Berlinale Competition Highlights
The 7 most interesting competition titles
Japan, 2010, 85 min, Japanese
Director: Koji Wakamatsu
Lieutenant Kurokawa returns highly decorated from the second Sino-Japanese war. He has lost both his arms and his legs during the conflict. Before long, the attentions of everyone in his village – neighbours, friends and relatives – are focussed on his wife, Shigeko. They all look to her to honour the Emperor, do her duty to her country and provide a shining example to others by devoting herself to caring for this war hero …
Koji Wakamatsu: “I had the idea for this new film while I was shooting UNITED RED ARMY. I felt that, in order to understand the youngsters of the sixties and seventies, you should first describe their parents’ era, the time of the Pacific War. Describing a war doesn’t just mean describing the shooting and the battles. The people who are most affected by war are the women and children, who don’t even fight. Those in power fooled the citizens into believing that this war was on behalf of their country, and they manipulated them into rushing into the war. They themselves stayed at a safe distance and were still alive after the war. I thought that the youngsters in United Red Army were born the way they were precisely because their parents had lived through such an era. So I’d already decided at the time of shooting to describe their parents’ era, the Pacific War, and the people of that time.”
Screenings on 15, 16 and 21 February, more info here.
Jud Süß – Film ohne Gewissen (Jew Suss – Rise and Fall)
Austria, Germany, 2010, 114 min, German
Director: Oskar Roehler
Ferdinand Marian was the actor who in 1940 gave a brilliant performance in the lead in Veit Harlan’s Nazi propaganda film JUD SÜSS – but the role was to break him. The situation already begins to come to a head for Marian during the filming when his wife distances herself from him because she can’t bear to see how her husband has changed. The national and international success of JUD SÜSS – which delights audiences at its premiere at the Venice international film festival founded by Mussolini – is but a brief, albeit ecstatic, intermezzo. In time the Nazis’ new superstar begins to see through the effect that the film has on society; he also recognises the criminal nature of the regime. Not only are many of his friends forced to emigrate; the Marians also hide Jewish actor Adolf Wilhelm Deutscher in their summerhouse – until a maid denounces Deutscher to her SS lover.
In a desperate attempt to distract himself, Marian succumbs to alcoholic binges and affairs but his actions only succeed in earning him the disapproval of, among others, the propaganda minister himself. In a bid to control him, Goebbels has Marian’s wife Anna deported. But this only accelerates the actor’s demise, and even his Czech lover Vlasta can no longer give him the support he needs. He no longer wishes to have anything to do with the most successful film of his career.
After the end of the war Marian observes others who were involved in the film attempting to acquit themselves – particularly its director, Nazi propagandist Veit Harlan. At a garden party in Munich Marian meets concentration camp survivor Deutscher, who informs him of Anna’s death. Unable to bear Vlasta’s intimate behaviour with an American soldier, he breaks down, gets into his car and drives off, never to return again.
Screenings on 18, 19 and 21 February, more info here.
Kak ya provel etim letom (How I Ended This Summer)
Russian Federation, 2010, 124 min, Russian
Director: Alexei Popogrebsky
One place. One day. Two men.
The place is a polar station on a remote island in the Arctic Ocean. A day up here in the far north lasts weeks, since the sun never sets during the summer at this high latitude. This used to be an important research station but, Sergei, an experienced meteorologist and Pavel, a high school graduate, are now the only inhabitants. Soon a ship will arrive to pick up the two men. For Sergei this will mean the end of a sojourn that has lasted several years. He is anxious about returning to his wife and child on the mainland. For his part, Pavel hopes that he might yet be able to experience the kind of real adventure he was dreaming of when he volunteered for an internship in this desolate region. And then one day when Sergei is out angling, Pavel picks up a radio message that he daren’t communicate to Sergei.
Pavel does everything he can to keep the message from Sergei, in the hope that the ship’s arrival will relieve him of this particular task. But then Pavel learns that the ship will not be coming to pick them up at all this year.
Director Alexei Popogrebski found the inspiration for his psychological polar thriller in the dairies of N. V. Pinegin which were written in 1912 when Pinegin accompanied Russian polar explorer Georgio J. Sedov on his tragic attempt to reach the North Pole. Popogrebski read these diaries as a fourteen-year-old. “I have been fascinated, ever since, by this ability to come to terms with notions of time and space so drastically different from our common scale of hours and minutes, or blocks and metro stops. This film, essentially, is a story of two personal (and incompatible) time-and-space scales.”
Screenings on 17, 18 and 21 February, more info here.
Na putu (On The Path)
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Germany, Croatia, 2010, 100 min, Bosnian
Director: Jasmila Zbanic
Luna and Amar are a couple. Their relationship is under great strain. First of all, Amar loses his job for being drunk at work. Luna is very worried and has little hope of realising her fragile dream of having a child with Amar. But her fears for their future increase when Amar takes on a well-paid job in a Muslim community hours away from where they live.
Only after quite some time has elapsed during which they have had no contact with each other, is Luna allowed to visit Amar in this community of conservative Wahhabis in its idyllic lakeside location. She notices that the men and veiled women live in strict segregation and are closely watched. Luna asks Amar to return home with her but Amar insists that life in this isolated community of faithful followers has brought him peace and also keeps him from drinking.
When he returns home a few weeks later, Luna realises that Amar’s attitude to religion has fundamentally changed. Amar claims that his only interest is to become a better person, but Luna finds it extremely difficult to follow his line of thinking. She begins to question everything that she has believed in, even her desire to have a child. As the wounds of a tragic war-filled past continue to haunt her, Luna tears herself apart searching if love is truly enough to keep her and Amar together on the path to a lifetime of happiness.
Screenings on 18 and 19 February, more info here.
San qiang pai an jing qi (A Woman, A Gun And A Noodle Shop)
People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, China, 2009, 90 min, Mandarin
Director: Zhang Yimou
Wang runs a little noodle shop in a small desert town near Jiayu Pass not far from the Great Wall. He lives in his shop with his wife and their staff. But life with Wang is far from pleasant: he’s a real skinflint who only thinks about himself, and he sometimes doesn’t pay his staff for months on end. His wife also suffers at the hands of this domestic tyrant, although a discrete affair with Li, the shy cook, helps her to bear her lot in life. Every time she needs some more rouge, Li drives his boss lady into town where they have sex. But their regular little tryst doesn’t go unnoticed. Shortly beforehand, Li’s lover purchases a gun from a Persian carpet salesman and gives it to the cook for safekeeping. Wang, she says, must die – it’s the only way they can be happy. In the meantime, a waiter named Zhao and a policeman named Zhang inform Wang about his wife’s love affair and the gun that Li keeps hidden. Wang promises to pay Zhang if he kills the lovers. The next day, Zhang indeed returns with a bloodstained piece of clothing and fiercely pierced piece of woman’s underwear but, as he waits in Wang’s office for his reward, Zhang shoots Wang with the gun he found in Li’s possession. Wang collapses in a heap, but, just as Zhang is about to empty the safe, he hears Zhao arguing with one of the waitresses, Chen. The pair apparently has the same thing in mind as Zhang. Zhang manages to escape through the window unseen, leaving behind the murder weapon and the victim …
Zhang Yimou: “I love all the works by the Coen Brothers. Some twenty years ago at a film festival, I saw their directorial debut, BLOOD SIMPLE, which left a great impression on me. The film keeps coming back to me, although I haven’t seen it since.”
Screenings on 14, 15 and 21 February, more info here.
Germany, 2010, 90 min, German
Director: Burhan Qurbani
This episodic film revolves around Maryam, Samir and Ismail, three young Muslims living in Berlin. During the course of their stories, their faith, and their value systems begin to falter. The film portrays three people forced by circumstances to find a new path in life and to ask themselves who they are, who they love and what they believe in. Their paths cross at a mosque led by the enlightened Imam, Vedat.
Maryam is Vedat’s daughter. She is a fun-loving, westernised young woman. Her at times permissive demeanour is a regular source of conflict between her and her single father, who is deeply worried about his 19-year-old daughter’s moral conduct. His fears are well-founded: Maryam has unintentionally fallen pregnant.
Samir is Nigerian. He and his best friend Daniel, a German, both attend Vedat’s Koran lessons. It soon becomes clear that Daniel sees Samir as more than just a friend; moreover, Daniel’s feelings are reciprocated by Samir. Gradually, the two boys begin to get close.
Ismail is a police officer and a family man in his mid-thirties. One day during a police raid at the central market he sees Leyla, the woman who, three years ago, sustained a life-threatening injury from a ricocheted bullet fired from his gun. The encounter throws him completely off balance.
The film’s title refers to the first pillar of Islam: Shahada – the Muslim profession of faith. Shahada represents one’s decision to take a certain path. The protagonists of this film struggle, each in their own way, to find the right path and a way of living with their own systems of belief and values.
Screenings on 17, 18 and 21 February, more info here.
Shekarchi (The Hunter)
Germany, Iran, 2010, 92 min, Farsi
Director: Rafi Pitts
Ali has recently been released from prison and is now working as a night watchman in Tehran. This factory job now means that he is at least able to support his small family comprising his wife Sara and their daughter, Saba. One day, Ali comes home from work to discover that Sara and Saba have disappeared. Realising that there’s no point in waiting for them any more, Ali decides to go to the police. But there’s chaos at the police station and it takes hours for him to discover anything. Finally, he is informed that his wife was caught up in a shoot-out with demonstrators and was killed. His daughter Saba, however, is still missing.
Ali’s search for his daughter drives him to distraction; he despairs still more, when, in the end, her dead body is discovered. Desperate for revenge he runs amok randomly killing two policemen. After the deed he heads for the woods in the north by car. But the police have long been on his trail; they give chase along a country road until Ali’s car crashes. Ali runs off into the woods to hide among the trees – in vain.
Hassan and Azem, the two policemen who are chasing him, arrest him. Ali seems resigned to his fate and willingly follows the two men, who keep a sharp eye on him. But then, they get lost. All they can see are trees. In such a remote landscape as this, it’s hard to tell the difference between hunters and hunted.
Screenings on 16 and 17 February, more info here.