The Weekend Warrior’s Berlinale Experience – Part 2

Hopefully you read Part 1 of my report on going to Berlin, Germany to attend the premiere of Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, which was opening the 64th Annual Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale). Part 1 mainly covered my experiences with that junket, but I did get to see a bunch of other movies and here are some further thoughts on Berlinale and the movies I saw.

Friday (Continued):

When the “Budapest” roundtables were over, I bailed out of there so fast because I was hellbent on catching a couple screenings in the Panorama section of the festival back down at Potsdamer Platz and the Cinestar 3. I was curious to see Fruit Chan’s The Midnight After, just because he’s one of Hong Kong’s more interesting filmmakers even if he’s not particularly prolific. Most Americans will probably know him for his “Dumplings” segment of the anthology film Three…Extremes.

The Midnight After is a genre sci-fi film that starts on a Hong Kong bus driven by Lam Suet where 17 strangers suddenly realize they’re the only ones left in the world. Yeah, it’s basically Stephen King’s The Langoliers, but once they get off the bus and start going their separate ways, they start dying in spectacular and gruesome ways, so they regroup at a restaurant and try to figure out what is going on. At that point, it pretty much turns into “Lost” with all sorts of odd discoveries that make little sense at the immediate time and not much sense later either.

Unfortunately, it’s a cool concept that doesn’t really go anywhere and while it’s always great seeing Lam Suet and Simon Yam, two of Hong Kong’s finest character actors, on screen together, the younger cast just isn’t particularly good with lots of really bad overacting. I will say though that this is the perfect movie to show at the New York Asian Film Festival, but that’s probably the only way it will make its way to the States.

Since it was playing in the same theater I stayed at the Cinestar to watch the German film by Maximillian Erlenwiein called Stereo, which looked kind of interesting. Starring Moritz Bleibtreu and Jurgen Vogel, it was odd because I couldn’t figure out if it was meant to be a comedy or a thriller. Essentially, Bleibtrau’s character keeps seeing a mysterious figure in a hoodie in the distance and then he gets closer and closer and starts interacting with him, so he thinks he’s going crazy and goes to see a doctor and a psychic to rid himself of the unwanted guest. I found the whole thing to be pretty boring and wasn’t that crazy about either actor’s performance so I gave this one about 45 minutes and bailed.

Since I had a couple of hours free, I used them to swing by the press office–where I hadn’t been up until this point–and I finally figured out the ticketing process to get tickets to some movies for the next day, and after that I had a meeting that I had set up before the fest with festival delegate and publicist Karen Arikian. Frauke Greiner, the Head of Press and Publicity for Berlinale and probably the busiest person at the festival, was able to stop by briefly to chat and she gave me a couple of bear pins from the festival, which I saw a lot of filmmakers and jurors wearing so I really feel special for having my own set.

That was pretty much enough for one day, so I went back to the hotel to crash.

Saturday

With all my obligations to The Grand Budapest Hotel done the previous day, I had an entire day to just watch other movies and having figured out the ticketing system, I was hoping to catch two movies later in the day.

But first, I hadn’t had a chance to see George Clooney’s The Monuments Men as of yet and there was press screening at the festival’s main venue Berlin Palast at 12:30. That was another beautiful theater, absolutely enormous, but it quickly filled up with international journalists and critics who hadn’t see the movie. (They were more civilized when entering than the press screening for Anderson’s movie days earlier.)

What was odd about that screening was that half an hour into the movie, there was some sort of commotion up in the balcony and it seemed to be people yelling in outrage. Downstairs, we had no idea what was going on, so we assumed there was some sort of outrage about something happening in the movie, possibly the depiction of the Germans? The people started applauding and we heard “Stop the movie!” and “Emergency!” and it started getting clear that there was some sort of medical emergency up in the balcony, but it was such a strange reaction that everyone started yelling, rather than someone getting up and discreetly getting an usher or manager and bringing them back to the sick person.

I liked Monuments Men, but I didn’t love it. It definitely has problems, basically when the group splits up, and the stuff between Damon and Cate Blanchett (who can’t seem to get her accent work together) seems like pointless artistic license to throw some romance in there since it’s such a guys’ film (as are most war movies.) I did really like Bill Murray and Bob Balaban’s scenes together, and it’s funny that they have a connection in Anderson’s movie. Basically I thought The Monuments Men would be like The Good German and I was right except for the fact it lacked the stylish way Steven Soderbergh made that movie.

I had a little break, so I used the time to grab my bags from the hotel and move to where I’d be staying for the next night, basically crashing with Jeff Wells at a bed and breakfast he had found closer to the Berlin Zoo. I chilled for a bit than walked to the (relatively) nearby Haus der Berliner Festspiele, another beautiful movie house, following the same common décor of red velvet seats, curtains on the screen, etc.

I was really excited that I was going to be able to see Yann Demange’s ’71, which I had heard nothing but great things about over the course of the previous day. Jack O’Connell–who later this year will be seen starring in Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s second feature as director–plays Gary Hook, a rookie British soldier sent into the frontlines of war-torn Belfast and getting caught up in the complicated cycle of violence between the various factions involved in the war. It actually gives a pretty clear and concise overview of whom was fighting whom and why, which is often assumed knowledge with previous films about the conflict.

As much as it’s about Hook getting caught behind enemy lines and his struggles to survive while many people try to kill him, it also spends time with some of the other characters in the various factions of the war. There have been a lot of great films about the Belfast conflict from Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley and Paul Greengrass’ Bloody Sunday to last year’s Shadow Dancer and 71 is good as any of them, except that it’s probably more accessible than some of those due to the amount of action. I’ll be curious to see which distributor picks up the movie for North American distribution as I think it will play very well, if not for mainstream audiences nationwide than definitely for the arthouse crowd, but it could be a sizable arthouse hit with the right marketing.

The other ticket I picked up was for the Zellner Brothers’ Kumiko the Treasure Hunter, a movie I mostly wanted to see cause I’m a big fan of Japanese actress Rinko Kikuchi, most recently seen in Pacific Rim and 47 Ronin. Unfortunately, that was all the way back at Pottsdamer Platz at the Cinestar, so I went ahead and decided to give the subway a go for the first time in Berlin and somehow that went off without a hitch even though it required way more walking than I was expecting.

I want to be sort of vague about the plot for “Kumiko,” because there’s so much to enjoy not knowing much going in, but Kikuchi’s character finds a VHS tape of a fairly popular movie in a cave on a beach, and she becomes obsessed with finding money that was buried somewhere in Minnesota – that may be somewhat of a giveaway. (This was also my second movie of the day where a disgruntled “employee” spit into their boss’ cup.) It’s a pretty slow movie but it has a strange and quirky sense of humor, similar to the movie on the VHS, and while the first half set in Japan is good, things really get going when she makes her way to Minnesota and then it has even more fun references to that movie.

Overall, I definitely wish I had more time to spend at the Berlinale, because there were a lot of interesting and cool movies coming up in the next week. For instance, I had to miss the four-hour uncut version of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac which screened for press on Sunday morning, and a bunch of my colleagues also had a chance to see Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer in its uncut format which I only wished I knew about beforehand, though I’m sure these uncut versions will eventually make their way to New York City at Lincoln Center or the Alamo.

But I really wanted to see things like A Long Way Down, based on Nick Hornby’s novel and starring Aaron Paul, Pierce Brosnan and Toni Collette, Ira Sachs’ Love is Strange, starring Alfred Molina and John Lithgow, which played well at Sundance, the Cesar Chavez biopic and some of the other Asian films that might be a while before we see them in the States. (In fact, many of the latter may never even get distribution in the United States at all.)

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