Berlin Film Festival 2009 - selected highlights

Berlin Film Festival 2009 - selected highlights

List Film contributor and programmer Selina Robertson's selects 10 films making waves at the Berlin Film Festival 2009

The Exploding Girl
US indie rising star writer-director Bradley Rust Grey’s delivers a low-key character study of a young girl’s summer holidays in New York. Zoe Kazan (grand-daughter of director Elia) gives a stand-out performance as Ivy, a girl who is dumped by her boyfriend but who deals very adeptly with her emotions. A welcome to change to the usual stereotypes of junkie delinquents in many contemporary indies. It’s safe to say that Kazan is definitely one to watch.

About Elly
There was a lot of hype about this Silver Bear Iranian winner, and for the first half of the film it does not disappoint. A group of middle-class friends decide to holiday on the Caspian Sea in a kind of ‘Big Chill’ reunion, however when one of the friends goes missing the group’s bond begins to unravel. This is a fresh tense, involving drama that portraits the lives in a thoroughly modern Iran.

There can be little doubt that Francois Ozon’s new magic realist comedy-drama wins the award for ‘the-one-you-simply-cannot-categorize’. A seemingly sombre story of a working-class single mum with a 7 year old daughter, who gets involved with a new man and falls pregnant with Ricky. Their lives are never quite the same when one day Ricky is discovered to be sitting on top of the cupboard instead of in his coat. This is an absolute delight from start to finish. Let’s hope that a gutsy UK distributor picks it up.

London River
Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb’s (Days of Glory) new 7/7 drama is a quiet, TV-esque, story of two different parents who come to London to look for their children after the bombings in 2005. Brenda Blethyn and Sotigui Kouyate (who won the Silver Bear for best actor for his performance) head up the cast as the parents who soon discover that their children had been living together in Finsbury Park and taking Arabic lessons in the local Mosque. This is a small and very touching film that tackles head on the prejudices between Christians and Muslims.

An Education
Young Brit Carey Mulligan is outstanding in Lone Scherfig’s adaptation of Nick Hornby’s book based on part of Lynn Barber’s memoires. This is a delightful coming-of-age tale set in Twickenham in 1961. The script simmers with laughter and there are plenty of gauche scenes to rival those of Italian for Beginners. Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper and Rosamund Pike co-star.

The Countess
It might just be true that this writer is the only person who actually likes Julie Delpy’s new costume drama. Written, directed and starring Delpy, this anticipated follow-up to her debut film Two Days in Paris did not seem to light the fires of most critics accept this one. Based on the supposedly true story of Countess Erzebeth Bathory, who in the 17th century embarked on a quest to keep her beauty by extracting the blood of virgins for gentle application onto her skin. A delightfully rompy melodrama riddled with feminist conspiracy theories. Much fun.

Katalin Varga
Virtually unknown in the UK, British filmmaker and musician Peter Strickland’s self-funded debut feature is a strikingly eerie, very cinematic, rape-revenge tale with a less than conventional ending. Set in contemporary Transylvania the film’s main protagonist Katalin Varga (Hilda Péter) is banished from her village and sets out on a journey with her son over the Carpathian Mountains. Definitely worth catching on the big screen. A Golden Bear was given to the film for best soundtrack.

Kerry Fox hits the ground running in this brilliantly shot political drama set in The Hague. A German/Danish/Dutch coproduction, Fox plays a kick-ass prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal (ICTY) who comes up against the might of Balkan war profiteers as well as sanctimonious Eurocrats who turn a blind where necessary. Anamaria Marinca (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) delivers a compelling performance as one victim of the atrocities.

Blue Beard (Barbe-Bleue)
Catherine Breillat hands us a beautifully shot and written piece of Freudian fantasy. A 16th century feminist re-working of the ancient tale of Blue Beard, in Breillat’s direction we find female sexual power head to head with male brutishness. The film is told on two layers: Bluebeard’s story is played along traditional lines and the second we find a more contemporary story of two sisters playing in their attic. The little sisters are delight to watch for their youthful mischief and fantasy about love and marriage.

Please Say Something
Animator David O’Reilly won the Short Film Golden Bear for his excellent 10 minute computer animated short film. A self-described Internet turbodrama that looks at the “troubled relationship between a Cat and Mouse set in the distant Future”, using a unique narrative structure comprising of 23 episodes of exactly 25 seconds each.

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