“Beauty And The Beast”
Synopsis: A retelling of the classic fairytale that follows Belle as she condemns herself to a life of incarceration in a castle ruled by a monster in order to save her father. But as time goes on, she begins to dream the sad story behind the Beast’s current form and learns to look beyond it.
Why It’s Anticipated: Well, no one’s going to argue with Lea Seydoux being cast as the “Beauty” part of this equation, and with the ever watchable and charismatic Vincent Cassel taking on The Beast, it certainly has got its casting right. And the trailers and images suggest that this may in fact be the exact film for which the word “sumptuous” was coined, with what look like incredible sets and costume designs creating something almost impossibly lush and decadent to look at. Director Christophe Gans is back in his French-language “Brotherhood of the Wolf” milieu (reteaming with Cassel) after a disappointing, but undeniably stylish foray to Hollywood with “Silent Hill,” and this fable has lent itself to superior adaptations in the past, from Jean Cocteau’s glorious black and white version to Disney’s adorable Best Picture nominee. Not to mention inspiring the amazing Linda Hamilton TV show. One cause for hesitation may be the Beast makeup, which, as ever, is a hard balance to strike between laughable and repulsive, and early looks at the film have largely avoided too many close ups, so we’ll see about that. But otherwise this looks like it could be a ravishing, if hardly overtaxing treat for those with more gluttonous, maximalist visual tastes.
“Black Coal, Thin Ice”
Synopsis: An ex-police officer in a small town in China is haunted by a case in his past which left colleagues dead and allowed a murderer to escape. When a new set of murders occurs years later, although now merely a security guard, he decides to investigate leading to some disquieting discoveries about the nature of guilt and innocence.
Why It’s Anticipated: As one of an unprecedented three Chinese films in the Berlinale main competition (though Berlin has always been a great discovery point for Asian cinema, and has a rich vein running through all its sidebars too), it’s the irresistible (to us) descriptor of this one as a film noir thriller set in ordinary small-town China that has it edging up our list. Also the recipient of quite a bit of pre-festival buzz, it’s kind of a shot in the dark, but director Diao Yinan’s murder mystery could, if it walks that genre/arthouse line as well as we hope, make a big splash on the festival circuit and beyond.
“Thou Wast Mild And Lovely”
Synopsis: On a farm in rural Kentucky, an attraction springs up between the farmer’s daughter and a laborer, which shifts from the erotic to the violent when the laborer’s wife comes to visit.
Why It’s Anticipated: We’ll file this in the “unknown quantity” slot for now, but we have to say the story behind it, as one of two films playing in Berlin from neophyte feature director, artist and actress Josephine Decker has got us interested. Decker, who starred in Joe Swanberg’s “Art History” which played in Berlin back in 2011, here returns the compliment, casting him in “Thou Was Mild And Lovely.” Early peeks at the film suggest something atmospheric and beautifully shot, and both it and her other Forum sidebar film “Butter on the Latch” seem to flirt with a kind of enigmatic, spooky tone that is intriguing. It could of course all be terribly self-indulgent, but we’re enjoying the potential Brit Marling vibe we’re getting here, so we’re looking forward to finding out.
And More: Perhaps a little further out of our wheelhouse, but also registering on the radar are several other films in and out of competition. Of the other Chinese movies the one we’ve heard some positive advance word on is “Tui Na” about a blind masseuse who experiences the world through touch alone. Also in competition, Norway’s “In Order of Disappearance” has us interested primarily because we love both Stellan Skarsgård and Bruno Ganz and the action/comedy vibe might be just the ticket after some of the festival’s heavier entries. And if we thought that our chances for dystopian Asian sci-fi lived and died on getting into “Snowpiercer,” the Vietnamese “Nuoc” puts the lie on that. “The Turning” is a portmanteau film based on Australian novelist Tim Winton’s short stories which sees 18 Australian filmmakers, some of them actors, like Mia Wasikowska and David Wenham, create segments of the film, which features an Antipodean all-star cast of Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Miranda Otto, Richard Roxburgh and Hugo Weaving. “The Dark Valley,” with Sam Riley looks to be an intriguing mix of Alpine Western and period revenge movie, while U.S. indie “Things People Do” boasts a strong cast in Wes Bentley, Jason Isaacs, Vinessa Shaw and Haley Bennett, while in no doubt much more enigmatic, uncategorizable form “Stray Dogs” director Tsai Ming Liang teams with arthouse megastar Denis Lavant for a 56-minute entry to the “Journey to the West” series. In documentary land we’re interested in “The Decent One” which tells the story of Hitler’s second-in-command Heinrich Himmler, and also “The Dog,” which tells the real-life tale of the events that inspired “Dog Day Afternoon.” And finally a film we missed at Sundance but heard great things about and will definitely be catching up with--Eskil Vogt’s Norwegian/Dutch co-production “Blind.” We'll also be thrilled if we can get into Bong Joon-Ho's "Snowpiercer" which we already gave a glowing A-grade review last year out of Paris.
Look out for our thoughts on all of these, and hopefully many more (as usual there are fantastic sidebars we've hardly touched on, like the Generations competitions for younger-skewing films--which have debuted movies like "The Rocket" and "Electrick Children" in recent years), over the next couple of weeks.