interviews, sometimes acting as voiceovers for poetic shots of the train winding its way across swampland, empty stations and misty night skies. It speeds across a wide range of exteriors that mirror the social variety the train holds in its interiors. In Transit acts as a portrait of America and of what it could be socially, as strangers talk, listen and share advice about dealing with financial hardship, family responsibilities, racial inequality, the past and regrets. The editing offers an ebb and flow, grouping together themes in such a way that different conversations on the same topic appear to be part of one big discussion, without forgetting to offer moments of respite and alternations between heavier and lighter subjects.

Directed by an ensemble of filmmakers, with Maysles credited as an overseeing power even when he could no longer shoot, In Transit feels like half of what Maysles could have done had he been immortal. Indeed, as the rest of the crew said in the Q & A, he had wanted to shoot a documentary on trains for a long time, yet with a more ambitious scope: it would have been set on trains across the world, and the camera would have followed characters after getting off a train for a while longer than it does in In Transit.

Maysles was one of the founding fathers of direct cinema, a pure form of observational documentary filmmaking. With his 1968 Salesman he pushed the boundary between fiction and documentary, yet not in the manner that people talk about that ambiguous line today (in terms of performativity, outwardly playing with truth etc). Rather, by following the journey of a group of bible salesmen that manipulate working-class families into buying their colourful, shiny bibles, the film stands as testament that documentary can be as engaging as narrative storytelling. It sets out to let us into the world of cunning salesmen that hate their jobs and to empathise with them, to want to understand them. The characters really do become characters and one starts to enter their subjectivity, to really watch and weigh their actions. On the other hand, In Transit always stays at that level that many documentaries want to surpass, where its aesthetics remind you that you are watching constructed visual sequences that want to convey an idea, where its characters act as illustrations, a level dominated by the cerebral while yearning for the emotional.

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There is a certain romanticism that envelops long train journeys, as they offer a feeling of liberation, reflection and equality that comes with sharing space. It is an opportunity to see a different side to someone than they would be willing to show outside of that context. Because it depicts a multitude of characters at a certain point in time, and only to highlight a particular aspect of their conversations, the film does not fully convince that journeys do bring out something deep inside us, something we lose when in a static state, and what that something may be. The setting of an Amtrak train may have also not been the most suitable to bring out that sense of wandering spirits – the fluorescent lighting, the clinically cushioned seats, the shiny metal. Or perhaps this reviewer may just be longing for her own run-down Eastern European trains combined with a touch of Wes Anderson’s Darjeeling Express.

With the melancholia surrounding Maysles’ death, it is only normal to wonder what could have been. Nonetheless, this should not deter one from enjoying In Transit for what it is, namely a documentary that looks at people on their journeys, something that great literature, folk musicians and, most obviously, road movies drew their inspiration from.

 

 

A closing note: this is the only film this reviewer got to see at Tribeca. She was in New York with other affairs and had missed the deadline for the press pass. Hence, she was the average film-loving Joe. A ticket for a non-matinee screening was 18$. Comparatively, a ticket to see a film in competition at the Berlinale, for example, ranges from 7-12€ (8-13$).

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Cannes 2015: the bittersweet memories of Desplechin’s “Golden Years”

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Some of my favourite films from last year – Whiplash, Tu Dors Nicole – were first screened at the 2014 Directors’ Fortnight (or Quinzaine des Réalisateurs, as my francophile self undoubtedly prefers), so it’s no wonder that I was especially looking forward to this year’s edition. As things go, I only managed to see one film – only one! – , but I’m so glad that it was Arnaud Desplechin’s latest, My Golden Years.

Described as a prequel to his 1996 My Sex Life…Or How I Got Into An Argument, the drama takes the form described in its original title, Trois Souvenirs de Ma Jeunesse (literally “three memories from my youth”). Mathieu Amalric, a regular with Desplechin, reprises his role as Paul Dedalus, but largely leaves the scene to Quentin Dolmaire, who plays his younger incarnation.

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The film starts with Paul’s return to France after many years spent in Tajikistan. Stopped at the border because of an issue with his documents, he is held for questioning, which triggers his memories. He remembers moving in with his great aunt after some awful fights with his mother, and that’s the first chapter. He remembers his adventurous trip to Moscow with his then best friend, and the muted melancholy with which Paul recalls a friendship that has since dissolved is possibly one of the most delicate and moving moments in My Golden Years. More than anything though, he remembers Esther, the third and longest memory in this bittersweet drama.

As beautiful as she is insolent, Esther is so totally out of Paul’s reach that it’s only natural to see them ending up together. Watching their long-distance relationship, romantically sustained by countless letters, brief phone calls and monthly visits, is heart-wrenching, and we truly feel for the couple as they go through ups and downs, separations, crises and the occasional infidelities.

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For a film so imbued in melancholy, My Golden Years is surprisingly funny. Esther’s cutting disdain for the other girls is as pungent as it is funny, and the hilarious skirt-dropping scene has quickly become one of the most talked about moments in the film. Paul’s younger brother’s peculiar take on religion is also a constant source of laughter.

My Golden Years is aided by a lively soundtrack and a vivid cinematography, which stop it (and us) from wallowing in nostalgia. On the contrary, the saturated colours, warm light and soft focus that pervades many of its scenes suggest the serenity that only comes once time has glossed over memories, hiding the most painful bits away.

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The result is a poetic film about what could have been and what has been instead. Paul Dedalus acknowledges that his best days may be behind him, but seems to be at peace with that, choosing to savour those beautiful memories instead of giving in to self-pity. An almost cathartic journey that will make you smile as you wipe a tiny tear from your eye, it goes to Desplechin’s credit that he manages to achieve that without the slightest attempt at manipulating his audience. I might have not seen the other films in competition, but I know who I’m rooting for tonight. Bravo, et bonne chance.

CANNES 2015: MON ROI, A PROZAC (AND CASSEL) -IMBUED LOVE STORY

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When thinking of Mon Roi (My King), two things come to mind: the first is the title of a novel by Lucia Etxebarria, Love, Prozac And Other Curiosities, the second is With or without you by U2 (and yes, I am aware I might have just lost you there). And yet, it is this two sentences that, especially if combined,  best summarise this film by Maïwenn, a drama starring Emmanuelle Bercot, Vincent Cassel and Louis Garrel that is in competition for the Palme D’Or at Cannes.
Having torn her knee ligament in a skiing accident, Tony (Bercot) is sent to a physiotherapy clinic in order to recover. There, a psychologist suggests that this accident might be an occasion to work on some unresolved issues in her past relationships – an idea backed with bizarre evidence such as the knee being an articulation that only bends backwards (suggesting the need to look back) and a pun that is lost in translation (genou, French for knee, sounds very similar to  je, nous – me, us – hence the focus on her love life). mon-roi Whether she is sold on it or not, Tony begins to reflect on her relationship with Georgio (Cassel), reliving all of its ups and downs (“ups and downs” being a major understatement). Maïwenn chooses to chronicle their ardent love story from their first meeting and proceed in a linear way, intercutting the flashbacks with scenes from the present day, which focus on Tony’s recovering process. At the beginning, Tony and Georgio really are the perfect couple – funny, successful and clearly head over heels in love – causing us to become invested in their relationship. This is probably due to My King‘s strongest suit, its cast: Bercot and Cassel share some real on-screen chemistry, and even Louis Garrel, who unsurprisingly plays the part of the impossibly cool, perennially unimpressed guy, later reveals a softer side as Tony’s protective brother. Their powerful performances go from amusing to quite moving, and that’s probably what makes this relatively banal story still compelling to watch. MonRoi My King is told entirely from Tony’s point of view, which is understandable, as it is her recollections we are seeing. However, she is almost always presented as the victim, and while it is undeniable that this is often the case, the film is missing some acknowledgement on her side of what she, too, might have done wrong. This seems slightly at odds with the idea that emotional healing can pass through physical recovery, and that she should see the her accident as the occasion to figure out unresolved issues in her past. But then again, the idea that she might be able to heal her emotional wounds in the same way she could recover the use of her knee seems quite shaky. Lasting just over two hours, My King doesn’t really give us the closure we need; on the contrary, the more the film progresses, the more it feels like every flashback is another episode in the seemingly never-ending soap opera that is their life. Will they make up, break up or grow up? The bets are open.​ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gO3qjW0Xzc This review was originally published on Nisimazine

Cannes 2015: Han Jun-Hee’s badass Coin Locker Girl

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As far as attention-grabbing openings go, few things beat a good old throat slitting (blood gushing out optional). And that’s exactly how Han Jun-Hee chose to kick off his action/drama film Coin Locker Girl, a contender for the Camera D’Or prize.

After throwing us in at the deep end, Han takes a step back to 1996, when a newborn is abandoned in the coin locker of a Seoul metro station. Brought up by the homeless people who live there, she is named Il-Young (One-Zero) after the locker in which she was found, number ten.

In 2004, she is kidnapped and taken to Chinatown, where a woman known as Mum is at the head of organ trafficking, ID card forgery and shark loan activities. As merciless as she is aloof, Mum spares people’s lives as long as they are useful to her. This is a lesson Il-Young is quick to learn, and before long, she is running “errands” for Mum.

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Coin Locker Girl is an action-packed film without many dull moments. There is nothing boring about its visual appearance either, as the artificial illumination of the many night-time scenes lend it a vivid, almost fluorescent glow.

Its strongest suit, however, is the skilful way in which it mixes genres. For a start, the plot features elements from both pulp/action films and more classic dramas in which characters are faced with life-altering (or life-threatening) decisions. As such, the film becomes accessible, if not enjoyable, even to those not very familiar with gory Korean mob films – as long as they don’t mind witnessing a fair share of blood and graphic violence, that is.

The genre cocktail is also conveyed through the soundtrack: while the images are those you would expect from a pulp/action film, the music is often quite dramatic, especially during crucial scenes, fully conveying the contrasts and inner conflicts that preoccupy the characters.
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Both Il-Young and Mum are impeccably portrayed, and Kim Hye-soo and Kim Go-eun really manage to convey the twisted bond between a ruthless woman and her protégée respectively. Seen from this angle, the film becomes an exploration of a tainted mother/daughter relationship taken to an extreme, whose final outcome would make even the most experienced shrink shudder.

Behind its bloody façade, Coin Locker Girl hides a powerful tale of love and hatred, but also one of initiation and resilience. For being a first-time director, Han Jun-Hee shows incredible potential.

Review originally published in Nisimazine Cannes

CANNES 2015: ‘STANDING TALL’ AND PANDORA’S BOX

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When she opened her box, Pandora released all the evils it contained out into the world, and only hope was left at the bottom. I was often reminded of the mythical box when watching Emmanuelle Bercot’s Standing Tall , with the difference that hope, too, seems to have fled from the film.

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Standing tall follows ten years in the life of a boy named Malony. It begins with his first encounter with a judge when he is 6 and follows him for the next ten years, during which he goes from being a child marred by an extremely unstable family situation to a full-fledged juvenile offender. The meetings with the judge punctuate the film and lend it its structure, as it is through them that we get to find out what trouble Malony has gotten himself into. We almost never never see him at it, but rather learn about what he has done through the inevitable legal audience that follows.

Malony is fueled by an uncontrollable rage that is also his only form of self-expression. This destructive force is very tangible throughout the film, and as viewers we constantly fell like we’re on the brink of an explosion. Standing tall  is pervaded by a feeling of hopelessness and doom too, for every time we think he has hit rock bottom, something else happens that plunges him even further down. The boy seems to have given up on himself, aware that he exists on the margins of society and that such condition is hardly going to change.

Marginalisation, mixed with class and ethnicity-related issues, is a theme that recurs throughout the film: it pops up in the conversations between young
offenders, it is evident in the difference between Malony’s mother and the judge, it is even mentioned casually by Malony, fully aware of how the world perceives him. In this sense, it is interesting that Bercot chose to include a song also featured in La haine, establishing a connection between her protagonist and Kassovitz’s banlieue boys, driven by a similar rage and resentfulness towards a society that refuses to include them.

Malony can at least count on the help of the judge, undeterred in her efforts to rescue him, and that of Yann, a young offender-turned-social worker that sees something of his previous self in the boy. The dynamics between the three are intricate and fragile, sometimes revealing unknown sides to the story. Newcomer Rod Paradot, in the role of the protagonist, can fully hold his ground against Benoit Magimel (the social worker Yann) and the cinema legend that is Catherine Deneuve in the role of the persevering judge.

Perseverance, marginalisation and redemption are extremely well explored in Standing tall, and in a year marked by debates on the inclusiveness of our society, it is encouraging to see Cannes take notice of them by choosing this film to open the festival. While not entirely convincing, the deceptively open ending seems to believe in the potential of salvation and second chances, suggesting that, after all, there might still be some hope left at the bottom of Pandora’s box.

 

Article originally published in Nisimazine Cannes

BERLINALE 2015: A SLICE OF DOCUMENTARY- ‘EL BOTON DE NACAR’ AND ‘EXOTICA, EROTICA, ETC.’

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Everyone who’s anyone knows that, in the past few years, documentaries have been catching up with fiction films, both in terms of popularity and form, as docs are becoming increasingly creative when it comes to telling a story. The Berlinale hasn’t failed to deliver in that respect, having selected plenty of documentaries across its sections as well as sticking to its guns with the special doc section Panorama Dokumente.

 Amongst the films that were consistently sold-out in Berlin this year were The Look of Silence, Joshua Oppenheimer’s doc sequel to The Act of Killing, and Cobain: Montage of Heck, a documentary directed by Brett Morgen about Nirvana’s one and only.

Yet, I watched two documentaries that, though in different sections and directed by two filmmakers with an age difference of 40, both turned to the sea as a symbol for complex issues linked to history, identity, longing and desire.

The Pearl Button: the sea as history’s basement

The doc in competition was Patricio Guzman’s El Boton de Nacar (The Pearl Button), which also won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay. I saw it at a public screening (yes, with all the common mortals), where the huge and imposing Friedrichstadt Palast had been filled to the very top. As opposed to the press screenings, where people walk out even 20 minutes into a film, I didn’t see one person leave Guzman’s gig. It may have been because, since it was a public screening, there were people there that paid good money for that ticket, yet the applause at the end suggested there was something more to it.

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‘El Boton de Nacar’, directed by Patricio Guzman

Guzman warmed up the public to his poessay (a cross between what critics call the poetic doc and the essay doc) documentary style through Nostalgia de la Luz (Nostalgia for the Light, 2010), in which he connects cosmological phenomena, the Atacama Desert and the murders of the Pinochet regime. In El Boton, Guzman draws out similar poetic associations between the water surrounding the 2670 miles (4296 km) that constitute Chile’s coast, the indigenous population that was exterminated by colonialism and the political dissidents of Pinochet’s regime.

The director, who is also literally the voice of the documentary, starts out gently, calmly, almost hypnotically, by recounting how the sea is Chile’s backbone, one whose benefits the country has ignored. Guzman uses transitional phrases such as “the act of thinking resembles the ocean. They can both take any shape” to lead the documentary into a different direction than the one of nature.

We get to the indigenous population of Western Patagonia that had lived in primitive peace on the ocean’s shores until subjugated and slaughtered by Spanish colonisers. Amongst these peoples was Jemmy Button, who agreed to be taken over to Europe on an English ship to be civilized in exchange for a pearl button. “He traveled from the Stone Age to the Industrial Age and back”, muses Guzman.

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The poetry of the indigenous population in Guzman’s ‘El Boton’

 

The chapter about the political prisoners of the Pinochet regime creeps up on us, as Guzman delivers his punchline about the bodies of those prisoners having been thrown into that same ocean. By connecting the water to the Chilean identity and, in turn, the Western Patagonians and political prisoners to the water, Guzman’s underlying idea seems to be that it’s about time Chile acknowledged things that it would rather forget about.

 

Using a poetic montage made up of shots of the sea filmed in digital 2k, archival photos, an art installation of a life-size Chilean map unrolling before us and a minute reconstruction of the way in which the Pinochet dissidents were killed and thrown off into the sea, Guzman gets his point across without suffocating the viewer. It’s clear that he wants to distance himself from the form of the informative doc, to explore other means that the film medium can make use of to tell a non-fiction story.

 

Yet, Guzman’s tone seems a little forced, if not even manipulative, which is ironic given that he wants to break free of the journalistic documentary, which is most often accused of manipulation. Guzman simplifies things from a historical and political point of view, as the film becomes solely his own vision upon history in a manner so subjective that it could create discomfort amongst historiographers.

 

While the introduction sinks one in a hypnotic state that works well emotionally, narratively and visually with the story of the Western Patagonians, the transition to the political dissidents seems forced if not a little heavyhanded. I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated when the doc got to that point, hearing an inner voice go, “voila, so this is where he wanted to bring me, I knew he wasn’t gonna stick to the Patagonians,” a feeling that undermined the poetry of the previous sections.

 

I still applaud the fact that Guzman continues to look for ways in which to communicate facts and information, ways in which these would sink deep into one’s own depths as opposed to remaining on the surface as something that is external.

 

Exotica, Erotica, Etc.: the sea as fuel for desire

A doc that seems to be coming into a metaphysical dialogue with El Boton de Nacar is Exotica, Erotica, Etc. from the Berlinale’s Forum section (the more experimental part of the programme). Directed by the Greek Evangelia Kranioti in a similar poessay style, it follows the parallel yet intersecting worlds of sailors and South-American harbour prostitutes.

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‘Exotica, Erotica, Etc.’, directed by Evangelia Kranioti

Characters from both sides speak about what the sea means to them and why they do what they do. They do so not through the usual talking-heads but through voice-overs running on top of a montage of long takes of ships at sea, cabins, the ship entering ports, breaking pieces of ice in two (a playful innuendo image there), a prostitute’s home or clubs. At times, this montage is replaced by sequences in which we get back to the daily lives of the sailors, along with their diegetic sounds, as they sing karaoke, cook and prepare to greet “the ladies of the night”.

The strongest sequences, however, are the ones featuring the prostitutes. We get up close to them, to their bodies, to their thoughts. It’s these sequences that reminded me of the way non-informative docs can make me want to understand a character, to see them beyond the status of a representational subject, or to feel an illusional bond to them that takes the same nuance as the one the director felt.

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‘Exotica, Erotica, Etc.’s Sandy

The doc achieves all of the above through Sandy’s perspective, a retired prostitute who recounts with much warmth and melancholy her sailor clients from her youth. Kranioti portrays these “ladies of the night” in a down-to-earth and warm light.

As the film kept going back and forth between the voice-over and the diegetic, inviting me to forget which was which, I could feel Sandy’s melancholy seep through every sequence of the doc and through every shot of the sea, of course.

Documentary as a non-verbal medium

To wrap things up, a Berlinale Talents masterclass highlighted what the docs above did by using this poessay style. Titled Hybrid News: Documenting True Events, the masterclass was led by directors Atsushi Funahashi and Marcelo Martinessi, whose films seemed formally similar to Guzman’s and Kranioti’s.

It came down to a debate about the difference between journalism and doc films, and objectivity was obviously a key point here. Ultimately, it was argued that documentary directors can either wear their subjectivity on their sleeves, as opposed to some journalists that proclaim to be objective, or otherwise they must take on the responsibility to show the multifaceted aspects of a character or situation as opposed to anything painted in black and white.

The masterclass also brought up the idea that whereas journalism is the medium that expresses something that can be put in words/ verbalised, documentaries can use the means of cinema and its inherent quality of tracking movement through time in order to express something non-verbal, something that could usually only be found between the lines or beyond them.

Sure, it’s easy to say but hard to do. Yet, while El Boton and Exotica, Erotica, Etc use words (especially El Boton, as it uses a ‘narrator’ and I guess winning the Bear for a script pre-supposes the strength of those words), their images are not merely illustrations of those words, but instead have a life of their own.

Berlinale 2015: A Berlinale-style temporality

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My watch stopped on my first day of the Berlinale. My first day of my first Berlinale. I thought it didn’t bode too well, especially as I already had the feeling it was all going to be very chaotic. I was landing two days after the opening of the festival, and even if it lasts about ten days, that’s late by its standards. I got to Potsdamer Platz to pick up my badge just as a huge crowd had gathered around the Berlinale Palast to gape at some stars walking down the red carpet.

 

After I managed to make my way through the sea of people and get hold of the holy badge, I rushed to the ticket stand. First priority: Werner Herzog’s Queen of the Desert, hoping to catch the last few screenings. “It’s all sold out, I’m afraid,” said the guy at the counter, looking genuinely sorry to see me look so disappointed. Still, I ran to one of the screenings in case someone with a ticket decided not to turn up and I could get their seat. Too much naiveté. There were at least 20 people standing on the stairs of the cinema, holding placards, desperately seeking a ticket. And that was beside the huge line at the ticket counter, which showed no signs of diminishing even five minutes before the screening. That’s it, the article that I had dreamt of – comparing the films by two of the monstres sacrés of New German Cinema had already gone down the drain (Wim Wenders’s Everything Will Be Fine was an official selection outside the competition and it is uncommon for both Herzog and Wenders to have their latest shown in the same festival).

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Berlinale queues at 8.30am

 

Evening had fallen by that point, and everyone started thinking seriously about cocktails and parties. A lot, a whole lot of people from the cinema world roamed the streets around the Palast, both from the commercial and the independent side, although they admittedly seemed to be attending two different festivals. Friends from workshops, friends from university, “let’s go to the Polish party”, “nah, let’s go to the Finnish party”, could not hear me as I stuttered, “But I’ve no tickets for tomorrow, I don’t even know the schedule well, I’m totally out of the loop.”

 

It took me 24 hours to get to see something. Luckily, there was a press screening for Victoria, a German film in competition directed by Sebastian Schipper. The jury came in to see the film with the press. As I saw Darren Aronofsky, Daniel Bruhl, Audrey Tatou and Matthew Weiner come in, serious yet relaxed, and sit down two rows in front of me, I thought that it’s taken me 24 hours to get onto the Berlinale time zone, to feel that I’m in the right place at the right time, as dictated by her own rules.

 

Victoria itself creates a special conception of time. As I had only gotten to skim through the synopsis, I didn’t know much about the film other than it’s about a Spanish girl, Victoria, who lives in Berlin and befriends a gang that pushes her to commit all sorts of illegalities. I had no idea that it was shot in one take (without the tricks of Birdman), and after the first 10 – 15 minutes I had already begun to feel my body tense up, starting to wonder when the first cut would come (it wouldn’t). Sebastian Schipper and the Danish DoP Sturla Brandth Grovlen portray a 20-something year old’s descent into chaos, a chaos that she actually craves for, in real time. She is a Conservatory drop-out who feels worthless and lonely, and the guys offer her the rush and feeling of connection she needs.

 

The beginning roots the characters into the reality of Berlin youths, seekers of nightlife and of someone that’s on the same wavelength. Having lived in Berlin for only three months, Victoria goes out clubbing on her own and meets a group of four guys that she joins for a nighcap. The handheld visual style is established right from the start, leading to an unsettling feeling of constant anticipation and tension.

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Victoria, directed by Sebastian Schipper

 

However, the story truly takes an unexpected dark turn as Victoria’s new friends are forced to rob a bank in order to settle old scores with a figure of the Berlin underworld. The film takes on elements of a Bonnie and Clyde-style story, although the one take really creates a feeling of unpredictability that genre-movies have long forgotten about.

 

Schipper confirmed that he had a 12-page script and that the rest was constructed together with the actors and their improvisations. They only shot three takes and used the last one. The film was shot practically in 2 hours and 15 minutes.

 

Not everyone was as enthused; I think some critics found the plot-development too difficult to buy into. The critic sitting next to me (who ironically enough resembled Tabitha in Birdman) huffed, puffed and shuffled throughout the film. Well, it was the best film I was going to see in the next couple of days.

 

Terrence Malick’s new Tree of Life, namely Knight of Cups, is another piece that plays with time, in the already established style of the director. This time the film revolves around a Hollywood actor (Christian Bale) who battles his own desires and realises that their satisfaction actually only leads him into further interior emptiness. He spins around in circles, constantly starting over.

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Knight of Cups, directed by Terrence Malick

 

Malick creates a contrast between the subjective, inner landscape and the objective, exterior one. The former is conveyed by DoP Emmanuel Lubezki (another Birdman reference, as he was the film’s DoP) through sweeping shots and either extreme close-ups of faces or a wide-angle lens that distorts the film’s settings. Short takes and sudden cuts highlight temporal fragmentation and therefore narrative fragmentation. Each character is introduced through the well-known, husky voice-overs, via which s/he expounds her/his own inner battles and life philosophy.

 

Malick is to be commended for his persistence in subverting classic narratives, yet I am not sure that he has made me feel much through the alternative he proposes, which can test one’s patience. Plenty left the cinema or checked their phones during the press screening. Nonetheless, perhaps the Berlinale is not the right context in which to see a Malick film (from a spectatorial experiential point of view, not a marketing one); it is a space that is conducive to ADHD-type behaviour, as many (including myself) seem distracted and agitated, perhaps out of sync with Malick’s temporality.

 

After watching the Malick, I couldn’t help but feel struck by the fact that two films with completely different budgets and modes of production have been put on the same level, through the mere fact that they are being offered equal amounts of importance and will be judged according to the same criteria.

 

I was slowly lured into this Berlinale temporality, one that initially created disorientation and anxiety, which would soon turn into order. An order that was such only within the Potsdamer Platz bubble. In the next few days I became completely oblivious of the Ukraine- Russia tension reaching sky-high levels and other such non-trivial events. I guess being out-of-time with the quotidian and in-time with something totally un-quotidian is a pretty good exercise for the spirit.

Image sources [1 = personal archive], [2 = official Berlinale press pack], [3]