Berlin 2012: Berlinale roundup

This year’s 62nd Berlinale (like most film festivals) was a bit of a mixed bag, containing some exceptional examples of provocative world cinema and, as to be expected, numerous film’s which failed to entertain in the slightest – some far too pretentious, others just downright poor.

Of the many highlights, three films stood out from the festival’s competition strand (sadly, Paolo & Vittorio Taviani’s Golden Bear-winning Caesar Must Die – which apparently isn’t a swiftly made sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes – screened before our own coverage began). The most astounding was Miguel Gomes’ Tabu, an enthralling piece of nostalgic cinema which, unlike The Artist, that won audience’s hearts with its playful love letter to the silent era, created something genuinely original and thought provoking with its use of 1930s filmmaking techniques.

A close second was Ursula Meier’s heartbreaking, beautiful sophomore effort Sister. Combining elements of gritty domestic drama with a lighthearted social satire Meier’s film is utterly spellbinding, creating a powerful adolescent story with an invigorating charm rarely captured so well. Sister is a film with so much heart and passion it’s almost impossible not to become besotted with it – something you certainly couldn’t say about Berlinale’s Silver Bear winner, Just the Wind, an incredibly chilling and unnerving film.

Observing a Hungarian gypsy family living amongst a community shrouded in a heightened sense of paranoia (evoked from a spate of recent racially motivated murders) the film subtly crawls under your skin. Slowly building a palpable atmosphere of foreboding doom, this graphic dramatisation of real life events calmly immerses you into its insular world before holding you hostage as it goes for the jugular – a brilliant slow burning horror that catches you out by masquerading as merely a important piece of social commentary.

The Berlinale’s Panorama and Forum strands are like a minefield of world cinema and incredibly inventive and original filmmaking – the quality of which is often an unknown quantity, with there being roughly one hit to every five misses. More often than not you’ll find yourself subjected to 90 minutes plus of well meaning but ultimately terrible examples of cinema.

However, it’s worth the risk, especially if you’re lucky enough to witness such wonderful films as Dorris Dotte’s surreal, yet touching romance Bliss (Gluck), or Melissa Leo’s remarkable performance in the gruelling but incredibly rewarding Francine. However, this year’s award for the film which was by far the most unadulterated joy of the festival had to be Rent-a-Cat – an endearingly quirky, yet magical tale of self discovery which was as equally hilarious as it was touching.

Pretentiously spouting out superlatives about films which may sadly never be rewarded with a theatrical release outside of London is all well and good but how about Berlinale’s criminally awful films, and which one was the worst? The first contender would be Postcards from the Zoo which after a promising intro descended into an incoherent mess of a irksome vignettes – yet somehow it’s beautiful imagery managed to save it from such a damming accolade. Friends After 3.11 also comes close, with this one-sided, self serving and incredibly clumsy documentary about Japan’s disturbing reliance on nuclear power resulting in well over 50% of its sell out crowd walking out – however it had just enough heart and passion behind its conception to save it from becoming the worst film of Berlinale.

By far the most awful film to be presented at the 62nd incarnation of the Berlin International Film Festival was Iron Sky. An abhorrently bad film which relied entirely on cheap, racially-motivated humour to make its enticing yet ultimately unrewarding premise extend over 97 painstakingly tedious minutes – yes, we all get the joke, it’s about Nazis invading from the dark side of the moon – now come back when you’ve got something else to fatten out that incredibly hollow idea.

For more Berlin Film Festival 2012 coverage, simply follow this link. 

Patrick Gamble