Now and then
Which films or particular moments made the 2017 Berlinale Bloggers feel nostalgic or thoughtful? In this article they jointly reflect on the subject of “Now and then”.
Ahmed Shawky – Egypt: Bones of Contention is a touching documentary with some moments of black comedy which portrayed how Franco's Spain was cruel to LGBT people and indeed anyone who is different in any way. While the audience mostly laughed, all I could think about was how something that has become a joke is still a day-to-day reality in some countries, especially those in my region.
Camila Gonzatto – Brasil: The documentary I'm Not Your Negro (France/USA/Belgium/Switzerland), screened at the Panorama Dokumente and directed by Raoul Peck, based on the texts of James Baldwin (1924-1987), brings to our screens the struggles of the black movements in the USA through the life and death of three key figures: Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Medgar Evers. The documentary intersperses archive footage with Hollywood films to demonstrate the representation of black people in American cinema and the construction of the figure of the Negro in a nation. Although the documentary contains television-style language and does not stand out for is lingustic mastery, it nonetheless highlights important reflections from Baldwin which remain current and relevant today, as exemplified by the words at the end of the film: "You invented negro. You've got to find out why. The future of our country depends on that."
Yun-hua Chen – China: I felt very nostalgic when I watched T2 Trainspotting. Seeing the older versions of Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle and Ewen Bremner is like looking at my ageing self; the juxtaposition between their younger and current selves running down stony pavements or along the rocky crags gives me a flashback to my last 21 years; listening to their charming Scottish accent also transports me back to those best years of my life spent in Edinburgh. Edinburgh has changed a lot since the filming of Trainspotting in the nineties – the tram is finally operating and the process of gentrification is continuing. I myself am no longer the teenager who watched in shock as Ewan McGregor dived into “The Worst Toilet in Scotland”, though I am still (and always will be) deeply in awe of the magic of a cinema screen.
Andrea D’Addio – Italy: The present of Max Zorn, the writer played by Stellan Skarsgård in Return to Montauk, is a journey back in time. His latest book appears to be a made-up story, but is actually based on a past love which he has never been able to forget. In fact, despite having settled in Berlin, Max decides to set the events in New York in order to understand why this 20-year-old story came to an end. He succeeds in doing this, but leaves us with a deeper look into a future emotional life which is just as uncertain, one which, who knows, may well offer material for another novel. For writers, time, with its endless feelings of regret and remorse, is the best source of inspiration.
Sarah Ward – Australia: "Now and Then" would’ve proven an appropriate alternative title for Return to Montauk. It’s not only nostalgia and desire that combine under Volker Schlöndorff’s direction (and in a script co-written with 'Brooklyn' author Colm Tóibín), but the universal, existential, inescapable urge to consider how the past shapes the future, as brought to life in the furrowed brows and yearning gazes of the movie’s soulful lead performances.
Philipp Bühler – Germany: Montauk on Long Island seems to magically attract the topic of memory. Inspired by Max Frisch, it is here that Volker Schlöndorff sets Return to Montauk. The memory is always more beautiful than the reality. This solid adult cinema film is almost the antithesis to Michel Gondry's modern sci-fi classic Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) about erased memories, which also ended in Montauk – or started there, as the case may be. At present, however, because the future concerns us more than the past, the sci-fi retrospective is fresher. Ridley Scott's future vision in Blade Runner (1982) is mercilessly dystopian and takes place in 2019. We still have two years.
Julia Thurnau – Norway: From 2003 until 2005, and again from 2010 to the present day, Anke Engelke has been presenting the Berlinale’s opening gala with her irrepressible wit. The First Lady of Germany’s comedy scene stands there on stage in full evening garb, sporting high-heeled shoes and Tesiro rocks, while Kosslick wears comfortable trainers – presenting just one of the many stereotypes in her repertoire. It’s a pity that the majority of women always put on the same gender performance rather than drawing on the great variety of possible roles, as Tilda Swinton did when she appeared at the 2015 Berlinale disguised as David Bowie.
Dorota Chrobak – Poland: Sometimes, nothing changes. Especially in the world of politics. The plot of Viceroy's House is set in 1947, but sometimes you get the impression that it's happening now. Big boys rule the world, playing cat and mouse, hide and seek, chess and checkers, and a whole bunch of other "funny games". But the victims are always painfully real. The division of India into two states, India and Pakistan, caused the largest migration in the history of the world. 17 million people had to move from one country to another. During this migration, a million people lost their lives. Sounds familiar? Sometimes, nothing changes. Only the toys differ a little.
Pablo López Barbero – Spain: In the documentary Beuys about the life of this amazing artist, I realised I was fascinated by a real revolutionary. Joseph Beuys was a total, irreverent and controversial artist who was also notable for his enormous political and social commitment. I can't help wondering if the current artistic scene is up to Beuys proposal, made during the effervescent second half of the twentieth century. I wonder if the new century, as well as turning us into interconnected beings, more informed and more organised, is also making us more human. Doubt remains.
Nathanael Smith – United Kingdom: One of the recurring themes of the 67th Berlinale has been using history as a medium for examining the present. The Young Karl Marx, Raoul Peck’s fiercely intelligent period drama, ends boldly, with a montage news footage that makes a clear point: we still need Marx’s ideas today. It’s a rare didactic moment in a film more concerned with debate. Arguably the film didn’t need this credits sequence as it doesn’t trust the audience to join the dots between past and present themselves. Yet after a film that appeals almost entirely to the head, here Peck aims straight for the heart and, even for this resolutely centrist film critic, it found its marks.