By Stephen Mayne @finalreel thefinalreel.co.uk
A week on and the dust is settling on the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival. As ever with the Berlinale, this edition mixed the sublime with the ridiculous in a programme so large unwitting critics have been known to lose sense of direction and never emerge again.
So what did this February film bonanza bring? By all accounts a worthy winner in the shape of Jafar Panahi’s Taxi. The acclaimed Iranian filmmaker whose previous effort had to be smuggled out the country in a flash drive hidden in a cake to escape domestic censorship, simply filmed people going about daily taxi rides. And the result was enough to woo the jury led by Darren Aronofsky, and the majority of critics.
Elsewhere, Pablo Larraín moved from the upbeat political campaigning of No to a dark tale of Catholic cover-ups in The Club. Falling a little short of great, this Silver Bear winner is still an incredibly powerful film with a stunning scene that ends particularly badly for three greyhounds. Andrew Haigh’s new film 45 Years also won big taking home both acting awards for Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay.
Perhaps what stood out most were notable failures from established names. Cruel whispers going around the grand Berlinale Palast venue suggested Terrence Malick and Werner Herzog were releasing at Berlin because they weren’t likely to get into Cannes with Knight of Cups and Queen of the Desert respectively. There’s probably a fair amount of truth in that. Herzog’s Gertrude Bell biopic has decent moments (and a fair few clunky ones), while Malick continues his cover-act trend started in To the Wonder. It’s beautiful banality addressing the kind of existential questions first year philosophy students’ grapple with. Although if you enjoy watching Christian Bale walk across sand, you’re in for a treat.
At least those films were allowed to compete for the Golden Bear. Win Wenders’ overcooked melodrama, Every Thing Will Be Fine, ran out of competition. And with good reason given its rubbish. James Franco gets to mope over a past (admittedly fairly big) indiscretion as Wenders demonstrates with the grace of a sledgehammer how some trauma stays with us. Though at least Franco’s accent is ok here. He pops up in Queen of the Desert sounding remarkably American for a British member of staff in the Tehran embassy circa early 1900s.
Of course, the film that really got everyone hot under the collar was the Fifty Shades of Grey premiere. No matter how above such content the international film community might pretend to be, we were all there scrapping to get a seat. Raucous laughter and loud sighs met a film drawing very poor notices. For my part, it was much more fun than I expected. And tame and dull by the end.
Outside the Competition section and the marquee premieres, delving into the Berlinale becomes a real hit and miss affair. Luckily, I found more of the former. Stand outs included a sparklingly energetic Palestinian film, Love, Theft and Other Entanglements, which channels Godard to thrilling effect. Alex Ross Perry altered course slightly from his previous wordy comedy/drama with Queen of Earth, an intense psychological drama watching Elisabeth Moss breakdown at Katherine Waterston’s lake house, and British documentary Tell Spring Not to Come This Year showed a previously lacking perspective on the war in Afghanistan by focussing on the Afghan army.
All in all, there was a lot to recommend, and a fair few disappointments. What does it tell us about 2015 in film? Very little really at this stage. Berlin has kicked us off. What do you have Cannes?