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Berlinale (#110 of 52)

Berlinale 2017: On the Beach at Night Alone Review

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Berlinale 2017: On the Beach at Night Alone Review

Berlinale

Berlinale 2017: On the Beach at Night Alone Review

A melancholy air blows through every haunted frame of Hong Sang-soo’s On the Beach at Night Alone, and it’s a feeling wholly appropriate to evoking the headspace of its main character, Young-hee (Kim Min-hee). A former actress currently taking a professional break after an affair with a married filmmaker ended badly, Young-hee is seen in the film’s first part wandering around Hamburg with an older friend, Jee-young (Seo Young-hwa), talking about their romantic desires and regrets with remarkable frankness. And the second part sees Young-hee meeting with various friends back in her home city of Gangneung, in a series of scenes which reveal the character’s volatile mix of burning resentment and brutal self-awareness.

Berlinale 2017: The Other Side of Hope Review

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Berlinale 2017: The Other Side of Hope Review

Berlinale

Berlinale 2017: The Other Side of Hope Review

The elaborate visual gags. The sharply ironic one-liners. The astutely poised compositions. The willfully undemonstrative acting. Those have been the familiar signposts of Aki Kaurismäki’s style since the Finnish auteur burst onto the world-cinema scene in the 1980s. And if his latest, The Other Side of Hope, feels as fresh as it does, it’s because of the memorable set pieces, gags (like a restaurant employee wiping what turns out to be a nonexistent window), and grace notes that spring forth from within the confines of a familiar aesthetic template. The wry and wistful are intertwined throughout the film, as in a scene where a Syrian asylum seeker says, “I don’t understand humor,” when a fake-ID creator asks him if he’s a man or a woman.

Berlinale 2017: Call Me by Your Name Review

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Berlinale 2017: Call Me by Your Name Review

Sony Pictures Classics

Berlinale 2017: Call Me by Your Name Review

Those put off by the aesthetic flashiness of Luca Guadagnino’s prior two features, I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, may be surprised by Call Me by Your Name’s relative stylistic restraint. The film, based on a 2007 novel of the same name by André Aciman, traces the maturation of Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), but the story’s coming-of-age arc is so delicately rendered that audiences may not even realize the growth Elio has made until they’ve had time to reflect on his behavior after the credits have rolled.

Romantic desire, both acted-on or sublimated through gestures, was the subject of I Am Love and A Bigger Splash, one that Guadagnino reflected through his impulsive filmmaking style. The roving camerawork, the lurid colors, and the operatic soundtracks all served to viscerally evoke passion, so much so that the characters at times barely needed to say any words to each other for us to grasp how they felt at any given moment.

Berlinale 2017: El Mar La Mar Review

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Berlinale 2017: El Mar La Mar Review

Sensory Ethnography Lab

Berlinale 2017: El Mar La Mar Review

On paper, El Mar La Mar sounds simple: a documentary about life in the Sonoran Desert, specifically for the border control agents stationed near the U.S.-Mexico border and the undocumented immigrants who’ve survived the daunting trek across the area’s rugged terrain. But Joshua Bonnetta and J.P. Sniadecki’s documentary is one of the latest works to come out of the Sensory Ethnography Lab, an experimental laboratory based in Harvard University that’s devoted to pushing the aesthetic boundaries of nonfiction filmmaking. As such, Bonnetta and Sniadecki’s approach to exploring the desert and topic of immigration often veers toward the avant-garde.

Berlinale 2017: The Dinner Review

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Berlinale 2017: The Dinner Review

The Orchard

Berlinale 2017: The Dinner Review

In The Dinner, Oren Moverman wastes no time in establishing a tone of grandiose scabrousness. Right in the opening scene, history professor Paul Lohman (Steve Coogan, sporting a rather jarring American accent) articulates his profoundly anti-American view of American history; and to his wife, Claire (Laura Linney), he calls his politician brother, Stan (Richard Gere), an “ape” as they both prepare to meet Stan and his new wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), for a fancy dinner. Paul, at least at the start of the film, seems positioned to be the grim—and grimly funny—truth-teller among a group of people who prefer to hide their true natures behind a veneer of high-class civility.

Berlinale 2017: T2 Trainspotting Review

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Berlinale 2017: T2 Trainspotting Review

TriStar Pictures

Berlinale 2017: T2 Trainspotting Review

Compared to its predecessor, T2 Trainspotting is a relatively aimless and sedate experience. But that’s to be expected for a film that’s largely about people trying to move on from the follies of their youth and finding themselves unable to let go of the past. Director Danny Boyle’s style this time around fully reflects this: Dialing down the devil-may-care impulsiveness that he brought to disquietingly exhilarating effect in Trainspotting, he allows a reflective melancholy to seep through even the film’s loosest sections, a quality that was nowhere in evidence in the original because the characters were too busy getting high or trying to avoid falling back into the habit.

Berlinale 2017: Django Review

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Berlinale 2017: Django Review

Berlinale

Berlinale 2017: Django Review

For a biopic about a jazz musician whose music and personality had the power to set hearts afire and toes tapping, Django plays as a disappointingly staid and conventional affair. Certainly, Etienne Comar’s film about guitarist Django Reinhardt (Reda Kateb) isn’t reinventing any wheels aesthetically. As storytelling, the film falls into that numbing one-thing-after-another rhythm that dooms many biopics to by-the-numbers dullness. And Comar—making his directing debut here after many years as a producer and co-screenwriter of films like Of Gods and Men and My King—gives his film a cautious prestige-movie sheen that belies the roiling passions that Reinhardt consistently expressed on his guitar even with his two disabled fingers.

Berlinale 2016 Don’t Call Me Son

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Berlinale 2016: Don’t Call Me Son

Rachel Schein

Berlinale 2016: Don’t Call Me Son

Were Anna Muylaert a man, she would be hailed in Brazil as the poster child for a new national cinema. Perhaps in the way that the Brazilian press anointed Walter Salles after Central Station or Fernando Meirelles after City of God with the status of messiah for having seduced the European and American cine-establishments. Yet the success of Muylaert’s films, which reject both the populist tropes of vapid entertainment and the impenetrability of art cinema, has been met with a series of sexist episodes played out in social media and a widespread belittlement of her authorial function. If the Brazilian press is quick to find a white male’s face to slap cultural achievement on, it seems just as quick to dilute the weight of a filmmaker’s hand in a project when she’s not just female, but a female who indicts her own culture and gets Oscar buzz for it.

Berlinale 2016 Being 17

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Berlinale 2016: Being 17

Fidélité Films

Berlinale 2016: Being 17

Two very different boyhoods intersect in André Téchiné’s Being 17. Tom (Corentin Fila) is a loner and bad student with a difficult life, alienated from his family for being adopted and from his farming community for being black. His classmate, Damien (Kacey Mottet Klein), is passionate about academics, has an emotionally stable family and a comfortable home, being the son of the town’s only doctor, Marianne (Sandrine Kiberlain). Tom commits the most gratuitous acts of bullying against Damien at school, such as extending his leg to trip him over, or sucker-punching him in the face. But Damien doesn’t play the victim; he plays along with the bullying, as he becomes increasingly fascinated by Tom’s aggression. It’s as if Damien understands violence to be Tom’s only language, and his bullying a call for help, or rather, a call for love.

Berlinale 2016 Goat

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Berlinale 2016: Goat

Killer Films

Berlinale 2016: Goat

In the opening shot from Goat, a mob of delectably smooth male torsos can be glimpsed jumping up and down in slow motion, bonding against the camera. These young white males scream at the lens, as if intimidating and courting the audience at the same time. Together they form a kind of trompe l’oeil, the singularity of each person lost for the sake of the group. Are they brothers or soldiers? Are they twins or doubles? Are they in a battlefield or in an orgy? Their cinematic hazing is our invitation to an unabashed look at the dynamic of the fraternity—that bizarre, if not pathetic, enterprise of a decidedly American hetero-masculinity that makes Europeans laugh. And they certainly did at Berlinale’s press screening.