Following the long-winded European Shooting Stars Award ceremony and the premiere of Stéphanie Chuat & Véronique Reymond’s Schwesterlein, an above-average Nina Hoss joint about her queer brother’s (Lars Eidinger) fight with cancer, cinema legend Abel Ferrara (King of New York, Bad Lieutenant) presented a polarizing new film called Siberia. An atypically rough Berlinale premiere, the audience was restless and many walked out – and then the film received a rapturous applause as the credits rolled. Star Willem Dafoe, who worked with Ferrara on last year’s fantastic Rome-set film Tommaso, was also in attendance and Siberia is a trippy and gloriously indulgent extension of that film, but it’s more like an outdoorsy psychosexual Jack London freakout than an urban marriage drama. Basically, a hot and chaotic mess that only Ferrara could make.
Imagine the famous “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” sequence from Sidney Lumet’s 1976 film Network, but instead of Peter Finch ranting on the nightly news, it’s a mixtape of indignant Russians reading Putin for filth on the youtube. That about sums up Andrey Gryazev’s Kotlovan, a simultaneously hilarious and painful look at a nation in deep despair as they come to realize the empty promises made by a corrupt oligarch will never come to fruition. The title means “foundation pit” and the film opens with a humorous ten-minute collection of news stories featuring accidents and mishaps involving construction zones – buildings crumbling, bulldozers tipping over and the like. Over the next hour, Gryazev presents a carefully curated collage of frustrated Russian citizens directly appealing to Vladamir Vladamirovich Putin (as he is often unaffectionately addressed) on a variety of matters, including broken infrastructure, pollution and of course, top-level corruption. Kotlovan overflows with a deliriously cathartic energy – one can see that these folks have been bottling these grievances for a long time now and are fed the fuck up, ready to battle. Beneath the humor and aggression lies mountains of state-inflicted heartbreak and avoidable poverty, something that Gryazev’s urgent and provocative piece refuses to ignore.
A common complaint about modern horror cinema is the overuse of jump scares – some directors simply can’t resist taking the easy way out by shocking the audience with a hard zoom and a loud noise instead of getting deep into the viewers psyche. Lois Patiño’s Lua Vermella (Red Moon Tide), a curious new film from the Galicia region in northwestern Spain, takes the opposite route by telling a slow and mournful tale about a small town haunted by the mysterious disappearance of a sailor named Rubio. Was it a shipwreck, or something more sinister like a deep sea monster? Far from your typical narrative, Patiño slowly unloads a series of beautifully creepy static shots of a village in a state of rock, with townspeople frozen in stunned silence and staring into the void. Multiple narrators provide a monotonous and bizarre voiceover that only add to the unusual mood, and the blood-red colorgraded climax is the bomb. Difficult, demanding and unlike anything else out there, Patino’s supercool film brings a menacing wave of seaside terror to this year’s Forum section.
The powerful opening scene of Srdan Golubovic’s stunning fourth feature Otac (Father) strikes with such force, it can never be erased from memory. Best left unspoiled to experience its full impact, the film focuses on the aftermath of this disturbing event, and the great lengths one parent must go through to reunite with their children. In one of the stronger performances at the festival, Goran Bodgan plays Nikola, a deeply devoted father of two who, after his two kids are taken away from him by a corrupt official, decides to walk over 300 kilometers from his village to hand-deliver a message to the Ministry of Social Affairs in Belgrade. Although Golubovic’s vision of modern Serbia and the ghosts that haunt it may be bleak, there’s a strong undercurrent of optimism and even humor here, as well as solidarity with working class people. Narratively, the film slows down and allows audiences to catch their breath after an almost unbearably intense first half hour, but then a shocking new piece of information is revealed. Golubovic casually presents our protagonist with a an opportunity to take matters into his own hands, which would obviously open a whole new world of conflict and violence. Golubovic’s story barely responds to those lurid threats, but instead it focuses on the more simple story of one man’s desperate quest to prove his worth, save his family and speak to the fucking manager.
Stay tuned for more WOW @ Berlinale coverage this week, including a roundup of the queer films in the festival.