From My Berlinale Diary: Films I Loved
Once again this was an outstanding film festival! In my diary for this year’s Berlinale, the following films were particularly noted: Life of Riley (Aimer, boire et chanter), ’71, Stratos (To mikro psari)and Macondo in the Competition, and in the Panorama, The Decent One (Der Anständige). Here is why:
“Life of Riley”
In this film adaptation of the play by British writer Alan Ayckbourn, the unsurpassed French master Alain Resnais follows a recipe of “simple is beautiful”. He has a unique way of presenting the film’s exterior and interior scenes, often replacing them with theatrical props and backdrops. In the film, the mundane lives of three village couples are affected in many ways by their invisible friend, George Riley.
We see that Resnais is an unexcelled master in terms of bringing together seemingly incompatible subjects: pure theatre, fine arts, music, and an insightful film. Once again, the sparkling Sabine Azéma — Resnais’ life companion — has one of the lead roles. Maestro Resnais was 91 years old; however, as a celebration of life and art as well as death, his film is crafted with so much creative energy that it would make any young man green with envy!
The debut of British director Yann Demange, this is a thrilling and dynamic existentialist nocturne about hidden identities. It is a film about the paranoia of those who are forced to take sides, a film which sends shivers down the spine of the viewer. The film is set in Northern Ireland in the war zone of a divided Belfast, shortly before the tragic events of 1971. It details one of many gory Irish nights, depicting not only the personal tragedy of a young British soldier who has been forgotten and abandoned in action, but also the ill-fated destiny of the Irish people: those who are divided between the loyalists (Protestants) and the hostile rebels (Catholics), and the street gangs, internal factions, betrayers, informers and desperate people from all walks of life. The dark and claustrophobic streets of Belfast set the scene for a ruthless manhunt, and the smell of blood, burning and gunpowder can almost be sensed permeating through the screen. Many films have been made on this topic, among them Greengrass’s brilliant Bloody Sunday (2002), but ’71 introduces a lot of freshness and strength to the theme, and succeeds in becoming a universal antiwar parable.
Stratos, by Yannis Economides, is a Greek film which can be described as Tarantino without the pranks or humor. A hitman is paid to liquidate, one by one, middle-class people steeped in debt. He is not driven by murderous urges but by necessity (he must invest in a tunnel construction to free his friends from prison), and in this sense, Stratos is a big metaphor for the Greek economic crisis. The hitman, who is the only reticent person among the loud, blabbering characters, is the most ethical character in a story about moral downfall, deceit, corruption, failed investments and families. This is an impressive, original film and offers yet more proof that the Greek economic crisis has, in recent years, given rise to many Greek film geniuses we have yet to hear about.
Sudabeh Mortezai’s film, the fiction feature debut by this established Iranian-Austrian documentary director, is one of those subtle, unassuming yet precious films with a story one believes in. The film is set in a Viennese asylum-seeker complex, known as Macondo, with the story focusing on an 11-year-old Chechen boy who, with his two little sisters and mother, the widow of a fallen Chechen fighter, battles with bureaucracy to gain Austrian citizenship and the chance at a new life. The film contains neorealist style elements, along with an experienced documentary-making eye which captures the subtle, small details and nuances of everyday life in a political asylum. With an impeccably chosen amateur cast, Mortezai creates a film which is worthy of any festival.
“The Decent One”
A feature-length documentary by Israeli director Vanessa Lapa, which she describes as a post-documentary of unease, this is a powerful, stirring work and an updated portrait of one of the central figures of the Third Reich, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler. By using recently published love letters from Himmler to his wife Margaret as well as the diaries and photographs found in his house in 1945, which have been missing until recently, the author offers unique access to the mind of a person transformed from a decent man into the infamous “Architect of the Final Solution”.
In one of his letters, Himmler writes, “In life one must always be decent, courageous and kind-hearted”, and throughout the film Lapa offers some possible answers to the question of how a man can be decent and brave in his own eyes, yet a mass murderer in the eyes of the world.
The film offers an insight into the mind, experiences, emotions and visions of Himmler as a private person, and the original documents used in this unique horror story evoke everything that he, and his ideology, signified as a public figure. This is a film which deserves a place in the cinema and on television, as well as in education programs at schools.
Edited by Lesley Chow
© FIPRESCI 2014