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Berlin 2011: New offerings from familiar names

The complete line-up of films for this year’s Berlinale has just been announced. This time next week, I’ll be reporting direct from Berlin. In the meantime, here’s a sneak preview of some of the films I’m most excited about: the latest work of excellent directors.

Three by Tom Tykwer

One of Germany’s best-known contemporary directors, Tykwer gained international attention in 1998 with Run Lola Run. He continued to build a solid reputation with The Princess and the Warrior (2000), Heaven (2002), and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006). His films are marked by their visual innovation, offering the audience a thrillingly unexpected point of view on the action. Two years ago, the Berlin Film Festival opened with Tykwer’s The International, starring Clive Owen and Naomi Watts. According to the Berlinale programme Tykwer’s latest film, Three, focuses on our ‘bittersweet’ feelings about every day bringing us closer to death. Knowing this director, however, he’ll have made a stimulating film even on this depressing subject.

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams by Werner Herzog

In a cave in Ardèche, France in 1994, some paintings were discovered. At 30,000 years old, they are the oldest cave paintings on record. In order to conserve them, the caves are closed to the public, and even scientists only have restricted access. But in order to give the public a chance to see the paintings, it was decided that they should be captured on film, and the job went to Werner Herzog, another of Germany’s most renowned directors. This film will be historic in more ways than one: to accurately convey the special quality of the paintings Herzog decided to make a 3D film, arguably the most intelligent use of this technology to date. Described in the programme as ‘a philosophical meditation’ this film promises to be as intriguing a documentary as Herzog’s reflections on Antarctica, Encounters at the End of the World (2007).

The Turin Horse (Béla Tarr)

It’s best to be in a relaxed mood to watch Béla Tarr’s work: his films move at a stately pace, rarely running less than two hours, sometimes much more. But like Sokurov, Tarr knows how to create a hypnotic atmosphere that absorbs spectators rather than boring them. Werkmeister Harmonies (2000) is the perfect example of this, with images that manage to be haunting and transcendental even with a minimum of dialogue and narrative. I’m hoping that The Turin Horse will be equally rewarding and memorable.

Tomboy (Céline Sciamma)

With only one previous feature to her name, Sciamma can’t yet be called a confirmed master of cinema. But I was utterly convinced by her first film, Water Lillies (a bizarrely anaemic translation of the original French title, La Naissance des pieuvres or ‘The Birth of Octopuses’. Maybe the octopuses-octopi dilemma that put them off). In any case, Sciamma established a bold aesthetic in this first offering, and I have high hopes for her second feature. Tomboy looks set to explore similar ground to Water Lillies: the murky waters of adolescent sexuality. Sciamma lists Gus Van Sant as one of her influences, and it is easy to see the similarity in the hyper-real intensity of her characters and their relationships with each other and their environment.

Tales of the Night (Michel Ocelot)

Nobody who has seen one of Ocelot’s animated features will have forgotten the experience, or confused his style with that of other directors. A luminous moving tapestry, Azur and Asmar was a lesson in digital animation that emphasises art over cold technology. Rather than making the viewer long for the stop-motion of Jan Švankmajer or cel animation of Friz Freleng, Ocelot’s work establishes a new aesthetic that can hold its own. Set in a cinema, Tales of the Night has the added attraction of self-reflexivity: a group of children who play there discover a magical world that comes to life at night.

Night Fishing (‘Parking Chance’: Park Chan-wook and Park Chan-kyong)

What the French would call a ‘moyen metrage’, this film will be screened in the ‘Shorts’ section of the festival. At 33 minutes, it seems to come somewhere in between a short and a feature. As it is the work of two directors, the film again inhabits a middle-ground. But the film itself will know no half measures: anyone who has seen Park Chan-Wook’s work (Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance) will know that moderation is not on the menu. The programme description of this film sounds decidedly eerie: a man fishing at night finally catches… ‘a mysterious young woman in white funeral dress crying in a little girl’s voice, call[ing] him “daddy”‘!

This blog was originally posted on my blog at The Moving Arts Film Journal

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