German-centrism is the first feature of this year’s Berlinale Film Festival that catches the eye. During the first days in the competition three German films of absolutely different genres and styles were screened: an educational novel about two teenagers abandoned by their mother (Jack), costumed drama from Friedrich Schiller’s life (Beloved Sisters), psychological drama with religious entourage (Stations of the Cross). Stations of the Cross (director: Dietrich Brueggemann) is the most successful in many ways owing to the devoted performance of Lea van Acken and powerful anticlerical mood of the film; it is quite possible that the film is going to win one of the festival awards.
Two Men in Town is an American debut of the well-known Franco-Algerian director, regular participant of Berlinale Rachid Bouchareb. The film’s authors did their best to win new audience: they found a script about adaptation to life of former prisoner in the dusted valleys of New Mexico, took Harvey Keitel for the role of elderly sheriff and Forest Whitaker (one of the best Afro-American actors of today), who’s lost considerable weight, for the leading role; like Whitaker’s thinness did no good to his actor’s qualities, the American material did not add anything to the director’s achievements. The result includes predictable plot moves, cliche work of the actors, and no drama in the end.
At the moment objectively the best film of the competition is British ’71. It is dedicated to what North Irishmen call “Troubles” – civic war of the 1960s-1970s, in which the British forces actually fought on the side of the Protestant loyalists against Catholics and the Irish Republican Army.
At the center of the plot there is a terrible night experienced by a British soldier, who found himself directly on the frontline between the Protestant and Catholic blocks. Not only is he hunted by the terrorists, but also the British Army Reconnaissance – because he became witness of their dirty operation. This is the first feature film for director Yann Demange, who has shot only series until now.
The debut is successful. You cannot take your eyes off the screen. There is not a single second of idling, nothing unnecessary, extreme tension, always justified violent scenes, and masterful work of the cameraman. One scene when the hero is followed in the half-ruined blocks of Ulster, shot by shaky hand-held camera, is worth of the highest praise. Jack O’Connell is absolutely unmatched in the lead role; however, speaking about the development of characters, everyone here has dark and light sides, everyone has truth of his own, and no one is unequivocal.
Incidentally, this is an interesting trend: usually bland and slow British cinema starts to be filled with energy, cruelty, and masterfulness, as soon as the question is about the war with Ireland. It is enough to recall Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday, Ken Loach’s The Wind that Shakes the Barley, and Steve McQueen’s Hunger. Real pain and real experience really inspire the artists. I probably should also add that scenes which showed violent actions of the police, burning cars, throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails aroused far from cinematographic associations in me.
As for the competition program, the chain of premieres of Hollywood blockbusters The Grand Budapest Hotel, American Hustle, Treasure Hunt, was interesting maybe because of the crowds of stars on the red carpet of the festival; in terms of content, all these films are typical commercial production. There is special pleasant news for us: George Clooney (Treasure Hunt is his new and, unfortunately, unsuccessful director’s work) expressed his support for the Maidan at the press conference which followed the premiere screening: “It’s going to be a very long struggle but I find it to be an important one to at least point out that the people are hoping for their own self-determination.”
Of course, the central event of the out-of-competition program and the festival was the premiere of the first part of Lars Von Trier’s project Nymphomaniac. In Berlin the full version (145 minutes) was screened; two-hour-long version will be shown in cinemas.
In spite of fears that preceded the premiere, Nymphomaniac 1 is an undoubted success of the director. This is a movie, which is simply made, captivating, sometimes light, and sometimes scary. It has much of specifically Trier’s apt humor, when sad events are taking place on screen, and the audience bursts into laughter. The actor’s lineup is above all praise, which refers first and foremost to the protagonists – Stellan Skarsgard and Charlotte Gainsbourg; Uma Thurman is memorable in the amazing tragicomic episode in the role of deceived wife.
The scandalousness of Nymphomaniac, which is much-discussed, is a promotion trick rather than the typical feature of the film. Yes, there are some sexual scenes, but the most important thing here is human drama, deep and exciting, rather than erotic.
The scandal was provided by performer of one of the roles Shia LaBeouf, previously known due to Transformers teenage film cycle. At the conference he was sitting silently in a cap clapped on his head, and was continuously chewing. When asked about the difficulties of erotic scenes, he replied: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it’s because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea,” and after these words he stood up and left the hall. On the red carpet LaBeouf appeared in a paper bag mask with an inscription: “I am not famous anymore.” Former master of Autobots does not explain the reasons of his behavior.