68th Berlin International Film Festival — Day 6
8) 3 Days in Quiberon, or 3 Tage in Quiberon (Germany/Austria/France, 2018)
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 possibility of looking through their masks to see 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, for instance, of tabloid-like films such as My Week with Marilyn (2011), Hitchcock (2012) and Grace of Monaco (2014), to name a few more recent ones.
3 Days in Quiberon, which dramatizes the three days when Romy Schneider granted “Stern” magazine reporter Michael Jürgs an interview in Quiberon in 1981, has the perfect material for an interesting character study about alcoholism and depression. Detoxing in 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 person 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 lower 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 and draw an intimate portrait of an unhappy woman who was painted as naïve and impulsive by the German press but insists that 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 that 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 before). 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 real fast, with an artificial, one-note dynamic playing over and over.
As the film quickly plunges into silly discussions whose sole function 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 Bäumer embraces many facets of the actress, from radiant to vulnerable to impulsive, and I love the moment when Romy gasps hearing Hilde tell her about a painting of Narcissus. But it is pathetic that it takes a man to make her rethink her life and convince her that she should live it to the fullest – even if that would only lead her to her grave a year later.
9) 7 Days in Entebbe (USA/UK, 2018)
On June 27, 1976, an Air France flight en route from Tel Aviv to Paris was hijacked in Athens by two members of the PFLP (The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) and two German members of left-wing group Revolutionary Cells. 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 decided to finally send an elite commando unit to raid the place and rescue the hostages in an operation that has 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, the Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin, his 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 the 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 cannot vacillate, but soon Brühl’s character begins to feel guilty after an encounter with an old Jewish woman while Pike also has doubts.
And if Israeli soldier Zeev (Ben Schnetzer) believes that 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 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 suggests religious motives behind their actions. 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”) or even make a revolutionary fighter sound stupid (“The Arabs are a socialist people.”) Worse than that is how director José Padilha, who has shown before some disregard for language and accents, decided to simply 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 says is quite 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.
10) U – July 22, or Utøya 22. Juli (Norway, 2018)
After the screening that 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 driven 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 it started to fade from their minds. Poppe then decided to remind us of it by creating something that would make us feel what the victims felt, in an effort to not only let us grasp the fear and terror but also 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 – started shooting at 500 teenagers of the youth division of the Norwegian Labour 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 the 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 that she is not exactly breaking the fourth wall and addressing us but in fact speaking to her mother on her phone, which is a clever moment that immediately pulls us in before the camera proceeds to follow her in a breathtaking single take that places us right next to 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 as though it is 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 as if we are actually 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 a horrible situation you can simply escape or run away from. Shots are coming from everywhere and in every direction; the only thing left to do is hide and wait – for the police or any solution to appear. 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 needs to offer always 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 still in the end this is a devastating dramatization that does remind us that something this horrible can happen to anyone.
11) Hard Paint, or Tinta Bruta (Brazil, 2018)
Brazil is a very homophobic country. According to LGBT association Grupo Gay da Bahia, there were at least 445 LGBT Brazilians who died victims of homophobia in 2017, an increase of 30% compared to 2016. This roughly means that every 19 hours, an LGBT is murdered or commits suicide in Brazil because of LGBTphobia, making it the country in which 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 that have death penalty against LGBTs.
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 toward another men that they would take it out on anyone who reminded them of what they hide inside. It is not just mere bullying against minorities the source of this sickening, twisted hate, but actually 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 on 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 like 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 from the city. 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 shy like 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 that 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 that shut him away from the world) open up to this new person about how he uses his paint as some kind of mask – a mask behind which he can be free to dance and literally shine in the dark. Both Menegat and Fernandes are fantastic, sharing later 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 also discusses how Brazil’s conservatism allows a judge to reach a verdict based on family values. The film is quite tense as well, like in a scene of a sex date with 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 argues perhaps that we don’t need any masks to be whatever we are or want to be.
February 23, 2018