Day Five – 19 February
This is a day of dates, and times, at Berlinale. From Utøya 22 July to 3 Days in Quiberon, 7 Days in Entebbe, and 4 hours. Yes, that’s right: Season of the Devil is a Philippine war musical in black and white lasting 234 minutes, roughly four hours. Berlinale chose to programme the press screening for the only day when there are four of them. Otherwise it’s three a day. Thank you.
You remember that extremely bright girl in school, who would spent her free time in rhetoric club or singing in choir, who planned to go into politics and would only ever express the most balanced, correct, perfectly phrased, views on everything?
How you hated that smart ar—d teacher’s pet. Everybody did. Erik Poppe chose to make her the star of his film Utøya 22 July. The film’s first ten minutes are almost unbearable, the dialogues so trivially correct, so unauthentic for a summer youth camp (no word of sex, music or film, nobody would even dream of smoke, drugs, or booze, ...). Then the shooting starts, and the rest is running and hiding.
I’m still not sure whether it’s respectful towards the victims of the 2011 Uttoya massacre to transform their ordeal into a “found footage from Camp Crystal Lake” sort of horror flick. Is it not “too soon”? If you can turn it into an action movie, can you joke about it, too? Rather not; my opinion. The film runs seventy-two minutes in a single take, like the original event. Nobody knows what’s going on, or merely how many assailants there are (and obviously, nobody would have voiced an emotional, yet utterly incorrect, statement of the “f-----g camel jockeys” type; instead there’s a migratory background guy fearing the backlash, “if it was Al Quaida”). The film gives you an idea of the horrors the victims have gone through, their fear and desperation feel very authentic, although the cameraman is moving his handheld a bit to much, once or twice you'll think: “now Breivik’s got him” - the name of the Norwegian neo-Nazi killer is actually never mentioned -, but it’s just an “as-if found-footage” movie, the cameraman never addressed.
You realize how few options are left on a small island that’s become a death trap, you'll think: “now I’d done this, now I’d gone there”, but you see how they tried everything. Nobody was prepared, nobody could have been. That’s why the criticism of the authorities of which we’re told in the end credits (there was a highly important government commission to evaluate the events...) seems slightly unfair.
Prediction: Cool as a horror/action film, but rather delicate as a documentary on actual events that have happened just seven years ago. Thus: no Bear for Breivik.
In 1981, shortly before shooting her last movie, Romy Schneider spent 3 Days in Quiberon, in an institution half between rehab centre, half spa hotel. The film thrives on Marie Bäumer‘s portrayal of the great Austrian actress (yet sometimes she, like the rest of the cast merely recites, almost reads, her text). It brims with platitudes to purvey the cliché of a poor hunted actress tortured by the press. But if you look into it a little bit deeper, things might become more complicated. Everyone is playing a role, or many – the actress at one point is not sure, whether an episode from her childhood has really happened to her, or whether she watched it in a movie, or read it in a book. Was it even a role she's played herself? She never stops acting, 24/7. The cold, almost psychopathic, journalist interviewing her, briefly gets plagued by remorse (in two rather unbelievable scenes, perhaps only included because the real-life Michael Jürgs is still alive). Ever analyzing, ever classifying people, he cannot change, either. BUT: He is brilliant in what he does.
He succeeds in creating the closest portrait possible, the most personal, the truest, interview - at least if you believe this movie. And yet: At what price?
The photographer is trapped between his roles as friend, (former) lover, and professional. The childhood friend (who is not portrayed by Sissi Perlinger, oh boy, why do so many actors look alike?) experiences the limits of her own role when trying to reach through to the star. In this industry, the walls between business and private life can seem invisible, but there they are, and solid (another cliché).
In the end, Romy writes her own script for once and pretends a broken foot to postpone the shooting of The Passerby. She would die that same year, following her teenage son who gets mentioned frequently in 3 Days in Quiberon. For unknown reasons, director Emily Atef decided not to provide this context in the end credits.
Prediction: Docudrama at its best, circling around actual people and actual events. But it doesn’t feel like a winner.
In 1976, an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris was redirected by a group of Palestinians and their two German comrades to the Ugandan city of Entebbe. President, renowned cannibal, and all in all unpleasant character, Idi Amin personally welcomed the passengers in anticipation of closer ties to the Soviet bloc.
After the release of all neither Israeli nor Jewish hostages, negotiations were reaching a dead end, and the IDF’s ultimate intervention would leave a handful of terrorists, and a lot of Ugandan soldiers, dead. (Almost) All passengers were freed, with the loss of only one soldier, Commander Yonathan Netanyahu, Benyamin's elder brother. The crisis lasted for Seven days, in Entebbe (that’s a film title).
Let’s start with the good things: Director José Padilha - see, that’s annoying with pc encyclopaedias: it would be really interesting to know if he’s Jewish or not, not important, but interesting, yet you won’t find that kind of information on wikipedia anymore – seeks for a balanced presentation throughout, perpetually switching between the Israeli side and the terrorists. We learn about the motives of Palestinians and German (not: national) socialists, about the tensions in the Israeli government between negotiation-ready prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and (then still hawkish:) Defence Minister Shimon Peres. But while the conflict, and (alleged) Israeli war crimes are mentioned, the film falls short in presenting the Palestinians as individual characters. It’s more a game of Germany vs. Israel, and the inescapable implications thereof. If you think about it, you might also miss more focus on the Ugandan army – in the end, it’s them who suffered the most losses, and these soldiers were hardly enthusiastic for the hijackers’ cause (nor for soldiering in general, but what options do you have?).
7 Days in Entebbe still feels balanced, not like a simplistic story of good vs. evil, and this does not exclude a respectful portrayal of the hostages. Then, there’s the ending.
One side story has been following Yonathan Netanyahu’s girlfriend, a dancer rehearsing for a ballet show. When the operation starts, her big night does too. Images of the company dancing to an up-tempo, folkloristic, song, now change with the liberation efforts, to contradict the tone the whole movie has been working hard to establish so far. Suddenly it’s: “Bring popcorn and champain, we’ll provide the fireworks – Let’s smmmash some terrorists!” I don’t know if that song’s lyrics are meaningful in a war context – there's no translation – but they sounds rather happy. Why, just why?
Prediction: Doesn’t matter, because: Out-of-competition...
And later, 234 minutes. The Season of the Devil. That's a long season, a long winter. Let's hope, the devil’s not in the details - there are a lot of those. To be honest, I didn't stand it for much more than an hour, before I renounced, the devil, the film, the day at Berlinale. Maybe the story changed – maybe there was a story later -, maybe the end is as crazy as The Real Estate’s. But it's still a Philippine war opera. About human right violations. Are four hours of film covered by the Geneva Convention?
Just think about the poor guys in the jury, they have other obligations too, shaking hands, eating dinner, getting drunk with producers - but show some compassion, Berlinale (and not just “sympathy for the devil”)!
I actually wrote these lines, before the film even started.
Now, to be honest, it’s not that bad. Not as hilarious as you might expect. Yes, Season of the Devil does not have a discernible plot (not during the first hour), yes, it’s in in black and white, yes, people are mingling with – potentially meaningful – mythological characters, demons, ghosts, a witch, yes, these people are singing melancholy songs a l l t h e t i m e. And yes, one recurrent character, a writer's, name is "Haniway", and he drinks in E(a)rnest. But I have an earworm now, “Ngang gahng gahng ‘NGOOohloh, ...”, and these songs are not bad. Really not. I wouldn’t buy the OST album, but, they’re fine, melancholy, sad, - fine.
The seemingly unconnected scenes might not tell a story in conventional sense, but they create a panorama of life under the bloody regime of Presidente Marcos (that was the one with the wife - and later: widow - with the shoes). Today, with Duterte in charge, the country’s state of affairs seems hardly less murderous, the Philippines are definitely not a dream travel destination. And that witch might actually be a pitiable outcast from village life for whatever reasons (hairstyle?).
Prediction: I doubt, the jury will watch it all through to the end. The same director - Lav Diaz - has already tortured them (their then-counterparts) with an eight hour movie two years ago, and even four are too long. Much too long. You will not award a Bear to a film you fast-forward (imagine, you missed something controversial...).
Berlinale, 15-25 February 2018
World of Arts Magazine - Contemporary Art Criticism