Berlinale 2021 - Day 3: Hung(a)ry For Some Light. Childish, Dead Serious, and Georgia On My Mind
1. Children's TV or Magical Realism, both?
Petite Maman ("Little Mommy") is yet another French movie in Berlinale's selection. Also yet another story about average events in average people's lives, or so it seems (is that a new trend? No escapism please, we're humanity!): Granny's dead, and a family, namely the deceased's daughter, her - the daughter's! - husband whom you might believe to be her brother at first, supposed as he is to share the same childhood memories - and their daughter will stay for some days in the now empty home, wrapping up an existence.
The camera is following that child, making a new friend in the woods, and overall being pictured like adults imagine children to be and to talk. Pardon my French, but: For quite a while, the best thing about this film seems that it will only last for seventy minutes, as you're trying hard not to fall asleep. What interest could this ever have? If you got kids yourself, fine, go and watch them play - but do you need to see the same on screen, and other people's breed for that? ...Meanwhile, the mother leaves, probably has something more important to do, and suddenly, we realize, there's some casual time travel going on. At the beginning of the project probably stood a conversation between director Céline Sciamma and her production company that went along the lines: "Hey guys, I got a great idea! What if a little girl went on a time travel to meet her own mother - at eight years old?" - "And?" - "Well, nothing 'and', that's the story!" ... (uncomfortable silence, then:) "Yeah, cool story, bro!" Somehow that film got made, and even made it here.
And thus we witness some unexplained time travelling (or maybe that brat just got a very lively imagination?), the new found friend is in fact her mother, and visiting her place means visiting granny as it was back then, decades ago, when she was still alive (but already ailing): The same house is waiting on both sides of these magical woods. The idea seems a little bit similar to the one of Memory Box, but sadly the film gets nowhere near as interesting, or moving. - There's hardly anything more in it than the idea.
WArts Verdict: Even when understanding the story's premise, we wished for a time machine to get back those seventy minutes. Don't get me wrong: It's not a "bad" movie, only one void of every interest (there's a fine line between "boring" and "booing"). ...Wait a sec': Bears hibernate! This could help.
2) And suddenly, the lights went out
Another Hungarian production, and a tough one. Bence Fliegauf's Rengeteg – mindenhol látlak ("Forest – I See You Everywhere") documents people talking about all sorts of problems, and not much else - like Kevin Smith suffering from severe midlife crisis. It's a dialogue film in grainy images (hey, aren't we used to better video quality from Eastern European streams?!) that at least starts off with some kind of humour - soon to vanish for good. Relationship troubles, children's troubles with their fervently religious parents, health troubles from accidents to illness; and death is all around. Everything discussed in great detail. The dialogues are well written, the handycam's close- (oh so close!) up images create an intimate, almost indecent, athmosphere - but one question remains: Why should anyone voluntarily watch this? And could Bence Fliegauf not just have talked to his therapist...? Maybe, if you've really had enough, to the point that you're through with all the pseudo-darkness, the melancholy games of bittersweet melodies, even beyond that 'bottle of whisky at the lake' dream, and you really, really, really, want to end it. This movie will put you in the mood. But otherwise?
Rengeteg... made me realize, how it's simultaneously easier and harder to walk out on a festival movie that's streaming in your home - all dramatic effect is lost!
WArts Verdict: A Bear for this? That would be animal cruelty, poor bruin would end up on suicide ward in no time.
3) Let there be light!
Once upon a time in Georgia - no, not that Georgia, the Stalin one, a rather unknown, but beautiful country nestled in between the Caucasus and the Black Sea, that doubles as a filmset and a protagonist by itself in Alexandre Koberidze's modern fairy tale Ras vkhedavt, rodesac cas vukurebt? ("What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?"). A very traditional fairy tale, with a third person narrator whom we immediately imagine as an old man with a long white beard talking us through the story of Giorgi and Lisa, and the city of Kutaisi. A fairy tale with talking seedlings and street lights, rain gutters and the wind warning of a curse, that hides people from their true love - but of course only until the "And they lived....".
Much of it unfolds in the viewer's own mind, with some direct interaction and breaking of that wall: "When the first signal sounds, I want you to close your eyes, and only open them again at the second signal" (do it, nothing happens in the meantime, only sleeping in the dark, and maybe dreaming - of us?!). ...There once was something remotely similar in the great Ivan Reitman's debut Cannibal Girls of 1973 I hear, with a sound signal averting sensitive viewers to the most drastic scenes, but I'm digressing again. "When ... saw the following picture", we don't get that picture delivered at our doorstep, but a written lyrical description instead. In a way, that's challenging, and a reminder of the power of art, helping you to create somehing yourself, to make something, see and write something in that sky; it's about the countless films, we make in our own heads every day.
Not many words though for a two-and-a-half-hours movie, no, to be honest it wouldn't be much dialogue for half an hour even: Ras vkhedavt,... is almost a - coloured! - silent movie to surprisingly good Georgian folk music. Most of the time, it's about telling a story in images, powerful images, filling them and passing the time with basically nothing, yet make the audience wonder, where it went so fast - that's the power of cinema. In short: Ras vkhedavt,... is magnificent. Football, romance, and some dogs - what more could you want from life?!
WArts Verdict: Bears still roam the Caucasus, and we honestly hope to see this gem awarded with lots of bear-vilis and bear-dzes. Even if that seems just as unlikely as Argentina winning the World Cup in real life (sorry, gauchos!).