Berlinale 2015: Halftime – Films in the Competition

photo:Donata Wenders

It’s Berlinale halftime. Not that I actually know what day it is – festivals just blur into one very long period of uncountable days – but my calendar tells me that half of the joyous and exhausting time is already over.

I’m ill and have been schlepping myself around Potsdamer Platz more than I’ve been thrillingly jumping there, which results in me seeing less films than I originally planned.

Still I’ve seen 16 films in the past 5 days, so I will split this halftime review into two parts: Competition films (today) and everything else (tomorrow). This way it’s just not as overwhelming for both me to write and you to read.

With this as a backdrop continue reading what I’ve seen so far and which films you should and shouldn’t miss…

By clicking on the tilte of each film you will be forwarded to the description, press conference and red carpet coverage of each film on the Berlinale page, therefore I will keep storylines to a minimum and focus more on what I personally thought of each film.

Nobody wants the Night (D: Isabel Croixet, ESP, FR, BUL 2014)

Juliette Binoche is fabulous as always, but director Isabel Croixet tells Josephine Peary’s journey to meet her husband on his expedition to the North Pole in a way that makes her appear more than a colonialist than an adventurer. The vast landscape shots are expectedly gorgeous and the camera that gets closer and closer to the characters as they unravel is beautifully done. However the story lacks in compassion and unless you’re a fan of the arctic or Juliette Binoche you don’t have to see this one.

Nobody wants the Night © Leandro Betancor

Queen of the Desert (D: Werner Herzog, USA 2014)

I – and I’m definitely not alone – expected much more from Mister Herzog. Nicole Kidman plays the fascinating Gertrude Bell who was vital in shaping the Middle East at the turn of the century. But Herzog’s Queen is more a fairytale lady with a broken heart than the daring explorer Mrs. Bell was. Read as a Hollywood persiflage it works quite well (especially the horribly miscast James Franco as Bell’s first lover), but taken seriously it just doesn’t do the story justice.

Queen of the Desert © 2013 QOTD Film Investment Ltd. All Rights Reserved

45 Years (D: Andrew Haigh, GB 2015)

What a heartbreaking story with an exquisite Charlotte Rampling as a wife who suddenly begins to feel like she has to compete for her husband of 45 years. Slowly the film unfolds the layers of the relationship, the choices both made and the regrets they may have. It’s definitely worth watching!

45 Years / Agatha A. Nitecka © 45 Years Film Ltd

The Diary of a Chambermaid
(D: Benoit Jacquot, FR, BEL 2015)

Lea Seydoux’s bored look, her eyes sparkling with disgust and her high maintenance as a maid are impressive. She solidly carries this otherwise fairly vacuous adaption of Mirbeau’s turn of the century classic novel, which has seen more exciting times when Bunuel brought it to the screen in 1964.

Diary of a Chambermaid © Carole Béthuel

Victoria (D: Sebastian Shipper, D 2015)

What a surprise. From the storyline I though: Hell no! But I had time to kill and thought I’d just watch the beginning and then leave for my next screening. 140 minutes later I found myself still in the seat, captured by the authenticity of the story, the crazy stunt of filming the entire 140 minutes in one take (unlike Innaritu in his current ‘Birdman’ Schipper did not use digital tricks, but actually filmed it in one go) and the amazing actors. I wouldn’t have needed the film to be in one take to love it, but it probably enabled the completely improvised acting to be as refreshing, tender and thrilling as it was. Taken into the world of Victoria who meets four boys outside a club and later robs a bank with them, the viewer understands why she gets tangled up in this situation and falls for Sonne (amazingly performed by Frederik Lau), who is evidently quite a chav. To me this film captured Berlin perfectly and although the story doesn’t play out in every single detail this is definitely one of my favourites so far.

Victoria © Senator Film Verleih

Knight of Cups (D: Terrence Malick, USA 2014)

No. I just have to admit Terrence Malick isn’t my cup of tea. I didn’t like Tree of Life and I didn’t like Knight of Cups. To me his fragmented films seem “preachy” and all knowing. Others call it poetic and visually stunning and I can understand where this is coming from, but to me the tone of voice they are delivering keeps me at such a distance it’s just in no way touching.

Knight of Cups / Melinda Sue Gordon © Dogwood Pictures

The Pearl Button (D: Patricio Guzman, FR, CHI, ESP 2015)

The first documentary that I’ve seen in the Berlinale Competition surprised me positively. Expecting a story about water (suppose I didn’t read the description too closely) I was surprised by the descend into the culture of Patagonian culture and genocide. Knowing nothing about the “nomads of the sea” I was captivated by their stories, language and suffering.

The Pearl Button © Musée du Quai Branly-Scala Florence

Als wir träumten (D: Andreas Dresen, D, FR 2015)

Oh Andreas, I like the way your public person would never let one expect the films you create. Very polite, shy and down to earth the German director made a film that’s ruthless, loud and in your face each of its 117 minutes. Five boys after the fall of the GDR are up to no good and with all values they were taught suddenly disappearing this isn’t surprising. It’s an upbeat film, with great music and capturing characters.

Als wir träumten © Rommel Film / Pandora Film / Foto: Peter Hartwig

Body (D: Malgorzata Szumowska, POL 2015)

The father drinks too much, the daughter is bulimic and suicidal both ways of dealing with the death of the mother / wife in their own ways. Communication isn’t the strong suit of this father-daughter constellation until a spiritual worker comes into their life. The film portrays ordinary people who deal differently with the haunting ghosts of the past that turned into their demons of the present in an loving manner. Szumowka’s film is slow and tender, bizarre and at times very funny.

Body © Jacek Drygała

Every Thing will be fine (D: Wim Wenders, D/CAN/FR/NOR/SWE 2015)

The press screening of this film was packed to the very last seat. We all got our 3D glasses and anticipation was tangible. Unfortunately the bubble bursts within minutes. Of course the first images build on the 3D effect, there’s falling snow, a book one wants to grab and an icy landscape that allows the gaze until the horizon. According to the synopsis this is a film about guilt and atonement and it may be that, but the story could have easily been fitted into a short film had all this 3D frolicking not taken up so many minutes. The story is dull, the acting isn’t stellar and relying on the 3D effect (think a rock mobile, a tree branch in front of every house and the placing of people before very deep rooms) may have been visually stunning a few years back, but now it just seemed like a directors exercise.

Every Thing will be Fine © NEUE ROAD MOVIES GmbH, photograph by Donata Wenders

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