For the next 10 days, I'll be posting regularly from the Berlin International Film Festival
(a.k.a. the Berlinale), generally considered to be the second largest
festival in Europe (after Cannes) and, at 59, one of the oldest. This
year, the Berlinale's international competition will feature the world
premieres of new films by Stephen Frears (Cheri), Chen Kaige (Forever Enthralled), Sally Potter (Rage) whose 2004 film, Yes, sparked a memorable dialogue in these pages, and French director Bertrand Tavernier, whose 1995 teen crime drama, L'Appat,
won Berlin's top prize, the Golden Bear, and who returns this year with
an English-language adaptation of detective novelist James Lee Burke's In the Electric Mist,
filmed on location in Louisiana with Tommy Lee Jones in the lead. Those
films and 13 others will be judged by a jury headed by Tilda Swinton
that also includes Spanish filmmaker Isabel Coixet, Swedish author
Henning Mankell and American "slow food" doyen Alice Waters.
At 82, the Polish master Andrzej Wajda (Sweet Rush)
may be the oldest director in competition, but he's young enough to be
the son of Portugal's unstoppable Manoel De Oliveira, whose latest
the latest from French suspense maestro Claude Chabrol (a mere 78, and
with nearly that many films under his belt). Meanwhile, in the Forum --
a home for more independent and experimental works roughly equivalent
to Cannes' breakaway Directors Fortnight section -- one can find
a four-hour Japanese film about an adolescent sexual voyeur who falls
in love with the man-hating step-daughter of his priest father's lover.
(The Forum program intriguingly states that the film "composes the
extremes of human behavior into an ecstatic passion choreographed to
religious music, the Bolero, the funeral march and the Japanese band
Yura Yura Teikoku's J-Pop music.") As a fan of long-form films, I
welcome that challenge, but take due pause at the prospect of German
director Ludwig Schönherr's New York. Ein visuelles Arbeitstagebuch, a Super 8 "visual diary" of New York City that reportedly takes more than four days to view in its entirety.
Like last month's Sundance Film Festival,
which saw even its biggest buzz usurped by the U.S. Presidential
Inauguration, the 2009 Berlinale coincides with its own bit of national
history: the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which,
although it will not be officially marked until November, is the
subject of various year-long commemorations throughout Germany,
including a special Berlinale sidebar, "After Winter Comes Spring -
Films Presaging the Fall of the Wall," comprised of 13 features and
several shorts produced in the GDR and other countries of the former
Meanwhile, the curtain rose on the Berlinale Thursday evening with an
opening-night film inspired by more recent current events. Loosely
based on the 1990s scandals surrounding the Pakistani-run Bank of
Credit and Commerce International, The International is, true to its title, a globe-hopping conspiracy thriller directed by a German (Run Lola Run's
Tom Tykwer), produced with American studio money, and starring two
foreign-born actors (Clive Owen and Naomi Watts) who are now as
Hollywood as they come. So, for that matter, is the movie.
Since I'll be writing about The International at length for next week's editions of the Weekly and The Village Voice, when the film opens in worldwide commercial release, I won't belabor the matter now, except to say that this poor man's Parallax View,
about a sinister Luxembourg bank that runs a brisk sideline in
third-world revolutions and black-market arms sales, can't hold a
candle to the geopolitical nail-biters presently unfolding in the pages
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of your morning newspaper. Oh, and I'd be remiss not to mention the
elaborate shootout that occurs in, of all places, Manhattan's
Guggenheim Museum, which should appease anyone who has ever wondered
what a Michael Bay gallery installation might look like and provides The International with a working metaphor for its own shotgun wedding of grindhouse inclinations and art-house ambitions.