Thursday, 12 February 2009

BFF7: Worlds apart

Another busy day in Berlin, and a lot colder than the previous six. It was snowing as I ventured over to Potsdamer Plaz today, but it had stopped by the time my first film finished. Still, this frostiness is nicer than the rain Michelle Pfeiffer had to endure yesterday for the premiere of her new film Cheri after a raucously entertaining press conference (not to worry, there's a massive roof over the red carpet - her hair is meant to look like that).

An unexpectedly long film meant I had four, not five, films today, which gave me time for a long, relaxed dinner. And these are the movies...

An Englishman in New York
dir Richard Laxton 09/UK ***
A sequel to 1975's The Naked Civil Servant, this sensitive, straightforward drama traces the final decades in the life of Quentin Crisp, again played on screen by John Hurt. It's a great story, even if the film is a bit simplistic and TV-movie like. And there are two things that make it worth seeing: first is, of course, Hurt's astonishing performance, which conveys Crisp's attitude and age through the years in thoroughly affecting ways. And the other thing is the waythe film delicately tosses so many important themes around, covering issues from gay rights to Aids, but mostly looking at how we can develop the courage to be ourselves. And how we will never be happy until we can.

dir Roberto Castón 09/Sp ****
A bit too slow-paced for mainstream audiences, this Basque drama carries a massive emotional kick as it tells the story of Ander, a young farmer living with his mother and sister in an isolated village in the Pyrenees. Through slice-of-life anecdotes we see his slightly awkward interaction with his best pal and the local prostitute, and how everything changes when he breaks his leg and must hire a handyman - a young Peruvian guy who has loads of experience working on farms, and also helps Ander work out a few things about himself. It's a beautifully understated, slow-boiling little gem of a film.

dir Jose Padilha 09/Br *****
If his breakthrough documentary Bus 174 was a bit overwrought and his last film Elite Squad (which won the Golden Bear here last year) felt somewhat forced, Padhilla throws all criticism aside with this masterful documentary, shot in 16mm black and white to look like a cross between Satyajit Ray and Italian Neorealism. The topic is hunger, and he quietly observes three families that are slowly starving to death in Brazil. The photography and editing are seamless, and he gently captures the key information without any narration or commentary. Pure and gripping, the film will forever change the way you look at world poverty, and it will also make you furious that we are allowing this to happen when we could end it tomorrow.

Ruckenwind: Light Gradient
dir Jan Krüger 09/Ger ***
This German improvisational film looks absolutely breathtaking as it follows two young cyclists through the countryside, where they have a few adventures and end up in an isolated farmhouse with a woman and her teen son. A sense of tension and impending tragedy infuses the whole film, and we never have a clue what might happen as the characters swirl around each other. On the other hand, the characters never deepen beyond the surface - there's no backstory at all - and what actually happens, while photographed and edited with real skill, remains just a bit too elusive in the end.

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