Berlinale Panorama Special
5 Highlights of the Panorama Special
The Panorama Special shows major independent productions, as well as films by important American studios. The past and how it mirrors the present plays a central role in many of the feature films in this year’s Panorama programme. Whether in Brazil’s favelas (Bróder!) or in a small Taiwanese town (Monga), in many of these films, the devastating consequences of a concoction of pragmatism, opportunism and corruption are glaring – be it in relation to the personal lives of the protagonists or to developments in society as a whole. These are the 5 top highlights of the 16 Panorama Special films.
Brazil, 2009, 95 min, Portuguese
Director: João Daniel Tikhomiroff
“Besouro” is the Portugese word for ‘beetle’. Besouro was also the name of one of Brazil’s most famous dancers. Besoura Mangangá was how legendary Capoeirista Manuel Henrique Pereira (1897–1924) wished to be known. This film tells the story of his life.
Capoeira is a Brazilian dance-like form of martial arts. The art form was brought to Brazil by African slaves who were prohibited from carrying weapons, and instead cultivated this musical form of martial arts. For Manuel Henrique Pereira, who was orphaned at a young age, the art form paves his way to fame. He finds an excellent teacher in Mestre Alípio, a master of Capoeira who teaches him the dance’s main requirements: concentration, a sense of justice and the desire to liberate Brazil’s black population from the oppressive social structure that still informed the country at the beginning of the 1920s.
Besouro becomes a hero, but he is also a man of passion. Dinorá, his childhood sweetheart, becomes the love of his life – that nonetheless ends tragically. Love is one of the many conflicts that Besouro has no fear of facing. They say that beetles cannot fly. But they do. And so, just as these insects defy the laws of physics, so too do the dancing fighters known in Brazil as Besouro.
Screenings on 15, 16, 17, 18, 21 February, more info here.
Brazil, 2009, 90 min, Portuguese
Director: Jeferson De
Macu has lived on the outskirts of São Paulo since he was born. On his birthday he meets up with two of his best childhood friends who have now moved away. Jaiminho was the best football player in the whole neighbourhood; he now lives in Spain where he has signed up with a professional football club. His other friend, Pibe, is about to start out as an insurance agent. The friends all meet up at a surprise party that Macu’s mother, Dona Sonia, has arranged.
Although Macu’s friends no longer live in this neighbourhood they are both nonetheless deeply attached to it. Macu’s step-sister has, for instance, fallen pregnant. The child’s father is Jaiminho – but he’s having a hard time trying to cope with the news. Pibe is now married to Macu’s ex-girlfriend Claudia. But neither Macu’s family nor his friends know that Macu’s serious money problems have obliged him to make his house available to the local drug dealers, who plan to use it to hide a kidnapped child. The dealers then decide to scrap their plan in favour of a much more lucrative coup: now they want Macu to help them abduct star footballer Jaiminho, who, they are convinced, will earn them a much higher ransom. Macu has to make a decision. Should he agree to work with the gangsters and betray his best friend, or stand up to his creditors and risk his own life?
Screenings on 17, 18, 19, 20 February, more info here.
Turkey, Bulgaria, 2009, 122 min, Turkish
Director: Reha Erdem
Kosmos is a thief and a miracle-worker. He appears one morning in a tiny, snowbound border village where he is welcomed with open arms – on account of arriving just in time to resuscitate a small boy who would otherwise have drowned. Neptün, the boy’s sister, and Yahya, his father, are all too willing to take the stranger under their wing. But Kosmos values his independence too much. He often gives a wide berth to the tea house where they have decided to put him up, and flatly refuses to take on any work there. He queers his pitch still further when he openly declares himself to be in search of love. When it transpires that Neptün is the object of his amorous desire her enraged father burns a hole in Kosmos’ hand with his cigarette. Strangely, the next morning, the cigarette burn has all but disappeared.
Other weird things begin to occur: ever since the stranger arrived, the number of thefts increases; moreover, Kosmos is apparently able to climb the highest of trees effortlessly, and leap from branch to branch like a bird. He and Neptün imitate birdsongs together. Kosmos nonetheless becomes a genuine member of the village community, even though a border conflict claims much of the villagers’ attention.
In the meantime Kosmos brings about more miracles: he manages to heal a teacher’s migraine, and a patient’s asthma and soon anyone with a complaint is in hot pursuit of Kosmos. But the mood turns sour for the stranger when, after first having healed a mute boy, he trudges for hours through the snow with him and the boy’s health deteriorates rapidly …
Screenings on 17, 18, 19 and 20 February, more info here.
Taiwan, 2010, 140 min, Mandarin, Taiyu
Director: Doze, Niu Chen-Zer
Monga is the name of an old quarter of Taipei. Mosquito and his friends have no illusions about the unwritten laws that prevail in this part of town: if you want to survive here you’ve got to be stronger than your enemies.
Mosquito, Monk, Dragon, White Monkey and A-Lan are all members of the ‘Gang of Princes’. They formed the gang when Mosquito’s snack was stolen on his first day at school in Monga. The five teenagers have decided they don’t want to be pushed around.
The boys soon begin to enjoy their new found gangster lifestyle and are already planning to take over as top dogs on the streets of Monga. But little do they know that there are others who are deeply jealous of Mosquito’s success.
Geta, one of Monga’s old triad leaders, sees it as his duty to teach these cheeky young upstarts the true laws of gangsterdom. And so Geta tells the youngsters about the legacy handed down by the city’s founders and the strict laws of a brotherhood which should always fight not just for territorial reasons but also to protect their honour.
But even Geta has no inkling of the storm that is about to hit Monga – a storm that will destroy the town’s traditional values and the vestiges of its glory. A new gang, bristling with an arsenal of handguns, is about to change forever the little world in which Geta and the ‘Gang of Princes’ have made themselves at home.
Screenings on 16, 17 and 18 February, more info here.
India, 2009, 105 min, Hindi
Director: Anusha Rizvi
Peepli is a tiny, remote village in India. Two of the villagers are the brothers Natha and Budhia, who are both poor peasants. Unable to pay back a loan, they risk losing their tiny piece of land to the bank and are desperate to find a way of saving their property. The local owner of a large estate gives them a sound piece of advice: one of them should commit suicide. There is a government programme, he says, that provides financial support to surviving dependants. Encouraged by the women in the family, Budhia, the older of the two brothers, makes some investigations. It looks as though he is about to prepare to end his life, but then, Natha carelessly announces that he is willing to die – and Budhia accepts his offer immediately.
Meanwhile, the Indian television news desks are full of the by-elections in Mukhya Pradesh. The reports focus mainly on the rivalry between the Minister for Agriculture and the Chief Minister of this Indian state. A journalist reporting from Peepli overhears a drunken conversation between the two brothers and this provides him with a fantastic headline for the morning papers: “A Death Foretold in Peepli”. The news is a sensation – on account of the elections – and before long the machinery of state is set in motion, closely followed by the media. In no time at all the whole country is following Natha’s story. Reporters, police, politicians, gawkers, wheelers and dealers all besiege his house. Not only Natha’s family, but hundreds of other people sense an opportunity to make a fortune …
Screenings on 18 and 19 February, more info here.