|[NB: These posts are being written at awkward times in awkward places. Forgive an even greater level of sloppiness than usual.]|
The best thing I've seen in Berlin so far? The snow that has blanketed the city for the past two mornings. It melts away by midday, but it's lovely to look at under the early morning grey sky of this magnificent place.
Perhaps it will take a couple more days to get into the Berlinale groove, but the selection of films I've seen so far have been far from enthralling. Day 1 was met with the usual delays of picking up the festival badge, getting a SIM card for the mobile, and fighting a losing battle in the quest for a (free) hotspot. A nice perk from two years ago, free wireless Internet is now a thing of the past. Sure, there are the public workstations, but standing in a hallway with people queuing up behind you is hardly conducive to creative blog posting. The solution: give in to T-Mobile and their special 'rape-me' rate of 2 Euros per 15 minutes of Internet time. Lovely, and oh-so justifiable.
As tired as I was, I still managed to catch one film on that first day -- Faces of a Fig Tree, veteran Japanese actress Momoi Kaori's directorial debut. It sounded great on paper, and did have a few winning moments, but this off-kilter family dramedy suffered from simply having too many ideas lumped into it. Momoi utilizes every camera trick she learned, but for seemingly no reason other than trying something new in each scene. She also has the leading role in the film, giving the entire project more than a hint of a narcissistic air to it. Feh.
Day two, still jetlagged, but somewhat rested. The day began with an early morning screening of the festival's opening night film, Olivier Dahan's Piaf biopic, La Môme (or, La Vie en Rose -- not sure which is the official title.) Thoroughly entertaining, and an often-remarkable performance by Marion Cotillard that is at times marred by poor direction. Dahan (who last film was The Crimson Rivers II) is somewhat out of his league here, and that's what makes the film so frustrating. I enjoyed its non-linear narrative and attention to detail, but overall the film sticks too close to the template of the modern biopic. Piaf did experience more than a fair share of hardships and loss, but the film does little more than chronicle these events while paying scant attention the people who surrounded her -- friends, lovers, etc. Dahan doesn't shy away from portraying little sparrow in a less than flattering light, but it seems to lack the courage to dig a bit deeper into how these events helped shape her into the artist she was. A good bit of fun, but leaves you wondering what it would have been like in the hands of another director.
My first market screening of the festival was the Danish comedy Sprængfarlig Bombe (literally Exploding Bomb, though the English title is rather poor Clash of Egos), a film with a fantastic (and timely) premise that unfortunately opts for a mainstream delivery that reduces it from a biting satire to merely a clever comedy. Tonny, a divorced father of two with anger management issues takes his kids to see a film that received rave reviews ("A Masterpiece!") and won an award at the Berlinale. However, the film is a nothing more than a bit of art-wanking, and Tonny decides he wants his money back. Through an odd (and rather funny) series of events, Tonny finds himself working with the director on a new film -- one that he is determined to take his kids to. Poking fun at everything from international film festivals, the poor taste of audiences, and even the critics at The New York Times, director Tomas Villum Jensen has created a film that skewers the current state of cinema, both high and low, as well as the critics vs. popular taste argument that has been all the rage as of late. It's just a shame that the film plays down its cleverness, choosing a safer route that guarantees wider appeal. (There's room for a whole meta discussion here, but I'll save that for another time.)
Getting shut out of the press screening of I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK, Aaron and I ducked into the next closing screening, which happened to be Hal Hartley's Fay Grim, a sequel (of sorts) to his greatest film, Henry Fool. As nice as it was to see many of the characters return after almost ten years, this globe-trotting espionage adventure story has sadly little to do with the brilliantly written character study set in good ole' Woodside Queens. Come back Hal Hartley, all is forgiven.
More on all three films post-fest.