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Berlin Reviews: ‘Two Men In Town,’ Blind Massage,’ ‘If You Don’t, I Will’ & ‘In Between Worlds’

Reviews
by Jessica Kiang
February 18, 2014 5:34 PM
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If You Don’t, I Will” Dir. Sophie Fillieres, starring Emmanuelle Devos and Mathieu Amalric

A slight, but enjoyably pessimistic bourgeois comedy that sees Pomme (Emmanuelle Devos) and Pierre (Mathieu Amalric) push their marriage beyond its breaking point simply through the kind of stubbornness and blame-finding that a lot of long-term couples might be able to relate to, Sophie Fillieres here reteams with her “Ouch” stars, but really this is Devos’ film. Her Pomme is a tremendously well-drawn and appealing character, an empty nester who is off work as she recovers from surgery to (successfully) remove a benign brain tumor, and who turns a casual hiking trip with Pierre into a days-long personal odyssey when she decides to stay in the forest and fend for herself following an argument. Endearingly, it’s only up to a point, as Pomme is not above choosing to nip out to a nearby shop for supplies when faced with the alternative of killing and skinning a rabbit. Reminiscent in its relationship dynamics of Roger Michell terrific Le Weekend” (both films also share a side commentary about the self-absorption of couples’ grown children), “If You Don’t, I Will” is, however, a less hopeful film that sees in all the bickering that often crosses that unflagged line into hurtfulness, a reason to split rather than a reason to stay together. Still Devos is a tremendously watchable presence, even when alone in a literal pit of despond in a forest, and her scenes with Amalric have the authentic feel of a long-taken-for-granted partnership. One to watch and laugh ruefully at with your partner if you’re in a pretty secure place—those on the skids should not apply. [B]

In Between Worlds” Dir. Feo Aladag, starring Ronald Zehrfeld, Mohsin Ahmady

Though it shares the “War is Hell” theme with the terrific “‘71” (review here), German Afghan co-production “In Between Worlds” traces a much more traditional narrative, in which the good intentions and resolutely balanced personal politics can’t quite compensate for the rote feel of a lot of the plot turns, even as a fine cast do their best to inject empathy and humanity into the proceedings. Well shot by director Feo Aladag and DP Judith Kaufman, the story follows Jesper (Ronald Zehrfeld, also star of another Berlin Competition film “Beloved Sisters”), a German officer returning to Afghanistan, which has already claimed his brother’s life, to lead a mission to stabilize a small rural region against the encroaching Taliban. There he meets Tarik (Mohsin Ahmady), a young teacher with a sister studying engineering, who thrusts himself on the troupe as an interpreter and soon becomes a mascot of sorts for Jesper, as well as a friend. But when Tarik’s association with the “occupiers” puts his sister in jeopardy, Jesper has to make a difficult Sophie’s choice-style decision that ends inevitably, in tragedy. The film won’t judge any of its protagonists, but perhaps a bit more pointedness could have helped make it a punchier affair, with a climax that doesn’t rely on the kind of massive, unfortunate coincidence that goes on here (of course it’s during exactly the short window that Jesper is not where he should be that a certain event goes down, despite there having been days of seeming inactivity beforehand). Impeccable intentions and fine performances are all very well, but it would have been more impressive if the film’s undeniable strengths had been brought to bear on a more provocative narrative, which, despite a hefty body count (including a completely unnecessary final addition to the tally) and a lot of Anguished Moral Decisions, feels a little too comfortable. [B]

Click here for all of our coverage from the 2014 Berlin Film Festival.

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