Saturday, 7 February 2009

BFF3: Cops and lawyers

My first full day at the Berlinale was a busy one - dashing from film to film, with only a half hour free here and there. I'm starting to dig into the Panorama programme - which is the section my jury is looking at. There are 48 films (no way we can see all of them) in amazing variety - and this is the 30th year of Panorama, so there are some special screenings too. The atmosphere is great fun - screenings are full, and it feels like the whole city (well, this section of it) is movie mad! Here's what I saw...

dir Hans-Christian Schmid 09/Ger ****
Kerry Fox is terrific in this Euro-thriller about a war crimes tribunal at The Hague, struggling to keep the case alive after the key witness lies under oath. From here, the courtroom tension is deepened with an unsettling look at the evils of war and the just-as-awful way these things are covered up in the name of politics. Anamaria Marinca (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) is terrific as a woman who reluctantly agrees to speak the truth.

In the Electric Mist
dir Bertrand Tavernier 09/US ****
Southern gothic noir as directed by a veteran French filmmaker with an ace American cast led by Tommy Lee Jones in a twist on his usual sardonic detective mode. Set in Louisiana, where young girls are being killed, old skeletons are found in the swamps, and a big movie star couple (Peter Sarsgaard and Kelly Macdonald) are making a movie, the film has a surreal twist as the past invades the present in provocative ways that add to the central mystery.

dir Chaude Chabrol 09/Fr ***
The master of understated suspense is back with another muted thriller, this time starring Gerard Depardieu as an optimistic detective on vacation who can't help but get involved in a case that seems to be being botched by his rival. It's talky and a bit strange, but keeps us gripped as the plot circles around the characters. We never have a clue what might happen next, and the whole cast delivers intriguing, insinuating performances.

High Life
dir Gary Yates 09/Can ****
Timothy Olyphant leads a bunch of opium-addicted ex-cons (Rossif Sutherland, Joe Anderson, Stephen Erik McIntosh) on a bank heist that would be pretty clever if they weren't all so wasted. The result is very, very funny, and also sometimes painfully tragic as these sharp young men dull their wits and look likely to destroy their lives over the course of one disastrous day. A lively and entertaining film. Yates and his cast were at the screening, which they said was the first public screening in the world, for a very surreal Q&A.

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