The streaming Berlinale takes the pulse of our times
The Berlinale's first online competition features powerful contemporary cinema, with the winning film resonating with our current state of mind.
By Ula Brunner
In Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, the Romanian Radu Jude gets straight to the point: a home movie shows the teacher Emi and her husband having sex in their bedroom at home. Unintentionally and in a roundabout way, the mobile phone video ends up on a hardcore porn site on the net. The scandal is pre-programmed, bringing a storm of protest from the parents. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn was filmed in the Romanian capital in the summer of 2020: Bucharest is marked by the pandemic, the people in the film wear masks, there is talk of job losses, a palpable irritability is in the air.
Director Radu Jude, born in 1977, was a favourite for the main prize at an early stage. The fact that the Golden Bear is now actually going to the only competition entry in which the pandemic is a visible theme brings this Corona-conditioned online edition of the festival right to the point once again.
“DRAWING STRENGTH FROM THE SITUATION”The Berlinale programme was cut back to 100 films, 15 productions were shown in the competition; they were available for viewing only via online stream and by an accredited professional audience. All the competition entries were made during the pandemic or were post-produced. The directors had succeeded in “drawing strength from the situation and creating deeply personal films”, emphasised festival director Carlo Chatrian when announcing the programme.
A COMPLEX TRIPTYCHBad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is an exemplary film of precisely this kind. Jude, who won a Silver Bear in 2015 with Aferim!, has spun a complex triptych out of simple home-video material that is many things at once: an essayistic historical reflection and a debate on moral hypocrisy taken to the point of absurdity. And of course, the impish satire also reflects contemporary sensibilities in which the pandemic is amplifying existing tensions. With its overwrought tone and stylistic colportage, the work may not be a cinematic masterpiece, but as virulent contemporary cinema in the truest sense of the word, the film fully deserves the Golden Bear.
SEISMOGRAPHS OF PERSONAL SENSIBILITIESCinema that takes the pulse of our times, atmospheric images, fleeting snapshots – the films of Hong Sangsoo and Ryusuke Hamaguchi are also in this vein. However, they tell their stories more circumspectly and less blatantly. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize) by the Japanese filmmaker Hamaguchi traces fateful chance encounters in finely constructed episodes. In the Korean production Introduction Hong Sangsoo follows a young man on his journey from Korea to Berlin. At 66 minutes and shot in stylish black and white, this melancholic drama is the shortest entry in the competition. To be sure, Introduction is not Hong's best film. The Silver Bear for Best Screenplay is nevertheless an appropriate tribute to this master of reduced narrative.
GENDER-NEUTRAL ACTING AWARDS
FILMS BEYOND THE MAINSTREAM
It is difficult to understand why outstanding contributions such as Dominik Graf's Kästner film Fabian – Going to the Dogs or the enraptured romance What Do We See when We Look at the Sky? by Alexandre Koberidze were not considered for awards. But the six-member jury of Mohammad Rasoulof, Ildikó Enyedi, Gianfranco Rosi, Nadav Lapid, Adina Pintilie and Jasmila Žbanic did get a lot of things right, and their decisions made it easier for films outside the mainstream to find their way onto the big screen.
LOOKING FORWARD TO THE SUMMER BERLINALENo sooner is the online event over than preparations for the public festival in June are in full swing. The Berlinale is already in negotiations with Berlin's film theatres, and open-air venues will also be included. Few festival directors in the Berlinale's 71-year history have had to deal with such obstacles as Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian in their second year in office. But their much-discussed decision to situate the film market in March was the right call. The online edition worked well for a professional audience, concluded Rissenbeek after the festival ended. Some films have already been sold to North America and other European countries.
In the meantime we can look forward to the summer Berlinale, when the curtain will finally rise for the wider public. Then the festival will hopefully return to the way we have known it in Berlin for decades: with a red carpet, international stars, a glittering awards ceremony - and above all being together with many other people in film theatres. Because this streaming edition was good for this, too: it made us want to watch films with each other on the big screen.