Tag Archives: Society

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screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-5-34-23-amUtilizing previously unpublished archival video and audio footage, In Beuys Veiel brings light to a man of profound intellectual capacity in the vein of Goethe, Voltaire and Machiavelli.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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THE PANORAMA AUDIENCE AWARDS GO TO INSYRIATED AND I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO

Posted by Larry Gleeson

The public has cast its votes: the 19th Panorama Audience Awards – presented by the Berlinale Panorama section in collaboration with radioeins and for the first time in co-operation with rbb television (Berlin-Brandenburg Broadcasting) – go to Insyriated by Philipp Van Leeuw for best fiction film and I Am Not Your Negro by Raoul Peck for best documentary.

Insyriated is a tautly-constructed chamber drama about trying to live a normal life in a war zone. It is the second film starring Hiam Abbass that has won the Panorama Audience Award (she also played the lead in Eran Riklis’s Lemon Tree in 2008).

Raoul Peck’s filmic essay I Am Not Your Negro about James Baldwin and his three assassinated friends – civil rights activists Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King, and Malcolm X – has also been nominated for an Academy Award as Best Documentary Feature.

The official award ceremony will be held at 5 pm on Sunday, February 19 in CinemaxX 7 at Potsdamer Platz. The prizes will be awarded by rbb director Patricia Schlesinger. Knut Elstermann, radioeins film expert, and Panorama curator Wieland Speck will host the event. Directly after the ceremony, the winning fiction film will be shown. The Panorama Dokumente winner will be screened at 8 pm, also in CinemaxX 7.

The Panorama Audience Award has been given since 1999. Since 2011, not only the best fiction film but also the best documentary film have received awards. During the festival, moviegoers are asked to rate the films shown in Panorama on voting cards after the screenings. In 2017 a total of 29,000 votes were cast and counted.

This year Panorama presented 50 feature-length films from 43 countries, of which 21 screened in the Panorama Dokumente series.

Panorama Audience Award Winner Fiction Film 2017
Insyriated
Belgium / France / Lebanon 2017
By Philippe Van Leeuw

2nd place Panorama Audience Award Fiction Film 2017
Karera ga Honki de Amu toki wa (Close-Knit)
Japan 2017
By Naoko Ogigami

3rd place Panorama Audience Award Fiction Film 2017
1945
Hungary 2017
By Ferenc Török

Panorama Audience Award Winner Panorama Dokumente 2017
I Am Not Your Negro
France / USA / Belgium / Switzerland 2016
By Raoul Peck

2nd place Panorama Audience Award Panorama Dokumente 2017
Chavela
USA 2017
By Catherine Gund, Daresha Kyi

3rd place Panorama Audience Award Panorama Dokumente 2017
Istiyad Ashbah (Ghost Hunting)
France / Palestine / Switzerland / Qatar 2017
By Raed Andoni

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(Source: Berlinale Press Office)

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: Have a Nice Day (Liu Jian, 2017) China

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Liu Jian mortgages the house to make films! Chinese artist/filmmaker Liu Jian delighted the house at the Berlinale Palast Theater during the 67th Berlin International Film Festival.

Utilizing a warm color palette and an exceptional musical score mixing classical American jazz with traditional Chinese sounds, Liu Jian takes the viewer on a colorful journey through a southern Chinese city drawing several people from diverse backgrounds with different motives into bloody conflict in the darkly comedic, animation feature film, Have a Nice Day.  But wait, there’s more!

Have a Nice Day is Liu Jian second foray into feature animation film. His first Piercing I, a cold, hard look at the 2008 global financial crisis. Liu Jian is now in production on his third film, a self-reflective animation feature, School Town, an autobiographical look at Liu Jian’s own life.

In Have a Nice Day, Liu Jian allows a bag containing a million yuan to take center stage. Greed and selfish motives take over. The gangster boss who lays claim to the bagful of yuan holds court and wistfully recalls days from future past while pontificating to a subordinate who has spunk and maintains he’s an artist. Some philosophical discourse takes place on what exactly constitute art and who can call themselves a true artist. The bag has been lost and/or stolen and a butcher/hitman is sent to recover the money-laden bag.

The bag representing progress continues to move from one point to another. Various, vicarious and unsuspecting, dialoguing individuals reveal social and moral issues issues while clutching the bag of money tightly in hopes of securing a better life. In the end, it’s all just an illusory pipe dream fantasy.

Nevertheless, Modern China is in flux and a real war for control is ripe with violence and dangerous activities. With the animation format, Liu Jian is adeptly able to circumvent and soften some of the more distasteful aspects of this movement toward progress while heightening and stylizing the mood in China today.

Along the way, Liu Jian adds some subtle Western influences as he develops nuances of character. For example, the Hitman is a butcher when he’s not working for the mob boss. To add depth to the butcher, Liu Jian inserts a Rocky movie poster starring Sylvester Stallone on the Hitman’s locker at the meat processing plant.

In recent time, much is made of China’s growing economic power and goal of world dominance and, by the film’s end, one of the film’s protagonists, the Hitman, laments, “without high-technologies we just can’t win.” The film closes with an earthy mise-en-scene as a large city-scape with shades of browns and grays sits silently while a long, steady rain cascades across the screen in a vertical fashion.

Another beautiful film in the Berlinale Competition. While Chinese animation short films have been in previous Berlinales, Liu Jian’s Have a Nice Day, is the first feature-length, Chinese animation film to be screened at a Berlinale. It’s a touching expose. And, it’s a worthy contender for the Golden Bear. Warmly recommended.

*Featured photo: Courtesy of Liu Jian/Berlinale.de

 

 

 

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: Joaquim (Gomes, 2017) Brazil

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Wanda Films and Writer/Director Marcelo Gomes bring forth Joaquim, a loosely based account of Brazilian henchman turned revolutionary, Joaquim de Silva Xavier, at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival in Competition. Set in eighteenth century Brazil, Joaquim, seemingly, is a dichotomy between historical realism for mise-en-scene and a North American hit job to seal its commitment to the past and to a revolutionary future. Utilizing a hand-held, point-of-view frame, Gomez adeptly draws in the viewer to this world out of time (and world out of place with its diagetic sounds) to achieve his objective.

Surprisingly, he portrays the film’s protagonist, Joaquim, as weak, uninspiring and without a backbone. He positions Joaquim as a whiny, Second Lieutenant who is seen lusting after a beautiful, black, female slave, Preta, portrayed very well by Isabél Zuaa. Unable to have her for himself, he stands by while the regional Administrator fornicates with her. As the grunts and groans grow louder, Joaquim stomps off and is shown finding relief by galloping hard upon his horse.

Julio Machado, portrays Joaquim. Director of Photography, Pierre de Kerchove, illustrates the film’s characters with a plethora of tightly framed shots inundating the viewer with intimate and personal details of the characters costuming and facial features. Rô Nascimento created semi-realistic costuming with an accent on the luxurious – probably not the quality of clothing adorned by slaves, low-ranking military officers and peasants. Anna Van Steen and Evelyn Barbieri are credited with Make-up.

After introducing the film’s main characters and establishing its theme, Gomes moves the film’s narrative into the outback. With a growing fear among the colony’s corrupt Portuguese officials that gold production is declining, Joaquim is sent off to find gold having made a name for himself earlier as a hunter of gold smugglers – an unusual change of duty assignment for a military officer.

For his expedition, Joaquim picks a known prospector and another purported soldier along with a few natives to comprise a team. Off they go into the rugged territory where Joaquim believes the gold is waiting. Here, the character, Joaquim seems a little confused as he believes finding gold will give him Preta. Using Chinese-wok shaped sifters (without any sifting capacity). the men scoop stones and dump them on nearby rocks sorting through the worthless rocks with bare hands. The men grow weary and tell Joaquim they are leaving. Joaquim watches them go with hardly an utterance.

Only after Joaquim is captured by  looting, indigenous black bandits does he show emotion – seemingly because one of the bandits’ members was his former black girlfriend and she thwarts his new advances. Rejected, Joaquim is shown meeting and feasting with another group of corrupt, well-to-do officials representing the religious sector under the guise of revolution as the film closes..

In my opinion, the film never quite finds its feet. Overt attempts to create an artistic portrait of Joaquim  de Silva Xavier would have apparently been better served creating a figure the Brazilians could understand, emulate or identify with. Instead, Gomes and Wanda films hand them a useless tidbit full of innuendo and disparaging satire. Not recommended.

*Featured photo credit: © REC Produtores & Ukbar Filmes/Berlinale.de

 

 

Berlinale FILM CAPSULE: Return to Montauk (Schlöndorff, 2017): Germany

Posted by Larry Gleeson.

Director Volker Schlöndorff debuted Return to Montauk (Rückkehr nach Montauk), at the 67th Berlin Film Festival in Competition. Volker having previously adapted “Homo Faber” draws again from the world of Max Frisch with new variations on the motifs of happiness and the pain that comes with remembering.

Opening in spectacular fashion with titles and music swarming in and out, around, across and seemingly through the viewing screen, Return to Montauk starts out on a high, buzzing note. From here the viewer is dragged down into the abysmal life of aging writer, Max Zorn, embodied well by Stellan Skarsgard. Well past the norm for a mid-life existential crisis, Max doesn’t seem to adhere to that adage and decides to go there anyway.

He has a beautiful and loving wife/partner in Clara, portrayed by Susanne Wolff, who would walk  the ends of the earth and back for Zorn. Clara has taken up a residence in New York to make sure Max’s book receives its due publication – a very personal novel that tells the story of a great but failed love affair.That being said Max seems to envision his life from some distant metaphysical space as he allows a long-forgotten affair to consume his being.

His novel details the affair he so flippantly discarded years earlier as he finds himself struggling to make ends meet financially. His then lover, Rebecca, played divinely by Nina Hoss, has moved on achieving a high-degree of success as a New York lawyer specializing in financial mergers and acquisitions.

Max can smell the money and follows the scent with support from another earlier acquaintance, Walter, portrayed by Niels Arestrup, a seemingly wealthy, albeit aloof, art collector. Walter is well aware of Max’s situation and knew Max and Rebecca as a couple. Throwing all caution to the wind (and that’s putting in midly) and with little thought of Clara, Max incredulously goes all in and meets up with Rebecca.

The two return to Montauk, situated at the far end of New York’s Long Island, where their flame had ignited years before. Director of Photography, Jérôme Alméras provides solid cinematography accenting a rather luscious mise-en-scene. Editor Hervé Schneid utilizes continuity editing in large part with some intimate long takes as the once-lovers take mesmerizing and exquisite seashore walks. Costuming is spot on from Majie Poetschke and Angela Wendt.

Interestingly, most of the film revolves around Max rekindling the long-ago extinguished relationship with Rebecca. Max tries to get close. But Rebecca stands in her truth, grounded in the present. She’s worked to get to where she is building a formidable new life with a now deceased partner. Yet, she is still reeling from the past hurt she experienced with Max.

Unfortunately for Max, the well ends up being deep and dark inside. Yes. The two shared a love and being adults reconnect intimately during their weekend together. Rebecca, however, coolly rejects a present day relationship with Max.  Nevertheless, a symbiotic and somewhat cathartic healing occurs for Rebecca. Meanwhile, Max’s metaphysical, roller-coaster ride continues, plunging his relationship status with Clara to an unexperienced new low.

While Return to Montauk finished out of the running for the Berlin  International Film Jury prizes it is nonetheless a beautiful film with excellent casting by Cornelia von Braun, Amy Rowan, and Meredith Jacobson Marciano. The production design by Sebastian Soukup is noteworthy with a few subtle nuances that further specific aspects of the film’s narrative while enhancing the already mentioned luscious mise-en-scene. Highly recommended.

 

*Featured photo credit: © Franziska Strauss/Berlinale.de