The thick ice lining Potsdamer Platz has long melted, but festival-goers’ experiences on the notoriously treacherous Berlin streets reflected the general consensus about the films screened at the 60th Berlinale: some did beautifully, some faltered, and others fell flat on their ass.
The Berlinale expanded its already robust programming for its anniversary year. Its extensive extracurricular events and sprawling list of films, sections, and locations have made the festival difficult to navigate in the past and this year was no exception.
Trends can be difficult to track in a festival of the Berlinale’s size and breadth, yet the festival’s trademark of balancing commercial and experimental films, and ferreting out political/socially conscious films remained constant. German icon Werner Herzog’s jury presidency and the premiere of a new print of Metropolis made Berlin’s cinephiles a little giddier this February.
Although prostitution is an accepted part of public life in Germany, you wouldn’t see the protagonists of Saara Aila Waasner’s documentary turning tricks on the street. Christel, Paula, and Karolina are “silver girls,” part-time prostitutes and part-time grandmothers. Sensitive, funny, and completely unsentimental, Waasner’s subjects are remarkably vivid in front of the camera as they explain the intricacies of their professional and private lives and the slippages between the two. Screened in Perspektive Deutsches Kino, Frauenzimmer is a gripping exploration of socio-sexual identity and aging.
Son Of Babylon
Yes, it has a child protagonist. And yes, it’s also an allegorical road movie. Although Mohamed Al-Daradji’s film is mired in the tropes of contemporary Middle Eastern film making (specifically the Iranian New Wave), his latest work stands out for its articulation of a distinctly Iraqi problem: decades of war and its legacy of mass graves. A minimal story about a boy and his grandmother searching for the body of a family member, Son of Babylon offers a spare and poetic view of Iraq generated from the inside, counteracting the spate of terrorist thrillers churned out by Hollywood.
Think Deadliest Catch meets agitprop with a dash of slapstick absurdism. There you have it: Kanikosen. Sabu’s perverse workers’ dramedy is an adaptation of Takiji Kobayashi’s landmark work of proletarian literature. Set in a crab boat with abysmal working conditions, the film’s plot careens between a Chaplin-esque assembly line and equally cartoonish scenes of workers competitively kvetching about their poverty. Dreamlike and absurd, Kanikosen depicted the workers’ plight with genuine comic gusto until an awakening on a Soviet crab ship three quarters of the way through. I’m inclined to agree with friend and colleague AJ Goldmann’s assessment of this film: I really liked it until it turned into Battleship Potemkin.
James Lawrence Slattery moved to New York City at a time when it was illegal to walk the streets wearing women’s clothing and emerged as Candy Darling. Perhaps one of the best known Warhol Factory denizens, Darling was immortalized in Warhol’s films Flesh and Women in Revolt, as well as the Lou Reed songs “Candy Says” and “Take a Walk on the Wild Side.” James Raisin’s documentary offers compelling insight into Candy’s quest for personal discovery and self-actualization. An engaging mixture of archival footage, diary entries, letters, and contemporary interviews, Beautiful Darling benefits from the archive of Darling’s devoted friend Jeremiah Newton who interviewed contemporaries such as Tennessee Williams, Jackie Curtis, and Valerie Solanas. Coupled with Raisin’s contemporary interviews with John Waters, Fran Lebowitz, Paul Morrissey, and Gerard Malanga, Beautiful Darling is not only the story of a pop cultural icon, but also a sensitive portrait of one of America’s first openly transgendered public figures.
Zeit des Zorns (The Hunter)
Fresh out of prison, Ali does the best he can by working a gig as an overnight factory guard to provide for himself and his family. One morning he returns home to find his wife and daughter missing, only to find out that they were slain in a shoot out between the police and revolutionaries. Set in modern day Tehran, Zeit des Zorns illuminates the brutal, dulling effect of the regime’s not-so-phantom power on citizens’ domestic life. Like the best Iranian films, the landscape becomes a metaphor for the state of the social body in Zeit des Zorns. The bleak thicket of woods and densely networked freeways of Tehran are rendered in a detached visual language that borders on depressive. But watch closely. The redemption is in the details.
Exit Through The Gift Shop
I walked in wary of the hype and walked out amused and perplexed. “Directed” by the graffiti legend Banksy, Exit Through the Gift Shop is compiled from footage shot by Thierry Guetta, an eccentric, camera-obsessed French shopkeeper. Guetta trails well-known street artists like Shepard Fairey, Swoon, and Space Invader before earning the trust of Banksy. The latter turns the camera on his protégée as he morphs into the tasteless overnight sensation, Mr. Brainwash.
If we buy the story hook, line, and sinker, that is.
Banksy’s determination to remain shrouded in anonymity using blurs and voice manipulators is grating at times, yet the issues Exit raises regarding ego, value, and authenticity makes up for it.
Tales of Hoffmann
It’s not surprising that zombie wrangler George Romero and American auteur Martin Scorcese had a rent-off with this idiosyncratic film adaptation of Jacques Offenbach’s opera. An orgiastic feast of color, dance, and breathtaking sets, The Archer’s surreal masterpiece still shines nearly 60 years after its original release, despite the shitty print procured for the Berlinale’s Play it Again series, a robust line up of repertory films that also included Breathless, The Marriage of Maria Braun, and Pickpocket.
Jesi Khadivi writes on art, dance and film. She lives in Berlin.