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  • Christian Hain

Berlinale 2018. Some Afterthoughts


And that's it; the 68th International Berlin Film Festival - Berlinale 2018 is history.

Some films were good, some were less, and, let’s be honest, some were major trash.

It’s always a pleasure, spending six hours and more per day in a cinema, then work till 2 am, and get up at 7 again. But who would complain? There’s free coffee (no tea, unfortunately). Last year, we even got a thermo mug for free. Now it’s bring your own, because Berlinale “seeks to reduce waste and promote the conscious use of resources”, there aren’t anymore throw-away cups either. Very praiseworthy indeed, but methinks, that Nestlé logo was also figuring more prominently in the past. Have they reduced their sponsoring activities?

All in all, what started off somewhat slowly, finally turned into a good (in and in but out of) competition. Berlinale’s last day was blew our mind, with the premieres of Mug, In the Aisles, and Ága. Before, there were Pig, Daughter of Mine, Black 47, and even The Prayer – thus once again: Berlinale ‘18 is a good vintage.

I’m wondering, if festival boss Diether Kosslick’s successor will finally get rid of that competition-out-of-competition bs. Call it “promo feature”, or “Hollywood corner”, and invite only the big 'Murican studios – like last year with Wolverine and Trainspotting 2; add all good films to competition – Ága (and Black 47) this year. One thing seems sure: Whoever will take over in 2020 needs to tidy out an overblown event. There’s “Panorama”, “Forum”, “Generation 14plus”, “Generation K”, “Talents”, “Culinary Cinema”, “Cinema Goes ‘Hood”, “Classics”, “Retrospective”, “Homage”, and countless more categories. There must have been half a thousand films and more in the ten-days-event. You could wonder, what was first: the programme, or the public interest that is immense in Berlin. Who got a ticket counts himself lucky, no matter what film it’s for. Then again, there are so many film schools, so many curricula to be filled, so many friends and family of filmmakers asking what they’re up to... But does a festival need to be the "real life YouTube"?

The awards have been granted in an hour long Gala on Saturday night, granted by don’t ask me how many juries, so many faces have been granted a minute or two on (inter)national TV. (That Israeli girl winning some short film prize was either on drugs or plain crazy – in the best way possible.) Here come the most important awardees, those who've convinced the VIP jury (i.e. Tom “Lola Runs” Tykwer, Cécile de France, Chema Prado, Adele Romanski, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Stephanie Zacharek):

The Silver Bear for an Outstanding Artistic Achievement goes to:

Elena Okopnaya for Costume and Production Design in Dovlatov

Silver Bear for the Best Script:

Manuel Alcalá and Alonso Ruizpalacios for Museo (Museum)

Silver Bear for the Best Actor:

Anthony Bajon in La Prière (The Prayer)

Silver Bear for the Best Actress:

Ana Brun in Las herederas (The Heiresses)

Silver Bear for Best Directing:

Wes Anderson for Isle of Dogs

Silver Bear “Alfred Bauer Award for a Feature Film that Opens New Perspectives”:

Las herederas (The Heiresses)

Silver Bear “Big Prize of the Jury”

Twarz (Mug)

Golden Bear for the Best Film:

First of all: This looks almost like the festival itself, there - no, stop: First of all: Congratulations to the winners! Then, second of all: there are so many incomprehensible categories. Why is there a “Big Prize of the Jury”, if it’s the s a m e f r e a k i n g jury that also awards the Golden Bear for Best Film? “We like this one, yeah, but that one’s our other first place...”? Or: What exactly are the criteria to define a film “opening new perspectives”?

Now for some in-depth criticism (you didn't think you could get away without it, did you?). Costumes and production design of Dovlatov were not that special to me (but maybe I did not notice because I got too tired of the constant namedropping), and it’s also ironic in a way: Award a film on literature with the prize that focuses the most on superficial appearance - “f—you, we’re film! This is about looks, not meaning!” After all, that’s a stereotype: books are content, films are cover. The actor would have been a credible choice for best in festival, though. But I won’t complain here.

Maybe Mug was pushing it a little too hard, bringing their Makeup artist to the press conference after the first screening, and yet they were right: He’s done a terrific job, and he would have deserved that prize.

Neither is there anything special to the script of Museo - and btw: did they even read it? No particularly surprising plot twists, and certainly not the best dialogues in competition.

Anthony Bajon for best actor is surprising as well, but justifiable. Thinking about it again, it was his performance, that made (parts of) the movie feel like a documentary. Standing all alone in a hotel lobby before the gala, he seemed quite nervous, maybe somebody gave him a hint. He seems a nice guy too, French cinema’s coming star?

Best female actor is an ok choice. I didn’t get quite though, whether she was only playing herself or not. She told so, but then again, she’s led a different life and maybe was just referring to certain situations, emotions, experiences. There would have been alternatives at least as justifiable (Sandra Hüller in In The Aisles), but there’s nothing scandalous about the decision.

I don’t know, whether the directing of Isle of Dog is really that good. It offered them a chance to have Bill Murray on stage one more time, that doesn’t happen too often on German TV. (The network is one of Berlinale’s principal sponsors and they don’t enjoy the best of reputations; but I don’t want to imply anything here). Wes Anderson was busy himself (/didn’t want to come), but they were more than happy with Bill, you can be sure about that.

And finally, the Gummy, no: the Golden Bear.

If you feel the need to give another prize to Adina Pintilie‘s promiscuous Noli Me Tangere, Touch Me Not, on top of a BFF, the "Best First Feature Film" awarded by another jury, why not that New Perspectives thing? Why choose the The Heiresses instead? Old Lesbians opening new perspectives - have we not seen that countless times already? Yes, maybe it’s new for Paraguay, a country where – outrageous! - two sexes still exist, a country that needs to be equalized with the rest of the world asap. But if anything, Touch Me Not is a daring approach to sexuality and thus: opening new perspectives.

As it is, the jury’s decision may appear ridiculous, and surprising. But ridiculous first.

And I think, I got you there, Adina: Discussing the movie, she turned to one of the actors, a man who by some autoimmunity defect lost all his body hair and now looks like Max Schreck in Nosferatu, with the words: “He’s a great actor, he can very well play a vampire.” Freak Show, like I said.

Not tasteful, not respectful to him (and the viewers). Pintilie further was underlining her intention to “create a dialogue” by the means of this disabled soft porn (there’s certainly a category for that on Pornhub). Asked by an - American, what else - journalistess, 'how comes, there are no Lesbians in Touch Me Not?', she set her right quite cruelly: ‘the question tells more about the one who's putting it, and who should start inquiring about herself, than about the film’. Men, women, it’s all alike, maybe this is what lies at the core of her ideology: the radical negation of individuality. Adina Pintilie also declared, we’d need to reconsider our definitions of beauty. My issue with this: Beauty is a judgement category, and as such can only exist as long as there’s something else, falling out. As soon as you declare everything for aesthetic, nothing remains, and nothing is. It’s all the same, arbitrary, all one, exchangeable, all equal, irrelevant. Maybe, we are one; but maybe our purpose in life is to be different.

Oh, and there’s no Best Supporting Actor Bear at all, actually. But if there was, Udo Kier would have won it twice. Or more.

Once, I noticed the doubtful look of a Spanish colleague and following his gaze, there was that note on the bottom of the word page I was working on, “Chema Prado looks like an overweight Andy Warhol.” (using another adjective, but I never published it, and besides: it’s a compliment!)

Berlinale, 15-25 February 2018

World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism



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