All in all, folks, this sadly wasn't a great Berlinale year. I felt fairly ambivalent about most of what I saw; two were really pretty bad, and only two were really good. So how nice is it to be able to say that my favorite film, Unter Männer: Schwul in der DDR, was the documentary to which The Director himself invited me, along with the Pirate?! Documentaries are tricky, aren't they, because they don't have the benefit that feature films do of providing (often strictly gratuitous) entertainment. But a good documentary will take us places we can never go on our own, giving us glimpses of people we can never be. And that is, after all, one of the main reasons I'm a film addict (see here).
The material for Unter Männer came from writer and co-director Ringo Rösener. But I'm guessing it was The Director's masterful editing that gives the film its energy. It must be quite a challenge to build various disconnected interviews into a well-paced and cohesive product. This film fully captured, for me, the wistfulness of lost opportunities. It'll be opening in Berlin on April 26th and not only do I highly recommend it, but I'm really looking forward to a second viewing.
Orchim Le-rega (Off White Lies) in Generation 14+, one of my favorite Berlinale sections, was a really tough look at a vulnerable young Israeli-American girl's coming of age. Even for such a well-worked-over theme, the plot felt fresh, the pacing energetic and the acting was really top-notch. It seems to be making the festival rounds but I'm guessing that, sadly, it won't be picked up and distributed internationally.
I also quite liked Sekret, from the same Polish director who impressed me last year (see here). This is the film that couples his revolutionary ideas on shooting with good solid subject matter -- the Art Spiegelmann portrayal of Polish complicity with, even furthering, of Nazi Anti-Semetism. It's subtle and spare, ambivalent and thought-provoking (just the way I like my film). The Director, however, went to see it on my recommendation and walked out.
The top film not to see is unfortunately Kuma, the Panorama opener. Despite its promising set-up, a bigamous marriage hidden within a large Turkish family in Vienna, the plot somehow fizzled into yet another flat, unidimensional portrayal of the issue of family honor. Sigh. E. and I had managed to score tickets for the opening and it was edifying to watch the audience struggle with the question of exactly how this film went wrong. To this I'd add the muddled and unedifying Hemel [note to self for future: avoid any subject of a full-page ad in the Berlinale program].
Weirdly, this was the first year I chose two films that went on to win awards; both politically important. First was Diaz: Don't Clean Up this Blood, which, in its punishingly unceasing portrayal of violence, was just really hard to watch. I also saw Tony Gatlif's Indignados which I'm guessing will prove to be too obscure for most film goers but that resonated with me given my four years off-and-on in Spain. I'll end with reviews from fellow Berlin blogger Denise, who, writing here, also reviewed Indignados and names Call Me Kuchu her best Berlinale documentary to-date.
In addition to what I've mentioned here, several Egyptian documentaries were continually sold out, plus I ran out of time for The Summit, a documentary addressing the 2000 Genoa protests. But no matter, DocumentaMadrid will be here in less than two months!