Powerful Women - Weak Stories

in 65th Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival

by Lore Kleinert

The selection of the movies in the competition section reveals less about the creative power of the participating countries than about what a programmer thinks suitable for a competition and the festival in general – not a new idea, and the outcome is arbitrary and random. Before the festival began, its director Dieter Kosslick emphasised the motto “Powerful women in extreme situations”, and the opening film was clearly marked by this. Not a totally bad idea to tell the story of Mrs Peary, who wanted to follow her husband to the North Pole, and a movie about the life of the British archeologist and spy Gertrude Bell would also be worthwhile. The first, because of her obsession to reach the Pole, the other because she set course for the total reorganisation in the Middle East after World War I. Doubtless strong narratives and highly esteemed leading actresses, but both movies sacrificed them to the attractions of the perpetual ice and snow and of the desert and were neither an enrichment nor a credit to the competition.

In “Nobody Wants the Night” Director Isabel Coixet makes Juliette Binoche act like the caricature of a upper-class lady in absurdly unsuitable gowns until she is finally alone with an Inuit woman and, to top it all, pregnant by Mr. Peary. A lot of snow, ice and hunger until the end, but not even minimal plausibility. And Gabriel Byrne, as her mysanthropic companion, breaks through the ice far to early.

Gertrude Bell is not very lucky either: Werner Herzog’s desert is beautifully shot, and he was, as he told everybody, very happy to have this opportunity. In “Queen of the Desert”,  leading actress Nicole Kidman drifts prettily through scenery worth seeing, only to end up sinking in a slushy colonial film to symphonic accompaniment. We’ll never know why he actually wanted to make a movie about Bell’s interesting life and I wish he had treated the desert as his famous Cave of Chauvet Pont d’Arc in “Cave of Forgotten Dreams”, without human decorations, a fine, concentrated documentary, like years before.

Patricio Guzmán’s search for traces in Patagonia in the far south of Chile, with its bizarre glaciers and crevasses, was the only documentary in this year’s competition.

His beautiful film “The Pearl Button” (El botón de nacár) combines the history of the extermination of the early tribespeople with the continuity of violence during the military dictatorship. The sea,  a mass grave, and the little button is all that is left of 1,400 corpses which have been thrown out of helicopters by Pinochet’s army. A great film, and one of the very few with a political background.

Young Men – Wild Times

So, no real strong women, except perhaps in Jayro Bustamante’s movie about the Maya women at the “Ixcanul Volcano” (Ixcanul), but two German directors with films about young men: Andreas Dresen shows in his adaption of Clemens Meyers’s Leipzig-novel “As We Were Dreaming” (Als wir träumten) a group of male youth experiencing wild life after the decline of GDR. While their stories had depth and background in the novel, Dresen drives his actors through incoherent episodes, structured by a disco racket, and he doesn’t get a grip on either the time or his heroes and their different failures. Movies need the right rhythm and an adequate timing, we could also talk about dramaturgy, and Sebastian Schipper has risked something as he shot a bank hold up, a love story and a fitting study of a Berlin milieu without a single cut. The result has a good pace and an adequate rhythm, matching the views of the group of half-criminal drifters around the young Spanish girl, the eponymous Victoria, who meets them at a disco. The film manages the change of action and concentrated quietness, combines lightness with rough play and creates its own time and world. Some cuts wouldn’t have been bad, but Schipper wanted the experiment, and he succeeded.

Great Movies – Tales About Humans

Regrettable that Wim Wenders movie “Every Thing Will Be Fine” was shown out of competition – in superior style and brilliantly as in his best films he tells the story of how a young author kills a child in an car accident and life of all characters involved changes. The film shows his way of composing images and his patience while observing how death changes life quietly and almost without noticing, with a great sense of timing and no unnecessary commenting. That Wenders loves 3D is not really a problem, and some time or other you forget about it. A similar sensibility also distinguishes Jafar Panahi’s great little film “Taxi”. The car becomes a place where fates cross each other, where the deficits of society are debated, where there is fun and fright and everything else – the last resort for an Iranian director who is not allowed to do what he can do best and who insists on not being told what is to do about filmmaking, because he knows his trade.

My personal Berlinale-low in the Competition program: Terrence Malick’s oversized commercial, blown-up to pseudo-substance with bad tasting tarot-card philosophy “Knight of Cups”.

Lasting sidelong glance: Bad times for animals, which are either eaten or hunted and may only once hop on the bed, in Malgorzata Szumowska’s funny Polish movie “Body”.

Best moment: When Eisenstein (the very good Elmer Bäck) in Peter Greenaway’s film “Eisenstein in Guanajuato” says to his penis: “Mr. Prick, behave!” – and the contrary happens. Eisenstein’s visit to Mexico, consequently, did not produce a movie, but Greenaway’s intention to celebrate the creator of grammar and syntax of cinema bears witness to his sense of humour and his conviction that failures are far more interesting than successes. And this allows, at least, a more merciful view of the weak programme of this year’s competition.

Edited by Amber Wilkinson