Berlin 2012 Wrap: Space Nazis, Women in Septic Tanks and More

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Berlin 2012 Wrap: Space Nazis, Women in Septic Tanks and More
It's tempting to begin festival wrap-ups with some sort of blanket-statement about the festival as a whole, assessing the overall quality, trends, failings and so on. But I don't feel qualified to do anything of the sort. Berlinale's program is especially vast and diverse, and I only sampled a fraction of it. Many films arrive with no buzz, and most of the star-studded premieres are films that have already opened in the U.S. It's actually a bit refreshing as a journalist - It means I get out of covering the films that everyone's already talking about, and moreover, that almost every screening I walked into felt like an adventure.

Of course, sometimes that feeling of infinite potential was crushed within five minutes of the opening credits, but overall, I discovered a number of films that I was quite fond of during Berlinale, even if some movies' great details didn't totally add up to great films.

So, here's a comprehensive wrap up of everything I managed to see during the festival. Naturally, I missed a number of films that I still wish I'd been able to see, such as  This Ain't California, Caesar Must Die, Call me Kuchu, Rebelle and Postcards from the Zoo. But we do what we can.

As Luck Would Have It - Berlinale Special Gala
berlin2012_asluckwouldhaveit.jpgAlex de la Iglesia's latest owes more than a little to Network and Ace in the Hole, but it's never quite as scathing or fearless as either of those films.

Avalon - Forum
This thriller/drama about some wealthy older guys trying to open a nightclub is well-directed, photographed and acted - but not enough to really make me care about old, rich jerks. Also, the film's conclusion honestly made the rest seem less enjoyable in hindsight.

Belief, Love, Death - Panorama
If nothing else, this film has a unique sense of humor and a nice setup. It's sort of like Knife in the Water as Roy Anderson might direct it, only with an overweight man and his mother instead of a wealthy couple. But the narrative and the conclusion both feel half-baked, and director Peter Kern tries far too hard to hammer home his political commentary, often resorting to cutting in documentary and news footage.

Beyond the Hill - Forum
In this Turkish slow-burn thriller, Elmin Alper takes a number of disparate genre elements and weaves them together masterfully. Chilling, darkly-funny and highly recommended.
My review of BEYOND THE HILL

Captive - Competition
Brillante Mendoza's kidnapping drama/thriller was predictably divisive at the festival. Isabelle Huppert is great as always, and I found many things to admire and contemplate throughout the film. That said, when Mendoza gets bogged down in religion and symbolism, the film stumbles hard.
My review of CAPTIVE

The Convoy - Panorama
The lead performance by Oleg Vasilkov alone almost makes this Russian police drama worth watching. However, the film never really establishes the stakes before it begins its episodic plunge into the Moscow underworld. This problem was made worse at the festival by a shoddy English translation - It's possible that the film would have worked better if I knew Russian.

Francine - Forum
Fans of American realism a la Wendy and Lucy may want check out this film about a recently paroled woman who develops a misguided obsession with animals. Melissa Leo gives a bold, affecting performance, especially in one totally effective and unexpected scene where wanders into to a hardcore concert. However, the film never quite establishes the stakes or audience-identification necessary to pull off its slow, observant style.  

Hemel - Forum
In this well-observed portrait of a miserable young woman, sex acts almost as a weapon, a way of hurting others and alleviating misery. At the root of the Hemel's struggles is a bizarre relationship with her father. The acting in the film is phenomenal, and scene-to-scene, Hannah Hoekstra's character remains compelling in spite of her ruthlessness. However, the film never quite makes its episodic scenes add up to anything greater than its parts.

Jayne Mansfield's Car - Competition
Billy Bob Thornton's breezy directorial effort doesn't totally work, but it's hard not to enjoy spending time with his game cast including Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon and John Hurt.

Iron Sky - Panorama
After five years of hype, we finally have a movie about Moon Nazi's invading the earth. Sadly, it's not all it could have been... but it's not a total failure either.
My review of IRON SKY

Nuclear Nation - Forum
An overlong, but often captivating documentary about a displaced town in the wake of the Fukishima nuclear disaster.

Tabu - Competition
Easily the best film I saw at the festival - enchanting, mysterious, romantic, and often very funny.
My review of TABU

The Woman in the Septic Tank - Forum
This diverting, often-funny satire takes aim exact type of slum-porn Filipino cinema for which Brilliante Mendoza is known. However, some of the film's devices wear out their welcome fast, and the end result is nowhere near as angry or audacious as you'd hope for based on the title.


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