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FESTIVALS: Berlinale Decision Points Part 4: Golden Slumbers and Golden Showers

Festivals
by Kevin B. Lee
February 15, 2012 9:48 PM
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"Sister"
"Sister"

Part four (and the last) of my Berlinale coverage, focusing on decision points: the moment when I pretty much made up my mind about a film, and how that moment reflects on the film as a whole, capped by my Indiewire grade. Look for a summary report to follow on RogerEbert.com.

Read Part One  Read Part Two Read Part Three

Sister (Ursula Meier) 12 year-old Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein, terrific) enters the bedroom of family member Louise (Lea Seydoux) and offers to pay to sleep next to her. For 150 euros she agrees. He tosses the money and climbs on to cuddle, and the scene hangs on that tender moment of them being together without doing much of anything; as in Meier’s debut Home, a story concept that threatens to spoil as overt social allegory (environmentalism in that one, capitalism in this one) is saved by her ability to generate a genuine family vibe, even when it shades into the perverse, as Simon inches his head down Louise’s torso and we see his nostrils flare ever so slightly as they take in the scent of her crotch. B

No Man’s Zone (Toshi Fujiwara) For much of the first hour this documentary essay on Fukushima is carried by a smart voiceover narration that interrogates the public´s consumption of disaster through the media. It then shifts to a series of long, unedited first person interviews with survivors, as if to put its critique of the media´spolished packaging of disaster to the test. It works better in theory, but it´s still a noble, provocative effort. B

Postcards from the Zoo (Edwin) The scene where the massage parlor veteran trains the newbie about making sure to get paid extra when a john asks her to pee in front of him goes to show, even the Asian sex trade can be played for arthouse cutesiness. Especially when there are giraffes, hippo shaped golf carts and Indonesian cowboys strolling in this parade of inconsequence. Whee. D

Tabu (Miguel Gomes) For me the penultimate image of a baby crocodile on a carpet helped crystallize my feelings for this much-lauded, highly original competition film. The film is rife with such poetic images and dream-like moments, and charged with a wholly unique sense of narrative layering. On a formal level this is about as laudable an effort as I could expect for a film whose neo-colonialist romantic perspective I normally reject as a matter of principle. On one level, it’s more of the same swooning white material that illustrates how non-Africans can make great films in Africa, but not about Africa. But yeah, it’s pretty beautiful. B

White Deer Plain (Wang Quan’an) It takes a certain kind of talent to spoil such an opportunity as having the first censor-approved mainland Chinese film to feature a woman peeing on a man’s face. But said scene is just one of a series of plodding moments undermined by mediocre editing and direction. Scenes are assembled as individual set pieces that stunt off whatever momentum they have to carry into the next, turning one of the most controversial Chinese novels of the last 20 years into a Classics Illustrated set of enervated panels. C

Golden Slumbers (Davy Chou) My favorite moment in this documentary of the lost cinema of Cambodia (where nearly all films were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror) is when a young film crew attempts to recreate a scene from a lost film following the original director´s vivid description. During the re-enactment, the documentary camera focuses not on the scene but on the crew filming and watching the scene, with the scene just barely out of frame. A clever moment that embodies the structuring absence that haunts this moving act of reclamation. B+

Kevin B. Lee is Editor in Chief of Press Play, and contributor to RogerEbert.com and Fandor. Follow him on Twitter.

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