BERLINALE 2001 – Berlinale 2001

About the passion for storytelling


After twelve festival days, watching more than thirty movies from a selection ten times bigger than that, looking back means to remember what is still on your mind. Which stories left something in your heart and in your thoughts? What made them so impressive?

To simplify an overview of such an immense mass of movies it should help to follow the different lines of the Festival. The Berlinale is devided into the sections Competition, Panorama & Forum.

The participation of two films from Japan in Competition bears witness to a major change in the Asian market. Japanese cinema is regarded as very innovative worldwide. Another accent is placed on films from the Latin countries with one French-Algerian co-production, two Italian films and the participation of a movie from Argentina. Of course films from North America are screened as well as two German productions. The economic upheavels of recent years influenced cinema of Eastern Europe. It might be a positive sign that a Polish film has found its way into the Competition.

The Panorama’s original mission is to inspire and discover films for the coming arthouse season. New is that digitally produced features make up approximately 15 per cent of the programme. These films are distinguished by a brutal closeness to the characters. A new trend in female protagonists has been reinforced. Girlhood is a particular focus, a tendency also evident in the Competition.

The Forum aims to represent world cinema’s diverse impulses. The programme traditionally focuses on cinema from Asian countries. The national emphasis this year is on Vietnamese film. The boundaries between feature, documentary and essay film prove to be blurred.

The movies: Bears and more besides

The Golden Bear winning INTIMACY (France/Italy 2000) by Patrice Chéreau is about two furtive lovers whose relationship is based on lust. Except for this movie which moves borders in showing closeness and physical union there are other remarkable films in Competition not even regarding prizes.

The first Dogma film by a woman director (and fifth Danish Dogma) is the light-hearted ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS (Danmark 2000). Lone Scherfing won the Silver Bear (Jury Prize) for her screenplay set in a provincial Danish town, where a group of single people sign up for evening classes in Italian. There are plenty of flirts, sexual innuendo, friendship and family ties while language becomes less and less important.

YOU’RE THE ONE (A TALE FROM THEN) (Spain 2000) by José Luis Garci is a defiantly old-fashioned period piece shot in black-and-white and widescreen (Silver Bear for an Individual Contribution to the cinematographer Raúl Pérez Cubero) that takes place in 1946. The heroine rich girl Julia shocks her family by abondoning her comfartable lifestyle and heading off to the northern province of Asturias to be among real people. Julia leaves grief-stricken over the death of her lover.

One film from Asia should be mentioned as well. Not the Bear winning BEIJING BICYCLE (China/France 2000) nor the awarded BETELNUT BEAUTY (Taiwan 2000). INUGAMI (Japan 2000) is a psychological horror film by Masato Harada. The title refers to traditional local gods in a moutain village on an island. The feared Inugami are tucked away inside a vase, but when a new teacher arrives, and villagers are plagued by nightmares, the blame is put on a woman who appears to be becoming younger. This movie shows love for details and is shot in dreaming beauty.

The Panorama program presents interesting digital productions like IVANSXTC. (TO LIVE AND DIE IN HOLLYWOOD) (USA/Great Britain 2000) by Bernard Rose. The life of the young and successul agent Ivan in the glamour of Hollywood ends suddenly. The story about how Ivan was really doing just before dying is told with black humour. The narrative style and high definition digital images brutally suck the viewer into its voyeuristic vortex.

Two remarkable movies focus on female protagonists: ANITA TAKES A CHANCE (Spain 2000) by Ventura Pons is a charming bittersweet comedy about a middle-aged cinema cashier. When a multiplex is built on the ruins of the old picture palace she falls in love with the bulldozer driver of the construction site. The special thing about MAELSTRÖM (Canada 2000) by Denis Villeneuve is that is is narrated by a talking fish. The feature follows the psychological turmoil that a young woman endures after her car hits a man. Her path back to reality is a fantastic voyage. Maelström was awarded with the prize of the Panorama for its innovative dramatic structure.

Another award winning Panorama movie is Kaspar Kasics documentary BLUE END (Swiss 2000). It examines the digital instrumentalization of the body of an executed murderer. The film strongly confronts the question of how the justice system and modern sience treat the person and in doing so raises basic questions of human dignity.

An impressive melodrama shot in the breathtaking vistas of Tibet is Xie Feis work SONG OF TIBET (China 2000). Fei tells the moving story of a grandmother whose granddaughter returned to Tibet after her grandfaster’s death and reflects on the turmoils of the last half century from Cultural Revolution to present day.

New Vietnamese cinema is the national focus of this year’s Forum. One outstanding production is WHARF OF WIDOWS (Vietnam 2000). Luu Trong Ninhs film is set in a small village populated almost exclusively by women and children. The absence of the warrior men for decades makes the women the true heroines of the country. The story is told over a period of 20 years shot in impressive, silent and clourful pictures which express the inner worlds and the loneliness of these women.

The former Soviet Union is the setting for EISENSTEIN (Canada/Germany 2000) by Renny Bartlett. The rise, fall and fatal redemption of Russian revolutionary filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein is a epic story of wry humour and visionary images. EISENSTEIN goes beyond biography to become a modern fable about the struggle between power and art.

This is a personal selection of 10 remarkable movies. I have 2 favourites out of this selection: ANITA TAKES A CHANCE (Spain 2000) is a very good, humorous and passionate told ’small‘ story about every-day-people. By the way it deals with the consequences of multiplex expansion. SONG OF TIBET (China 2000) is able to leave something inside you not even through its atmospheric pictures. This film takes you to an unknown world. The passion for storytelling is demonstrated in the directors way going inside this novel about generations of a Tibet family.

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