2014 Berlinale Loving, Living, Languishing

Tour de force through the whole of European cultural history “Nymphomaniac Volume I” (Lars von Trier)
Tour de force through the whole of European cultural history “Nymphomaniac Volume I” (Lars von Trier) | Photo (montage): © Casper Sejersen / Concorde Filmverleih 2014

This year’s Berlinale covered a broad spectrum of subjects and embraced a decidedly experimental approach. Nevertheless it was still possible to single out a few exciting centres of gravity.

The wounds that are inflicted on children when they are rejected by their fathers and the consequences that follow were the subject of the German-Mexican co-production, Los Ángeles by Damian John Harper and the Argentinean-German competition entry, La Tercera Orilla by Celina Murga. Mothers, too, however, sometimes deviate from their traditional role and reject their children. Intense examples of this were to be found in the competition entry, Aloft by Claudia Llosa and in the winner of the “Best Debut Film” award, Güeros by Alonso Ruizpalacios. Mason, the protagonist in Boyhood –  one of the audience’s favourite films – was another example of somebody young having to find his own ways of dealing with his fears and yearnings.

Examples of this are also to be found right on the doorstep in Berlin – one child in every eight in Berlin lives below the poverty line and is often neglected by his or her parents. Director, Edward Berger, deals with this in the German competition entry, Jack. His depiction of the way two Berlin children struggle to survive is unsentimental, yet at the same time heartrending – they were left on their own by a mother who could not cope.

Family – hell on earth

Fundamentalism is – if we are to believe the media – first and foremost associated with religions in other countries. Dietrich Brüggemann in his outstanding competition entry Kreuzweg (Stations of the Cross), however, manages to show in 14 stations how a teenager is driven to his death due to religious fundamentalism. And that right in the middle of a small German town. Dietrich and his sister Anna Brüggemann, who also has a role in the film, were awarded a Silver Bear for the film’s pithy screenplay that at times had the audience laughing.

The “family battlefield” was also one of the main themes in the film Kuzu (The Lamb) by Kutlug Ataman, which was shown in the Panorama section. Ataman tells of the desperate struggle of a young mother, Medine, in an East Anatolian village. The family drama received the independent Award of the Award der Confédération Internationale des Cinémas d’Art et d’Essai for its atmospheric and psychologically sensitive approach.

Forget about Love?

In the form of a director’s cut there was the “not entered, yet eagerly awaited” Nymphomaniac Volume I by Lars von Trier. “Forget about Love” is the film’s laconic subheading, yet the director then goes and surprises us with a compassionate portrayal and an intelligent tour de force through the whole of European cultural history. Von Trier once again shows that he is one of the great innovators of modern-day cinema, who questions both conservative moralizers and sex hype at the same time.

With a more reserved, yet consistent, approach there is the Chinese competition entry by Lou Ye, Blind Massage, which experiments with showing sighted people what it is like to be blind. The quest for love and identity are also the focus in the winning film of the “Dialogue en Perspective” section – Ester Amrami’s Anderswo (Anywhere Else) is a love story set in Germany and Israel caught between the two poles of the search for one’s home and the feeling of being uprooted.

And anyone who thought that Weimar Classicism was a particularly chaste period in German literature, will think differently after they have seen Die geliebten Schwestern (Beloved Sisters) by Dominik Graf –  the plot focuses on the “ménage à trois” between Friedrich von Schiller and the Lengefeld sisters.

Rendezvous – Tradition embraces Vision

“Black Coal, Thin Ice” by Diao Yinan (Trailer)

“In my film the Little Prince meets Terminator,” says director Marcin Malaszczak. The German-Polish production entitled Orbitalna plays with the everyday way we see things – a woman is in charge of a huge lignite mining plant. Malaszczak, however, using colours, transforms the open cast mining landscape into a science-fiction scenario and shows us movements and production processes in close-up. All of a sudden man and machine start an entirely new relationship – this time quite devoted.

The winner of the Silver Bear for the Best Short Film, Guillaume Cailleau, also had a similar eye for the radical in his German-produced Laborat. Shot in 16 mm, the film reflects on the theme of “work” at various levels. The film kicks off with the following heading, “Oncological Ward, Berlin, 8th & 9th January 2011”. And while we are watching a laboratory rat being dissected, the director interrupts the process with a subtle interplay between focussed and unfocussed shots, explicit colour dramaturgy, as well as the omnipresent work levels of the film team.

It was not, however, only in the “Forum” and “Forum Expanded” sections that one expected a breaking away from traditional forms, there were also quite few surprises elsewhere: the winner of the Golden Bear Black Coal, Thin Ice by Diao Yinan tells, in the vain of film noir, the story of a lonely policeman and a seductive femme fatale – and at the same time consistently manages to impart the attitude to life in modern-day China. In the Panorama section 20,000 Days on Earth by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard was also a hit. Borne by an extraordinary audio-video montage, the film showed an in-depth portrayal of avant-garde musician, Nick Cave, in the classic format of a music documentary that was not an homage to star cult.

The focus on German cinema

German films were somewhat underrepresented at last year’s Berlinale. 2014, however, not only saw four films by German directors and two German co-productions, but there was also quite a lot of exciting things happening in other sections. The film Stereo by Maximilian Erlenwein was the perfect vehicle for German actors, Moritz Bleibtreu and Jürgen Vogel, to give outstanding performances, making it quite clear that action movies “Made in Germany” can also be subtle and artistic. Even the stylistic “Berlin School” came up with a few surprises – in the realm of humour. In Benjamin Heisenberg’s Über-Ich und Du (Superegos) a small-time crook, Nick, meets a psychology professor who is going through a crisis of purpose. It is beautifully photographed (camera: Reinhold Vorschneider) and is a brilliantly ambiguous culture clash, which, of course, had to make a mention of Sigmund Freud. The bottom line – new aesthetics, the courage to go beyond the limit, intelligent liasing with the genre, wherever you look – the German film seems to be inventing itself anew.