Impressions of the 2018 Festival Edition

in 68th Berlinale - International Film Festival Berlin

by Lore Kleinert

The best two hours in a Berlinale cinema this year: Kazuhiro Sôda, a Japanese Filmmaker living in New York, takes us in his black and white documentary to Ushimado, a fishing village on the Seta Inland Sea where also his previous film “Kaki kôba” about an oyster factory was located. “The Inland Sea” (Minatomachi)  in the Berlinale Forum shows the dwindling world of a remote Japanese fishing village. Everybody is quite old, and lots of well-fed cats, beautifully furry and proud, are strolling around this community of fishermen, lively women and visitors. The main focus in the beginning is fisherman Wan-Chai, a hearing impaired 86-year old, frail on land but skillful and happy while fishing, which has become too expensive after all and cannot last much longer, although the catch is abundant. Hard times for the poor fish gasping for air, but the felines have a great life and even attract the attention of tourists, who are welcome on this aging and getting deserted part of Honshu – a fate to share with countless parts of the world. Sôda, director, writer, producer and editor, who even operates his hand-held camera, follows the still-living catch to the auction, then to Mrs. Kôda’s shop and accompanies her while delivering as she has done since 55 years. He talks with some of the inhabitants, the sea always being present, and shows the beauty of a slow, vanishing world in fleeting pictures with respect and a great sense of humour, knowing that many traditions will die with the elderly residents. The documentary is an intimate and never sentimental study of life as it was for centuries.

Some impressions which remain after the not very spectacular Berlinale Competition.

Two movies focussed on how changing relationships makes room for new possibilities of development especially for women. Laura Bispuri’s Italian competition film “Daughter of Mine” (Figlia mia) and Marcello Martinessi’s movie “The Heiresses” (Las Herederas). Laura Bispuri places her story about the 10 years old redhaired girl Vittoria and her two mothers in a Sardinian village of fish breeders and day labourers. Angelica (Alba Rohrbacher) gave her child after the birth to her friend Tina (Valeria Golino) and her husband, as she leads a random life of neglect on a rundown place in the mountains and in the bars. The thoughtful arrangement comes to an end when the redhaired girl meets her real mother und is fascinated by her wildness and supposed independence  –  a charismatic and fiery woman when sober but a catastrophe when drunk, and very different from the loving and overprotective Tina. Bispuri finds a very skillful balance between the perspectives of the three of them and in the upcoming fight of the two women she takes side with the girl Vittoria. She shows the wounds, the fears and the yearning of her characters without judging them, and she sounds out how the girl rediscovers herself and gets stronger and more mature. Her movie succeeds in opening new space in an archaic and still narrow world, although the director cannot achieve the strength of her outstanding second film “Sworn Virgin” three years ago, also with Alba Rohrbacher.

Narrow is as well the world of the two middle-aged upperclass ladies reduced to poverty, Chela (Ana Brun) and Chiquita (Margarita Irún). They have settled in a large inherited house, in a somewhat incongruent relationsship, but when Chiquita is sent to prison for fraud, the shy painter Chela is jolted out of the limbo of complete uselessnes. She experiences different ways of female community while she starts driving her elderly neighbour Pituca and other wealthy women to card games in her late father’s old Mercedes. Earning money is something utterly new for her, and  the attention of a younger women brings Chela who usually is content with observing to life, and she learns more and more how to abandon her inability to act on her own. The director, who was participant at Berlinale Talents in 2013, does not spell everything out but explores the outside world of Paraguayan society through the awakening eyes of his heroine, and his wellmade first feature can be seen as a commentary on class in his country after the dictatorship of Alfredo Stoessner between 1954 till 1989 as well as a fine and lasting character study. So there is much reason for joy about the Silver Bears for new perspectives (Alfred Bauer Preis) and for the best  actress Ana Brun who gave a very insistent impression in her very first film.

In 2013 Nazif Mucic won the Silver Bear as best actor for his leading part in the semi-documentary “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker” (Epizoda u zivotu beraca zeljeza). Sad news for this year Berlinale, when we heard the news about his death with 43 years. After having tried to get asylum in Germany for himself and his family in vain, Mucic sold his Silver Bear and went back to Bosnia, ill, without money and hope, just as the film had told. His death marked a break in the festival routine and reminds us of the limits of the power of cinema art.

Lore Kleinert