Our man in Berlin reviews Boyhood, 20,000 Days on Earth and more.
Last week, I jumped around Berlin from screen to screen and station to station for the 2014 Berlin film festival. Asian films dominated the prizes this year. But the festival isn’t just about the competition for the prestigious Golden Bear, won this year by Chinese noir thriller Black Coal Thin Ice. There are several sections including Panorama, Forum, Retrospective and Perspective German cinema, all of which contain some diverse and provocative films.
Berlinale’s an inclusive festival both in terms of access – it’s open to the people of Berlin (unlike, for example, Cannes) – and in terms of theme (it has a large number of LGBT films). It has red carpet glamour and art-house obscurity. It is physically impossible to see everything in the festival’s vast programme of over 400 films, but here I attempt a round-up of some of the more notable entries.
Boyhood is a highly accomplished work, featuring US auteur Richard Linklater’s trademark use of nostalgic pop music, wistful dialogue and compelling ensemble performances that elevate a simple story about a boy’s childhood and adolescence above the mundanity of the subject. It’s a shame that it opens with the chords to Coldplay’s Yellow, but it’s all up-hill from there.
Shot sporadically over 12 years with the same cast, it’s remarkable that Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Ellar Coltrane (the boy) achieve such a consistency of characterisation in Boyhood. Coltrane plays the son of the estranged couple played by Hawke and Arquette, as she moves her family from town to town and unsuitable husband to unsuitable husband. Coltrane is shown passively soaking up the influences of those fathers while slowly carving out his own identity.
The film jumps in time without always explaining what has happened to Arquette’s former lovers or step-children, but this only enhances the sense of time passing from the boy’s perspective. It’s hard to pin down why Linklater has such a charming style. There’s a lazy slacker-like drawl about his actors’ delivery, but there’s enough intelligence and wit in the writing for it to move. An early favourite for the Golden Bear, instead the Berlinale jury gave Linklater a Silver Bear for best director.
Kraftidioten (aka In Order of Disappearance)
Kraftidioten by Hans Petter Moland is a very funny and violent Norwegian black comedy about gangsters with very silly names (Strike, Wingman) that has been compared to Fargo. Stellan Skarsgård gives a fun, ironical performance as a snow-shifter whose son dies after getting mixed up with some drug barons. It all builds to a slightly predictable climax, but there are some surprising shifts in tone including hysterical dialogue between gangsters about the Norwegian welfare state. It was very much an audience favourite and seems a highly likely candidate to be snapped up for an American remake.
Kreuzweg (aka Stations of the Cross)
Kreuzweg is an austere, often intelligent and mischievous German film by Dietrich Brüggemann. It consists of 14 chapters featuring long takes with a static camera, each corresponding to a different station of the cross (Jesus carries the cross; Jesus falls for the second time etc), as it follows the sacrifices of a teenage girl (Lea van Acken) whose puberty is troubled by the puritanical teachings of her super-orthodox Catholic priest.
It’s a von Trier, Michael Haneke and Renaissance art-inspired exercise in style as well as a satire on extremism. The tone is uneven towards the end, but van Acken’s performance is nuanced and very impressive. Although the Hollywood Reporter said last week that the film has a “snowball’s chance in hell” of wider distribution, its winning of a Silver Bear for best script might resurrect its commercial hopes.
20,000 Days on Earth
20,000 Days on Earth, directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, is a lyrical, fictional non-fiction piece about art and memory starring Nick Cave’s version of Nick Cave and featuring spoken poetry and surreal encounters in a car with Kylie Minogue, Ray Winstone and former Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld. The film reverts to standard concert film fare towards the end, with live performances of tracks from Cave and the Bad Seeds’ latest album Push the Sky Away. But overall it’s a daring documentary that pushes the form in new, strange directions.
The car scenes feel like Leos Carax’s surreal flight of fancy Holy Motors and, elsewhere, the film feels like a sombre police procedural, as Cave pores over projected slides of his past. It should appeal to fans of the mercurial Cave and non-fans attracted by a stylish portrait of the rock star as self-creation.
A word about the rest
One of the hottest tickets in town was for Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac (Volume 1), which screened in the competition section, but was not eligible for prizes. It seemed to divide audiences, but many found it unexpectedly funny. UK audiences will have to decide whether von Trier is just being a prankster again with his stunt penises or whether he has something interesting to say about female neuroses when the film opens here later this month.
The Square (Al-Midan) is a powerful documentary about the protests in Egypt’s Tahir Square and the circular nature of anti-autocratic populist revolutions. George Clooney’s Monuments Men was poorly received by critics with many remarking on its uneven tone. Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson was a great festival-opener and deserved winner of a Silver Bear.
The prizes in full
Golden Bear for Best Film: Bai Ri Yan Huo (Black Coal, Thin Ice) (Diao Yinan)
Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize: The Grand Budapest Hotel (Wes Anderson)
Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize: Aimer Boire et Chanter (Alain Resnais)
Silver Bear for Best Director: Richard Linklater (Boyhood)
Silver Bear for Best Actress
Haru Kuroki in
(The Little House)
by Yoji Yamada
Silver Bear for Best Actor
Liao Fan in
Bai Ri Yan Huo
(Black Coal, Thin Ice)
by Diao Yinan
Silver Bear for Best Script
Dietrich Brüggemann, Anna Brüggemann for
(Stations of the Cross)
by Dietrich Brüggemann
Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution
Zeng Jian for the camera in
by Lou Ye
Featured image: IFC Films
Inset images: IFC Films; UFA Fiction; Film i Vast; Film4; Zentropa/Heimatfilm