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Berlinale FILM REVIEW: Andres Veiel’s ‘Beuys’ is One for the Ages

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Andres Veiel brought the documentary Beuys, an in-depth look into the profound psyche of German performance artist and 1960’s era philosophe, Joseph Beuys, and a co-production from Terz Filmproduktion, Köln, SWR, Baden-Baden, WDR, Köln in cooperation with Arte, to the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival. Veiel studied directing and dramaturgy at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin under Krzysztof Kieślowski. Some of his other documentary works include Balagan (Berlinale 1994) and Black Box BRD (Black Box Germany, Berlinale 2002). His feature film debut Wer wenn nicht wir (If Not Us, Who) premiered in the Berlinale Competition in 2011 and won the Alfred Bauer Prize.

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-5-34-23-amUtilizing previously unpublished archival video and audio footage, In Beuys Veiel brings light to a man of profound intellectual capacity in the vein of Goethe, Voltaire and Machiavelli. Often derided in his home country of Germany, Joseph Beuys, holds the distinction of being the first German artist to be granted a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. While most contemporaries compare Beuys to another 1960’s era personality, Andy Warhol, Veiel’s Beuys, emerges from a much deeper metaphysical, philosophical framework.

The film is a linear piece. Veiel uses a cookie cutter approach in introducing the viewer to the central character. A Beuys voice-over-narration philosophises on the properties of art while still photos are shown in 3-5 second intervals set to non-diagetic music and sounds.A first real, humanistic impression is of Beuys performing on the street in clown-like fashion drawing attention to himself. Eccentric. Yet quite popular.

From here Veiel moves right into one of the most critical tenants of Beuys’ social outlook with an archival video clip of Beuys on money. Beuys acquiesces he wants to get by and thus money is important. Then, Beuys goes nuclear with “but it’s not part of the revolution.”

Quickly an interesting distinction is made by Veiel as Beuys is commonly referred to as the “Andy Warhol of Germany.”  Warhol, an American pop cultural icon, loved and adored for his flamboyant use of everyday, commonplace items like a Campbell’s soup can to create art, is shown via archival footage stating “every moral situation has the potential to become art.” Beuys, on the other hand is often shown being mocked and derided by the formal press in this documentary, takes Warhol’s statement further into the humanist/social philosophical lineage that “every social situation has the potential to be art.”

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A well-liked teacher, philosopher and Green Party candidate for Prime Minister, Beuys was questioned deeply, just short of being interrogated, over his art and his ideas. One particularly obtuse questioner, posed the query, “Do you consider yourself an artist?” Followed by “Will you use baby buggies in your next art project?” Loud guffaws from the present journalists set the tone for Beuys’ response. With a quiet, reflective voice, Beuys answered that he felt “everyone is an artist.” Facing further derision, Beuys quickly moved his response into a less provocative line of thought with “I mean social art when I say everyone is an artist.” Herein lies the essence of Beuys truth. Beuys profoundly believed in everyone’s unique capacity to move society and culture forward to a more perfect state of being through “the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world that is accessible by direct experience through inner development,” known as anthroposophy. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthroposophy)

screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-5-29-22-amThroughout the film, Beuys defied and acted against much of what he saw as injustice through his art work seeking a better way and ultimately a better society. With this mindset, Beuys endlessly worked toward a more perfect state. His art and his world views reflected this aim. In one particularly bold art project Beuys promised a planting of 7000 new trees. Using 7000 rock boulders placed in a free space the project began. As a tree was planted a boulder was removed. Veiel uses time lapse via still photos to mark the passage of time as the boulders slowly disappear and new trees are seen being planted. As the project neared completion, however, Beuys’ light began to fade as he called for an end to currency’s dominant role in democracy. Despite his art work being called “the most expensive piece of trash,” Beuys, disciplined and tempered from war wounds, held his ground responding, “Yes, I want to expand people’s consciousness.”

In Beuys, Director Veiel lets the artist speak for himself without outsiders commenting creating an expansive space for the exploration of Beuys’ ideas. Joseph Beuys passed away in 1986. Interestingly, Beuys sweeping concepts of art are still alive and relevant today in Germany’s ongoing social, moral and political debates. The film was presented in black and white with traditional documentary filmmaking techniques including narrative voice-overs, still photography, archival film clips, and present day interviews from primary and secondary sources.

As the film closes, Joseph Beuys emerges as a man of the ages, a thinker beyond his time. Often seen as a revolutionary, Joseph Beuys was seemingly always a mind in touch with the absolute principle behind Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan.” Highly recommended and hands down, my favorite film of the festival.

*All photos courtesy of berlinale.de

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Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: Bright Nights (Arslan, 2017) Norway

Posted by Larry Gleeson

German Director Thomas Arslan brings it home with his latest Golden Bear nominated film, Bright Nights (Helle Nachte). Arslan had been previously nominated for the Golden Bear, the festival’s top film prize in 2013 for his film GoldBright Nights, making its world premiere at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival in Competition, tells the story of a single, working father, Michael,  who reunites with his son, Luis, after the loss of his own father.

Arslan proves he is a master of cinematic language from the opening scene set within an industrial batch plant on a waterway. The image of a plant operator seated at his indoor work station wearing a protective hard hat speaks volumes. The lighting recedes from a medium to high key to low key lighting. The man removes his hard hat and drops his head into his hands exasperated. The scene transitions to the solidly built man walking through the night in profile. Reinhild Blaschke managed the Production Design. Director of Photography Reinhold Vorschneider allows much of the story to unfold with long takes.

Later in the film, after discovering his father has died, the man has opted to bring his son to help remediate his father’s cabin. As Michael is packing up his father’s belonging, a silence ensues where Michael comes to the realization, he doesn’t really know his own son.

With a sense of his own mortality now, Michael seeks to reconnect and re-establish a relationship with Luis. Visually pleasing mise-en-scene depicts scenes of father and son hiking and fishing in breathtaking Austrian locations. However, not everything is perfect in this natural sportsman’s paradise. Luis feels confused and rebels.

The relationship teeters in the balance when an young woman befriends the son and the two share their experiences. The son decides to give his father a second chance. Going for one last hike the father drives for through a gray, fogged in road. The drive goes on for an uncomfortable amount of time signifying the large amount of gray space in the relationship.

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@Schramm Film / Marco Kruger

The film transitions revealing vibrant colors of green and yellow symbolizing a time of joy and healing with a touch of red foreshadowing a powerful element of emotionality is still present. The relationship dynamic between Michael, played by Georg Friedrich and Luis, played by Tristan Göbel drives the narrative. Both actors deliver very compelling performances.

In my opinion, the climatic image comes quickly thereafter, as the son goes off on his own. A wide angle long shot of the man running across a mountain ridge with a large mountain range looming in the background slightly out of focus reminiscent of Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia as he rides solo across the barren Arabian desert. Again, the cinematic language is so much greater than mere words. The lengths the father is willing to go to in order to re-establish the father/son relationship bond is beyond measure. Reinhold Vorschneider served as the film’s Director of Photography.

While there are many father/son relationship dynamic films, there is only one Bright Nights. Highly recommended. A cinematic language extraordinaire.

*Featured photo courtesy of Berlinale.de and @Schramm Film / Marco Kruger

 

 

 

 

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: Ana, mon amour (Netzer, 2017): Romania

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Călin Peter Netzer returns to the Berlinale Competition, having captured the Golden Bear in 2013 with his low budget, digitally shot, Mutter & Sohn, a mother-son relationship piece. Netzer’s entry this year, another relationship piece, is Ana, mon amour, starring Diana Cavallioti, as Ana, and Mircea Postelnicu as Toma. Ana, mon amour is a story of two young people who meet at the university and begin a co-committed love affair full of hopes and dreams. Each feels mutually supported.

Opening in tight framing, Netzer introduces us to Ana and Toma discussing Friedrich Nietzsche and Adolph Hitler. Panic ensues for Ana. Toma caresses her belly and the two become intimate partners. Director of Photography Andrei Butică delivers highly crafted frames representing the closeness and intimacy Ana and Toma share.

As the relationship evolves the episodes continue until medication is used and then reconsidered with psychoanalytic therapy. Along the way we meet both sets of parents and discover root causes for the affective emotionality Ana and Toma exhibit and experience.

Netzer shows Ana’s struggles and Toma’s attempts to cope with exquisite, tender and emotive close ups. In, addition Netzer incorporates the use of extended narrative flashbacks as Toma is participating in on-going, regular psychoanalytic therapy sessions.

In addition, Netzer addresses racial and social bias in Romanian society. Each visits the other’s parents home. Taking a cue from Milos Forman’s The Loves of a Blonde (1965) Netzer gives an up-close and introspective view exploring in seemingly real-time these racial and social biases. Afterwards, the two begin to isolate themselves from their families and friends. Moving into more graphic detail, Netzer effectively shows Ana unravelling and Toma’s increasing frustration at his own inability to stabilize her.

Eventually, Toma succumbs to the stress from Ana’s anxiety and walks away from his career becoming a stay-at-home husband/father as the two have chosen to embark on parenthood. Ana has now become the sole breadwinner. Unsure of herself at first, Ana begins therapy with a competent psychologist finding an inner strength from the insights and support she garners from her sessions. Toma feels left out and the relationship comes to a head.

In Ana, non amour, Netzer delves into some rather deep and heady territory including dream interpretation as it relates to psychoanalysis. The film’s narrative is strongly driven by Andrei Butică (Director of Photography) camera work and dynamic editing from Dana Bunescu (Editor) in revealing the multi-faceted aspects and multi-faceted complexities of relationship in a most intimate space. Bunescu would go on to win the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution in the categories camera, editing, music score, costume or set design. That being said, the actors more than hold their own.

But above all, In Ana, non amour, Netzer delivers a profound dramatic presentation on mental illness, how it’s overcome and the toll it takes on an adult, romantic relationship. Netzer delves into some rather deep and heady territory including dream interpretation as it relates to psychoanalysis revealing the complex psychological affects due to repression related to Romanian societal taboos.

 

 

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: Logan (Mangold, 2017): USA

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Writer/Director James Mangold’s Logan is hot out of the box! Making its World Premiere last night, February 17th, at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival, Logan brings back Hugh Jackman as the Wolverine and has blockbuster written all over it!

Set in 2029, the film opens in low-key lighting as a band of Latino roughians are in the process of stripping tires from Logan’s (Wolverine) small limousine. Unfortunately for the desperadoes, the vehicle has chrome plated lug nuts and even more so, the Wolverine is coming to after having tied one on.

This scene sets the tone for the film as the Wolverine winds up taking a beating but still manages to fend off the aggressors. Logan looks haggard and worn. This scenario is carried out repeatedly in several action sequences Logan without it getting old.

Patrick Stewart returns as an ailing Professor X with his now mind control registered as a weapon of mass destruction. The albino, Caliban, played again by Stephen Merchant, reprises his mutant tracker role. Newbie Dafne Keen plays young mutant, Laura Kinney/X-23, to great affect. Laura appears as a fugitive pursued by dark forces led by Boyd Holbrook. She’s a showstopper with plenty of moxie!

Logan is the tenth installment in the X-men series of film and the third and final installment of the Wolverine franchise following the successes of The Wolverine (2013) and X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009). Both films grossed in excess of $130,000,000 at the box office. Logan is sure to match and/or surpass this figure. All three films are big-budget film. While budget numbers for Logan are not made readily available, the film boasted it created 15,000 jobs in its production.

In addition to the hand-to-hand combat fighting scenes with the Wolverine’s wielding his bristling, shimmering trademark claws, the narrative in Logan has a slightly familiar feel as the mutants are portrayed as very open and loving towards one another. And, again, they are portrayed primarily social outcasts pursued by predators for diabolical purposes. There’s also a new twist added to the story.

Nevertheless, Mangold manages to keep it fresh. Just when situations seem to be hopeless or on the verge of becoming mundane, Mangold injects a new catalyst propelling the film forward in dramatic fashion. Costumer Daniel Orlandi does excellent work keeping characters believable while imbuing them with just enough complementary edginess to enhance the narrative. Director of Photography of John Mathieson teams up with Editors Michael McCusker and Dirk Westervelt to unveil some wickedly fun action sequences.

Unfortunately, Jackman has said this is his final go with the Wolverine character. Quite frankly, it’s a shame. But, to have had one of the world’s great, great actors – onstage or on the big screen – portray a comic book action/adventure character for the films spanning just over a decade has been an unexpected delight.

While Jackman tends to carry most scenes, young Dafne Keen gave the audience quite a thrill with her own acting chops and sharp-witted quips. Hats off to screenwriters Mangold, Michael Green and Scott Frank for keeping any semblance of staleness at bay. Newly added character, Donald Pierce, played by Narcos star Boyd Holbrook, brings an energetic, counterbalancing dynamic to offset the mind-boggling powers of the mutants consistent with the previous Wolverine films.

Granted, Logan has the look and feel of the previous two Wolverine films. For fans of the previous Wolverine prequels, Logan is a must-see. For anyone not seeing the prequels, Logan stands on it’s own merits and is sure to make a believer out of the uninitiated . Highly recommended!

The film is scheduled to open in US theaters this Friday, March 3rd, 2017.

Logan was produced by Marvel Entertainment, TSG Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and employed over 15,000 personnel in its production.

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: On the Beach at Night Alone (Hong Sangsoo, 2017): South Korea

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Kim Minhee returns to the big screen after her scrumptuous portrayal of Lady Hideko in Chan-Wook Park’s The Handmaiden (2016). Kim, as Younghee, portrays an actor out-of-work, in On the Beach at Night Alone (Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja). Officially, Younghee has decided to take some time off after having had a tumultuous affair with a married man, a rather considerable Korean societal taboo.

The film opens with Younghee traveling to Hamburg attempting to sort out her life. One of the film’s treasures is its mise-en-scene. In the early scenes, Younghee is shown taking long walks along colorful riverbanks and through wintry parks revealing the depth of her conflicting feelings and desires.

Written and directed by Hong Sangsoo, [Right Now, Wrong Then (2015), Nobody’s Daughter Haewon (2013) and In Another Country (2012)] On the Beach at Night Alone, is a think-piece. Utilizing long takes and a stationary camera, Hong gives the viewer an intimate perspective of Younghee as she grapples with issues of love and its pursuit, a common theme in all Hong Sangsoo’s films. Unbeknownst to her, Younghee has been the subject of tabloid rumors.

Skillfully shot by Directors of Photography, Kim Hyungkoo and Park Hongyeol, the natural beauty and energies of the characters, as well as the film’s mise-en-scene, are highlighted.

In allowing the characters time and space, Hong has written some fairly heady dialogue in the first half of the film, as Younghee explores the metaphysical possibility of her lover following her if he misses her as much as she misses him. Younghee is a woman of some mystery and has an abundance of desire.

In the second half of the film, Younghee search for meaning moves to the forefront. She revisits old stomping grounds in Gangneung, a coastal town with an expansive, recreational beach where she reconnects with friends from her past. While not seemingly a big imbiber of alcohol, Younghee allows herself to be coerced at first and then joyfully partaking while reveling in alcohol’s mind-liberating properties.

And, as is usually the case, too much of a good thing can have deleterious effects as the answers Younghee is seeking seem to just slip through her grasp. During an informal dinner party, Younghee and her friends are partaking in the traditional Korean cultural custom of eating together and enjoying Soju, the country’s national drink. Speaking from her now blemished heart and finding courage with her Soju consumption, Younghee has harsh and inconsiderate words for those in her close company as deep feelings and personal truths are unveiled. Sharing a needed, tender, sensuous, on-screen kiss with another female, Younghee’s vulnerability reaches its climax. Afterwards, she retreats to the beach at night alone to just be. At this point, it seems Younghee can only truly find herself in nature.

On the Beach at Night Alone is a beautiful film from start to finish. Intricacies of Korean culture are displayed and explored. Sanghoo’s  exploration of love and the affective role it has in life provides the groundwork for the the protagonist’s, Younghee’s, truth and life revelations to unfold in dramatic and profound ways and Kim Minhee devours the complexities of her character Younghee. This was the second powerhouse performance in a row from Kim. For her portrayal of Younghee, Kim received the 2017 Silver Bear for Best Actress from the 2017 Berlin International Film Jury. Highly recommended film.

 

*Featured photo credit: Kim Jinyoung © 2017 Jeonwonsa Film Co./Berlinale.de

 

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: The Bar (Iglesia, 2017): Spain

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Director Álex de la Iglesia rehashes an oft-used scenario of a group of individuals held against their will in a life-threatening situation in his new film, The Bar (and yes, it is set in a bar). The titles roll with a peppy, “warm and sunny day” jazz beat. The location is present day Madrid, Spain, on what seemingly could be any typical day in the city.

Iglesia wisely opens with the stunningly beautiful Blanca Suarez (kudos to José Quetglas for Make-up) as Elena, waltzing through a fast-moving urban city-scape while conversing on her cellular phone about her romantic prospects while a business man initially crosses her path bearing the same lughole accessory. Ángel Amorós serves as Director of Photography and his opening scene is nothing short of brilliant. A must-see!

Both these characters, Elena and the businessman, wind up in a nearby bar where quick transitions from Editor Domingo Gonzales reveal colorful characters in a slapstick-like manner. A few patrons are enjoying breakfast while a few others are enjoying their first espresso of the day. Costumer Paolo Torres outfits the group in rich, vivid attire. Short, rapid fire exchanges of dialogue compliment the character intros. Suddenly, a blast overwhelms the bar. Sound Designer, Sergio Burmann, creates a reverberation somewhere between gunshot and a medium-grade explosive.

Without missing a beat, a body is discovered lying outside the front door sidewalk with a gunshot wound to the head. A patron exits to discover what has happened when another, now identifiable, gun blast takes his life. The customers are visibly horrified and they watch helplessly. They scurry for cover. Brief pandemonium ensues. However, the trepidity begins to recede and an observation is made – the streets are empty. An eerie feeling has taken hold. Questions abound. Why is there no one on the sreets? Is there a sniper on a rooftop? Or could the perpetrator be somewhere in the bar?

The group quickly realizes they must work together to stay alive. From here the film’s narrative oscillates between thriller and dark comedy while the characters oscillate between solidarity and egotism with moments of confidence and terror as they struggle to survive begins amidst outbursts of greed and hatred, helpfulness and compassion.

In The Bar Iglesia sets forth an adventurous, often calamitous tale primarily set in the bar’s basement rooms and the underground passageways of Madrid. Iglesia focuses his lens on these characters in a most intimate manner. The colorful characters’ personality layers  (and clothing!) are peeled as they try to stay alive. However, along the way, lives are lost. Yet,  truths are revealed, self-discovery is made and inner strength is found. The film has a run time of 102 minutes allowing for some emotional depth in his supporting characters while bringing the character of Elena to full fruition.

Granted, the film’s narrative does have its flaws and its characters, while colorful, do raise some eyebrows with larger-than-life personas while spewing forth some rather zealous dialogue. However, Iglesia slyly embeds a deep socio-political truth into The Bar‘s  story line. Herein lies the beauty and magic of this film.

Highly recommended from the 67th Berlinale!

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: The Other Side of Hope (Kaurismaki, 2017): Finland

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Writer/Director Aki Kaurismaki served up a full platter of entertainment with Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope) during the 67th Berlin International Film Festival at the Berlinale Palast Theater. Tackling the migration and asylum bureaucratic processing issues of the day, Kaurismaki serves up quite a treat with The Other Side of Hope.

The film opens in the dark of night in a shipping harbor complete with fog horn blasts and heavy equipment operating including a dock loader transferring coal from ship to shore. The black, glistening bituminous coal shimmering in the light as it is being piled is magical this night. Emerging from the center of the pile a rounded shape with two spherical orbs projecting light are visible. Soon a human form emerges.

A cut is made to a businessman, Wikstrom, played by Sakari Kuosmanen primping himself for what appears to be another day. Yet, on this day, Wikstrom has decided to leave his wife, who comes into frame with a full head of curlers, a cigarette dangling from her mouth, attired in a cheaply-made, tropical floral robe. Wikstrom places his wedding ban on the table and exits. The woman reached for a gin bottle pouring herself a double taking a mouthful to wrap up the scene.

Using these two main protagonists, Kaurismaki embarks on a story showcasing two very different lives. Wikstrom, a haberdasher of sorts peddling ties and men’s shirts, drives a black luxury sedan listening to Western music while the coal refugee, Khaled, a Syrian asylum seeker, portrayed by Sherwan Haji, takes a coin-fed shower releasing the black soot from his skin’s pores. These men are on different trajectories. Khaled tries to do the right thing by finding the nearest police station in Helsinki to seek political sanctuary status from Aleppo. Despite his best efforts Khaled is denied sanctuary and decides to stay in the country illegally as many in his predicament seem to be doing. Wikstrom is hustling at a private, high-stakes poker game winning enough money to purchase outright an old, seemingly well-established restaurant in one of the remotest areas of Helsinki.

The restaurant undergoes several incarnations – each one bringing more laughs from the audience than the previous one. Wikstrom has developed very solid rapport with the chef and head waiter and takes to heart almost every one of their suggestions. Khaled, on the other hand, has been living on the streets and has made friends with a hip and funky group of rock-n-rollers. As luck would have it, or, maybe it was a form of divine Providence, the Wikstrom finds Khaled sleeping in the back of his restaurant and winds up giving him a bed and a job. With the help of the Wikstrom’s connections, Khaled is reunited with his sister and manages to find a way to stay in the country.

Hats off to Kaurismak. He wields quite a powerful wand in The Other Side of Hope. Bringing the main protagonists together after nearly forty minutes and having the story and its characters gel in a believable manner is no easy task. Quite the opposite. Tiina Kaukanen rapid fire costume changes aids immensely in the humorous attempts to find a working restaurant motif. I would be amiss not to mention the uber strong production design managed by Mark Lwoff and Misha Jaari. Director of Photography, Timo Salminen, captures the telling mise-en-scene with various lighting sets ranging from very low-key sets to more traditional tungsten indoor lighting set ups.

An interesting note: Eevi Kareinen handled the casting while serving as the Assistant Director.

In the end, Kaurismaki brings these two characters together – the practical businessman and a refugee seeking a life free from Syrian war for him and his sister. Along the way, he provides plenty of comic relief in this heart-warming and life-affirming tale of pragmatism and redemption. An exceptional film in light of the present migration dilemma and one I recommend highly without reservation.

*Featured photo credit: Malla Hukkanen © Sputnik Oy