Written by: FFT Webmaster | February 21st, 2011
At a film festival that totals more than 250 feature films (not to mention an additional 250 features in the accompanying European Film Market), one can only skim the surface of an event as wide-ranging as the Berlinale. Film choices are often based on schedule availability….grabbing a screening in between meetings or making sure one is awake to catch the early morning press screenings of the Competition program. In a sense, one only gets a random taste of the very far-flung program, but often the films chosen, whether by chance or design, leave a strong impression. Without exhaustively seeing everything (such a thing is impossible), here are my personal Top Ten films of this year’s Berlin International Film Festival (in no particular order of preference).
CORIOLANUS (UK, director Ralph Fiennes)
Making a spectular directorial debut, seasoned actor Ralph Fiennes has mounted a visceral and exciting adaptation of Shakespeare’s final play CORIOLANUS. Setting the action in a modern day period of war and revolution, Fiennes stars along with star thespians Vanessa Redgrave, Brian Cox and Gerard Butler in what was, for my money, the strongest acting ensemble of the Festival. The conflicts and absurdities of war in Roman times have exquisitive parallels to our own time in ways both fascinating and depressing.
THE FUTURE (Miranda July, US/UK/Germany)
Actress/performing artist July follows up her award-winning debut feature ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW with an existential comedy/drama about the loose connections of life and the role of fate in circumstance. In a story that is equals parts quirky and low-key, July mines the truth and absurdities of modern relationships, leaving a sizeable gulp in the throat and a grin on the mouth.
PINA (Wim Wenders, Germany)
Veteran director Wenders takes the 3D technology a step forward in this chronicling of the dazzling choreography of the late Pina Bausch. The visuals are truly remarkable as Wenders creates a hothouse effect that is superior even to seeing the dance pieces in a classic theater venue. The film demonstrates how 3D can be artfully applied to non-animation, non-special effects extravaganzas with lilting effect.
CAVE OF FORGOTTEN DREAMS (Werner Herzog, USA)
A second 3D film making the list, veteran filmmaker Herzog takes his audiences on an unforgettable journey inside the “time capsule” of a long forgotten cave in southern France that is filled with dazzingly original wall paintings created millenium ago. This is that rare case of a film bringing the viewer where he could not go for himself, and leaving a strong impression of a connection across time with our forebears who roamed the earth over 30,000 years before us.
NADER AND SIMIN, A SEPARATION (Asghar Farhadi, Iraq)
The Golden Bear winner is a fascinating look at the undercurrents of repression in Iraq and the shifting gender roles that are inevitable in even a socially conservative society. The top notch acting and script, along with the impeccable timing of the current social upheaval in the Middle East, make this a film of its zeitgeist moment and sure to be one of the most dicussed of the year ahead.
SING YOUR SONG (Susanne Rostock, USA)
This biopic of the singer and activist Harrry Belafonte brings a living legend truly to life. The shifting currents of a life lived in celebrity but anchored in the social activism of the 20th century’s most fascinating political movements, the film brings the triumph and tragedies of a life well lived to the fore in amazing depth and color. Whatever you thought you know about the man, his candid life story as documented in this superb film continues to surprise, arouse and motivate. Belafonte’s presence at the screenings was just an added pleasure and made for one of the most inspiring evenings of the Festival.
THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE (Lee Tamahori, Belgium)
The story may go off on a rather pulpy tangent, but this fascinating true tale of Saddam Hussein’s psychotic son and the childhood friend chosen to be his body double is a visceral adventure into the netherworld of Iraq’s recent history. English actor Dominic Cooper, usually relegated to hunk-du-jour roles, really steps into the big leagues with his double portrait of Uday Hussein and his moralistic doppelganger who, in his own way, begins to topple the Hussein dynasty one monster at a time.
LIFE IN A DAY (Kevin McDonald, USA)
An ambitious experiment has been turned into an exciting time capsule of an age. With the help of You Tube, the film’s creators invited amateurs to submit their own created videos of how they spent a day in July 2010. The result is not a milquetoast slice of life but a dynamic 360 degree view of a moment in time that says volumes about the way that we live. This is a film that will explain to future generations the depth and delusion of our times.
TOMBOY (Celine Sciamma, France)
In this gender-bending coming-of-age tale, a young girl pretends to be a boy in order to find acceptance in the new community where her family has moved. Telling the story in a compellingly honest way, director Sciamma brings out all the nuances of our assumptions about sexuality and gender truths and turns them on their heads. Directing a non-professional cast of real charmers, she has made a profound statement on the shifting roles and expectations of young men and women and the thin line that now divides gender roles in our contemporary world.
HOUR OF THE WOLF (Ingmar Bergman, Sweden)
In the exhaustive Retrospective progam on Ingmar Bergman, there were many key films to discover and to re-experience. The one of several that I revisited that made the strongest impression was this emotive drama from 1966. With a towering cast of Bergman regulars including Max Von Sydow, Liv Ullmann and Erland Josephson, this morality tale of artistic ambition and intricate madness held its own fascination, as well as being an antecedent to the central premise of Darren Aronofsky’s current artist-in-turmoil drama BLACK SWAN. The classic Bergman fixation with close ups and shattering dialogue has neverf been used to better effect in this tale of a painter and his wife on an isolated island paradise that turns into an existential living hell. Powerful stuff.