Having proven an insurmountable task for masters of the medium in the past (perhaps notably Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker), Life in a Day (2011) director Kevin Macdonald brings the life of the late reggae icon Bob Marley to the screen in new documentary Marley (2012), which premiered at this year’s Berlinale.
Crucially, Macdonald chooses to focus on the musician’s life from cradle to grave and not attempt to broach on his legacy or lasting influence, lending the film a forward momentum that helps sustain the film’s two and half hour runtime. Though in spite of the indulgent length, Macdonald seems to be far more interested in Marley as an image as opposed to a human being.
Marley is a difficult film to evaluate and an even harder film to judge in a festival context – the subject is so inherently charismatic and fascinating that one must remember that they are reviewing the film and not the man. The atmosphere at the Berlinale premiere was electric, somewhere between a theatrical audience and a concert. People applauded, jeered and wept throughout, sending visible ripples across the audience as people unabashedly responded to Marley’ presence.
The problem with the film is that Macdonald seems far too content to simply ride on Marley’s appeal rather than scrutinise his character in any way that may be disconcerting for his fan base. One episode showing Marley’s competitiveness with his children feels like it’s probing under the man’s skin, but then we’re being shown another joyous live performance from the man on the T-shirt.
Marley is by no means a bad film – just annoyingly superficial in a way that Life in a Day deftly avoided. A recommended experience, but an infuriatingly shallow film.
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