Dieter Kosslick's Last Competition Program

in 69th Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival

by Lore Kleinert

Goodbye and good luck to festival director Dieter Kosslick whom I interviewed in his first Berlinale-year – he never lost his optimism and his astonishing friendliness, and the thankful emotions which now during this 59th edition of Berlinale 2019 were expressed to him by the stars, the public and all his colleagues were heartfelt and sincere – let’s see what is to be changed by the new team, but hopefully the very welcoming atmosphere will rermain! It is a pity and a shame that Yang Yimous movie One second was withheld by Chinese officials and could not be presented at the end of the festival. He won the Golden Bear 1988 for Red Sorghum as first Asian ever, and now he explores again the experience of Chinese Cultural Revolution with which he was familiar with in his own youth. The Berlinale was proud to present his new film – but obviously the story of an escaped convict and an orphan girl brought together by their joint interest in a film reel is contradictory to chinese interests just now. Let’s not forget that China‘s biggest film hits in recent years tell about Chinese military operations overseas and deliver patriotic messages.

But two other Chinese movies in Competion section are worthy of  mention: Wang Xiaoshuai gave his Berlinale debut in 1994 with The Days/ Dongchun de rizi in Forum section and won Berlin’s jury grand Prize for Beijing Bicycle in 2001. Like Yang Yimou, he belongs to the “6. Generation” of Chinese cinema standing for renewal and political change. His beautiful film So long, my Son follows two Chinese families through three decades of social upheaval and offers deep insights to the constantly changing circumstances of ordinary people‘s life and the way they cope. The consequences of Chinese One-Child-politics are especially dealt with in a subtle and thoughtful way. I would have very much agreed with rewarding the Golden Bear but, alas, at least the film won the Silver Bear for the male and female actors.

Chinese director Wang Quan’an won the Silver Bear in 2007 with Tuya’s Marriage, and again he returns to the vast Mongolian landscape in which he unfolds the story of a local herdswoman in Öndög. What first appears tob e a criminal story as the body of a dead woman is found, develops into a study about a uncommon and self-confident woman who is equally able to defend herself and a young policeman against wolves as well as maintaining her independance as she follows her wish to become a mother. Öndög shows the beautiful huge dusk-blue horizon and the vast grassland in wide shots and develops an astonishing rhythm. The collusion between tradition and modernity produces very funny and amusing sparks highlighting the long uneventful and lone ways people have to go, not only in Mongolia.

“Private life is political” – this was somewhat of a motto festival Director Kosslick promised for his last competition section. For several films it proved  true, but I wonder if this was different than in the former years – movies also investigate scandals, oppression, social injustice and violence. Two french films by well known directors told important stories: André Techiné’s film Farewell to the Night about a disturbed young man who wants to join the islamic terrorists of IS. His grandmother (Catherine Deneuve) is not able to reach him anymore and takes drastic measures to prevent his departure. Interesting topic, but conventionally made. Francois Ozon’s Film By the Grace of God tracks the fight of survivors from sexual abuse by a Catholic priest for being taken seriously. In the 80’s a priest in Lyon abused dozens of young boys, and the catholic hierarchy of Lyon did not defrock the man and reacted with nothing but empty rhetoric. Attempts to stop the film have meanwhile been rejected by the court of justice – a very up-to-date movie, but somehow I would have preferred a real documentary. The Berlinale rewarded this nevertheless courageous movie with the Grand Jury Prize. No prize for Agnieszka Holland’s Mr. Jones which tells the story of Gareth Jones, a Welsh reporter whose investigation in the USSR of the 30‘s revealed the Ukranian famine, the “holodomor” with millions of victims. Nobody believed him after his return to England, until he met George Orwell, who was inspired by Jones‘ report to writing his famous novel Animal Farm. Several years later Gareth Jones was killed by GPU – a story about the lies of the mighty and the blindness of political leaders and many irresponsible journalists in the west. The film conveys it as an important and well made history lesson. Whereas Gareth Jones, confronted with the horrific starvation of the Ukrainian people conveys the horror in strong, black and white pictures, the Brasilian director Wagner Moura fails in his film Marighella, by dwelling excessively in pictures of violence. During military dictatorship in the 60‘s, Marighella tried to build resistance against oppression with militant means. Moura‘s movie follows the killing of almost all members of his group and shows the utmost horror. The question remains however if this important story is really best served through the means of a splatter movie.

Lore Kleinert