Berlinale 2018 – The Films. Day 4: The Prayer, Daughter of Mine, The Real Estate
Day Four, 18 February The Prayer is a promotional film for the Catholic church, set in the French Alps. It tells the story of Thomas, a junkie who enters a monastic rehab project supervised by a lay brother, to find God, health, and peace. A simple, old-fashioned story about a special sort of exorcism, that still works out thank to the actors and great cinematography. Maybe you smile at some point, trying to recap the lyrics of YMCA... They tell jokes too, they have parties, and occasionally even a one night stand – with a neighbouring farmer family’s daughter, who is conveniently put into the main character’s way when he wants to leave (rather not by habit, but as an exception for him alone).
Ora e labora, and it’s not hermits they want. Rural life is tough despite the beautiful scenery that almost by itself demands belief in artful creation. If there’s nothing else to do, dig a grave and close it up again, just for fun (or symbolism). But never ask questions, those lead to the dark side. To doubt, inquietude and worldliness. Believe and be happy, never alone, “no solitude”, not for a moment, is one of the rules of a community that ultimately aims for reintegration into society. A traditional, uniform society that commands conformity. Happy too, probably (beati pauperes spritu). Following an epiphany on a mountain tour, where he got lost for a night, Thomas finally decides to become a priest, but then again, there’s still that girl, and so on...
In parts, The Prayer reminds of a documentary on self help groups, alcoholics anonymous or something, with everyone standing up and telling his story, then asking for forgiveness. No doubt, it works. Catholicism was there long before psychology. No questions are raised about the nature of addiction, its sociocultural conditions and mechanisms (even the scientific definition is fluid, “constant craving” &ct) - or where exactly hides the difference between addictions inherent to the conditio humana – water, salt, oxygene, ... – and those that are added later, deliberately. But the film doesn’t need to. Those guys - and girls in the separate women’s camp - have hit rock bottom, and want to get out, nothing more. The Prayer is a great movie, believeable (sic!), fascinating, and yes: even inspiring. There’s nothing wrong with that way of life; much of it seems almost enviable. Prediction: Let’s pray for one Bear at least. For Director Cédric Kahn for example. Mia Figlia es tua figlia. No, that doesn’t make any sense, neither in Italian, nor in Spanish, and I don’t speak either. But Figlia Mia means "my daughter" - or: Daughter of Mine - in Italian, and in the eponymous film, two women raise that claim to Vittoria. Soon to turn ten, she is the result of a casual encounter between a Sardinian worker and the alcoholic village slut (pardon my French, but that's the most accurate description of Angelica’s lifestyle). Faced with a debt of 28 733 Euros (and 17 cent, was it?), the mother who gave her baby away, suddenly reclaims her by instinct and less noble motives (seems, there are still un-plundered Etruscan graves in the countryside, that only a child can enter). She's living on a let down farm with a lot of animals, which makes her lack of responsibility somehow less convincing – somebody needs to feed and water the dog, cat, horses, turtle, &ct., after all. Tina, Vittoria’s stepmother without formal adoption, and wife to her father, but with no children of her own, deeply loves and cares for the girl (very un-fairy tale-like). Might be, the actress Valeria Golino appears that tiny bit too elegant for the factory worker she’s supposed to portray. But it's not important, as drama and reconciliation unfold. The longer it lasted, the more I was thinking, “looks like we might have a winner here.” A first favourite at least. This is by no means a plot I would usually care for, but it’s all so brilliantly done, it’s irresistible. There’s addiction and religion again, but featuring not so prominently as in The Prayer. You easily forgive the film its little misgivings – why has the long planned treasure hunt to take place on the girl’s birthday of all days; how exactly did they imagine the secret adoption to work out in the first place – Vittoria being the only redhead on the whole island of Sardignia except of her mother (and those tourists on the Gold Coast, but that’s a different world). You might have noticed my conventional usage of the terms “mother” and “daughter” throughout this review. That’s because modern language is bullshit (“biological parents” &ct). No, family is not (only) a sociological concept, that you may apply freely to whomever you want. There are biological facts, and words not open to interpretation, but verifiable. If you loose your hand in an accident and replace it with a prosthesis, it might actually work better than your “biological hand”, but this does not make it your “true hand”. And when you adopt a pet, you should definitely treat it like your child, but it still isn't. Imagine, you’re a successful filmmaker willing to invest some of your wealth in real estate. But you’re born and live in Sweden, where tenants can de facto expropriate you by forming a co-op (yet on the other hand, may not choose their lodgings freely, but have to take what their place on the official “waiting list” accords them, apparently). The market being bullish for a long time, pseudo-socialism does not even work. Fed up with the situation, you decide to make a movie. This could have been the motivation behind The Real Estate.
Nojet inherits a housing complex from her father who recently died at the age of ninety-seven. It's being rather badly managed by her mentally challenged brother and his crooked son, and soon, she has to take extraordinary measures. About two thirds of the film are horribly dull, yet the end is well worth it. Hint: it’s almost Black 47, or how Damsel should have been. The lady got balls. The Real Estate is mostly a one-woman show. If I got that right, one of the director-screenwriter team Axel Petersén/Måns Månsson is her – nephew? - great-nephew? Be that as it may, they're obsessed with her talent, and not unjustly, as Léonore Ekstrand carries the movie even through the boring parts. Are you also excited to see what will become of Ingmar Kamprad's legacy? That family just inherited more than a single house in Stockholm... Prediction: Possibly in for an Actress-(she-)Bear?
Berlinale, 15-25 February 2018
World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism