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    Home > Film Festivals & MarketsBerlinale Report: Winterbottom's sensuous bio...

Berlinale Report: Winterbottom's sensuous biographical warms up Berlin weather

Monday, February 11, 2013 11:00:10 AM (IST) | Rajesh Kumar Singh, Bollywood Trade Editorial


It was yet another day at the 63rd Berlinale. The morning was chilly, and the fine snow dust had made the ground slippery. One has to be careful while walking the pathways but this is what that brings this writer to Berlin year after year, the snowfall. He had experienced the first snowfall of his life here, three years ago, and had seen a senior colleague of his slipping and fracturing his ankle. He has been careful since then, yet you can never be sure. When you slip, you slip.
The jury grid of Screen International has assigned stars and scores to the previously shown films. PARADISE: HOPE leads the pack. Three more competition films are unveiled. They fail to warm up the proceedings though. The wait for the real contenders to the top prize continues.
The Russian film A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE (DOLGAYA SCHASTLIVAYA ZHIZN) by Boris Khlebnikov is a little less sophisticated and a more violent version of PROMISED LAND. The issue is the same. Farmers are not doing well. A young farmer Sascha has almost given up and has been persuaded by certain officials to sell out, collect his compensation and leave. His farm workers egg him on and promise to stand by him if he decides to resist. Encouraged by this Sascha refuses to sign the sell-out contract. He is finally ditched by his workers, loses his girl friend, who wanted him to sell out, and is left alone to carry on a fight he is doomed to lose. Since its rural ‘Russia’, things take a violent turn. The director Boris Khlebnikov obviously has no rural background and had to go on a tour of the rural Russia to get a better hang of it while developing his idea and script. He admitted this in his press conference and was of the opinion that the farming communities of Russia are going through a stage of dilapidation and eventual demise. This is clearly the point of view of an exploitative art-house film-maker from an urban milieu who looks for exotic material to surprise festival audiences and programmers. However, the fakery of the attempt is too evident and indigestible here. We are going to see more and more of such films made by art house filmmakers prospecting for ideas and stories beyond their familiar environments with the predatory instincts and skills honed at big city film schools.
The second film of the day was GOLD. The German film is set in 1898 and tells the story of a group of determined and desperate Germans in search of their El Dorado in the treacherous Canadian terrain. The film’s director Thomas Arslan unearths his material out of a pile of German stories of the era to showcase a piece of hitherto unknown and unfilmed German history. German filmmakers have to do it after having exhausted their rich resource of World War, and Cold War stories. The only interesting thing about the film is its subtle comicality and humour amidst a lot of serious happenings and conflicts that mark the long and predictable trail of the gritty yet simple German adventurers who won’t give up easily even in the face of certain failure and death. The audience seemed quite appreciative of it and that is what it must have carried home from the film.
The third film THE NECESSARY DEATH OF CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN boasted of big time Hollywood talent like Shia LaBeouf, Mads Mikkelsen and Evan Rachel Wood. The title of the film makes people curious. You start thinking and imagining that it will be some kind of existential drama. The film’s director Fredrik Bond tries to bring in certain existential elements through his stylised filmmaking here and there to justify the long intriguing title. A strangely written and rendered background voice over is one of those stratagems. This combines with hand-held and jumpy camera work to capture the fast paced events. There are a lot of parkouring stunts, and gory beatings in the film. It has an elaborately shot sex scene as well, with Shia LaBeouf nibbling at Evan Rachel Wood’s pristine nipples in a passionate embrace. It’s a film about victory of love over everything else. The hero is out to snatch his heroine from the clutches of a murderous goon in spite of being beaten to pulp time and again. He is prodded on by the apparition of his dead mother who feels she had not been a good mother and her son’s lack of true character was her fault. She wants it corrected. And when the son puts his life on line for his love for a sensuous Romanian girl, she feels satisfied and redeemed.
Amidst these competition films, the late evening Berlinale Special THE LOOK OF LOVE by Michael Winterbottom came as a pleasant and juicy relief of nostalgic kind with its soothing music, eye pleasing visuals, and a more or less straightforward narrative structure. You enjoy watching a film of this kind after a hard day’s work. It’s a biographical about Paul Raymond, Britain’s richest man at some point of time, and how he built his empire on unabashed sensationalism and female nudity. Watching the film was like a visit to an old style nightclub, with bands playing mood elevating background music, and strip tease dancers teasing and trying to shake and stir the club patrons. The helmer succeeds in recreating the charisma, sensuality, and warmth of a bygone era. The length of the anecdotal tale does not bother you much since you have a lot of beautiful faces on screen combined with well-delivered repartees and double entendre punch lines by a cast of competent and reliable actors. 

(Rajesh Kumar Singh is Editorial Consultant for Festivals and Markets for He is a filmmaker, critic and market analyst)

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Tags : Berlinale Film Festival, THE LOOK OF LOVE, A LONG AND HAPPY LIFE, PARADISE: HOPE, Boris Khlebnikov, GOLD, THE NECESSARY DEATH OF CHARLIE COUNTRYMAN, Evan Rachel Wood, Shia LaBeouf, Mads Mikkelsen

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