Saturday, February 18, 2017

Notes on The Inland Road by Jackie van Beek, New Zealand: 2017, Berlin Filmfestival 2017-Generation14plus




The first long film by actress, comedian and filmmaker Jackie van Beek begins with an accident.
The hitchhiking 16 years old Maori girl Tia is given a lift in a car with two men. A heavy car accident happens. One of the men dies, the other is saved by Tia. This is a film which directs the view inwards and outwards and it tells about physical and mental injuries.
Will, the man has fractures, Tia got a very ugly cut on her cheek and some light facial. The beautiful face is scarred. The other man, the one who has not survived was Will´s brother in law. After being released from the hospital, she goes to the funeral of Will´s brother in law despite her father (Tia´s parents are divorced and she ran way from home after a heavy fight with her mother) suggested her to go back home. At the funeral she meets Will and his pregnant wife Donna. As the film tells about visible and invisible wounds, two other characters are introduced, the widow of the deceased and her little daughter Lilly. The narration and the constellation of the characters arise from an accident who brings them together. Tia will spend some times in the farmhouse with Donna and Will. Donna´s widowed sister and the little girl are often visiting them. Tia, the distressed teenager and the other characters who have to deal with a loss of a family member have to define their way through life anew. Tia´s neck is tattooed with a Maori word, a memory of another wound. She is elliptical and grumpily. How the characters finally hesitantly find a way to relate to each other is revealed in this film with patience.

Here again the mighty Cinema scope format allows both, the presence of the geographical landscape where the farm is embedded but as the human landscape visible on human faces. Especially the young actress Gloria Popata (Tia) leaves a very strong impression. She reminds me in Q´orianka Kilcher´s performance as Pocahontas in Terrence Malick´s The New World and Tillotama nShome´s wonderful elliptical and androgynous performance in Anup Singh´s Qissa.

For now the characters have to go through several conflicts. Donna begins to feel disturbed by Tia´s presence. Tia falls in love with Will who rejects her feelings and Lilly slowly begins to learn piece by piece about the terrible loss of her father.

There were some moments in this film when I had the feeling that The Inland Road does not really know in what direction it shall move. But it was a hasty conclusion of mine. The film tells exactly about people who are struck by sad events and who do not really know on what road they have to continue their journey. Jackie van Beek refuses to be smarter than her characters and she accompanies them on their difficult journey.

There are two embraces, moments the film was heading for all the time. At first it is a moment when the child Lilly finally begins to become aware of her father´s demise. The inaccessibly Tia finally hugs the child with an unexpected tenderness. The second moment is when Tia one night sneaks into the bedroom of the young couple. Donna wakes up and takes her to task. The two women are standing face to face and suddenly Donna realizes the pain of the teenager. Touched by an intuitive sympathy her facial expression softens and she hugs the young girl.

Tia will return home. Her visible and invisible injuries have not healed yet but she leaves the painful stagnation behind. The Inland Road is a very sad but at the same time very encouraging film. Jackie van Beek had the courage to treat a relatively melodramatic subject in a total undramatic but nevertheless very intensive way.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Screenings
19.02, Cinemaxx 3, 16.30




Friday, February 17, 2017

Notes on an afternoon at the Zoo -Palast with a masterpiece called Loving Lorna by Annika and Jessica Karlsson, Sweden: 2017. Berlin Filmfestival VIII. Genaration14plus




It is not the first time that I made exciting discoveries at the children and youth film section known under the terrible name “Generation” but a section which seems to be for me the only one in this festival which has a distinctive contour.
Another aspect of this year´s festival edition will stay with me: Except one example, almost all other films which inspired me, are documentaries. Even though all of these documentaries might have different approaches. Loving Lorna, for instance seems to be very close to the favoured documentary filmmaker of my country: Peter Nestler and Helke Misselwitz. I have seen Loving Lorna in Berlin´s most beautiful film theatre called Zoo-Palast and I feel again confirmed that documentaries belong to the big screen.

The film is a miniature of the life of an Irish working class family in a social deprived suburb of Dublin. The father is unemployed for some years and caring for his horses is his way to deal with it.
The mother suffers under epilepsy, which restricts her life in a certain way. She compensates this with her passion about books, reading, collecting all kinds of literature and bringing her private library always in a new order. The small insights in the dreams and longings of this people is filmed with big reverence. These insights are very intimate but discreet at the same time. One of their children is the 17 years old red-haired and freckled Lorna who has inherited the love for horses from her father. Her own horse is at the same age like her. She wants to become a farrier, a profession which almost becomes extinct. Her violent backache will probably prevent her from fulfilling her dream.

The film is close to the idea of André Bazin once described in his book on Jean Renoir, that “the things appear like accidental in front of our eyes and it is just a temporary privilege we enjoy.

The mother´s disease, the father´s unemployment are evident in these stories they tell in front of the camera. The “drama”, the tragedies hidden in almost every family story is here embedded in every day actions. I remember a critic writing on Yasujiro Ozu´s characters (the name escaped me) once that “Ozu´characters are to busy with life to explain themselves.”
Even though different in it´s formal approach, Loving Lorna is the second quite Ozuesque film I saw after Ann-Carolin Renninger´s and René Frölke´s wonderful From a Year of Non Events on this year´s festival.
The suburb itself is in the process of transformation. A shabby high rise apartment building is demolished. Power shovels with wrecking balls are often visible in this suburb. 
When Lorna rides on her horse it appears like an anachronism. The Ozuesque love for things which irresistible disappear is present in each moment. When the last image is fading away, the struggle of this family will continue. But for this heartbreaking short time of 61 minutes we got a glimpse of this “circle of life”. Loving Lorna is a piece of more recent social history but history which gets for a short times faces, names , identities – literally bodies and souls. And these bodies and souls appear through or despite this strange phenomenon cinema which bases on a mechanical and chemical process standardized by an industry which never cared much about the art, documentary or poetry of cinema.

When the identities of these wonderful people disappear in the anonymity of the end credits, when the film takes literally it´s last breath a feeling for the transients of life stays long, long, long with me. This little masterpiece by Swedish twin sisters Annika and Jessica Karlsson I have seen on the mighty big screen of a cinema cathedral called Zoo-Palast (which enhanced ordinary life for 61 minutest to an almost cosmic event), I am sure I got a glimpse of the “lost paradise of cinema”, a term Wim Wenders once used for the films by Yasujiro Ozu.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Screenings:
18.02, Cinemaxx 3, 16.00
19.02, Cinemaxx 1, 17.30


Thursday, February 16, 2017

Notes on Maman Colonel by Dieudo Hamadi, Democratic Republic of the Congo/France: 2017. Berlin Filmfestival VII.-Forum




Colonel Honorine Munyole better known as Maman Colonel leads a special police unit which is fighting against sexual violence and which is supposed to protect women and children. After 15 years she is transferred to another region where she will face new challenges and where she has to start again. The film follows her work and her devotion for raped refugee women and abused children. In her neat uniform, as a sign of her certain power, she appears as a dignified woman in her Forties. It is hard to see a difference how she takes care of her own biological and adopted children and the abused kids she finds in the streets. She always addresses the people as “mothers”, “fathers” and “children”. About the disrupted and cruel history of this country, we learn only my the stories told by the widowed refugees. Before their husbands were killed the women where raped in front of them. Later we see handicapped and cripples men, other victims of the past. They are officially recognized as victims but instead of showing compassion for these women they doubt their status as victims. That is s sign of a chauvinism even among victims.

What distinguishes Maman Colonel from so much well-intentioned documentaries about countries branded by violence and poverty, is the filmmaker´s discreet mode to give space to this impressive woman whose personality can unfold in front of the camera. She dominates the space like a very lovable female pendant to Orson Welles. But behind her certain power, her certain authority, evident in her correct uniform and her ritualized body language according to her social and professional status , the film reveals always her real strength, that is to say her love and compassion for the poor and defenceless people. When she addresses the people she makes less use of her acknowledged authority but demands from them such good old fashioned characteristics like solidarity.

There is a scene when she and her police force free a group of children condemned as “witches” and, locked into a cabin by relatives and their community. One of the children shed tears. With her huge hands she wipes the tears from this tiny face. This tender gesture is a small but memorable moment and it seems to tell about both, the attitude of Colonel Honorine and the filmmaker. The kind Dieudo Hamada gives space for the things unfolding in front of his camera reminds me a little in one of the basic ideas by late French critic André Bazin, the confidence that the things in front of the camera will unfold as if by themselves.

There is a beautiful example for Hamadi´s attitude – yes and let me again stress the wonderful German word “Einstellung”, a word which includes the technical term as well as the term a”attitude”. Colonel Honorine is sitting on the right side of the frame at her desk. Three women sitting in front of her in a slight lower position on a bank. At the first sight it looks like a classical composition suggesting a social hierarchy. Even more unusual, this moment seems to be on the surface one of very few really volitional sequences. But than one woman hands over a bunch of bank notes to Colonel Honorine. It is a donation for the traumatized refugees and children, Maman Colonel is caring for, a care that goes much beyond her professional duty as a police officer. From one moment to the other, the hierarchy in this image is dissolved. Honorine is almost speechless and touched by this obvious and unexpected sign of solidarity. This is also the dissolution of her as a representative of an abstract authority evident in Honorine´s uniform and her certain social rank. But it is also the dissolution of the certain power a filmmaker has to determine a certain image of the world. Maman Colonel is not just a film who pleads for solidarity and in a country afflicted by violence and wars. Hamadi embraces this solidarity and compassion manifested by Maman Colonel in a very cinematic way. Hamadi´s work the sensitive “musician” perfect coordinated with the “singer” called Maman Colonel.

Rüdiger Tomczak

18.02 Arsenal, 17.30

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Notes on a miracle called Aus einem Jahr der Nichtereignisse (From a Year of Non Events) by Ann-Carolin Renninger and René Frölke, Germany: 2017. Berlin Filmfestival VI.-Forum




An almost deserted farm in Northern Germany: An old man, Willi Detert lives here alone with his cat, some chicken and some geese. He has survived his wife and he intends to spend the rest of his life here in loneliness, a loneliness which will be interrupted occasionally by visitors. With the help of a walking frame he still walks on his property for feeding the animals or just contemplating the irresistible savaging of this men made landscape. He often talks with his cat, his only companion. The part of this film which could be considered as a portrait of this very old man is very discreet if not of an “Ozuesque” respect. Beside the human landscape Willi Detert, the film includes a meditation about the landscape of the environment which marks the border of Detert´s living space but also it´s tie to the whole world. The cat is always present. Even though there are very charming moments with this cat which will warm the hearts of every unconditional cat lover (we hear the cat´s purring ans snoring), the strong presence of this animal goes far beyond a certain cuteness. It rather reminds me in the presence of so many animals in the Japanese Haikus.

The attitude of the filmmaker is sometimes evident in the things they reveal in their film. There is a moment when Willi Detert takes the cat on his lap. He caresses the cat very softly and when the cat tries to get free he let it go at once.

The film is recorded in 16 millimeter and Super 8 material, some images are coloured, others in Black and White. Sometimes even the buzzing of a camera is audible. The presence of the device which records these images and sounds is a hint to the modesty of a film which does not want to be more than giving an image of a human life. Sometimes the film turns into darkness (caused by the end of a film reel) and the soundtrack continues. In other moments there are scenes without sound. If intended or not the the evidence of the ability and disability of the cinematic devices to reflect a human life enriches the film with a strange poetry.

There is the change of the seasons visible in a landscape already abandoned by men and which will be soon reconquered by nature and the house as the evidence of the presence of men. There are a lot of still lifes shot in the rooms of this farm house. Despite the absence of men, these images are revealing crystallized traces of them. They have lived here. The perceptible decay of things which have a meaning for a human life seems to be as mortal as life itself. The hints evoked by these images might be very subtle but they will remain in my memory. The calmness of a film (which we learnt 
from Japanese cinema) can be sometimes very evocative, often moving and not seldom even heartbreaking.

The presence of this old man and his animals and the awareness of these image making devices have a strange chemistry. The moments of “actions” with the old man and his cat or the fragmented stories he tells from his life are often alternated by absolute silence. How much really happened in this film on “Non Events”, I just begin to realize many hours after I attended the screening.

More than 20 years ago I once wrote on Ozu´s Bakushu (Early Summer) that “ the film (Bakushu) is like human memories compressed to 2 hours film. It is like memory itself depending on a body which has to die some day”. I was referring to the insufficient preservation of the original analog source of this film.
Since than I always see an affinity between the analog chemical process of film recording and the biochemical process of human memories depending on a living body. This idea came back to my mind after i saw Aus einem Jahr der Nichtereignisse.

The morning after I saw this wonderful film, the memory of it is still strong and present with a mixed feeling of happiness and a light indefinable melancholy. That is an unmistakable sign that I must have fallen in love with a film. There nothing more I can add for now. There is only one thing I am sure about: From a Year of Non Events by Ann-Carolin Renninger and René Frölke is the most beautiful film experience I made at this year´s festival.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Screenings:
16.02,Cinemaxx 4, 19.30
18.02, Delphi, 16.30





Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Notes on Barry Lyndon by Stanley Kubrick, England: 1975, Berlin Filmfestival 2017 V.-Homage Milena Canonero




One thing is sure: one of the finest films screened on this year´s Berlinale is Kubrick´s Barry Lyndon. Released during a time when Kubrick´s films were discussed much more controversial than today the film was /except in France) not very successful. No need to talk again about Kubrick´s technical virtuosity. First of all - there not much films who tried to approach a far distant epoch through light. There was the experimental lightning in John Ford´s She Wore a yellow Ribbon (1949). And this strange feeling sitting in a time machine instead of a film theatre was achieved very seldom after Barry Lyndon: for example in Terrence Malick´s Days of Heaven and The New World or in Hou Hsiao Hsien´s Hsimeng Rensheng (The Puppetmaster) and Yin Nie Yinniang (The Assassin). 

One can consider Barry Lyndon as the perfect complementary piece to Kubrick´s other masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. While 2001 unfolds it´s glory only on these over dimensioned and curved big screens especially designed for 70 millimeter projections (which hardly exist anymore), the film created a nearly three dimensional illusion. Our conventional perception of gravitation and spatial orientation were suspended. Compared with 2001 Barry Lyndon can be considered as Kubrick´s most minimalistic approach. The dominating elements are zooms backwards, only a few scenes filmed with handheld cameras and very few tracking shots. Especially the extreme long zooms backwards let the characters often disappear in the space - even more they reduce them as a tiny part of a far distant global history. 

The scenes only lightened with candles and with the help of this famous extreme light sensitive special lens, created very coarse grained and flat images almost without depth of focus. That means in these moments the cinematic illusion is often totally lifted. Kubrick is not just quoting the paintings of this epoch, he examines in this film the relationship between paintings and cinema.
The usual negative cliches about Kubrick are often that his films are “boring” or his aesthetic “intentions” are only to overwhelm the audience. Which is of course, nonsense. His films have a balance between enchanting the audience and keeping them to a certain distance and his films often move between these two extremes. 

Barry Lyndon the film but also the novel the film is based could be considered as an “Entwicklungsroman”, a character´s development in its confrontation with the world and himself. But Redmond Barry changes from a relative likeable young man to a cynical imposter. He internalizes all the bad experiences he goes through, betrayal and, wars. Later after  he is is uncovered as a deserter they force him into the Prussian army whhich was infamous for it´s depravity at this time. For a protagonist in an epic period drama he is quite a very weak character. He turns even to be very disagreeable. His violence against his step son, his greed , his opportunism turns him into a monster among monsters. The changes in the face of Ryan O´Neil (who offered here one of the finest male performances in Kubrick´s work) are some of the the more subtle but indeed the most impressing aspects of this film. 
Only at the end, when Redmond Barry has lost nearly everything, hist own son his social rank, the film allows something like sympathy for it´s character. Mentally broken and crippled after a lost duel he leaves in his last scene the story  and also the history of the 18th. Century without a trace.
For several reason, Barry Lyndon is one if not Kubrick´s most uncompromising film. As sad as we might be about the failure of Kubrick´s Napoleon-project (Barry Lyndon probably benefits a lot from Kubrick´s extensive researches for Napoleon), this film is the best imaginable compensation.

Barry Lyndon  is one of the best film adaptation from a novel and one of the rare examples that the adaptation goes far beyond the book, I can remember. It is very enlightening  to compare Kubrick´s masterpiece with the novel by William Makepeace Thackeray for getting an idea how hard Kubrick worked to transform a novel into pure cinema. And there is much more to say about and even much more to discover or re-discover in Barry Lyndon, one of the greatest most precious gift to cinema, Kubrick ever offered.

Rüdiger Tomczak




Monday, February 13, 2017

Notes on Mon Rot Fai (Railway Sleepers) by Sompot Chidgasornpongse, Thailand: 2016-Berlin Filmfestival2017 IV.-Forum




At the beginning, the history of the first railway in Thailand is introduced by inter titles. A few moments later, a train departs from a station. We see it from the rear window of the last wagon. It is a very long scene. First slowly than faster and faster the train is leaving the landscape behind. It is like a long tracking shot backwards which evokes a strange feeling for spatial depth. When the train drives through a tunnel, the screen turns for a moment dark. After some minutes, the film has already won me over.

In the first half, the camera records only in a compartment for ordinary people (second or even third class). It is overcrowded by old and young people, people who are sleeping, people who are watching the landscapes or children doing their homework for school. When the train stops, people entering or leaving the train. Often sellers offering water, coffee, snacks or dime novels. Conductors are controlling the tickets, soldiers sometimes making checks on passengers. The monotonous sound of the train, the sound scape of human voices and the camera which seems to be right among the crowd evoke a very vividly atmosphere. Sometimes we as the audience seem to be a part of it. The flashing landscapes are like an universe of images in a Laterna Magica. But sometimes there is the physical and mental illusion of train journey. One can almost feel the vibrations. We are involved.

This strange and beautiful film offers both experiences of cinema and world. Sometimes we are just part of it, sometimes we are reflecting about it. Except near the end of the film when some passengers tell their story and beside the film is framed by very few narrations about the history of this railway we see mostly people who are literally doing nothing that gives us an idea about their story. But nevertheless even when no story is told, the stories are present behind dreaming or sleeping faces, behind small actions when people are just busy with themselves. Actually it is whole universe of stories often suspended by dream and sleep or just kept by the people for themselves. It is exactly the same namelessness of ours the spectators.

Later the film takes place in the more convenient compartments. Richer people are drinking and dining beside tourists. Conductors and servants are busy preparing the beds in the pull man coach or taking orders for the next breakfast. The human stories might be for most of the time hidden behind actions but sometimes they appear in micro fragments like the fast flashing landscapes you wee from the windows. The film has the beauty of a clear night sky full of stars where we can watch endlessly. But what we see is nothing more than very small shining lights.

Mon Rot Fai is one of these films for which film festivals once actually invented for. It might takes place in a far distant country, it might tell about strange cultures and landscapes but it often can bring both together: the exploration of another part of the world but at the same time it can be part of the own personal “Recherche du temps perdu” I mean cinema that can offer a peaceful co-existence of exploring the unknown and the strange but as well the own dreams and memories.

One part of myself was reflecting and thinking all the time how close trains and cinema are, referring to so many films by Yasujiro Ozu, the wonderful train scenes in Satyajit Ray´s Nayak (the Hero) or Hitchcock´s North by Northwest. And yes, Mon Rot Fai reminds me as well in more recent masterpieces of films about trains like James Benning´s RR or Catherine Martin´s film poem Océan.
But the other part of me turned into the child I once was who saw it´s first film in a cinema and who experienced the first time a train journey. Sometimes there are these miracles like Mon Rot Fai which move us for a limited time to far distant places but at the same time they bring us back where we came from.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Screenings:
15.02,Akademie der Künste 21.30
16.02, Arsenal 1, 20.00
17.02, Cinestar 8, 16.30
18.02 Cinemaxx 4 22.00



Sunday, February 12, 2017

Notes on some short films for children-Programm 3-Berlin Filmfestival 2017 III.-Generation Kplus






Aaba (Grandfather), by Amar Kaushik, India: 2016

The film takes place in the Indian state Arunachal Pradesh where foreigners have only access with a special visa. There is a girl who lives with her very old grandparents in the mountains. Her mother abandoned her, her father has passed away. She is one of the best pupils in school but still living with grandparents deeply rooted in traditions of their tribe.Only a small TV and a radio are thr only signs of the modern world outside this simple cottage. The grandfather has lung cancer and without a chance to get healed, his forthcoming death is inevitable. While the child has to deal with the fact, the grandfather already begins to dig his own grave, already accepting his fate. The fiction of this film is very frail and often it disappears behind the ethnographic aspect. Very few words are spoken and the film focus on observation. Among this 6 films in this short film program, Aaba is the most laconic one.
The world of the girl´s grandparents seems to be already in the process of disappearing. When they are gone the girl will continue her way through school into a new life. The world revealed in this film will change soon. Aaba is a beautiful miniature and a gift of 22 intense minutes of pure cinema.

Engiteng`Larok Lukunya (Black Headed Cow), by Elisabeth Nichols, Tanzania: 2016

The film is made by teenagers in Tanzania under the direction of Elisabeth Nichols. Like all the films in this program, it is a Coming Of Age-story embedded in a certain geographic landscape, this time a village in Tanzania. The father has decided to marry his teenage daughter to an elderly man with an implicitness he sells a cow. He accepts no objection, the mother remains silent. But early in the morning, the mother wakes up the girl and helps her to escape. In the last shot wee see the girl hiding in a bush and heading to an uncertain future. This film is less a miniature but more like a seed, an initial point to a much more extended story far beyond the visible 12 minutes.


Min Homosyster (My Homo Sister), by Lie Hitula, Sweden/Norway: 2017

Three girls make an excursion to the Norwegian Fjords. Cleo is ten and her elder sister is homosexual. During this excursion Cleo meets her sister´s girlfriend. Cleo has a lot of questions about her sister´s relationships and the elder girls answer her with patience. The film is focusing on an event, a situation. It looks rather like a scene from a longer film but a scene which includes already the DNA of n imagined much longer feature film. In cinema the questions of life asked by children or adolescents often takes place in natural landscapes like in this film the mighty fjords. The discoverings of the visible landscapes and the exploration of the more abstract human landscapes happen concurrent. We know this from Renoir´s The River or from Ray´s Pather Panchali and other examples from the history of cinema.



The Catch by Holly Brace-Lavoie from Canada, the animation film Li.Le by Natia Nikolashvik from Georgia and Terrain de jeu by Maxence Lemonnier from France complete this wonderful kaleidoscope of short Coming of Age-films. In Terrain de Jeu a young buy builds a little refuge in the middle of a forest. Signs from the world around him are disturbing. A search group of policemen and dogs are walking through the forest, the sound of helicopters circling the heaven appear.s The little cabin the boy is installing for himself is literally the try to define his own place in the world, a quest which is part of the history of cinema and often present in these sub genres Road Movie or Coming of Age.

Rüdiger Tomczak

Screenings:
15.02, Filmtheater am Friederichshain, 12.30
16.02, Cinemaxx 1, 14.00