Modest Films About Loss By Barbara Hollender

in 58th Berlinale

by Barbara Hollender

Strong political cinema won this year in Berlin. Jury president Costa-Gavras picked out The Elite Squad (Tropa de Elite) and Standard Operating Procedure of the competition entries with both films displaying rape, corruption, misery and political manipulation.

It is difficult to be surprised at the verdict after all as most of this year’s Berlin films were hotchpotch, resembling family cinema, larded with love triangles and quadrangles; in short, unbearably sentimental. It turned out once again what a big influence TV subculture under the banner of soap operas and Big Brother wields on contemporary arts.

However, even in this little interesting combination, psychologists and sociologists could find for themselves material for analysis as the protagonists of many films had to face personal tragedies and cope with the loss of the closest person. Cherry Blossoms — Hanami (Kirschblüten — Hanami) by Doris Dörrie is a film about parent-children relationships, but also about death; about great longing for those who leave, about carrying them inside; about the regret that when they were alive we gave them too little. The German, deliberately referring to the motives of Ozu films, talks about the pain associated with saying goodbye to those who leave.

In the disappointing Elegy by Isabel Coixet, an ageing professor has an affair with a student who is 30 years younger than him. However, although the girl fascinates him, he is afraid of entering into any deeper relationship. The girl leaves but the professor will feel the real sorrow of their splitting up only when his closest friend dies. This is the moment when the man’s world begins to empty, when work becomes his only ‘raison d’être’ and loneliness starts hurting.

The protagonist of Italian Quiet Chaos (Caos calmo) by Antonello Grimaldi almost withdraws from life after his wife’s death, making a decision to devote his whole time to his daughter. He accompanies her to school every day and in the square in front of the building he sits on the bench waiting for the girl to finish her lessons. Paradoxically, this is where he gets in touch with the world — maybe in a way he never experienced as a busy successful person. He becomes attentive and can evoke a smile in the face of a handicapped child, notice the loneliness of an elderly person. He will go back to work but perhaps already a different person.

And finally a pearl: Lake Tahoe by Mexican Fernando Eimbcke. A story about a boy who has just lost his father. Shot in the lazy atmosphere of a sun-baked pueblo, this is a beautiful, fresh and very delicate picture about overcoming loneliness. The young protagonist will have the school of hard knocks within one day. In the evening he will enter peacefully into all the relationships that he rejected in the morning.

But in the competition there were also other films about the shock triggered by a serious disease — from the Chinese In Love We Trust (Zuo you) to the French I’ve Loved You So Long (Il y a longtemps que je t’aime). All the films, though at different artistic levels, portrayed people whose fate suddenly shook them out of their everyday routine and put them in a situation which forced them to redefine and reflect. Maybe it is actually this way: we live too fast and somewhere there are more important matters slipping through our fingers. We need to experience shock to recall the simplest feelings and human solidarity. And the cinema reminds us of that.