Sixth day coverage of the 68th Berlin International Film Festival with reviews of 3 Days in Quiberon7 Days in EntebbeU – July 22 and Hard Paint

3 Days in Quiberon (3 Tage in Quiberon)

68th Berlin International Film Festival

Bi­o­graph­i­cal films about the pri­vate lives of stars and fa­mous peo­ple have al­ways had a cu­ri­ous ap­peal for movie­go­ers, who seem to de­light in the prospect of look­ing through their masks and see­ing if there is an ac­tu­al hu­man be­ing un­der­neath. While many bi­ogra­phies re­count someone’s en­tire life, oth­ers just de­scribe episodes, mo­ments, or frag­ments of real life sto­ries, which can some­times feel like projects born out of pure whim to ex­ploit the tit­il­lat­ing side of fame with its vices and scan­dals. It is the case of tabloid-like films such as My Week with Mar­i­lyn (2011), Hitch­cock (2012) and Grace of Mona­co (2014), to name only a few re­cent ones.

Emi­ly Atef’s 3 Days in Quiberon has the per­fect ma­te­r­i­al for an in­ter­est­ing char­ac­ter study about al­co­holism and de­pres­sion, as it dra­ma­tizes the three days in 1981 when Ger­man-French ac­tress Romy Schnei­der grant­ed an in­ter­view to Stern mag­a­zine re­porter Michael Jürgs in Quiberon, France. Detox­ing at a spa ho­tel by the sea, Romy (Marie Bäumer) is vis­it­ed by long-time friend Hilde (Bir­git Minich­mayr), who is a re­stor­er from Vi­en­na. When Jürgs (Robert Gwis­dek) and pho­tog­ra­ph­er Robert Lebeck (Char­ly Hüb­n­er) ar­rive, Romy wants to be done with the in­ter­view as quick­ly as pos­si­ble, but soon things change once she be­gins to ex­pose her­self and the woman be­hind the celebri­ty.

Shot in black and white with a high con­trast that gives the film a sim­i­lar as­pect to the fa­mous pho­tos that Lebeck took of Schnei­der — as well as the use of hand­held cam­era and a small­er depth of field to bring us clos­er to the char­ac­ters — 3 Days in Quiberon wants to probe into the mind of the star of Sis­si (1955) and draw an in­ti­mate por­trait of an un­hap­py woman who was paint­ed as naïve and im­pul­sive by the Ger­man press but in­sists she is not the roles she plays. Romy is seen as a source of pub­lic scan­dal, and her 14-year-old son doesn’t want to live with her any­more. She claims she is do­ing this — the re­hab and try­ing to quit the drink­ing and pills — for him.

Jürgs tells her the in­ter­view could be her chance to show the world her side of things, but it be­comes ob­vi­ous that he just wants to ex­ploit the weak­ness of an un­sta­ble woman, get­ting her drunk so that she will open up. De­pict­ed as a cyn­i­cal and slick jour­nal­ist, Jürgs nev­er re­frains from pro­vok­ing her with ma­li­cious ques­tions (“Did you take se­ri­ous­ly his de­pres­sion?” he asks, re­fer­ring to her ex-hus­band who com­mit­ted sui­cide only two years ear­li­er). But while the first in­ter­view is at least com­pelling, the ones that fol­low are near­ly painful to watch. There is a nice crit­i­cism here on this kind of sen­sa­tion­al­ist “jour­nal­ism,” but things be­come rep­e­ti­tious and re­dun­dant, with an ar­ti­fi­cial, one-note dy­nam­ic play­ing over and over.

As the film quick­ly plunges into sil­ly dis­cus­sions whose sole pur­pose is to cre­ate cheap dra­ma (like those be­tween Romy and Hilde), the im­pres­sion that re­mains is how con­fused this woman is, chang­ing her mind at every sec­ond and so ea­ger to trust two ma­nip­u­la­tive men. It is true that Marie Bäumer em­braces many facets of the ac­tress, from ra­di­ant to vul­ner­a­ble and im­pul­sive, and I love the mo­ment when Romy gasps when hear­ing Hilde tell her about a paint­ing of Nar­cis­sus. But it’s only pa­thet­ic that it takes a man to make her re­think her life and con­vince her she should live it to the fullest — even if that would lead her to her grave a year lat­er.

7 Days in Entebbe

On June 27, 1976, an Air France flight en route from Tel Aviv to Paris was hi­jacked in Athens by two Ger­man mem­bers of left-wing group Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Cells and two mem­bers of the PFLP (The Pop­u­lar Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of Pales­tine). They took the plane to En­tebbe, Ugan­da, where they held over a hun­dred hostages (in­clud­ing 83 Is­raeli cit­i­zens) and de­mand­ed the re­lease of 40 Pales­tin­ian pris­on­ers from Is­rael. Af­ter much de­lib­er­a­tion, the Is­raeli gov­ern­ment fi­nal­ly de­cid­ed to send an elite com­man­do unit to raid the place and res­cue the hostages in an op­er­a­tion that al­ready in­spired three films, in­clud­ing an Is­raeli one.

If a new ver­sion could sound like some­thing made to praise the mil­i­tary su­pe­ri­or­i­ty of Is­raelis over ter­ror­ists, this couldn’t be far­ther from the truth. Be­gin­ning with a dis­claimer that makes it clear that anti-Zion­ist rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies may be “ter­ror­ists” for some but con­sid­ered “free­dom fight­ers” by oth­ers, 7 Days in En­tebbe re­con­structs the sev­en days when the hostages were held in En­tebbe with the sup­port of Ugan­dan dic­ta­tor Idi Amin, but the fo­cus is on the char­ac­ters — more specif­i­cal­ly the two Ger­mans, Prime Min­is­ter of Is­rael Yitzhak Ra­bin, Min­is­ter of De­fense Shi­mon Peres, an Is­raeli sol­dier and his girl­friend.

Played by Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike, the Ger­mans are por­trayed as ide­al­ists who want to change the world, and it isn’t hard to sym­pa­thize with their rea­sons to hi­jack a French air­plane, since, as they point out, the French were sup­port­ers of Is­rael and col­lab­o­rat­ed with Mossad. Be­sides, they be­lieve that mil­i­tant Ul­rike Mein­hof did not com­mit sui­cide but was mur­dered in prison, which serves as a com­pelling mo­ti­va­tion for their ac­tions — even if be­liev­ing in a cause means hav­ing to make hard de­ci­sions. You can’t vac­il­late, but soon Brühl’s char­ac­ter be­gins to feel guilty af­ter an en­counter with an old Jew­ish woman, while Pike’s has doubts.

And if Is­raeli sol­dier Zeev (Ben Schnet­zer) be­lieves his re­la­tion­ship with his girl­friend can only work if she joins the army (she prefers danc­ing in­stead), we also fol­low the ef­forts of Prime Min­is­ter Ra­bin (Lior Ashke­nazi), who de­fends diplo­ma­cy (“One day we have to talk and make peace,” he says), and Min­is­ter Peres (Ed­die Marsan), who launch­es a res­cue op­er­a­tion in se­cret de­spite peace ne­go­ti­a­tions be­ing in progress. The politi­cians even dis­cuss Israel’s in­vest­ment in de­fense to en­sure their sur­vival, and more in­ter­est­ing is see­ing how pol­i­tics are also about those in charge tak­ing cred­it for de­ci­sions made by oth­ers.

How­ev­er, one prob­lem I have with the film is the di­a­logue. It is nice to see, for in­stance, the Arabs re­fer to the Is­raelis as “the Jews,” a clever de­tail that in­di­cates re­li­gious mo­tives be­hind their ac­tions. But on the oth­er hand, the di­a­logue can be quite cheesy (“If you think you have no choice, you are a hostage too”), ex­pos­i­to­ry (“We will stop at noth­ing un­til the hostages are all safe”) and even make a rev­o­lu­tion­ary fight­er sound stu­pid (“The Arabs are a so­cial­ist peo­ple.”) Worse than that is how di­rec­tor José Padil­ha, who has al­ready shown some dis­re­gard for lan­guage and ac­cents be­fore, de­cid­ed to have all Is­raelis speak­ing Eng­lish, even among them­selves for no rea­son.

At least the film is com­pen­sat­ed by an ex­plo­sive and fan­tas­ti­cal­ly edit­ed end­ing that com­bines the se­quence of the raid with an in­tense per­for­mance of Echad Mi Yo­dea, chore­o­graphed by Ohad Na­harin. The four piv­otal char­ac­ters — the Ger­mans, Zeev and his girl­friend — are brought to­geth­er for the fi­nal act, and what 7 Days in En­tebbe states is clear: no mat­ter whether you are fight­ing for a cause, de­fend­ing your na­tion or want­i­ng to live your art, you must em­brace it; for those who lack con­vic­tion are only doomed to fall.

U – July 22 (Utøya 22. Juli)

U - July 22

Af­ter the screen­ing I at­tend­ed of U – July 22 at the Berli­nale, di­rec­tor Erik Poppe went up on stage to say a few words about his film and what had brought him to this project. One thing he told us was that, three years since the ter­ror­ist at­tack that took place at the sum­mer camp of Utøya, Nor­way, in 2011, pub­lic in­ter­est had shift­ed to triv­i­al­i­ties (in­clud­ing the con­di­tions and pos­si­ble vi­o­la­tion of the attacker’s hu­man rights in prison). Af­ter a while, peo­ple stopped talk­ing about what hap­pened, and the in­ci­dent start­ed to fade from their minds. Poppe then de­cid­ed to re­mind us of it by putting us in the vic­tims’ shoes, in an ef­fort not only to let us grasp the fear and ter­ror but also to find some sort of clo­sure.

Be­gin­ning with a brief footage of the det­o­na­tion of a bomb that killed eight peo­ple in Oslo on July 22, 2011, the film then moves to the is­land of Utøya, where only a cou­ple of hours lat­er the same at­tack­er — a heav­i­ly-armed right-wing ex­trem­ist — pro­ceed­ed to shoot at 500 teenagers of the youth di­vi­sion of the Nor­we­gian La­bor Par­ty at­tend­ing the camp. The mas­sacre last­ed 72 min­utes, claimed the lives of 69 vic­tims and left 66 wound­ed, in that which be­came the most trau­mat­ic ter­ror­ist at­tack in Nor­way and made ev­i­dent how un­pre­pared the au­thor­i­ties were in han­dling a sit­u­a­tion that no one could ever imag­ine to see in that coun­try.

In the is­land, we meet 19-year-old Kaja (An­drea Berntzen), who is on hol­i­day with her sis­ter Em­i­lie. She looks us straight into the cam­era and says she will tell every­thing “so that [we] can un­der­stand.” We quick­ly re­al­ize she is not ex­act­ly break­ing the fourth wall and ad­dress­ing us but in fact speak­ing to her moth­er on the phone, which is a clever mo­ment that im­me­di­ate­ly pulls us in be­fore the cam­era goes on to fol­low her in a breath­tak­ing sin­gle take that places us right be­side her the en­tire time. Every­thing hap­pens in real time as we meet these char­ac­ters, par­tic­i­pate in their bar­be­cue and watch them com­ment on what just hap­pened in Oslo.

The con­ver­sa­tion is ca­su­al, and there is a Mus­lim guy who fears the at­tack in Oslo will in­crease the ha­tred to­wards Mus­lims in Nor­way. The cam­era re­mains close enough to them like a char­ac­ter it­self, al­ways care­ful not to ap­pear re­flect­ed on any sur­faces. Some de­tails make every­thing feel even more re­al­is­tic, like a guy who shows up to ask some­one about a deck of cards. Once the shoot­ings be­gin, it is al­most as if we are there, as the cam­era is kept at the ac­tors’ height, bend­ing, crawl­ing, run­ning down hills, or lean­ing against walls, which in­creas­es the ten­sion and keeps us in the dark just like all of those peo­ple.

And this is not the kind of sit­u­a­tion you can sim­ply es­cape or run away from. Shots are com­ing from every­where and in every di­rec­tion. The only thing you can do is hide and wait — for the po­lice or any so­lu­tion to show up. Be­ing cor­nered is the op­po­site of ac­tion, but we are dri­ven by the pan­ic and ter­ror thanks to the ac­tors too (and Berntzen is ex­cel­lent). Even so, this is the kind of film that al­ways needs to of­fer more to sus­tain the ten­sion, and what hap­pens is that some­times it los­es mo­men­tum, lin­ger­ing for too long on sit­u­a­tions that could have been more ef­fec­tive if made short­er (like when Kaja tries to help a girl who just got shot).

In fact, U – July 22 takes an enor­mous time be­fore show­ing us the first dead per­son, which ends up di­lut­ing the ur­gency of what we see — even if it bal­ances that with an ef­fec­tive sound de­sign, vi­su­al ef­fects that shock us as we watch a girl turn pale when she dies, and mo­ments wor­thy of Sergei Dvort­sevoy that are cap­tured by pure chance when least ex­pect­ed, like an in­dif­fer­ent mos­qui­to on someone’s skin. The film also suf­fers from ar­ti­fi­cial con­ver­sa­tions (and singing) that elim­i­nate the in­tend­ed re­al­ism, but in the end it is still a dev­as­tat­ing drama­ti­za­tion that does re­mind us that some­thing this hor­ri­ble can hap­pen to any­one.

Hard Paint (Tinta Bruta)

Hard Paint

Brazil is an in­cred­i­bly ho­mo­pho­bic coun­try. Ac­cord­ing to LGBT as­so­ci­a­tion Grupo Gay da Bahia, at least 445 LGBT Brazil­ians died vic­tims of ho­mo­pho­bia in 2017, an in­crease of 30% com­pared to 2016. This would rough­ly mean that every 19 hours, an LGBT is mur­dered or com­mits sui­cide be­cause of LGBT-pho­bia, mak­ing it the coun­try where most LGBTs are mur­dered in the world ac­cord­ing to in­ter­na­tion­al hu­man rights agen­cies — yes, more than in the 13 coun­tries of the Mid­dle East and Africa where death penal­ty against LGBTs is a re­al­i­ty.

Also grotesque is how most of those hate crimes are car­ried out with ut­most cru­el­ty, with about half of the vic­tims mur­dered by strangers, one-night-standers or clients if the vic­tim is a sex work­er. The im­pli­ca­tions are quite dis­turb­ing, as they in­di­cate a so­ci­ety in which men can be so ashamed and dis­gust­ed of feel­ing any sort of at­trac­tion to­wards an­oth­er men that they would take it out on any­one who re­mind­ed them of what they hide in­side. It is not just bul­ly­ing against mi­nori­ties but a lot of self-hate in a con­ser­v­a­tive place that en­cour­ages you to cas­trate your­self.

Writ­ten and di­rect­ed by Fil­ipe Matzem­bach­er and Mar­cio Re­olon (Seashore), Hard Paint doesn’t want to ex­am­ine what is be­hind ho­mo­pho­bia as much as its con­se­quences for a gay young man who feels lost in a place like Por­to Ale­gre — a city de­pict­ed as a dark pur­ga­to­ry that every­one even­tu­al­ly leaves. Those who stay are life­less shad­ows, or sil­hou­ettes on their win­dows at night. The pro­tag­o­nist is Pe­dro (Shico Menegat), who earns a liv­ing by per­form­ing in front of his we­b­cam, cov­ered with neon paint un­der an ul­tra­vi­o­let light, for a thou­sand face­less strangers who hide be­hind their com­fort­able anonymi­ty and col­or­ful nick­names in chat rooms.

Af­ter a ho­mo­pho­bic in­ci­dent, Pe­dro is fac­ing se­ri­ous crim­i­nal charges and try­ing to deal with the fact that his sis­ter Luiza (Gue­ga Peixo­to) is mov­ing away. And in one oc­ca­sion while per­form­ing, Pe­dro is asked out on a date with an anony­mous mar­ried man who would like to “take care of him.” It is the kind of propo­si­tion that should make any gay man cau­tious in Brazil, es­pe­cial­ly some­one as shy as Pe­dro, who is used to be­ing judged and bul­lied. When­ev­er he tries to go out on his own for only five min­utes, it be­comes a tor­tur­ous eter­ni­ty. Every­one seems to look and judge him, with ca­coph­o­nous sounds fol­low­ing his dis­com­fort.

Pe­dro also dis­cov­ers he has a we­b­cam im­i­ta­tor and agrees to go on a date with him, and the meet­ing with this guy, Leo (Bruno Fer­nan­des), has sur­pris­ing con­se­quences for both. The most im­pres­sive is see­ing Pe­dro (who has been pushed his whole life into be­com­ing an­ti­so­cial by an es­sen­tial­ly ho­mo­pho­bic en­vi­ron­ment) open up to this new per­son about how he uses his paint as some sort of mask — a mask be­hind which he can be free to dance and lit­er­al­ly shine in the dark. Both Menegat and Fer­nan­des are fan­tas­tic, lat­er shar­ing a beau­ti­ful love scene full of af­fec­tion and in­ten­si­ty.

Leo, by the way, gets to say the most touch­ing line (“I only want­ed to be there that night to wipe the blood off his face”), and Hard Paint even dis­cuss­es how Brazil’s con­ser­vatism al­lows a judge to reach a ver­dict based on fam­i­ly val­ues. Be­sides, the film can be quite tense as well, like with a sex date scene in­volv­ing a stranger or when Pe­dro hes­i­tates to make a dev­as­tat­ing de­ci­sion. But in the mid­dle of all this dark­ness, it ends with a strik­ing (and spec­tac­u­lar) last scene that per­haps ar­gues we don’t need masks to be what­ev­er we are or want to be.

Feb­ru­ary 23, 2018

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