Berlinale Day 1 – Friday
El Premio – The Prize (Mexico, France, Poland, Germany)
A competition film that takes place in Argentina in the 1960s (yet isn’t from that country) about a girl and her mother in hiding from the government for unspoken reasons. The father is absent, for unspoken reasons. He may be dead, he may be alive, they’re not sure. The girl goes to school, does well, makes friends, and does kid things. There’s a contest at school to write an essay about how great the military is, but she instead writes about how awful they are. They killed her cousin, they act crazy and without honor. Once the mother finds out, she freaks and the teacher gives them a chance to write the essay again. Just write it exactly the opposite. She does and, of course, wins first place.
That may make it sound like a lot is happening when, really, a whole lot of nothing is happening. The majority of the film consists of long shots of the girl just doing stuff. Sitting around, listening to the wind, playing with her mother, getting her hair combed, giggling with her friends. There’s supposed to be a looming feeling of unease because of the tyrannical government and the way it makes people act, but it gets totally lost amongst the general day to day atmosphere the film builds. In the end, it’s all utterly pretty pointless.
Much to my surprise, this won best cinematography and best production design. It’s odd because the cinematography is really nothing special. It’s bland, muted, mostly handheld, and altogether par for the course. The production design is also nothing of great note. It’s almost as if the jury wanted to give it runner up, so they gave it the leftover prizes.
Don’t expect this one to be making the rounds in the US.
Berlinale Shorts Program 1
I went to this because, really, it was the only thing that would slot into my schedule. I’ve seen so many short films. So very, very many short films. It was a large part of my job, and still is to an extent. And, like poetry, they’re either amazing or terrible. And, also like poetry, they’re usually terrible. I had hoped the stuff that made the cut for Berlin would be better, but it’s really more of the same.
There were shorts from Hungary, Sweden, Canada (though that one didn’t play due to technical difficulties), Lebanon/UK, and the USA. The only one of note was THE UNLIVING from Sweden, about life after a zombie apocalypse. And as uninteresting as that sounds this deep into the world’s zombie obsession, it was quite good. It was more like the first reel from a feature, and I’d hope to see more. Very good.
The rest were either just OK, or too artsy to be watchable. Unfortunately, I missed the shorts program with the new short from Korean master Chan Wook-Park and his brother made completely with an iPad.
Margin Call – USA
The big red carpet competition premiere of the day, MARGIN CALL had its initial premiere at Sundance. It has a phenomenally strong cast all around. Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons, Paul Bettany, Zachary Quinto, Demi Moore, Stanly Tucci, and Aasif Mandvi make up pretty much the entire cast, and they all give great performances. It follows an unnamed Wall Street firm overnight as one of the low-level people (Quinto) is the first to figure out the already in progress subprime mortgage meltdown. It’s structured differently than your average movie with no real climax, no big confrontation it builds to. But it still works. Instead, it manages to put a human face to the people involved. The media and the reaction as a whole has been of a “what monsters!” type. One would assume they live with dollar signs in their eyes and to hell with the repercussions. Some may, but it helps point out that, while they knew exactly what they were doing and starting, that didn’t make it an easy choice. It helps make it all a bit more understandable, which I appreciated. I enjoyed it, it’s a strong film that can strike up some interesting conversations.