Berlinale Day 4 – Monday
V Subbotu – Innocent Saturday (Russia, Germany, Ukraine)
This film starts off so strongly, and is so compelling, but it suddenly tosses it all away and drags it down into an interesting but disappointing film.
The first Russian film to cover the events around the Chernobyl disaster, it follows a young party leader/low level plant worker moments after the explosion as he discovers what has happened and overhears officials discuss how they should not warn the people. After being exposed to lethal doses of radiation he rushes to town to grab his girlfriend and leave. Once the gravity of the situation hits her, they make a frantic dash for the train station, only to miss it by seconds.
Then things get odd. She insists on going shoe shopping, then they stop by a wedding. She is talked into singing with the band, a band he used to be the drummer in but left after a falling out. He’s then talked into filling in as drummer. They spend the rest of the day playing music, arguing, getting drunk, and talking. The character motivations are all wonky, none of their actions make much sense. Even if they’re in denial, they just don’t add up. It’s confusing and all the momentum the film had is completely sucked out and everything is left flat.
The film is shot almost completely in closeup, and handheld. This aggressive photography adds a palpable amount of tension to everything and truly focuses these massive events just around the characters. It’s downright uncomfortable to spend so much time so close up to these people. The performances are excellent too. There are other great moments that add to that gnawing feeling of dread looming over everything as you know everyone you see is doomed to die a terrible death in a short matter of time. “Your mouth tastes metallic…”
I was genuinely surprised this didn’t win the best cinematography award as the work they did was not only challenging, but extremely effective. Too bad the second half is so meandering that it really hinders its chances of getting a good release.
Sekai Good Morning !! – Good Morning to the World!! (Japan)
Yuta is a teenage loner, with a mother always at work, and who spends his time doing typical teenage stuff. He records his own diary, is made fun of by other kids, and plays air guitar in his room. For some reason, he decides to steal a binder belonging to a homeless man he passes everyday. When he goes to return it, he finds the police removing the hobo’s dead body. Yuta panics and decides to try and find the hobo’s family based on what was in the binder.
Again, it sounds more interesting than it is. While it is an interesting portrait of the universal feelings and goings-on of adolescence, it’s too muted and odd to really be effective. It’s a first time director, only 25 years old or so, and it is a promising debut. But it’s not effective enough, or wacky enough, to really keep people’s interest.
Sing Your Song (USA)
The first two musicians I ever started listening to intently, probably around the age of 5 or 6, were Elton John and Harry Belafonte. My mom had a cassette of Harry Belafonte’s greatest hits and I absolutely adored it. I would listen to it all the time. My favorites were “Jump in the Line” (and not just because of BEETLEJUICE), “Man Smart Woman Smarter,” and “Jump Down Spin Around.” I still listen to them. I love his voice, I love the way he sings, and I love the style of music. But, other then that, I didn’t know much about him.
SING YOUR SONG is a documentary not so much about Belafonte’s entertainment career, but his life in social justice and activism. While it does cover his initial rise to stardom (I had no idea he was the first artist to sell a million albums), it starts to fold in his activism. His TV and film work subtly by clearly folded in issues with race. He had the audacity to hold a white woman’s hand on TV, which rose quite a stir in the south of course. He worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and continues to work around the world doing what he can. It is quite inspiring and admirable, and I’m glad I saw it.
While it’s not made expressly by the subject (though his children did produce it), it does start to seem shamelessly self-promotional by the end. Not a single negative thing is said about him. It does hint that he feels bad for spending so much time away from his children, but his children are shown forgiving him by admitting it was for a greater cause. Even his two divorces are framed as almost positive things. The final ten minutes were too much for me, and it sorted of disconnected me from everything I had seen before. I started framing him differently, demanding great respect and fawning over him instead of just showing his work and letting us come to that conclusion on our own.
The audience went nuts for it. A long standing ovation. This will probably end up on HBO or something, and it’s well worth a watch.
Über uns das all – Above us Only Sky (Germany)
Everything seems to be going well for Martha and Paul. He just received his PhD and they’re moving to Marseilles to start a new life. Paul leaves a few days before and commits suicide. Martha is blindsided and slowly comes to learn that Paul had been lying to her for years. He was never a graduate student, and had no job waiting for him France. Martha stays in Cologne and suddenly starts sleeping with, and falling for, a professor at the same university Paul supposedly went to. She never tells him what happened, and eventually it all comes out.
I don’t have much to say. The story is compelling enough, but the film just wasn’t. Fairly dull, actually.
Rundskop – Bullhead (Belgium, Netherlands)
Finally, a film about the underground ring of bovine growth hormone gangs in Belgium! Well, that’s part of it. It’s more about Jacky and his estranged childhood friend. Jacky was brutally attacked as a child by a mentally challenged teenager who smashed his testicles with a rock. Jacky’s friend witnessed it, but because of the aforementioned gang ties, he couldn’t testify. Jacky has spent the rest of his life obsessed with his masculinity and is just as into pumping himself with hormones as he is his cattle. Jacky, who is the most masculine guy in the film, is jealous of the natural masculinity his friend and younger brother retained. If he had ran a bit faster, the tables would have been turned. The friend is secretly gay, which is somehow supposed to insinuate less masculinity or something.
It’s dark, occasionally violent, but lacks a satisfying ending. I also feel it looks at the issue of masculinity and the way men are compelled to act far too simply. Like nearly every movie I saw, it was good enough, but not good enough.