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The Playlist

Berlin Reviews: 'Butter On The Latch,' ‘The Third Side Of The River,’ ’El Somni’ & ‘The Midnight After’

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 18, 2014 6:14 PM
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  • 1 Comment
Butter On The Latch
Indie filmmaker Josephine Decker pulled off one of the major coups of the Berlin Film Festival—a “Double Decker.” A cute phrase to communicate the fact that she had her two debut films, “Thou Wast Mild and Lovely” and “Butter On the Latch,” both accepted and premiering at the Berlinale. It's certainly no small accomplishment and nothing to sneeze at. And while some were taken with Decker’s oblique, dreamy experimentalism that often charted moods of dread with a sensual palate, placing her as a “filmmaker to watch” is perhaps putting the cart before the horse.

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

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 18, 2014 5:34 PM
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  • 0 Comments
Two Men In Town
A remake of a 1973 French film starring Alain Delon and Jean Gabin, “Two Men In Town” is a sadly missed opportunity. It's a beautifully shot film (kudos to DP Yves Cape, who also served on “Holy Motors” and “White Material”), but one that, aside from some unusual casting decisions, brings nothing new to the ex-con-trying-to-go-straight genre. In fact it falls into its overfamiliar rhythm so quickly that you have to keep reminding yourself you haven’t seen it before.

Richard Linklater Discusses His 12-Year Project 'Boyhood,' Chronology, Memory & A Movie That Occurs Offscreen

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 18, 2014 1:20 PM
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  • 1 Comment
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Richard Linklater is a lot like a Richard Linklater movie. There’s a looseness, and an approachability that is engaging (and made for an enjoyably chatty Berlin Film Festival interview), but it’s also somewhat deceptive of the deeper currents of thoughtfulness and a kind of philosophical curiosity, that run beneath the laid-back, genial exterior. And both these sides of his personality are on full display in the wonderful “Boyhood” (our Sundance review is here) his twelve-years-in-the-making study of a young boy from ages six through eighteen, when he finally leaves home for college. It is both a simple, unpretentious portrait of a certain child coming of age, and a sprawling, ambitious, encompassing exploration of grand universal themes. It’s hard to think of another example where the operatic has been so unassumingly presented.

Berlin Review: The Imagination Is The Sense Most Sharpened In Witty, Weird, Beautiful Sundance Winner ‘Blind’

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 17, 2014 1:13 PM
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  • 0 Comments
There is something about the idea of using cinema, a visual medium, to explore the tragedy and terror of sudden blindness that makes Norwegian Eskil Vogt’s directorial debut “Blind” an intriguing prospect even on paper (Vogt previously collaborated as a writer with Joachim Trier). But it’s where he, and extraordinary lead actor Ellen Dorrit Petersen take that premise, and how stylishly and wittily they do so, that makes the film which won the screenwriting prize in Sundance, one of the finds of our Berlin Film Festival. In fact it’s a shame it was pushed into a crowded Forum sidebar lineup, when it was so easily superior to the majority of this year’s lackluster Competition titles. Compelling, clever and surprisingly warm despite its cool palette, the film is also a worthy addition to the canon of recent Scandinavian cinema, a region whose filmmaking output seems only to grow in esteem and distinctiveness, year on year.

Berlin Review: Silver Bear Winner ‘Stations Of The Cross’ Preaches An Inconsistent, Self-Serving Sermon

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 17, 2014 9:44 AM
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  • 1 Comment
Stations Of The Cross
The festival scheduling Gods work in mysterious ways, and so it wasn’t until the last Sunday of the Berlinale that we got to see the German-language “Stations of the Cross,” from director Dieter Brüggemann, by which stage it had already won the Silver Bear for Best Script, on which Brüggemann shared writing duties with his sister Anna. That gong, however, simply confirmed a great deal of the buzz that the film’s premiere had fostered days before — with only a few dissenting voices the consensus seemed to be that this parable about religious extremism was a provocative, confident and original piece of work that featured an eyecatching performance from its young lead actress Lea Van Acken. About Van Acken perhaps that’s true, but otherwise the only thing it “provoked” in this writer was frustration, and a dull rage at its deterioration from an intriguing, well-crafted premise to a manipulative, sanctimonious, woolly-minded muddle.

Berlin: 'Black Coal, Thin Ice' Wins Golden Bear, 'Grand Budapest Hotel' Takes Jury Prize & Richard Linklater Best Director

  • By Kevin Jagernauth
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  • February 16, 2014 10:07 AM
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  • 1 Comment
Grand Budapest Hotel
The curtain has been drawn on another year at the Berlin Film Festival, and in 2014, it looks like Hollywood made a bigger impression than usual when it came to the awards. While the big prize went to one of the three Chinese films in competition, elsewhere American indie faves took home some major trophies.

Berlin Review: ‘Macondo’ A Rich, Affecting Drama Centered On An Outstanding Child Performance

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 16, 2014 9:47 AM
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  • 0 Comments
Macondo
Given the front-loaded nature of the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, as the second weekend approached, I’d started to despair of finding anything remarkable in the remaining competition line-up. And then along came “Macondo” the fiction feature debut from Iranian director Sudabeh Mortezai, and a wonderfully engaging, absorbing coming of age/culture clash tale set in a Chechen refugee community in Austria. Knowing shamefully little of Chechen culture beforehand, the film’s lived-in feel exerted its own pull, with Mortezai, who spent time in Austria but is herself a newcomer to this particular milieu, expertly finding a balance between her (and our) outsider perspective, and the unquestionable authenticity of the actors and the environment.

Berlin Review: Potentially Compelling Himmler Doc 'The Decent One' A Disappointment

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 16, 2014 9:00 AM
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  • 0 Comments
The Decent One
A cache of personal letters, diaries and documents thought to belong to SS-leader and inner-circle Nazi Heinrich Himmler forms the backbone of new documentary “The Decent One,” which had its World Premiere at the Berlin Film Festival last week. Director Vanessa Lapa, granted unique advance access to the papers while they were being authenticated (the private, Israel-based collection to which they belong is owned by her father), has crafted a competent and unsensational—if ironically titled—film that, while it does offer us an impressionistic glimpse of Himmler's psyche, doesn’t quite yield the kind of revelations that those of us eternally fascinated by the conundrum of personal morality amongst the Third Reich leadership might hope to see brought to light.

Berlin Review: Christophe Gans' 'Beauty And The Beast' Starring Léa Seydoux & Vincent Cassel

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 15, 2014 11:00 AM
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  • 0 Comments
Beauty & The Beast
Ever watched a 30-second perfume commercial and thought “Man, the decadent wonderland they’ve created here is so glorious and rich I wish this could go on forever?” No? Well, neither has anyone ever, but that hasn’t stopped Christophe Gans from addressing that imaginary need with his ghastly, overblown “Beauty and the Beast,” whose 112 minutes certainly feel like an eternity, and which fails on such a grand scale of pomp and over-ornamented visuals, that, robed in splendid scarlet satins, its failures practically preen.

Berlin Review: ‘Black Coal, Thin Ice’ A Distinct But Confounding Noir Tale

  • By Jessica Kiang
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  • February 15, 2014 10:04 AM
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  • 3 Comments
Black Coal, Thin Ice
One of the major narratives coming into the 2014 Berlin Film Festival, which ends this weekend, was the inclusion of three Chinese films in the main competition. And each of those films in turn seemed to represent an aspect of a national cinema that is still, to those of us in the West, often something of a mystery: “Blind Massage” comes from director Lou Ye, who has had a checkered history with the Chinese censors, having been banned from filmmaking several times over due to what they deem controversial depictions of gender and sexuality; “No Man’s Land” is a straight-up state-funded genre Western from Ning Hao; and “Black Coal, Thin Ice” lies somewhere in the middle on the political and aesthetic spectrum, blending elements of genre and elements of social realist commentary in a manner perhaps closest in spirit to Jia Zhangke’s Cannes entry “A Touch of Sin."

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