10 Days. 14 Cinemas. 23 Films.

The 61st Berlin International Film Festival has come and gone and above you see a collage of the films I watched during the festival. If you don’t like to read the whole thing, scroll to the bottom to find links to trailers, Facebook pages, and other informations about the films.

“Karigurashi no Arietti” (借りぐらしのアリエッティ, The Borrower Arrietty) is the latest animé of Hayao Miyazaki’s famous animation house Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki did not direct it but instead allowed animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi to become the youngest person to direct a film for Ghibli. The music is perhaps a bit too sweet at times and it lacks, as a friend noted, the final showdown that are the trademark of Miyazaki’s films. Nevertheless the film is adorable.

“Tag und Nacht” (Day and Night) is a contentious Austrian film by Sabine Derflinger about two young women who feel that they have had enough bad sex without getting paid and decide rather naively to sell sex to support their living. Hard to stomach but very impressive, especially the performance by Anna Rot as Lea. If you ever wondered why ‘prostitution’ is now commonly referred to as ‘sex work’, here is why.

The Berlinale programme led me to believe that “Changgyecheon Medley: A Dream of Iron” (청계천 메들리) would be a scathing attack on gentrification that certainly has become a feature of South Korea’s bustling capital Seoul. But instead it was a rather uneven genre-mix that wasn’t boring but left me altogether disappointed. A sculpture in the film, the poster design, and a clip from an old North Korean stop-trick animation will be the three things I’ll remember from this one.

It could have been a critique of the British involvement in the war on Iraq, but instead the British production “Stormhouse” instantly made it into the top three of the worst films I have ever seen. Too small a budget for SFX (and light, apparently), a ludicrous story, C- actors, a Muslim terrorist – need I say more? ‘The director has captured and imprisoned a natural audience. And now he wants to play his film.’ Hardly likely to be released in cinemas. Golden Raspberry.

“Doenjang” (된장, The Recipe) was the opening film of the “Kulinarisches Kino” section (Culinary Cinema). Tickets for the film/dinner event cost 59 Euro, but my fame as the office’s dish washer and the fact that I was responsible for the two 35mm screenings in this section allowed me to watch the film from the back. The film deals with the search for the recipe for the perfect soy-bean soup, one of my very favourite Korean meals. The film is a fulminant genre-mix – here a good one – and contains beautiful scenes shot in the Korean countryside. One could take whole chunks out of the film to promote Korea and its cuisine, which is probably exactly what was intended.

“Tomboy” was both the opening film of the 25th Panorama as well as part of the selection of the Generation 14 Plus section. Some years back, it was decided to split the Children’s Film Festival into Generation K Plus and 14 Plus to gear the sections towards the respective age groups. You could only attend screenings of these sections and you would probably end up having the best of times as the quality of the selected films is outstanding. “Tomboy” is a rather slow, quiet film about an adolescent transgender. Director Céline Sciamma’s had already impressed me with “Naissance des pieuvres” (Water Lilies) and while her new film got maybe hyped a tad too much, it’s still a film worth watching. “Tomboy” received the Teddy Award for films with LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) topics.

I am sure that it is interesting to listen to Judge Garzon. “Escuchando al Juez Garzón” (Listening to the Judge) is not. Filmed from no more than three angles and against the light, this is tedious, to say the least. I left after about half an hour. Shame, because a documentary about the persecution that the Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón is suffering due to his investigations about the Franco dictatorship and political corruption surely could have been a highlight of the festival. Any smart phone shoots a better film than this one. Berlinale Special? Not so special as far as I’m concerned.

“Jagadangchak: shidaejeongshin kwa hyeonshilchamyeo” (자가당착: 시대정신과 현실참여/Self Referential Traverse: Zeitgeist and Engagement) was not only disappointing, it was also incredibly noisy and repetitive. One could claim that this pseudo-anarchical waste of time is simply geared towards insiders of the circumstances in Korea only. But hang on, that’s actually what I am, and what I had hoped for was maybe not a National Geographic-type documentary but for once some clear and enlightening commentary about the revival of authoritarianism under the current administration of LEE Myung Bak. The director was present after the screening but his ramblings were just as incoherent as his film.

About Chen Kaige’s “Zhao Shi Gu Er” (赵氏孤儿/Sacrifice) I got nothing much to say. It’s nowhere near as good as other Chinese martial arts films but it’s entertaining and carries a good message: revenge and violence don’t solve problems but only serve to create more.

“Man at Sea” is a Greek film about a captain of an oil tanker that rescues thirty young migrants when he discovers their boat drifting disabled at sea. He soon has to realise, however, that doing the right thing can cause unforeseen consequences. I suppose I am biased towards the film because of its topic. I read a review of the film that rated it as not much more than a mediocre TV drama and maybe that’s true. Still, the fact that the film raises awareness over the vulnerability of undocumented migrants renders the film acceptable in my opinion.

“Zai Yi Qi” (在一起/Together) was my personal favourite at this year’s Berlinale. Zhao Liang portrays Aids sufferers of both genders in China and the discrimination they endure in Chinese society. This film provides an insight not only into the lives of HIV-positive people in China (and in general) but also into contemporary China. Refreshingly, it does so without the undertones usually found in Western films about China. Note: this film was produced and supported by the Chinese Minstry of Health.

“Apflickorna” (She Monkeys) by Swedish director Lisa Aschan received a Special Mention in the Generation 14 Plus section. The films’ protagonist is a teenage girl competing for a spot in an equestrian vaulting team. To that end, she enters a game of power and manipulation with her main rival, while her baby sister plays some mind games of her own. Apflickorna is a powerful coming-of-age western that gets under your skin.

“También la lluvia” (Even the Rain) was one of the two films I screened at the Culinary Cinema section. I didn’t follow the film much during the screening but what I saw made me want to watch it. It came in handy that my boss had two tickets for a screening the next evening that he himself could not attend, and so I watched this amazing film, a Spanish-French-Mexican co-production, about the war over water in Bolivia. The film deals with a film team that wants to shoot a film about the atrocities committed by the first settlers in America in the name of civilisation. As the filming progresses, the team is unavoidably drawn into the growing social unrest over the privatisation of the water supply. Will history repeat itself? Luis Tosar, Gael García Bernal, and Juan Carlos Aduviri impress with outstanding performances that were rewarded with the Panorama Audience Award.

To say that “Ashamed” (창피해, Chang-pi-hae) tells love stories, as the Berlinale programme puts it, might simplify things a bit, though the quest to find love definitely is what drives the characters in this South Korean film. I quite enjoyed it. However, the film could do with some editing, it could lose some 20 minutes, and if it would be just a teeny-tiny bit more conventional, it could easily reach a much larger audience as I expect it to reach in its current form.

The second of two “Shorts Film” programmes at the Generation 14 Plus section was simply amazing. I mainly went there to see the Irish production “Crossing Salween” about a young Karen girl fleeing from armed clashes in Myanmar. However, all but the last film were absolutely remarkable, each in its own way. The films included: “Tord and Tord” (Tord och Tord), a very cute Swedish animation; “Blokes” (Blocks), a coming-of-age story against the background of the political conditions in Chile under the Pinochet dictatorship; “Calle Última” (Ultima Street), the first-ever Paraguayan film at the Generation section, about a poor young girl; “Ebony Society”, a film from New Zealand, tells the story of two young petty thieves that pretend to be Santa Claus and Rudolf when they encounter a toddler and a young boy in a house they planned to burgle; and “Go the Dogs” is a co-production of New Zealand and Australia, depicting an autistic teenage girl, played by a teenager with special needs. The last film was a somewhat funny but in my opinion pointless Canadian horror short film called “The Legend of Beaver Dam”. Yes, I laughed and not everything has to be about poverty, politics, or special needs, but this film just didn’t fit into the programme at all.

The young actors of “Calle Última” are all participants of a project that aims to combat violence and sexual abuse of children and young people. The young actors who appear in this film are all participants of a project that aims to combat violence and sexual abuse among children and young people. The directors and some of the amazing actors were present at the screening. When asked how they felt about Germany in comparison to Paraguay, one of them answered: “It’s colder, more organised, and people respect each other more.” Scroll down for a link to the film’s Facebook page.

“Knerten gifter seg” (Twigson ties the Knot) is the sequel of the Norwegian film “Knerten” about a boy and his talking twig friend. If you know me, you will know that I loved it. The first part is due to be released this summer and another sequel is already in the works. In this film, Lillebror and his friend Knerten investigate the mysterious accident of Lillebror’s mum and Knerten falls in love with a pretty twig by the name of Karoline.

I concluded the festival by watching Dante Lam’s latest flick “Stool Pigeon” (綫人). After he rocked the festival in 2009 with “The Beast Stalker”, I had subsequently watched all of his films and was very much looking forward to his new film. And I wasn’t disappointed. “Stool Pigeon” is a fine Hong Kong action thriller about a police inspector and his fateful use of informations, the “stool pigeons”.

I attended the above screenings at CineStar 6, CinemaxX 3, 5, 7 and 13, Arsenal 1+2, Martin Gropius Bau, International, Delphi, Friedrichstadtpalast, Colosseum 1, Cubix 8 and Haus der Kulturen der Welt 2, and I felt that the best projection was at Colosseum 1, a cinema I briefly worked at back in 1997.

Trailers, Facebook & More

Click on the following links to watch trailers, join Facebook pages, visit film websites or leaf through the Berlinale Catalogue.

The Borrower Arrietty Trailer, Day and Night Website + Trailer, Changgyecheon Medley: A Dream of Iron (청계천 메들리) Trailer, Stormhouse Website, The Recipe (된장) Trailer, Tomboy – Excerpts from the film (English subs) and interview with director Céline Sciamma (audio: French/German), Report about Isabel Coixet’s film Escuchando al Juez Garzón (audio: Spanish or Catalan), Self Referential Traverse: Zeitgeist and Engagement (자가당착: 시대정신과 현실참여) – Berlinale Catalogue (Video coming soon), Sacrifice (赵氏孤儿) Trailer, Man at Sea – Press Conference, Fact sheet + Berlinale Catalogue, Zai Yi Qi (在一起) – Interview with Director Zhao Liang, Clips, Fact Sheet, She Monkeys (Apflickorna) Website incl. hi-res images and clips (zip file), Even the Rain (También la lluvia) Trailer, Ashamed (창피해) Trailer, Crossing Salween Trailer, Tord and Tord (Tord och Tord) Trailer, Blocks (Blokes) Trailer, Ultima Street (Calle Última) Trailer, Facebook Page & UNICEF page, Ebony Society Clip, Go the Dogs Clip, Twigson ties the Knot (Knerten gifter seg) Trailer (audio: Norwegian), Stool Pigeon (綫人) Trailer.

자가당착: 시대정신과 현실참여


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