#Berlinale review: Why Berlin wasn’t crap

Richard Linklater’s miraculous Boyhood – my film of the Berlinale

There’s been more backlash at the end of this year’s 64th Berlinale than I could have ever expected, which surprised me because I  - well – had such a good time. As someone who didn’t have the opportunity (and the £1000+) to get the airfare to Sundance, lots of my picks of the festival were my first viewings (they were European premieres!) such as Boyhood20,000 Days on EarthDifret, Calvary and Love is Strange.

Sure, in-competition films were generally disappointing, with former Bear-winner Claudia Llosa’s Aloft being the worst  offender – with History of Fear and Praia del Futuro being other major duds. But The Grand Budapest Hotel proved – alongside Gravity at Venice - the best opening film to open any festival of recent years, and there were pleasures with Stations of the Cross and ’71. Boyhood, a competition film, remember, was my film of the festival.

Scandinavian – and particularly Norwegian – cinema really impressed me at this year’s edition. I saw In Order of Disappearance and Blind on consecutive days, and they both were excellent visions of contemporary Nordic cinema, and both played out like fables of a post-Breivik Norway. Like Troll Hunter before it In Order of Disappearance seems to play on traditional Nordic stereotypes (a land of dour noir) and twists it into a blood-spattered comedy. Blind , like Memento before it (and that’s high praise)  twists the narratives of cinema into its own dramatic device, a hugely impressive first work that did something I’d never seen before.

Ken Loach had his own retrospective at Berlinale, as did Derek Jarman, and two killer British movies were among my favourites. ’71 premiered in competition in Berlin, winning praise across the board and was ambiguous enough to provok strong arguments in the pubs afterwards about whether it was anti-British or anti-IRA. I would say both. 20,000 Days on Earth ranks among the finest music documentaries I’ve seen, a beautifully filmed, superbly edited rumination on what it means to be an artist, bolstered by Nick Cave’s wild and heart-wrenching music.

Nymphomaniac – which provoked a Cannes-rivalling furore around Shia LaBeouf’s antics – was a definite highlights, the closest I can see a film festival to becoming a fan convention. I was laughing throughout, and it left me thinking about its messages for days afterwards.

But it was left to Boyhood, Richard Linklater’s miracle of a film, his expansive, 11-year odyssey of filmmaking that took my breath away. It’s chief positives are in the small things, the way Ellar Coltrane’s Mason slowly rationalises his universe, the fluidity of its editing,  Patricia Arquette’s dynamite performance, and they way it, very lightly, tells a light history of the past decade – technological advances and political developments are key to Linklater’s wondrous reflection of time and setting. It’s this year’s Tree of Life.

So here’s my final list, in order of viewing – or for a list of best to worst, head over to my Letterboxd page.

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)

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 (installation)
In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten) 
Concerning Violence 
20,000 Days on Earth ★ (review)
Cesar Chavez 
Beauty and the Beast 

#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 review: In the Courtyard

In the Courtyard (Dans La Cour) (dir. Pierre Salvadori) ★★★

Catherine Deneuve graces the Berlinale once more with Pierre Salvadori’s In the Courtyard, a delicate Parisian tragicomedy about a community in an upmarket Parisian apartment block. Dark and emotionally complex, it still offers moments of eccentric silliness. French TV comedian Gustave Kervern stars as Antoine, a grizzled, lonely drunkard who abruptly walks off stage at his band’s gig in the opening scene. In the meantime, he drinks high percentage beer and ogres around talking to himself, but after a trip to a job centre, Antoine somehow finds himself being interviewed for a concierge position.

For the rest of my review, click here.

#Berlinale review: Nymphomaniac Volume I ‘long version’

Nymphomaniac: Volume I (long version) (dir. Lars von Trier) 

The uncut first half of Danish enfant terrible Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac was unleashed as nature intended last week Out of Competition at this year’s 64th Berlinale. It’s as bonkers as you would expect, but not at the expense of being brazenly philosophical, psychologically stimulating and – most unexpectedly – outrageously funny. Von Trier has given no interviews explaining his motives behind Nymphomaniac, and with stars including bag-regarder Shia LaBeouf, in full frontal sex scenes (porn stars double for the actors’ intimate areas), it might be difficult knowing how seriously to take it.

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

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)

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