• Christian Hain

Berlinale 2021 - Day 2: Seabirds, Porn, and the Chronicle of a Massacre Foretold


1) The Natural Light is very dark

Wintertime in Hungary, or Russia, Ukraine, some place in that vast region, we (ignorantly) like to call "Vodkaria". It's World War (Number 2), and the Hungarian army collaborates, securing the German occupied territory and hunting for partisans. The historic premises are not elaborated on in detail - some words in the opening credits ("A long long time ago, in a..." -style) must suffice, and this could in fact be anywhere, and any war. Only should you wonder, whether there was an independent Hungary post-kuk but pre-1945, you might read that up again (-> WWI?).

No matter which war or era, the experiences of, and dynamics between, soldiers and civilians are pretty much the same in every instance - Stop, this holds no longer true: a drone doesn't go through the same (yet).


The camera follows a squad patrolling villages and woods, searching houses and requisiting food the soldiers don't need any less than the civilian population, as the Natural Light - that's the film title! - makes it hard for us to distinguish anything in detail. If I'm allowed a personal note here: "The Long Night" was the last GoT episode I've ever watched, and although this film is nowhere near as bad, it's reminiscent of that - the streaming conditions in my humble abode certainly didn't help either, with too much natural light invading the windows. Almost documentary style, we watch, and believe to feel the fatigue, the dirt, the will to survive nevertheless - to follow orders be they what they might. Natural Light feels like one of the few honest war movies, not even picking a side (not too obviously): Things are what they are, and it's not up to us to judge. We discover human beings, "true" characters on both sides, painted in but a few brushstrokes, we imagine to understand soldiers and civilians alike, the reasons for why they act how they do, the ever imminent fear and danger. The enemy isn't shown in person, but only appears in shots ringing through the dark, yet some among the villagers are - most probably - implicated in a fateful ambush. Director Dénes Nagy presents the panorama of a war theatre in seemingly unconnected scenes, small episodes and situations that eventually build up to something bigger. Bigger? Yes, yet not entirely out of the ordinary, merely the odd massacre that appears quite natural, almost unavoidable in the course of events. And everything's so offhandedly told.

Is it ok in Hungary to talk about the past, and collaboration, or a no-no? We're not sure, but this film will stay with the viewer for some time, it's impressive.


WArts Verdict: At some point of the story, a character tells an anekdote about a bear and his only friend's (of the canine sort) fidelity making him appear very human again. He didn't want that bear. What we certainly don't want is seeing a Photography Bear awarded to this, even if the natural light matches the ambiance in all its grey ambiguity.

2) Naughty Romanians

Akward situation. Remember: I'm streaming this Berlinale on my laptop, in my flat, on my sofa. Had to doublecheck, but nope: this was not the wrong tab. Because: NSFW. Radu Jude's Babardeală cu bucluc sau porno balamuc ("Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn") starts as NSFW as it gets, and I perfectly mean what I'm saying. Explicit and without a warning, right into your fa- eh, sorry. Romanians seem to be a rather frivolous people, perhaps owing to their longtime ties with France (there's a considerable expat community). Next scene, next shock: Everyone's wearing these bloody masks. And as the story develops, Radu Jude gives proof of his well developed sense of observation, people tearing at their muzzles, advising others to "pull it up over their nose", or an elderly lady pulling it down to talk, then setting it straight again. Or "funny" masks. Turns out, Romanians know all the same "funny" faces that we are wearing, too. Animals, smiles, and "I can't breathe" printed all over it (personally, I used a text marker for this). Telling of a short production time!

But the story: Rudimentary again, and unfolding in four chapters.

First: The female, a-hem: actor from that opening scene turns out to be a most ordinary person teaching history at a high school, who's tried to spice up her nightlife with a camera. Somehow, the recordings went online - whether by her boyfriend's "fault", a computer repair shop's, or (most probably?) her own, isn't get established beyond a doubt. Awkward situation.


As the title suggests, "Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn" is (meant for) a comedy, but it's also a not so favourable portrait of contemporary Romanian society, its people and cityscapes. Regularily, we're served minute long street shots of Bucarest, which might feel a little bit depressing. As to the casual encounters on these streets, let's say, Romanians are not exactly a warm-hearted people, at least not according to Radu Jude, who enjoys a hate-love relationship with his fellow countrymen. And Romania seems to have a serious problem with parking offenders (did I ever tell you about that Maybach parking in Avenue Georges V every single year during the French Open? Greetings to Mr Tiriac!). "Bad Luck Banging..." is probably not sponsored by the Romanian tourism board.

We watch that teacher visiting her school's principal, and later, she'll have to declare herself in a meeting with the parents. But before this takes place, there is the film's second part, and this is rather annoying. Having mentioned supposed close ties between Romania and France - there's also some obscure chanson playing at the start of each chapter - Radu Jude likes Flaubert's Dictionnaire des idées reçues a lot (Flauber-escu?!), and wanted to do something similar in film. Letters, images, and text, a dictionary of stereotypes and "common knowledge", supposedly witty, cutting, and funny. Mostly not so much. At one point, the director feels compelled to explain the concept behind his movie: 'The moral of the Medusa myth is that we cannot stare horrors in the face' (you could object here)', needing a reflecting shield to conquer them, which can also be a cinema screen'.


Part 3 documents the parents' assembly, the film now more and more resembling a farce, while the closing chapter offers three endings (for the plothol- oh!). Obviously, Radu Jude is not happy with certain views of his compatriots, Romania not yet being the same as everywhere else, that probably need to be "educated" away asap (pluralism 3.0). On a more serious note, the debate in that meeting totally misses the point, arguing personal liberty vs. decency: The act is not the problem here, but exhibitionist exposure, transferring your private(s) into the public sphere. The film could (only hypothetically spoken) induce viewers to think about the general fashion to judge everything holistically, one single breach of ruling "morals" being apt to destroy a whole life and career, people forced to follow the zeitgeist in each and every moment - and in much different examples than that of homevideo pornography. Sure: You may do whatever you like at home, and still be a good teacher. Just as you can hold "questionable", i.e. deviant, political views, and still be a good artist, filmmaker, or whatever. Indeed: That's a dig at you, dear leftists! But as a comedy, Bad Luck Banging.... certainly has its moments!


WArts Verdict: Er - would that count as zoophilia?



3) Float, Albatross, float!

Albatross ("Drift Away") documents the life and times of a policeman in Northern France, or, more precisely speaking: "gendarme", which is something like a military police for civilian matters. Reminiscent of 'cop with a cam' trash TV, but better, much better, it's well done - but well, whatever happened to cinema's power to create wonderful illusions, that theatre of dreams thing? Everything's so ordinary here, and grey, even the people look so depressingly average! No escapism isn't a solution, either.

Albatross is an unexcited movie, calm and laconical. Life's tough in Normandy, you would never have guessed so, strolling back and forth between your fancy holiday home and the beach. Yet, now and then somebody nonchalantly jumps a cliff, to photobomb a Chinese tourists' wedding photo with his bloody corpse. French farmers are still struggling, and more than ever (José Bové still alive?): They don't approve of the EU, or "eco-friendly" certification agencies. On this background, apocalyptic comments on climate change made by a policeman will sound rather ironic, surrounded by so many more urgent issues. Then, there's family troubles (or not), and ultimately some sort of disaster, i.e. the fatal shooting of another suicidal farmer and friend. Fed up with it all, our flic gives it the slip, leaves on a voyage across the Atlantic in memory of his seafaring ancestors, yet he won't make it far. No spoilers - I've never said, there's no happy ending!

On a sidenote: It must feel strange for American viewers (obviously, the film will never make it there) trying to understand that officer's mood. - He's shot some looney, so effin' what?! You cannot help thinking, that over there, a whole sniper squad would have perforated the farmer long before he could lift that rifle to his own head. And got a medal of honour afterwards, not an annoying inquest.


WArts Verdict: No Sea Bears on the horizon, but again a film, that could stay with you for longer than its runtime.


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