By José Sarmiento Hinojosa
While the Berlinale Palast closes its doors in expectation of a new year, and the whole movement of people that drifted mercilessly along the streets of the Potsdamer Platz is now on their way home, it feels like the right time to reflect calmly on what this last Berlin Film Festival brought to the table (or didn’t). In all honesty, the competition was weak, but this has been the main issue with the Berlinale for the last (three? four?) years. While some films were plain embarrassing to watch (Wu Ren Qu’s No Man’s Land didn’t deserve to be in any single festival competition), others were disappointing efforts from past winners (Claudia Llosa’s Aloft was an over dramatic, loosely scripted effort of a film) and the whole bunch of the rest just halfhearted attempts of dynamic, strong, powerful cinema. Maybe Linklater’s Boyhood and Resnais’ Life of Riley were notable exceptions, but even for these filmmakers, their last works rank among their weakest. And a post data: Yann Demage’s debut, 71, which was preceded by positive comments.
So Berlinale was basically about two films and two retrospectives that broke the mold for me: First, the Estonian master filmmaker Veiko Ounpuu’s Free Range – Ballaad maailma heakskiitmisest, which is his third effort two date and a fantastic turnaround for an already surprising body of work. Second, the sophomore short on the “Walker” series by Thai film maverick Tsai-Ming liang, with possibly the most wonderful cinematography on the whole competition. The first one was simply a welcome surprise in a programme devoid of surprises: After Autumn Ball and The Temptation of St. Tony, Ounpuu seems to by trying to pull a prank on his followers, or just simply leave entire freedom permeate his work. Free Range is a Dadaist, nonsensical, existentialist tale about the meaningless of it all, but has the pulse and rhythm of a life affirming film. It’s a case of “you have to watch it to believe it”, but when you see white horses running along a green field on slow motion, almost like unicorns from a mythical tale, you know you’ve been privileged enough to watch the best film of what Berlin had to offer.
Journey to the West, in the other hand, it’s a completely different experience: five minutes of an exhausted Denis Lavant close up which brought me to tears (and many of the assistants on the screening) were the introduction to the continuous walk of this Buddhist monk (Lee Kang-sheng), travelling slowly across the streets of Marseille. Impossible framed shots and a hypnotic rhythm on hand; Journey to the west was the most meditative film on the competition.
For the rest, it was John Zorn who musicalized two of the most significant events in the festival: The restoring of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, presented in the Berliner Philharmoniker and musicalized by the avant-garde musician, and the presentation of the newly restored collection of Jack Smith shorts, a vibrant colored collection of 16mm films dedicated to Mario Montez, and also musicalized by Zorn, with old LP’s previously owned by Mr. Smith himself. So, in memory and in presence, this last Berlinale will be remembered for the old masters, (and the older ones).
Film enthusiasts searching for more thrills should make sure to watch Calvary, by John Michael McDonagh, 20’000 Days on Earth, the documentary (mockumentary?) about Nick Cave, 52 Tuesdays, by Sophie Hyde, if not a complete success of a film, an interesting experiment to watch on the LGTB segment, Corneliu Porumboiu’s new Al Doilea joc and the last Denis Côté’s Que ta joie demeure, a bleak and powerful overview on the workplace and a nice blend on documentary and fiction. Until next year.