#Berlinale review: 20,000 Days on Earth

20,000 Days on Earth (dirs. Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard) ★★★★

“Who knows their own story? It only becomes a story when you tell it.” So says Nick Cave, the alluring subject at the centre of Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s portrait of the man, 20,000 Days on Earth. Set around a fictionalised version of Cave’s 20,000th day, when he started recording what became last year’s acclaimed Push the Sky Away, the film is both a biography of Cave’s life and a beguiling vision of a musician considering the meaning of his own art. In a festival that has disappointed many, this prize-winner from Sundance – tucked into the Panorama section – is surely one of the best documentaries in show.

For the rest of my review on CineVue, click here.

[Note: although I originally wrote this as a four-star review, it has grown immensely in stature in my head. I won’t recommend it as anything less than a ★★★★★-star film when it’s finally released in the UK.]

Berlinale: Halfway half-hearted blog

Wilkommen, bienvenue and… well you know the rest.

We’re half way through Berlin’s gigantic behemoth, with posters on just about every billboard in town. It’s rather like the Edinburgh fringe, utterly sprawling, with countless films in dozens of screening rooms across the city at any one time, and most of what you see is a complete punt as to whether it’s any good or not.

As a newcomer to film journalism, I’ve basically no idea what I’m doing – pitching seems to be a bit of dead end, and interviews with anyone well-known were booked up weeks ago, so I’m just racking up films that I might be able to tackle in reviews later. I’ve got some up at CineVue – check out their awesome site at cine-vue.com – and I hope I’ll have more here as the festival goes on. Largely because I’m lazy, I’ll leave you with the star ratings below:

The Grand Budapest Hotel (review)
Nuoc (2030)
Los Angeles

God Help the Girl (review)
Love is strange (review)
Jack (review)
Another World (review)
Nymphomaniac Volume I (long version) (review)
History of Fear (Historia del Miedo)
Stations of the Cross (Kreuzweg)
23 August 2008 (short)

Bis zum nächsten Mal…

- Update 11/2

In the Courtyard (Dans la Cour) (review)
The Better Angels (fell asleep – less a fault of the film than my sleep deprivation)
Praia do Futuro
The Guests
In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten)

#Berlinale review: Jack

Ivo Pietzcker in "Jack"10-year-old Jack, the eponymous hero of Edward Berger’s in-competition film, is the head of his family. He looks after his younger brother Manuel in a cramped Berlin flat while his single mother goes out to work. There’s no father figure for him, just a continued list of boyfriends who come and then disappear as his mother goes on extended nights out.

The excellent Ivo Pietzcker, in his debut role in film, gives his role a mix of pride and duty, so when an accident at home alerts social services to his mother’s extended absences, he blames himself for being taken away from his mother to a children’s home. There, he’s bullied, but worse he’s made to feel unwanted, and that drives a rage that bubbles away ready to burst. When he does lash out, he runs home desperate to make contact with his absent mother that he believes cares for him more than any else.

Berger is clearly a superb director of children, and by placing the camera at children’s height he manages to give not just vision to Jack’s story, but a emotional connection too. Despite her clear neglect, Jack’s mother Sanna is seen for most of the film with a sunny disposition, genuinely showing love for her kids, even if her actions are unconventional. Her boyfriends, one of whom feeds and helps Jack on his runaway trip back through Berlin, are always treated with contempt. We can judge otherwise, but what Berger achieves is that we can always understand Jack’s actions.

Although I felt the sense of urgency seen by others in the film didn’t necessarily ring true, and a detour to a Berlin underground rave felt clunky, this is an assured work in the vein of The 400 Blows, with a child’s performance by Pietzcker that is no less powerful.

Berlinale: The big picture(s)

Berlin’s cinematic behemoth, the annual Berlin International Film Festival, returns this week with over 400 films from across the globe. The Berlinale always finds a mixture of the prestige of Cannes (twenty films compete for its top prize, the Golden Bear), and the sprawling public-access inclusivity that defines festivals like London’s – it’s glitzy and yet down to earth, and tickets (which always sell fast) sell from just €4.

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel

The fest opens big with Wes Anderson’s new work, The Grand Budapest Hotel, with Ralph Fiennes as a concierge of an inter-war Eastern European hotel in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. The film stars no fewer than 14 previously Oscar-nominated actors, from Bill Murray to Saiorse Ronan and Adrien Brody, and on the basis of its trailer looks to out-Wes most of Wes Anderson’s quirky recent work.

George Clooney is also due at the festival with his new film The Monuments Men, about a group of art experts (including Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett and Hugh Bonneville) going behind enemy lines in World War II to save some of the continent’s most precious art. Germany’s difficult past also features in a startling new showcase of British propaganda film about the Nazi’s concentration camps filmed by allies of the Psycolgocial Warfare Division towards the end of the war. Pieced together by the Imperial War Museum, the film was never released in the UK as intended, even though Alfred Hitchcock reportedly worked on the picture.

With a festival so sprawling it can be difficult finding a link between the works, but many of the raft of films are features looking at a world whose foundations are shifting. Festival chief Dieter Kosslick told Euronews that “We see a lot of films about ‘land grabbing’. We see a lot about people who are in migration and are not paid correctly and we see the whole disaster of globalisation”.

I’m especially looking forward to young Vietnamese director Nguyen-Vo Nghiem-Minh’s Nuoc, which shows a world in which global warming has led sea levels to flood half the world’s arable land, and how multinational companies profit from the misery of masses. Screening too is Jehane Noujaim’s Tahir Square docudrama The Square, and recent Greek cinema’s assessment of its country’s social and economic plight continues with Yannis Economides’ thought-provoking hitman thriller Stratos. There’s also Diego Luna’s biopic of American activist Cesar Chavez, and Shadow Days, about rural life and the one-child policy in a modernising China, one of a number of films being presented in Berlin from the country.


Jack O’Connell in ’71

As is often the case at the Berlinale, LGBT themes strike high on the list of the festival’s priorities, films of which compete for the Teddy award on LGBT topics. Fresh from Sundance, Ira Sachs’ Love is Strange screens at the festival, with John Lithgow and Alfred Molina as an ageing gay couple in New York forced to live apart. Australian film 52 Tuesdays tells the story of a mother’s decision to undergo gender reassignment surgery, filmed over the course of a year – on Tuesdays. And Fucking Different XXY is a confrontational short film compilation by seven of the world’s foremost transgender filmmakers.

British interest is met by the Ken Loach, director of Kes and My Name is Joe, who is to receive an honorary Golden Bear. Loach won his Cannes Palme d’Or for Irish civil war-set The Wind that Shakes the Barley, so could there be a top Berlin award for British director Yann Demange’s,’71, set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles? The film stars Skins and This is England alumnus Jack O’Connell who will soon be seen in the excellent Starred Up which screened at last year’s London Film Festival. Scottish musical God Help The Girl also features, starring Emily Browning and another Skins graduate Hannah Murray. And there’s a new Nick Hornby adaptation in the shape of A Long Way Down, in which Pierce Brosnan, Imogen Poots, Toni Collette and Breaking Bad star Aaron Paul feature as a quartet who meet at the top of a tall building just as they each decide against committing suicide.

In other highlights, Lars von Trier finally unveils the uncut version of his erotic epic Nymphomaniac Part I. Last time he took the effort to attend a festival, he was declared persona non grata at Cannes, so if he does decide to turn up, do expect fireworks. There’s also Calvary starring Brendan Gleeson, John Michael McDonagh’s follow-up to the hilarious The Guard, and the intriguing The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, in which the controversial author plays himself after being taken from his home by gangsters, suddenly finding himself happy away from his strenousous life as a French celebrity.

My pick of the festival remains, however, is Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, an enormously ambitious drama filmed in Texas over 11 years about an estranged couple (Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette) raising their son. I’m hoping for a blend of The Tree of Life and Michael Apted’s Up series, and the rave reviews from Sundance mark this as one to watch. See you in Berlin!


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