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Anderson’s 62nd Berlinale Report

Berlinale Palast

My annual jaunt to Berlin to attend the Berlinale kicks off my programming trips for the year. It’s always a pleasure and treat to visit Berlin, truly one of my favorite cities in the world. This year it was a little tough, considering that all of mainland Europe was experiencing record low temperatures. The cold was so bitter, it was consistently in the low teens Fahrenheit with a wind chill that would just cut through your very body.

The extremely cold weather promoted me to stay indoors as much as possible, and that meant mostly in the cinemas! My days mostly consist of film screenings, as well as meetings with film sales agents, distributors, and filmmakers prospecting on what I can get for my festivals. I also track what’s coming out at the various film markets and major festivals for the rest of 2012. Usually it’s over some brautwurst or some kind of pork knuckle dish with dumplings, but even that takes a toll on the system (it still amazes me to see little office girls eat like that everyday. Kind of warms my cockles but I digress).

Anyway, here are some film highlights from this year’s Berlinale. I hope to program some of these titles at HIFF, so treat this as a special sneak peek of what may be in store for October:

IRON SKY

This was really my most anticipated film at the Festival. A crowd-funded, DIY sci-fi B-movie about Nazis from the dark side of the Moon who prepare for an Earth invasion in 2018 is a film project that I’ve been reading about for years. Four million euros later, the film is finally done and world premieres here, right next to Checkpoint Charlie and the Berlin Wall. And what did I think of IRON SKY? It was a lot of fun, with biting commentary on a Sarah Palin-esque president who is running for a second term and just needs a war to fuel her re-election campaign. Plus, you have Udo Kier as the new Fuhrer, amazing special effects, and Nazi schtick every other minute that would make Mel Brooks proud. What’s not to love?

 

GOLDEN SLUMBERS

Golden Slumbers

One of the most lyrical and striking documentaries from the Forum section is GOLDEN SLUMBERS, a French-Cambodian co-production about the lost Cambodian cinema of the 1960s and 1970s, where over 400 films were made and were all destroyed and eradicated under the Pol Pot regime. Only 40 remain today and the film explores the old haunts, from movie palaces, to film studios, to cafes where cinephiles used to congregate and discuss cinema. Directed by Davy Chou, a young Cambodian American whos grandfather was one of the big wigs of the film industry, the exploration of family ties to this lost film industry and culture is at times ghostly, but also very moving. Although many of these films no longer exist, they still permeate in contemporary Khmer culture through film discourses in cafes, karaoke videos, and yes, even Youtube.

 

RENT-A-CAT

Rentaneko

In a corner of the city, a young woman named Sayoko lives alone in a one-story, traditional Japanese house. However, she’s not really alone. In every part of the house is a cat, another cat, yet another cat… For some reason cats find her irresistible, so she decides to share her house with them. She passes her time tending to her house, taking care of the family altar of her beloved grandmother, and operating a rent-a-cat business through which she lends her cats to lonely people — all while enduring the taunts of her bizarre neighbor.

The latest film from quirky film director Naoko Ogigami (MEGANE and the HIFF favorite KAMOME DINER) returns with a truly charming tale that is so Japanese, it can only work in a Japanese film. It’s a slow burn, but the small moments are truly appreciated and even though I’m not a cat person, it made me rethink my stance on feline pets! It’s a quiet little gem and is not bombastic, but that’s quite alright.

 

POSTCARDS FROM THE ZOO

The latest film from Indonesian director Edwyn, this magical realist film is a fusion of Hayao Miyazaki and Penek Ratanaruang. The story is about a young girl who is abandoned in the zoo and grows up surrounded by the animals, especially a giraffe. She soon departs the walled confines of the zoo into the city, where she meets a magician cowboy. Yeah, it sounds weird, but the film totally works. With beautiful, serene shots of animal and nature, the film is poetic, sometimes meandering, but a treat overall. POSTCARDS is a milestone, because it is the first Indonesian film to participate in the official competition of the Festival.

 

TWO LITTLE BOYS

This black comedy from New Zealand stars Bret McKenzie (FLIGHT OF THE CONCORDS) and Hamish Taylor, popular Kiwi comedians. The film follows Nige and Deano’s riotous misadventures as they struggle with their imploding long-term friendship which has been put under pressure by an unfortunate incident involving a hot meat pie, a ginger cat and the untimely death of a Scandinavian soccer star. This film is DUMB AND DUMBER meets SHALLOW GRAVE and was such a dark, twisted romp of a film. I highly recommend and I hope it gets play in the States.

 

OUR HOMELAND

Our Homeland

From the late 50s and into the 70s, more than 90,000 of the Koreans resident in Japan emigrated to North Korea, a country that promised them affluence, justice and an end to discrimination. OUR HOMELAND tells the story of one of their number, who returns for just a short period. For the first time in 25 years, Sonho is reunited with his family in Tokyo after being allowed to undergo an operation there. There, he encounters his young sister, Rie, for the first time, who is rebellious against him, as different life perspectives clash. OUR HOMELAND isn’t drippy or didactic. On contrary, it is infused with humor, as Sonho reunites with his old grammar school friends, including a flamboyantly gay restauranteur. There are comic moments, but also an infusion of numerous possibilities in a coming-of-age sense, especially for Rie. This is an affecting family drama that is framed in world politics.

 

THE RAW AND THE COOKED

I want to go to Taiwan right now and eat through the entire island nation! THE RAW AND THE COOKED is a documentary expedition through the culinary traditions of Taiwan, showing how closely food is connected to the various cultures of this multi-ethnic state. Taiwan is one of the most diverse gourmet heavens in all of Asia. The journey begins in the capitol Taipei at high-end restaurants, night markets and tucked away food stalls, but then the doc fully explores the multi-ethnic flavor of the island, with stops all over, ranging from Hakka cuisine to aboriginal ways of cooking and living off the land. A German production, director Monika Treut paints a beautiful film that goes beyond the travelogue trappings. It instead crafts a spectrum of Taiwan food and cuisine that marries tradition and modernity as farm to table and organic farming become key in this country’s rich cuisine. Seriously, I want to go there right now!

 

ELECTRICK CHILDREN

Can you get pregnant through music? On her 15th birthday, Rachel, a Mormon girl, discovers a forbidden rock music tape. Having never heard anything like it, she has a miraculous experience and three months later, claims to have had an immaculate conception from listening to said tape. Her parents arrange a marriage, but Rachel runs away to the closest city, LAS VEGAS, to search for the man who sings on the tape, and whom she thinks is the father. From first time director Rebecca Thomas, I loved this film, with its nuanced performances and lush cinematography. I’ve harped that the Festival’s films were not really up to snuff this year, but ELECTRICK CHILDREN, and many of the other films in the GENERATIONS section (the youth or coming-of-age section of the Festival) always delivers every year. I’m honestly surprised that Sundance passed on this film, because it is charming, yet deeply emotional on many levels.

 

NAMELESS GANGSTER

Nameless Gangster

Already breaking box office records in South Korea, where it was released on February 2nd, NAMELESS GANGSTER is the Korean, more bad ass version of CASINO. Starring CHOI Min-sik of OLDBOY fame, this period film takes place in the early 1980s, where CHOI plays a public officer who clashes against a rising gangster in the tough streets of Busan. It’s one of the best Korean films I’ve seen in a couple of years! Highly recommended!

 

Berlin Chill

And that ends my 2012 Berlinale report. Overall, I thought the films were not as great compared to last year when they had such prestige titles like Iran’s A SEPARATION in their official programme. But for the most part, Berlin is a lucrative and informative trip for me and helps me begin to shape the HIFF program.

I’m heading back to LA now, where I will have a brief respite. Then, next stop: SXSW! Yeehah!

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