Children of the dark rooms and the lit screens, it is time to look back and remember some of the highlights of 2013. Personally, it has been an enjoyable but rough year for me, but thanks to my friend Mary I got my own English-language column on this very blog which I couldn’t be happier about. It’s also time to thank you, the readers, for your interest and your comments, for sharing the enthusiasm, and for being open to new discoveries. Thanks, lovely Cristian Gonzalez, for going over all my texts and saying things like “it’s grammatically correct, but I have no idea what you want to say.” Finally, thank you, distributors, cinemas and movie-goers for keeping film culture in Berlin and elsewhere alive. I have put together 11 of my favourite films of the year and have also tried to tell you where and how in Berlin you can get access to them in case you want to discover or re-watch them now. Film-wise, 2014 has some amazing surprises in store and I can’t wait to share them with you, but first, let’s take a look at the amazing year that lies behind us:
A rollercoaster ride in 24 frames a second, a metaphysical experience and a film that defies genres at the same time. I haven’t been that thrilled in a long time. Watching little GoPro-cameras on a fishing boat dive, fly, crash, wash away, and return gave me one of the biggest and best cinematic surprises of the year. Discovering it at the Berlinale in a gigantic multiplex cinema made me aware that it makes total sense to combine experimental content with a commercial setup, highjack the big popcorn screens and project some daring art films onto them. Another proof that the Forum Expanded is very often (and was definitely this year) the most exciting section of the Berlinale when it come to changing and challenging your viewing habits.
Lev (serious): „Just because you bought dinner doesn’t mean I will sleep with you“. Frances (surprised): „I’m not trying to sleep with you.“ Lev (smiling): „No, I was trying to be a liberated woman!“
It’s dialogue like this and performances like those of Greta Gerwig (who co-wrote the screenplay) and Girl’s Adam Driver that made Frances Ha a film I could almost watch on a loop. Plus the moody black-and-white cinematography, great, sometimes breathless editing, and a late coming-of-age story that many of us can relate to. Nothing but love!
Frances Ha is out on DVD and Blu-ray (rent and buy). Language options are German and English with optional German subtitles. Sadly, no extras apart from a German trailer show.
SOFIA’S LAST AMBULANCE
Where other directors would have made a tear-jerking documentary melodrama about the poverty of others, Ilian Metev chose a daring form, left the commentary out, and just observed the three heroes of a local Bulgarian ambulance in a cinema vérité style. The result is touching, moving, uplifting, and, more importantly, marries cinematic style and content in a way that deserves a lot of recognition.
Sofia’s Last Ambulance is out on DVD (rent and buy). Language is Bulgarian with either German or English subtitles. Sadly, no extras other than a trailer show.
OSLO, 31. AUGUST
A film like big dream. One long day in the life of former drug addict Anders turns into a floating and cautious reflection about existence and friendship, love and life goals, a town, its inhabitants, relationships, and time. In camerawork, pace, and narration a true poem about seizing the day, a film about the beauty of living even though you might change your mind eventually. Specific, yet universal in its messages with a breathtaking performance by Anders Danielsen Lie.
DVD (rent and buy) comes as original Norwegian version with optional German or French subtitles. Once again, no extras, apart from a link to a YouTube interview with director Joachim Trier.
Love is like a ghost, this film tries to tell us and it convincingly does so. We hardly see the narrator who talks about the apartment, his lover, and their everyday lives together. We never actually see the lover and have to paint his picture in our minds – a wonderful and challenging cinematic task for an open audience that understands that the power of cinema lies in imagination. Also a brilliant account (more topical than ever) on the invisibility of so-called illegal immigrants and their (politically) ghostly existence in the midst of our lives.
Thanks to film enthusiast and Berlin film icon Graf Haufen, owner of Kreuzberg’s Videodrom, the French import DVD (French with English, German or Spanish subtitles) will be available there soon as a wonderful response to my request. Hurray and merci bien!
STRANGER BY THE LAKE
Sometimes the most powerful films have the simplest stories. The story of Stranger by the Lake is one of repetition and routine and takes place at only one location – a remote summer lake, somewhere in France where gay men follow their daily pastime of tanning, swimming and cruising. It’s a paradise soon lost and the harmonious and idyllic fable turns into a gruesome tale of exchangeability and death. Beautiful and sexy to look at, exciting, and eventually breathtaking. A film like a never-ending cruising trip…
The DVD is available (buy and rent). Languages: French and German with optional German subs plus two interviews with the director Alain Guiraudie and his actor Pierre Deladonchamps.
I can’t remember the last time I found a film so controversial, provocative, insightful, and masterfully shot and choreographed at the same time. I had long discussions with myself and with friends and came to the conclusion that Paradise: Love, despite it’s often hard-to-watch scenes (and unlike its two follow-up films that form a trilogy) is an overall brilliant account of so many things put together in one film: female “Western” body images and the problems of ageing white women, the hidden postcolonial dimensions of tourism, the power of money, ignorance towards racism and arrogance through skin colour, the stark contrasts of social and emotional value systems, women as sex tourists, sex workers as commodities, and so on. Watch and discuss.
Paradise: Love (Paradies: Liebe), Austria/Germany/ France 2013, Ulrich Seidl, 116 min.
The film is available as a single DVD and BluRay. Original languages are (Austrian) German, English, and Swahili with German subs and optional English subtitles, as well as German subs for the hearing impaired (which is great). The extras only come with the box set of the “Paradise”-trilogy and include a beautifully designed booklet with film stills and an interview with director Ulrich Seidl, as well as a bonus DVD with another interview, interesting deleted scenes from all three films, and a picture gallery.
This film is a small sensation. Not only is it the first film to ever be made in Saudi Arabia, but it also has a female director (Haifaa Al Mansour). Apart from that, Wadjda is also a sensationally balanced and tender look at gender relations and the conjunctions of Islam and partriarchy in a deeply Muslim country without pulling up clichés or being judgemental. The quiet and subtle way in the which Wadja tells its story makes the film a universal testament for the freedom of self-determination and equal rights – without one-sidedly blaming religion, men, or trying to simplify the complex world we live in.
Nicolas Wackerbarth’s first feature film (German title: Halbschatten) is one of those little gems that should have had way more attention this year. I am personally a huge fan of films that put observation above dialogue, mood and atmosphere above plot points, and give amazing actresses like Anne Ratte-Polle the stage she deserves. With only a few looks and gestures, small movements and tiny actions, she manages to give her character Merle not only life, but depth and contradiction. This story of a woman who is trapped in her boyfriend’s summer house in France and is forced to join the company of his adolescent kids while waiting for him is a beautiful poem about alienation and emancipation, about class and being lost in a private hide-away.
Everyday Objects (Halbschatten), Germany/ France, 2013, Nicolas Wackerbarth, 80 min.
The film will be available on DVD on February 21st (German only, no extras).
Sometimes, not much needs to be said and sometimes you just need the right framing, the right editing, and the will to reduce to make amazing visual (and socio-political) statements about a complicated subject matter like animals and our relation to them. Long shots and a camera perspective which mirror the animals’ captivity is enough to open the cinematic space for your own reflections instead of educating the audience with commentary, morale, and an enlightened approach like so many other docs nowadays. Bestiaire makes you aware that film is a visual medium and that images can speak for themselves, if you let them.
DVD (Canada-import) is available for rent (once again only) at Videodrom and features an interview with director Denis Coté.MODEST RECEPTION
Making sense is one of the most overrated qualities, not only in life, but in film specifically. This nutty road trip set in Iran might have deep political implications, but I am trying my best not to find them, since it might spoil this wild and completely unpredictable fun-ride of a couple that gives away money to strangers in a mountain area and gets into more and more trouble. Few people have seen this film and it’s high time to invite you on this trip and give you a few surprises that will stay with you for some time -whether you can make sense of it or not.
The DVD has the Farsi original with French, German, and English subtitles plus two interviews with director/ main actor Mani Haghighi and main actress Taraneh Alidoosti. You can order it via: http://www.trigon-film.org/de/shop/DVD/Modest_Reception