Berlinale 2009 : belated mopup : part 1 of 2 : “quinella” notes : complete Wed 13.May

Published on: May 7th, 2009

[Some brief comments on films seen at the 2009 Berlinale and not already reviewed for other publications.]

Thu.7.May: Burrowing. Ghosted. The Happiest Girl in the World. Mental.
Sat.9.May: Everyone Else. Material. Stars of the Day.
Mon.11.May : Naked of Defenses. After Winter Comes Spring.
Wed.13.May : The Milk of Sorrow. Little Joe. Jadup and Boel. Short Cut To Hollywood.

{on another page: Araya; Clinch; The Dancing Hawk; Little Valentino; Slow Summer}
{and … Letters to The President }
'catalogue' extracts taken from the online Berlinale catalogue

Catalogue: A train journey through the German Democratic Republic in the last year it existed. Starting from the industrial and mining town of Zwickau, Saxony, near where she grew up, Helke Misselwitz heads north, meeting women of different ages and social classes as she makes her way to the Baltic Sea.
1. "Together we're strong, I think." Long talking-head talk on the train, and then continues inside the station. The speaker opens up, the listener is sympathetic – their conversation picked up via pinned-on microphones. Eastern Germany surprisingly not-so-grim. Cheerful, articulate testimonies are compiled. The women are mothers to many children, not all biologically "theirs." Big families abound.
2. Train-ride through the East German landscape, in black-and-white. Women's work(s) are chronicled, lauded. Their testimonies are preceded by scientific-sounding expositional voice-overs. Intimate access with the women (showers.)
3. An exercise in social anthropology — a compendium of interviews, but it's the briefer, bridging footage (landscape-oriented) which really stands out as fresh and surprising (a tattooed man operating a level-crossing) — grace-notes. It's otherwise a bit of a talk-fest, as we get most of these women's life-stories. The focus is on personal stories and issues, not so much on the political/philosophical/historical/analytical. Interviews are conducted at length, and seem to be presented pretty much in full, revealing "what's deep inside a person" as they ramble on (and on.)
4. The atmosphere of 1987-1988. Following the tracks on a railway journey — to Leipzig station. The voice-over sets it all out. Intention is impeccable; execution not quite so impressive. Ordinary folks, talking at length. Through the train windows, we see the urban and the rural. Obvious timecapsule value (they had 2nd-class trains in the GDR?!) Television news headlines. Views from the trains. Drive-in cinema shows cheesy porn. French bed in the Wedding Suite (a welcome break from the testimonials.) Faces in a doll hospital.
5. Back-combing teenage girls (eastern cousins of the Rhythm Sisters?) — same fashions as the UK in 1987! Fairly basic documentary technique (camera and microphones frequently visible) and film could do with a little editing here and there (the non-testimonial "atmosphere" stuff is, ironically, the strongest suit.) March 8th, 1987: International Women's Day (""We're like oxen.") They don't seem especially politically engaged or angered, apart from sexual politics. Very little sense of foment, discontent or imminent change.

Catalogue: The houses of this residential estate in western Sweden are all made of pale wood and are surrounded by neat hedges. The carports, children's playgrounds and woods that lie just beyond the Lidl supermarket car park are likewise an eloquent affirmation of the middle-class "quality of life" ideal.
Very, very quiet and gentle: amid the damp Thoreau-ian boskiness, choral voices soar. Goings-on on ordinary streets in an ordinary semi-rural semi-suburb. Expressive art-cinema from the north. Malickian feel in domestic surroundings, complete with copious narration: result is gritty subject-matter with a poetic overlay.
2. Nature-boy kid (10yo?) – his precocious-aphoristic literary What-Maisie-Knew voice-over – stuff he can't possibly see or know about – ('what Sebbe knew'?) examines the foibles and peccadilloes of his neighbours. We join him in peering over hedges, walls. His juvenile-voiced, poetic wisdom exhibits an authorial omniscience. This approach constantly runs the risk of twee preciousness (not to mention pretentiousness and ponderousness.)
3. Proceedings are elevated by he occasional visual coup, such as the early aerial black-and-white plan of the neighbourhood. Implicit subject: social atomisation of keep-self-to-self modern Sweden (are they real passersby or actors? – distant, hidden cameras using long zoom lenses? A kind of artsy Candid Camera?) Father-and-son issues recur amid the various dysfunctions and discontents: the old lives-of-quiet-desperation routine. Implicit indictment of Swedish social-services (including some cheap suspense over the fate of an at-risk infant, the baby disturbingly in real, evident distress at times.)
4. Atmosphere (bosky-leafy-woodsy-riverine) is skilfully evoked and maintained – disarming freshness to the damp-green 35mm images – but what will it build into? What does it amount to, all of this transcendence in the everyday ("I don't really understand how it all adds up")? And at only 76 minutes: a certain poise and assurance through the tonal shifts as various elements of 'plot' start coming together — edging towards some kind of violence?
5. Climactic violence duly arrives, but isn't really neeeded — feels like an easy scriptwriting way out. Bag of directorial tricks (soaring chorales over children's antics) becomes repetitive after a while. Film confidently establishes its own aesthetic, but is that enough? Boldness is promising, but here it ultimately crosses a line into mannerism, long before the 400 Blows final freeze-frame.

Catalogue: This film tells the story of Gitti and Chris, an odd couple who are battling their way through a holiday of secluded togetherness. It is an intimate portrait of two people as they can only be when alone: their secret rituals, their silliness, their unfulfilled dreams and their power struggles.
Fairly ordinary couple on Sardinia holiday (bloke is in running for architecture-commission; he's not successful; had wanted to build a bar in "Japanese style.") Private jokes abound, such as the creature/pet/totem 'Schnappi.' Romantic needling is the order of the day, conducted in ironic fashion ("can't we talk normally?"). This being post-ironic 21st-century, no, they can't. His loss in the architecture competition precipitates a crisis of confidence, sharpened by his situation on the tearful cusp of thirty (and his is a face perpetually primed for tears.) Basically, they are mismatched (it's Revolutionary Road for German-speakers in the first decade of the 21st century – except, of course, they're kidless.)
2. Over-analytical duo pull every bit of their dialogue apart. In search of ..? Atmosphere of social awkardness prevails, not to mention an inferiority complex. They are surrounded by children and pregnancies. Point of the film is social etiquette, and its fractures (but Unrelated it ain't.) Somewhat crazy central couple: the cracks in their relationship (sun, insects, bad air)… His rocky self-esteem… they're hurtling towards an inevitable split-up (and the inevitability makes it a disappointing second film for Ade after The Forest for the Trees.)
3. Well-done, but this is yet another awkwardly-comic relationship analysis… Gitti is besotted, but we see that she could easily do better ("you're such an asshole.") Her behaviour bubbles towards the inevitable kick-off, via all manner of socially-embarrassing situations. She's volatile, impulsive (though she's hardly wild as such, it's still a considerable mismatch.) And when she's on her best behaviour, we most fear her blowout.
4. Their private jokes, references (in-groups and out-groups — where is the audience in all this?) "The shames… uconventional indeed." It's Abigail's Party – life is perpetually elsewhere. Simmering hostility beneath jovial, joshing surgaces. Our sympathies are with her. But then she pulls a knife???!! Jumps through a window?????!!!!! Last-act problems of a scriptwriter who isn't sure how to wrap up a narrative, and so resorts to melodrama.
5. It takes two hours for Gitti to realise what we grasp within seconds, i.e. milksop Chris's demerits. Adults at play in the great outdoors.

Catalogue: The sudden death in unexplained circumstances of her young Taiwanese lover, Ai-ling, throws Hamburg artist Sophie Schmitt totally off balance. She travels to Taipei to exhibit a video installation dedicated to Ai-ling.
Looks more like television than flm: medium-definition digital video has an off-putting sheen.
2. Dopey-staring protagonist in art-gallery, experiences traumatic flashback (Taiwan // Hamburg // five months later.)
3. It's strictly amateur-hour stuff: clunky performances all round. Air of slapdash shoddiness.
4. Video-installation artist (will the twist be that she's had a sex-change?) – her piece 'Remembrance.'
5. Glowy nocturnal cinematography isn't enough to maintain interest. Waste of time all round.

Catalogue: Delia Fratila has won a car in a lottery organized by a juice manufacturer. Now she and her parents travel to the big city, where she has to appear in a commercial in return. It isn't much fun for her.
A dusty Romanian summer on the road, an ordinary family driving to the city (provincials in Bucharest, the Paris of the East!) in their dusty old car (driving into a heatwave-afflicted car-choked metropolis.) The teenage girl is — pregnant? Or simply experiencing a tough menstruation (mother: "We're women and that's it. This is the cross we have to bear." Title is clearly going to be exceedingly ironic, from our first glimpse of her glum visage. And the camera largely stays with or on Delia, her face.
2. Low-key drollness prevails: juxtaposition of simple provincials with the gaudy hyper-capitalist worlds of showbusiness and advertising. The latter's cynical use of "normal people" is explored. But the film itself is sensitively accurate on the family's internal dynamics, their snipings: each line pulls its weight in a notably economic script that unfolds bit by bit. (Will it, however sustain to feature length? The old pitfall of the acclaimed award-winning shorts director transitioning to the very different longer format!)
3. Universal tale of child's ambitions (college?), chafing against family ties – the straining for independence. It all has the tang of verisimilitude – lots of small elements slot into place: frictions, guilt-trips. The devil is in the detail. Set-up is very solid, characterisation deftly sketched (fresh-feeling, realistic atmosphere). Picture makes it all look very easy. But now we have to see how it is going to develop.
4. Film relies very heavily on Delia, her face face, and the performance by newcomer Andreea Bosneag is very solid – recalls Catherine Keener in Living in Oblivion as she's forced through endless takes, all the while contending with her private strifes (as with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, film is about the difficulties faced by a young woman in Bucharest…)
5. Hmmm… the thudding irony of the title should have been a warning. The need for endless re-takes feels more like a means to spin out a short to feature length than anything organic in the material. Minor mishaps along the way. Problems really set in around the hour mark – ultimately becomes disappointingly tiresome, and there are means to evoke her frustration and boredom without making the audience share it. Momentum gets lost in repetition.

For many years now, comrade Jadup has been the respectable mayor of Wickenhausen, a small town in the Altmark region of East Germany. When the opening of a new supermarket coincides with the collapse of a nearby building, secrets long thought buried are brought to light.
1. A Small Town in (East) Germany: 800th anniversary. The past and its influence on the present in "a town of memories." The past dug up by a snooping detective-type, 'Mr Conscience.' Back and forth we go between timeframes, with little warning – quickly back and forth. Some dark secret lurks behind respectable facades, relating to events in 1945/46. Editing-wise, it's a bit of a mashup, held together by the sardonic/cynical tone. Intergenerational intrigues. It quickly becomes quite hard to follow (based on book?)
2. Wintry edge-of-town dystopia. Glowy-looking flashbacks are brusquely interpolated. The characters have to deal with the past (a tricky process). But who is Boel?
3. Quite a TV-style, soap-ish melodrama unfolds – albeit one with intriguing and flavourful historical-political and sociological aspects. It's quite repetitive stuff, overcomplicated — and now looks a dated product of East German 1980s cinema. Would have worked best as a TV miniseries running on Sunday nights on East German TV, circa 1982. Comic stuff works OK, dramatically it's inert and the mystery is uninvolving.
4. Town gossips, town villains. Plot proceeds in ploddy fits and starts – with notable elisions that result in a confusing story. Some kind of dark melodramatic secret is constantly being hinted at ("his conscience leaves him no peace.") A rape in 1946? By a Russian soldier? So much for Comrades together! Would have worked better as a straight crime-and-investigation story, but tries to be too novelistic (as well as exploring the pressures on the deficient mayor.) Gets somewhat dull after a while, this exploration of hypocrisies and secrets. Much depends on specific context of East Germany in the 1980s.
5. It's talky, stodgy, unimaginatively-directed stuff. The Nasty Girl it most certainly ain't. A certain glibly cynical air is seldom far away. The most interesting characters are sidelined: precocious Edith; Mrs Martin. The spikes are softened. Domestic strifes. Intergenerational: burden of parents' activities on the children of officials — young love blossoming? Prospects: grim. "The town is beautiful" — such cynical ironies.

Catalogue: "Andy Warhol made him famous. Underground cinema made him a sex idol. His body turned him into a legend." – Joe Dallesandro turned sixty on New Year's Eve last year. He looks back on a career as a male sex symbol that spans 40 years.
"Men and women" become "disconnected at the sight of him." The legends, we're told, all have names ending in the "o" sound: Garbo, Harlow, Brando, Dallesandro (!) — so modesty clearly isn't going to be the film's strong suit. Cards are on the table early on — we're going to get Dallesandro from a stepdaughter's perspective.
2. Paper-animation is deployed early on, charmingly, to sketch in JD's early years (including three cops posed like the famous Elvis print by Warhol.) Digital-video film with a vast and entertaining array of clips (which are the best thing about the picture, each identified in the lengthy end-credits) Unobtrusive, twingly low-in-the-mix music. Warhol's method: "whoever spoke the loudest and the fastest was the star of the movie." But do we get much sense of the artistic milieu? (they were "pretending to be actors.") Yet another documentary about a Warhol figure – this has become something of a cottage industry within cinema (cf Excavative Taylor Mead).
3. Dallesandro at 60+: cheekbones still intact. This is his "reality" — he's never exactly been known for his brightness. He displays a certain scratchy-voiced charm. He was a "street guy", a 17-year-old "bad cowboy", the "resident tough guy." His ordinary-Joe credentials and perspective. Naked among transvestites — mucho nudity, including among the clips. Umm… was he a "hustler"? ("bunch o'bullshit… it wasn't my life!") Or was that just his character from Flesh. So is he gay?? ("Why you gotta put a label on it? Why can't I just be Joe?") Slightly evasive on these points. Like Joe himself, the film is pretty conventional beneath a certain surface rebel-flashiness. Certain key issues are evaded or glossed over. Is it a tragic story? Or was he a "lucky" Joe? His bonhomie comes across, but there are flashes of resentment (at the Factory, he served mainly menial functions and Warhol hardly, if ever, spoke to him) . Notable that there is no footage of interviews, past or present, with any of his collaborators. Nor are there any external commentators to provide objective analysis or assessment. (Paul Morrissey, seen glowering in stills, clearly wasn't interviewed). Sympathetic interviewer doesn't do any real questioning, is heard laughing off-camera.
5. This is a quick, lively tale, worth telling, told with efficiency and it's pretty entertaining stuff. Lots of clips from Italian b-movies (he parlayed minimal talent into quite a successful career, at least for a time.) He was always "happy to oblige." Somewhat self-justifying stuff, but also self-undercutting at times (while simultaneously cutting through the artsy bullshit.) "I thought I had to sleep with everybody." Seems pretty honest and open, and the film works OK as a kind of cine-autobiography, even if nominally "signed" by someone else. Grinning rake's progress through bizarre worlds he barely seems to notice or understand. He's always "happy to oblige." His resilience — cat with nine lives — not such a bad actor. "I'm a lot smarter than I appear to be." … "Life is great!" Credits: story by Joe Dallesandro. Produced by Joe Dallesandro. Little Joe, Big Ego.

Catalogue: A montage of film material that dates back to the German Democratic Republic of the late 1980s and stretches to the present, the year 2008. Footage shot by Thomas Heise himself or taken at locations where he filmed, but never published. Out-takes that remained.
The film is a compilation of remnants: "There are always some things that don't fit." Images, he says, lie around, waiting for a story. We speculate on why these sections were excised. What was wrong with them? Were they deficient? Or maybe they didn't fit into a certain strucural order. Waste not, want not seems the order of the day.
2. Berlin 1988/89. When? (80s moustache). Where? "The tenor of events." (1) Ruin with kids, (2) Riot, (3) Theatre discussions. Black and white; clouds of smoke billowing. Rehearsals: the director likes micro-directing. 4th November 1989: crowds on a bridge. The tumult of 1989: the footage is of archival interest, plus historical and cultural. But does this Material have validity as a new artistic creation, given its cobbled-together genesis? Maybe it does. Functions best as a showcase of editing, even if many scenes and sequences yawn on into the night.
3. Part 4: 1989 street action: faces, fashions, haircuts, hars (crowds and rallies; foment; "the time is racing.") The East German Communist Party will change, but "like an unwilling horse to water." Filmed denunciations at street rallies: passionate speakers rail against party deficiencies and missteps. A black-and-white past of intense public political engagement. There are "great changes" afoot (much disgruntlement with party bosses.) Plotters assemble: music drowns out their speech (sinister discord.) Egon Krenz: music swells, oratory ("the dawn brings in a brighter day.")
4. Demands big-screen exposure, if at all. Extended scenes: intellectual discourse. History as "a heap." This is essay-cinema that makes use of his raw-materials. Focus squarely on 1989: the walls falls; personal memories and domestic/working memoirs. The intersection of the personal and the historical. Mix of form, content and video-styles.
5. Final section before my walkout: prison-officers' conference. Long, long speeches. Heise has seemingly shot new linking materials, Prisoners' reply: their frustration that they can't get involved. Film abounds with speeches of various types: (1) public in open air, (2) public, at meetings, (3) intimate. "Hidden" prisoners get canvas to express themselves. Testimonies at full length (the film can, realistically, only play at documentary festivals.) Portraits of power and impotence. Even-handedness between cops and criminals. Austere and uncompromising: a certain chilly rigour. Colour HD footage of prison now: fairly uninspired as juxtaposition. Even hardcore documentary-fans may reach for the caffeine pills after a while (mirroring the tedium of prison?). Exit-hastening dullness sets in long before end of 166-minute running-time is visible on 1989 horizon.

Catalogue: Dr. Yamamoto Masatomo is seeing patients. The woman who enters his office recounts, completely distraught, how she wanted to kill herself the previous night because her friends have abandoned her. Dr. Yamamoto tells her to ask her friends why they abandoned her – and promptly calls for the next patient.
Handheld high-def, digital video allows fly-on-wall intimacy – sometimes pore-exploringly close-up – with the clinic's patients, staff and visitors. All Human Life Is Here, kind of: it's a community, a world within the world (therapy through work: profitable milk-delivery service [maybe you do have to be mad to work here.])
2. Admirable intent: tackling head-on what's still apparently a taboo subject in Japanese society and, widening out to more general issues, implicitly examining the consequences of the country's conformity pressures. ("Can lawmakers ease the anxieties of the disabled?")
3. Case-studies via conventional talking-heads format: they get time and space to explain their maladies (misery-memoirs – "The doctor told me that I'm a lousy mother.") There's always somebody worse off than yourself. Moral: count your blessings!
4. Limpid DV appeals, but the compositions (lots of shots of hands and feet) are functional rather than creative or innovative. It's all as bald as its title suggests: no score, narration or captions.
5. Seldom looks like justifying the 135-minute running-time – which could be halved with little lost – and it appears that the director (who also edits) is hoping audiences and critics will automatically equate duration with quality.

Catalogue: Fausta is ill with a disease contracted from her mother's breast-milk known as "the milk of sorrow". However, this is not a sickness caused by bacteria or infection: it is a condition that only affects those women in Peru who were abused or raped during the years of terrorist struggle. Although this horrific period is now history, Fausta is nonetheless a living reminder of this time. Her sickness is called fear – and it has robbed her of her soul.
Women's troubles, women's sadness (the song of a mother and a daughter). Town/village superstitions. But does the protagonist actually have a potato in her vagina? Rites, rituals, traditions (gaudy coffins.) Women together — women's ways. Elaborate superstitions (cf Llosa's debut, Madeinusa.) Folk-art, ceremonials — towards the end, a gaudy, noisy nuptial celebration. Film operates within a closed circuit of meaning and significance (family, cultural.) Some sardonic humour undercuts the occasional po-faced atmosphere, but this is essentially a serious, sombre work.
2. After the "years of terror" — the pain of the survivors. Impact on society: "delinquency is terrible right now" (reactionary view.) Much is symbolic/allegorical — the rich woman's piano: "it's broken, but still sings. Can you hear it." The potato, however, is very real (magical realism?). "Plants tell the truth — they're not like people."
3. At least 1/2 of the film relies on Magaly Solier's face. Fausta spends one night at the "big house" in the employ of the local rich-woman (cf Dolores Claiborne? — if only!) – the volatile, highly-strung Mrs Aida. Fausta/Solier is impressively self-possessed – it's as if she moves in slow motion. Her sullen mask, her demure meekness. Or is she a bit "slow-minded".
4. Film is bald and explicit in its treatment of themes, from the very first scene (songs of consolation and solidarity.) The potato-stuff disrupts, distracts — it grows within the vagina, she has to peel it, cut bits off. Odd blend of the comic, the serious and the tragic, a stew of superstitions. All very "world cinema". Reflectively ruminative — or rather, infuriatingly slow.
5. "Bathe me in your menstruation" — close concern with bodily fluids. And the transportation of a corpse (supposedly a key plot point, but it gets forgotten about for much of the running-time.) It's a society founded on, but hamstrung by, superstition. The film is itself a delicate, vivid, odd kind of song (Fausta and her employer join in a tearful song). But a certain preciousness pokes its way in — and there are just too many songs. Mopey solipsism — we lose patience with Fausta's drippiness (does she wallow in the pain of being a woman?) Slow paced, but much is going on — a lot of it screenwriting contrivance (it's full of stuff that would only ever happen in movies), and/or of excessively portentous significance. Deals in a coy, twee kind of feminism — the ideas are overworked, in a story which depends on delicacy. A script that simply tries too hard, and ends up not saying very much about superstition. Llosa's sociological/cultural concerns may be better addressed via documentary, not this kind of overcooked, overembroidered fiction.

Following a traffic accident Ritsuko, a young forewoman at a Japanese factory, suffered a miscarriage. Since then she has buried herself in inner isolation. When the pregnant, fun-loving Chinatsu enters her world, old wounds are reopened, but she also brings change.
1. A humdrum life, a loveless marriage. And a pregnant acquaintance. At work, quality-control: defective mouldings (two co-workers; the contrast of these women's domestic situations.) Feckless, withdrawn husbands. Back-story is revealed, baldly – protagonist's miscarriage. Their lives are soulless, robotic: "just like a machine." Slowly a friendship takes shape between the pregnant Chinatsu and the woman who's had the miscarriage, Ritsuko. Female solidarity, since the husbands are so deficient.
2. Dunnish digital video. Symmetrical close-ups. Visuals have a greenish tint. Slightly mannered, artificial feel to proceedings (poised but essentially emphathetic.) Twangly, acoustic soundtrack,
3. Up-close and personal — shot of a woman on the toilet (gratuitous?) Little is being withheld. A gentle, beguiling kind of "comedy" — told via a patient pace that occasionally crosses the line into tedium. An arch, mannered slowness – moping misery. Patience is demanded — and perhaps rewarded?
4. Lettuce-chopping brings Ritsuko's simmering resentments to the boil (an extremely loveless marriage – compare and contrast with the feckless boyfriend from the director's debut Dog Days Dream.) Baby-strife of a thirty-something wannabe-mother, her relationship in crisis. Spider caught in jar — dies — simulated? (does the film warrant the distress caused to the arachnid?)
5. "Checking for defects" — in the plastics, in the baby. The film is bald in its presentation and exploration of themes. Unadorned performances: Ritsuko's frozen face, her fixity of expression. It's all of a piece with the archly static nature of the storytelling. Air of self-consciousness prevails (editing, music.) Workplace frictions; painful emotions kept in with catastrophic consequences: the unloved. But we can drive a bus through the (pregnant) pauses. And then a child is born, on camera (rather impressive commitment from the actress!)

Catalogue: What would you think if you were to see a man in a taxi in his late thirties singing his head off in broken English? And what would you think if he were being filmed by two men in fur caps who also joined in the chorus? And would you believe these three best mates if they were to tell you that they have decided to become famous?
"We might not be very good, but at least we're here living our dream" — prevalent tone is one of genial daftness. There are musical numbers, and their ineptitude is … disarming. Video-diary, a la Borat, is the guiding structural principle. "This country's my launch-pad; I'm the rocket, and you two are my fuel."
2. And then the amputation begins, starting with a gory finger-lopping. "I want to document my way to fame – I'm a complete artwork!" exclaims our dopey, self-mutilating hero. And it's a dopey kind of fame-satire, too. "Young man promises his death" — unlikely newspaper-headline. Metaphor for fame-lust: losing parts of one's self, bit by bit (Scream and Scream Again it ain't!) Rendered via convincing digital FX.
3. Amputation-comedy?! The Berlin Boys, seeking to stoke scandal, become the 'Bagdad Street Boys.' "A new 9/11" proclamation leads not to arrest but to… worldwide fame?! Dopey kind of bad-taste topicality is the order of the day. Film is essentially strictly for German-oriented festivals. Takes aim at some very easy targets, relies heavily on leading man's charm — his puppyish dopeyness. Director seems to have seen Network (our hero in negotations over the exact date of his on-air death). Time and Rolling Stone take the bait.
4. And then the picture attempts pathos. Bad move. The lightness works best — indeed, there could actually be more songs. Credulity is increasingly strained (video-press-kit is botched). Romantic pathos?! Deathwatch TV!. Demands considerable disbelief-suspension, especially after the halfway point. Feature-length satires such as this need to maintain momentum — and this loosey-goosey cross between Borat and Network just doesn't manage it. Like the hero, picture goes to bits – comic pace flags too often, after a zappy first third. Loses direction as the climax approaches. A few giggles here and there.
5. Manufactured frictions between the trio substitute for proper dramatic development. It all seems somewhat slapdash. The songs, well-integrated as they are, aren't enough. Laughs become increasingly intermittent, as the fame-satire becomes a more general media-satire, and loses sight of its targets. Rob Delaney as newscaster Tim Williams impresses, but it's a bit too little, too late.

All Movie Guide: After receiving an award, Russian poet Olga Bergholtz (Alla Demidova) recalls the struggle of the siege of Leningrad. She flashes back to her idyllic childhood, heartened by the new changes in government after the Russian Revolution. Olga inspires the people of Leningrad with words of encouragement on radio broadcasts during the terrible ordeal of the Nazi invasion. She recalls the inexorable ties between the human spirit, the religion and the history of a country plagued throughout antiquity by invasions.
"The bravest people are scared when the radio is quiet." Leningrad: the plight of the frozen (crisis yields a rich, reflective, history-dipping inner life.) The sombre seriousness of tough lives, lived at the edge of one's nerves. A personal, individual mythos is constructed ("it's mine" – the Uglych bell). A chain of associations. Orthodox church /// the Tsar /// mother Russia. Tarkovsky: Andrei Rublev ~ Mirror. As Pennywise once sang: "feels like I'm livin' in someone else's dream…"
2. Her posterity-concerns. Her greenish pallor, putty-faced. Her reverie-fantasy-memory: the clock ticks (the Russian soulfulness: bold, vivid, full-blooded.) Yields a sense of her internal spaces. Rumbling chorales, the soul of a poet. A film that unfolds at a certain stately pace ("triumphant patience") during a war of attrition.  Her terrific performance holds it together, like Terekhova in Mirror. At its best, the film haunts, grips, exerts intensity ("shall we crawl up, sisters?")
3. Title refers to the phenomenon of being at the bottom of a well during the day, and looking up to see, unexpectedly, stars in the heavens. Unexpectedly, we flash forward to 1960s disco (cf Bunuel's Simon of the Desert.) The high drama and intensity of it, these lyrical interludes. Dream-sequences which interlock. Like the Vonnegut of Slaughter-House Five, the protagonist is "unglued in time" (she exists in multiple ages at the same time.) Everything dew-heavy with allegorial significance. Hypno-regressions to (suppressed?) past lives.
4. Film is oddly gripping, though it's hard to get much purchase on this parade of reveries. A cubist, three or four-dimensional matrix of memories and associations. It's also a lumberingly opulent period-picture (there's not that much on the actual siege, really — not much broadcasting from this famous "broadcaster" — well over an hour passes before the first "at-microphone" scene.) Episodes could perhaps be arranged in any order without losing much impact. Her face is what holds it all together, during this nightmare of resilience and persistence.
5. A Soviet picture: interior journey of an individual, though we do get a sense of the collective effort. Peaks of storytelling intensity which quickly diffuse, bubble away. Levels and types of nightmare ("now it's easier, to get water" ..!) The recurrent, whinging boyfriend, as a kind of spirit-guide… Weighed down with symbolism and allegory… Fragments shored against her ruin… "to embrace absolutely everything… keep it close to the heart so it won't disappear." And then, in the coda, we see the memorial: and real Soviet faces, gathered there to remember.

Neil Young
7th - 13th May, 2009

: [6/10] : Winter ade : East Germany 1988 : Heike MISSELWITZ : 115m : CinemaxX [AWCS public], Tue 10
BURROWING : [6/10] : Man tanker sitt : Sweden 2009 : Henrik HELLSTROM & Fredrik WENZEL : 76m : CinemaxX [Forum press], Fri 6
EVERYONE ELSE : [6/10] : Alle Anderen : Germany 2009 : Maren ADE : 119m : Berlinale Palast [Competition public, paid  ‚¬11 – with thanks to Zorana Musikic], Mon 9
GHOSTED : [2?/10] : Germany/Taiwan 2009 : Monika TREUT : 89m : CinemaxX [Panorama press/public], Sat 7 : walkout after 20mins
THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD : [6/10] : Cea mai fericita fata din lume : Romania 2009 : Radu JUDE : 100m : CinemaxX [Forum press], Fri 6
JADUP AND BOEL : [4/10] : Jadup und Boel : East Germany 1981/88 : Rainer SIMON : 103m : CinemaxX [AWCS public], Thu 12
LITTLE JOE : [6/10] : USA 2009 : Nicole HAEUSSER : 87m : CineStar [Panorama press], Thu 12
MATERIAL : [5?/10] : Germany 2009 : Thomas HEISE : 166m : CinemaxX [Forum press], Tue 10 – walkout after 115m
MENTAL : [5?/10] : Seishin : Japan(/USA) 2008 : SODA Kazuhiro : 135m : CinemaxX [Forum press], Thu 5 - walkout after 60m
THE MILK OF SORROW : [5/10] : La teta asustada : Spain/Peru 2009 : Claudia LLOSA : 94m : Berlinale Palast [Competition press], Thu 12
NAKED OF DEFENSES : [5/10] : Mubobi : Japan 2008 : ICHII Masahide : 88m : CinemaxX [Forum press], Tue 10
SHORT CUT TO HOLLYWOOD : [4/10] : Germany/Austria/USA 2008 : Marcus MITTERMEIER & Jan Henrik STAHLBERG : 94m : CinemaxX [Panorama public], Fri 13
STARS OF THE DAY : [7/10] : Dnevnye Zvyozdy aka The Stars of the Day aka Day Stars : USSR 1966/68 : Igor TALANKIN : 94m : International [Retrospective public], Sun 8

nb : all public screenings attended via complimentary tickets.
AWCS = section 'After Winter Comes Spring'