Given that Berlin and films are two of my most persuasive reasons for living, it seemed a logical move to show my face at Berlinale, one of the “big three” film festivals (Cannes and Venice being the other two). Scheduling issues meant it was only possible to go for two of the ten days, but what the giddy hey…
The whole city was a cinema. Potsdamer Platz was transformed into Berlinale Land with a host of shopping-centre sized cinemas showing home-made and world efforts designed to fit no mould known to man. Further out, old buildings like Friedrichstrasse Palast and the old Soviet Kino International blew my head off before a single frame had been shown. Check out this old grey block of history (Disclaimer: Maria Ihm Schmeckt’s Nicht was not showing.)
Without further ado, these are the six films I saw during my brief dash to the coolest city in the world…
Unter Männern – Schwul in der DDR/ Among Men – Gay in East Germany (2012)
Director: Ringo Rösener, Markus Stein Starring: Jürgen Wittdorf, Eduard Stapels, John Zinner, Christian Schulz, Ringo Rösener, Frank Schäfer, Helwin Leuschner Running time: 93 mins
Subject: The best film I saw during the festival was one I saw out of convenience still in a huff over missing Hemel, which sounded like a female Shame. Unter Mannern ended up being an amusing, upsetting, frank depiction, through six wonderfully varied character studies, of life under the homophobic East German regime. From inspirationally devious methods of getting kicks to shocking self-effacement to a joie de vivre so steely even institutional rape couldn’t crush it, the people and politics were deserving and brilliant subjects.
Like: The Fully Clothed Civil Servants.
Core truth: Whatever the DDR was, it wasn’t social democracy.
What Is Love (2012)
Director: Ruth Mader Running time: 80 mins
Subject: Transcendently boring film that claims to be about, “different manifestations of love, all of which are threatened by suffocating routines of daily life.” The crucial difference between this description and the truth is that the description sounds interesting and the truth is less interesting than the shipping forecast. Five vérité-style vignettes about five individuals and their daily routines contain no story-telling, no change in tone and no interesting shots. It’s literally people with no connection to each other living their lives. You wait for a subtle narrative arc to present, then you fall asleep, then the film ends.
Like: Jeanne Dielman if instead of slow-building plot there had been nothing.
Core truth: This ain’t love.
Subject: This “novel” take on the porn industry flits between cliche and posturing driven by a string of unconvincing confrontations. “Cherry” – real name Angelina – comes from stereotypically hard stock. Mother is an alcoholic, father stomps around moodily, boyfriend is a sleaze ball, younger sister is as yet unsullied, but swiftly forgotten when, with her underwritten puppy dog best mate, Dev Patel, Angelina heads for San Francisco where it turns out her destiny is to be a porn star. Although undeniably hot, Ashley Hinshaw is such a terrible actress that by the time Heather Graham enters as a porn director she seems likes Robert DeNiro. Lily Taylor and James Franco’s presence must be the result of a lost bet somewhere in Hollywood. It’s all so baggy that the central thesis about porn being empowering rather than exploitative becomes irrelevant.
Like: A YouTuber’s drunken response to Boogie Nights.
Core truth: Some make a living through law, some through porn so give over.
L’âge atomique (2012)
Subject: Two male Parisian adolescents explore their city at night powered by cheap vodka, passionate philosophising and an attitude to smoking that would make Godard proud. It’s an effective mood piece with two first-time actors taking the roles of Victor and Rainer. Particularly charming is a nightclub scene where super-cool electronica and euphoric lighting present a pleasing tone shift to the intensity of the two boys and their contrasting desires.
Like: Being a sensitive teenager at large in a city too big to care.
Core truth: Bros before hos.
Subject: Critics more esteemed than I have been swooning over Tabu and director Miguel Gomes went on to collect the Alfred Bauer prize, however I am still finding it impossible to understand why the first part of the film exists. Action is divided between present day Lisbon (“Paradise Lost”) and colonial Africa (“Paradise”). Present-day Lisbon is a claustrophobic place for the steadfast Pilar, her hysterical neighbour, Aurora, and Aurora’s live-in maid, Santa. It is worth noting that Santa is as far away from a jolly, bearded, gift-distributing man as possible. She retains a po-face while doing classically enjoyable things like eating prawns and reading a book. Anyway, the second half of the action – which actually came first chronologically – is a delight. All illicit love with a voice-over narrating events while the characters move their lips mysteriously. You can feel the heat, literally and loinally.
Like: Walking around in the cold then having a warm bubble bath.
Core truth: Paradise is better than Paradise Lost.
Kebun Binatang/ Postcards from the Zoo (2012)
Subject: Whimsical, meandering dose of animal-heavy magical realism. Lana was left in the zoo as a young girl (suspend disbelief…now!) and grows up like a more civilised Mowgli with a special soft-spot for giraffes. One day, a magician cowboy turns up which, of course, leads to a job as a masseuse. This film is less concerned with a logically-unfolding plot than with abstract themes such as transformative longings for a more innocent world. Say what you like, the animals are beautiful. And I came away with two interesting facts about giraffes.
Like: Walking round a lovely zoo with a person muttering a hard to follow story in your ear.
Core truth: Home is where the animals roam.
To find out who won what bear/Bauer in the Competition click here.