The Berlinale is coming up to half-time: A quick look then at a few rewarding, some satisfying and a lot of rather tiring films shown in and out of Competition

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On Body and Soul. © Berlinale

Berlin, Germany (Weltexpress). Now the film festival has reached an age at that, were it human, retirement could, should or would be on the agenda. But there’s no thinking about it as the red carpet is rolled out once more for those beauties as well as them beasts back at another Berlinale. Taking the view from the Golden Bear Lounge by Glashütte nearby or high up off the Nespresso Bar can assure one that the festival has lost none of its glamour. 67 years then and still going strong. A few films less, yes, one short of 400, but much more than just one or two on every imaginable walk of life, with huge appeal to crowds of cinema-lovers or to the press, media eager for the multiple choice what to see and where to go.

A few films now

And as ever this is a festival that plucked up courage, presenting the odd and the extraordinary but seldom the orderly, or the only faintly original in and out of Competition and on to the fringe.

"Django" © Roger Arpajou
“Django” © Roger Arpajou

It is a pity to say that the opening film did not fit into this pattern. “Django” wangled its way across many a stage, playing a bit with gipsy folklore here and Nazi meanness there without being able to make up its mind on what to place the emphasis when there was no stimulating music to catch the ear. With focus on a short period of Django Reinhard’s life, it looked as if only his ex-girlfriend and double agent Louise de Klerk had in occupied France 1943 led his way as “jazz manouche” artist from a Paris star and collaborator to behave like a hunted man, trying to escape concentration camp by crossing into Switzerland after residing in a villa on the shore of Lake Geneva – a plot that made Django a hero, with kitsch as its last note. Close your eyes then, listening to this touching requiem.

"Félicité" © Andolfi
“Félicité” © Andolfi

During the next days, from Friday to Monday, films shown out of the competition for silver or golden bears at least seemed to have more impact on the audience. Watching “The Dinner”, a boring Bourgeois affair, is tiring even with Richard Gere as one of cast, and so are both “Bright Nights”, a father-son road movie full of clichés, and “On Body and Soul” with to much thought behind a love story painful to watch – not because of the slaughterhouse, but because of the slow set-up. Looking at “Félicité”, you can feel the difference at one glance. The sheer strength of the singer in a Kinshasa Bar, overcoming the odds of everyday life, giving hope to her listeners and not falling to fate is certainly rewarding to see. Both “Final Portrait” and “Viceroy’s House” did not reach out far beyond showing the rapture and ridicule of the last years, first of a famous painter, Giacometti, then of British colonial rule in India. Neither hunted bears, nor did “T2 Trainspotting” though it could have caught one at least. The second round is a knock out like the first, with the drug addicts up to the same old games and fights, still wandering to find out what life is all about, twenty years later. The foursome are vivid, witty and vile as ever, the film a must-see although some might miss a political statement about Britain now.

The Party. © Adventure Pictures Limited 2017
The Party. © Adventure Pictures Limited 2017

You can read those lines in “The Party”, a movie shot in black and white set in the middle-class London home of the newly appointed shadow minister of health. 71 minutes of brilliant acting full of ups and downs and a Ping Pong of dialogues with a ‘Godot end’ to all – a movie not to be missed. With Bruno Ganz playing a touchy-feely German aromatherapist as one of the guests that include an Irish banker, an American feminist cynic, a lesbian couple awaiting the birth of three children – and Janet as host and husband Bob, boozy and a bit bewildered. Hard to bear, the characters of this film with hope to win a bear. And if not, surely it will be on stage as a play.

A movie about a critic is always one for film critics, for sure if it’s a Viennese music critic – for then what looks good could sound well. Now you might say not another go at a white male in midlife crisis please, but the Austrian dialogues in “Widd Mouse” do have a lot of charm around them. Three thrown out of easy living start up a rollercoaster at the Prater again, but the best scene is amidst the Alps when Georg, the critic, gets deeply involved into white. So if Director-actor Josef Hader’s film just wants to be funny then it is.

"Una mujer fantástica" (Englisch: "A Fantastic Woman". © Berlinale
“Una mujer fantástica” (Englisch: “A Fantastic Woman”. © Berlinale

During the first laps of the Berlinale Run we all missed “Spoor” so, spurred on by colleagues, we’ll leave that for the second half of the golden bear tournament. My personal favourite up to now then is “A Fantastic Woman”. Chilean director Sebastian Lelio of “Gloria” fame undertakes an exploration of the soul, the sexuality, strength and solitude of a transgender singer in resistance to hypocritical ‘normal life’. Lelio lets the language of his film talk about the trans, not the usual translators of the wrong tone. That alone makes this something special. Marina Vidal is the ‘fantastic woman’ played by transgender actress Daniela Vega who can sing as well. A stunning study with some very revealing scenes of a humiliated personality fighting to find and keep a recognised place in life makes the film a masterpiece and if the jury has eyes to see the best in competition.

More about “Spoor” and so on, Berlinale and ‘the bears’ will follow shortly.

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