‘Joaquim’: Film Review | Berlin 2017

Director Marcelo Gomes dramatizes the personal and political struggles of a Brazilian folk hero in his “tropical Western,” a Berlin competition contender.read more


Director Marcelo Gomes dramatizes the personal and political struggles of a Brazilian folk hero in his "tropical Western," a Berlin competition contender.

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‘Return to Montauk’ Review: Nina Hoss Excels Opposite Stellan Skarsgård In Volker Schlöndorff’s Chatty Romance — Berlinale 2017

There’s nothing groundbreaking about the German director’s two-hander about a novelist and the object of his affection, but the actors know what to do with it.

Volker Schlöndorff’s “Return to Montauk” speaks from both sides of its mouth telling two very different tales. Hear it one way, and you’ll get a story of time and regret, an august Euro-drama that asks if love lost can ever be found anew. But come a bit closer, listen past the din, and you’ll hear something entirely different. This time the film is not asking any questions, but flat out saying: Self-delusion is a powerful weapon, and its greatest victims are often those who dare to wield it.

The film’s opening scene offers a helpful key to unlock what then follows. In one long, unbroken take, a man stares right into the camera and tells a story. He speaks of philosophy and of his father, and says that on the older man’s deathbed, he told his son that there are two kinds of regret – regret for the actions we took and regret for the actions we did not. Who is this man? Why is he saying this? More importantly, where is he saying it? Schlöndorff keeps us in the dark for several minutes until he cuts to the reverse shot. We’re in a bookstore, full of well-dressed New Yorkers, and they all begin to applaud.

The man is Max Zorn (Stellan Skarsgård), a Berlin based novelist in New York for a one-week book tour. Even though Max’s wife Clara (Susanne Wolff) has been living in the city for some time, Max has hit the Big Apple with another woman on his mind – his great love, the one that got away, Rebecca Epstein (Nina Hoss). Or did she? As that opening shot makes clear, Max is able to recite fiction without ever having to look down at the page.

Whatever the case may be, he goes for Rebecca – remember what he said about regret, don’t you? Though she continually rebuffs him when he calls her at work, when he visits her at work, when he drunkenly turns up at her apartment one night, she does eventually relent, inviting Max to spend the day with her in Montauk, site of some of their romantic escapes 17 years prior. If it sounds rather creepy as described, the film intentionally downplays it, delivering its middle act with a Linklater-like romanticism as the two former lovers walk along the Long Island coast ruminating about their past, present and future.

It helps that she’s Nina Hoss. The “Phoenix” star once again proves that she’s one of modern cinema’s most beguiling presences, and her already sharp features are arched into 90-degree angles here that cut the arch-sophisticate Skarsgård down to adolescent size.  It’s tempting to read such sequences as the two ex-partners returning to the emotional states of their time together, but I don’t think the twenty-year age difference between the two actors is some casting oversight. The fact that their great affair is explicitly situated 17 years in the past creates real dissonance between Max’s youthful recollections and the fact that he would have already been older than Rebecca is now.

So does the film’s dialogue. The script, from Schlöndorff and Irish man of letters (and “Brooklyn” novelist) Colm Tóibín, gives its two leads mountains of text to recite. Every time writer Max and attorney Rebecca open their mouths, torrents of words pour out. (At one point she admits, “I’m a lawyer – I talk for a living.”) In stark contrast to the romantic reverie, the former couple never talk to one another – they talk at one another, they talk passed one another, a reminder that this epic love story might have always been a lot more flimsy than Max would have you believe.

There are hard limits to this approach. For whatever intellectualized points “Return to Montauk” scores, for the most part, it scores them against itself. Despite the film’s larger aim to subvert the wistful romance genre, it ends up assuming so many of the genre’s characteristics that it just comes off looking like a particularly banal example of one. No matter what the intent, there’s only so much impenetrable speechifying delivered in thick continental accents one film can handle before it comes off as self-serious Euro-pudding.

The film doesn’t help itself on that front by introducing a go-nowhere subplot with Jacques Audiard/Chantal Akerman stalwart Niels Arestup as a French speaking art aficionado, the effect of which only draws screen time from the charismatic Wolff. As the lead’s neglected wife, Wolff cuts a fascinating if frustrating figure, and you wish the film would spend a bit more time teasing out who she is, how she lives, and what she sees in a bore like Max.

Grade: B-

“Return to Montauk” premiered at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

‘On the Beach at Night Alone’ (‘Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja’): Film Review | Berlin 2017


South Korean director Hong Sang-soo returns to his master theme of what love means in men and women’s lives, starring Kim Min-hee as an actress who has an affair with a film director.

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South Korean director Hong Sang-soo returns to his master theme of what love means in men and women’s lives, starring Kim Min-hee as an actress who has an affair with a film director.

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‘Freak Show’ Review: Trudie Styler’s Directorial Debut Isn’t Nearly As Fabulous As Its Trans-Visionary Hero

Despite Alex Lawther’s spirited turn as a “gender obliviating” high schooler, this adaptation of James St. James’ YA novel feels forced.

There’s no denying that Billy Bloom is the most flamboyantly fabulous character in the history of high school movies — it’s not even close. A “trans-visionary gender obliviator” who’s been forcibly relocated from the liberal enclave of Darien, CT (“hometown of Chloë Sevigny!”) to an anonymous red state somewhere in flyover country, Billy struts into the heartland like Boy George showing up for a round of golf at Mar-a-Lago.

In fact, he even dresses like Boy George on the first day of class, riling up the cartoonishly conservative student body in the process. The local teens, insufferable archetypes who range from a Trump-quoting mean girl to an All-American football star with half a brain and a heart of gold, have no idea what to make of the colorful new kid, and they don’t have the slightest prayer of keeping up with his restless creativity or the fearlessness with which he puts it on display. Alas, that’s doubly true of Trudie Styler, the actress and producer making her directorial debut with a film that required far more finesse than she’s able to muster for her first time behind the camera.

Erratically adapted from James St. James’ 2007 young adult novel of the same name, “Freak Show” is a hot mess with good intentions. It opens with a cloying voiceover in which our hot-blooded hero — played to sassy, sensitive, self-possessed perfection by British actor Alex Lawther — vaguely explains why he’s being forced to leave his beloved mother (Bette Midler) and move in with his somewhat bigoted father (Larry Pine), and promises that he’ll abide by the English class adage that it’s better to show than to tell. It takes him about five minutes to break that promise in the clumsiest fashion possible, and he doesn’t let up until the bitter end.

“Freak Show”

Billy, who shows up to school in a more phenomenally provocative Colleen Atwood outfit every day, is so busy telling us about his new peers that he never bothers to hear any of them — AnnaSophia Robb plays a chatty gossip who welcomes him to her world with open arms, but Billy is so burdened the cross he bears that he literally doesn’t bother to learn her name. Of course, his cross is a terribly real burden. On a good day, most of the kids throw things at him or call him all the usual names. On a bad day, three degenerates beat him into a coma. And when Billy wakes up, he has to deal with Lynette (a miscast Abigail Breslin), the neo-con nightmare who thinks that becoming prom queen might be enough to make America great again. Thank God for Flip Kelly (a wildly miscast Ian Nelson), the handsome jock who eventually convinces Billy to campaign against Lynette.

Flip, it turns out, has daddy issues of his own — not that the movie shows the slightest interest in hearing about them. “Freak Show” skitters from one schematic and emotionally instructive beat to the next, seldom sitting still long enough to allow for even its most sparkling moments to cohere into actual scenes, or for any of the supporting cast to blossom into believable people. Billy is a rich character in every sense of the word (his dad is loaded to the hilt, a prominent detail that has zero effect on the story), but while it should be great to see someone so young live so loudly, the volume soon grows deafening.

READ MORE: The 2017 IndieWire Berlinale Bible: Every Review, Interview, And News Story From The Fest

Working from a script by Patrick J. Clifton and Beth Rigazio, whose writing lacks the wit or insight necessary to justify its shapelessness, Styler’s film often doesn’t share its protagonist’s gift for tuning all of that noise into music. There are moments when everything syncs up, such as Billy’s book report on “The Great Gatsby” which turns into a frenzied one-man show about the suffering of Zelda Fitzgerald. For the most part, however, it just plows ahead, Lawther’s impassioned and beautifully non-binary performance exposing the chintziness of everyone around him. There isn’t an actress alive who could have spared Billy’s alcoholic mother from feeling like a parody of a bad parent, and Midler is totally lost at sea in an awkward mid-movie cameo that Styler shoots with the broadness of a sitcom. Pine is less phony in the role of Billy’s father, but his character is even more simplistic.

In a bad movie that may nevertheless have tremendous, even life-saving value for kids who struggle to be accepted for who they are, however glamorous that might be, Mr. Boom’s sudden, inevitable acceptance of his son is so hollow and unearned that it could feel like a slap in the face for some of the very same people it’s intended to reassure. It’s no small detail that “Freak Show” is set in a different and very relatable environment, but when it premieres at a festival that’s also screening the nuanced and blisteringly beautiful “Call Me By Your Name,” it’s that much harder to excuse such a forced and ingratiating attempt at getting people to see the world for all of its fabulousness.

Grade: C-

“Freak Show” premiered in the Generation 14Plus section of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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‘The Midwife’ Review: Catherine Deneuve Gives Her Best Role in Years in Minor-Key Crowdpleaser — Berlinale 2017

The French actress delivers in Martin Provost’s satisfying Parisian tale.

As Goldie Hawn once put it, Hollywood has only three roles for women: Ingénue, District Attorney and “Driving Miss Daisy”. The fact of the matter is, too many strong talents see the pool of good parts unfairly dry up once they reach middle age, and short of radically reshaping the American film industry (I’m for that, too!), might I suggest this temporary stop-gap – might they consider learning French?

While it doesn’t reach the heady highs of last year’s festival hit “Things To Come,” Martin Provost’s “The Midwife” once again proves that French filmmakers know how to treat actresses of a certain age. Offering plum roles to Catherines Frot and Catherine Deneuve, “The Midwife” is a minor-key crowd pleaser about friendship, forgiveness and rolling with the punches.

Single mother Claire (Catherine Frot) lives a lonely, vampiric existence in the suburbs of Paris.  She sleeps days and works nights, ushering in a new life as the chief midwife at a local maternity clinic. But her life is on the cusp of big change. Her university student son (“My Golden Days” star Quentin Dolmaire) has for all intents and purposes moved out, and she’s about to lose her job, her clinic unable to compete with the nearby mega-hospital hoovering up all the expectant mothers.  If less well-known internationally, Frot is a beloved comic actress in her native Gaul (she won the César last year for the box office hit “Marguerite,” the French take on the Florence Foster Jenkins tale) and this more somber role allows her to ably flex some dramatic muscles.

On the other hand, the real revelation here needs no introduction. Deneuve is Béatrice, a lifelong kept-woman and good time gal who realizes, after a terminal cancer diagnosis, that she doesn’t have a lot to show after years of hard living. So she sets out to connect with her closest familial connection – the daughter of a boyfriend from 30 years before, Claire. As the reigning grande dame of French cinema, Deneuve could easily rest on her laurels, only taking roles that befit and reinforce her stature. Which makes her vulnerable turn here all the more special. Playing a heart-on-her-sleeve, still-crazy-after-all-these-years free spirit, Deneuve delivers her best performance in recent memory.

To be fair, the actresses outshine the film. Provost paints a conventional how-middle-age-woman-got-her-groove-back picture, and does so with broad strokes. The plot holds few surprises and hits those preordained story beats with well-timed efficiency. You know the hard-charging Béatrice is going to loosen up the tightly-wound Claire, who doesn’t drink or eat meat or do anything fun, at least, not until halfway through the second act. Provost lets you know the exact moment the fuddy-duddy Claire decides to let down her hair by having the actress walk into the bathroom… and let down her hair.

What the film lacks in narrative and visual subtlety it more than makes up for in rich human interaction. Claire has good reason to be wary of her father’s former mistress – when she left him, he was so despondent he took his own life. And so in their early interactions, the two actresses circle each other with guarded unease, Claire unsure why this figure from her past has returned, while Béatrice unsure how Claire will react now that she has.

The two actresses make terrific foils and even better scene partners, and their many scenes together – as Claire warms to her former pseudo-stepmom, eventually inviting her to live in her apartment – simmer with notes of resentment, forgiveness, anger, tenderness, joy and most startlingly, hints of sexuality.

In one perfectly executed moment late in the film, the women set up a slideshow of photos of Claire’s father – the man who connected them – when her son walks in the room. Looking at the photo of her former beau and then to his young grandson, Béatrice marvels at their resemblance, so she walks right up to the kid and kisses him on the lips.  The film doesn’t lean for laughs or pathos, but allows the moment to sit, funny and sad and moving all at the same time. Just like life, really.

Grade: B

“The Midwife” premiered at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution. 

‘Return to Montauk’: Film Review | Berlin 2017

Stellan Skarsgard stars as a European writer on a New York book tour stop, with Nina Hoss as the ghost of his romantic past in Volker Schlondorff’s wintry love story ‘Return to Montauk,’read more


Stellan Skarsgard stars as a European writer on a New York book tour stop, with Nina Hoss as the ghost of his romantic past in Volker Schlondorff's wintry love story 'Return to Montauk,'

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‘Colo’: Film Review | Berlin 2017

A Portuguese family buckle under the weight of economic and emotional depression in writer-director Teresa Villaverde’s Berlin competition contender ‘Colo’,read more


A Portuguese family buckle under the weight of economic and emotional depression in writer-director Teresa Villaverde's Berlin competition contender 'Colo',

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‘From the Balcony’ (‘Fra balkongen’): Film Review | Berlin 2017

Norwegian actor-director Ole Giaever (‘Out of Nature’) returns with ‘From the Balcony,’ another ruminative, voiceover-heavy film in which he questions his place in the world. read more


Norwegian actor-director Ole Giaever ('Out of Nature') returns with 'From the Balcony,' another ruminative, voiceover-heavy film in which he questions his place in the world.

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‘Soldier’ (‘Soldado’): Film Review | Berlin 2017

Prize-winning Argentinian director Manuel Abramovich’s latest documentary ‘Soldier’ premiered in the youth-oriented section of the German giant.read more


Prize-winning Argentinian director Manuel Abramovich's latest documentary 'Soldier' premiered in the youth-oriented section of the German giant.

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‘Hostages’ (‘Mdzevlebi’): Film Review | Berlin 2017

An infamous skyjacking incident inspired Georgian director Rezo Gigineishvili’s retro thriller ‘Hostages’, a Berlinale world premiere.read more


An infamous skyjacking incident inspired Georgian director Rezo Gigineishvili's retro thriller 'Hostages', a Berlinale world premiere.

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‘The Misandrists’: Film Review | Berlin 2017

The Female Liberation Army plots a new world order without men, using lesbian porn to spread the word in ‘The Misandrists,’ Bruce LaBruce’s campy lampoon of radical politics.read more


The Female Liberation Army plots a new world order without men, using lesbian porn to spread the word in 'The Misandrists,' Bruce LaBruce's campy lampoon of radical politics.

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‘Viceroy’s House’ Review: India’s History With the British Gets a Bland Makeover — Berlinale 2017

This historical epic about the year the British left India for good leaves much to be desired.

To its credit, “Viceroy’s House” does tell a gripping story about the Partition of India and the mass displacement that then followed. Full of harrowing details and unbelievable twists, the tale is then brought to a powerfully emotional close with the reveal that it is the story of director Gurinder Chadha’s own family.

To the film’s detriment, it only does so in its final 30 seconds, as a series of titles over black just before the credits roll. Unfortunately, there is nothing a fraction as engaging in the preceding 106 minutes.

“Viceroy’s House” gives away its intentions right there in the title. The film depicts those momentous events of 1947 – the year the British left India for good, though not before carving out chunks of India’s east and west to create the Dominion of Pakistan – from the limited vantage point of the Viceroy’s New Delhi residence, now known as the Rashtrapati Bhavan. Following the palace’s staff as well as the various diplomats and heads of state, the film takes a page from a certain Broadway hit, putting you right in The Room Where It Happens, and then locking the door behind you.

With an upstairs/downstairs focus and a cloistered, if opulent, setting, those “Downton Abbey” comparisons were never far behind, and the film confronts them head-on by casting the Earl of Grantham himself, Hugh Bonneville, as Lord Mountbatten. The story opens as he arrives in Delhi, wife Edwina (Gillian Anderson) in tow, to assume his post as Britain’s last Viceroy to India, there to oversee the peaceful transfer of power. The young Hindu Jeet (Manish Dayal) arrives at the same time, and while training as valet he ends up falling in love with Aalia (Huma Qureshi), a Muslim. We then follow these two concurrent narratives, as Jeet and Aalia begin their courtship while Mountbatten and his cohorts doom it, deciding to divide the two countries along religious lines.

This material could make for a powerful work, but “Viceroy’s House” is certainly not it. The film’s chief offense is its bland inoffensiveness. While Chadha clearly has a strong viewpoint with regards to this history, she spends so much of the film choosing to downplay it, letting many of the high-wire negotiations play out in a series of broadly-lit, platitude rich sequences that do nothing to indicate the level of world-altering statecraft at play. Again, one could make a caustic argument that the fate of the many is decided by a well-heeled, oblivious few, but the film never actually strains itself to do so, reveling in the protocols and surroundings with the same kind of aristocrat-awe that has informed recent soaps like “The Crown”  (and yes, “Downton Abbey”) and the same respectable wanness that marked series like “Masterpiece Theatre” long before that.

Chadha parades out all the requisite historical players — here comes Gandhi! Look, it’s Jinnah! — with actors who bear remarkable likenesses to the real-life figures but in no way act like flesh and blood people.  This stately docudrama is almost entirely bereft of actual drama, so when Nehru pops in to discuss his vision of a free India, it all comes off like particularly well-staged historical pageant, an animatronic test run for Disney’s Hall of Presidents, Delhi edition.

Jeet, Aalia and the palace staff fare little better, saddled as they are with equally flimsy characterizations and dialogue that only exists to bluntly telegraph exactly what the filmmakers want any scene to impart. When the negotiations are going well, Jeet turns to a colleague and earnestly intones, “This is what our fathers dreamed of.” When the partition promises to split up families and friends, he indignantly stammers, “You are as Indian as we are!”

When the film relaxes a bit, when it doesn’t try the carry the mantle of Weighty History or Tragic Romance, it considerably improves. Anderson is reliably effective as the stuffy aristocrat who takes an active interest in the local culture, and it’s nice to see the late Om Puri offer one of his final performances as Aalia’s father. As the exception that proves the rule, British national-treasure Michael Gambon is absolutely aces as Lord Ismay, the Westminster wheeler-dealer and behind-the-scenes powerbroker.

His few scenes crackle because unlike other similar sequences, his are rooted in character motivation and reversals related to plot. In short, they work because the deal with the stakes put forward by the story, and don’t seek to give a tick-tock walk through history. The fundamental problem with that latter approach is quite simple. A here’s-how-it-went-down docudrama can never going to convey subtlety and nuance as could the two non-fiction books from which “Viceroy’s House” is based. While at the same time, a Room Where It Happens narrative is never going to have the same impact as actually being in the room. At least there, there are cocktails.

Grade: C-

“Viceroy’s House” premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution.

‘The Other Side Of Hope’ Review: Aki Kaurismäki Returns With Another Deadpan Delight — Berlinale 2017

Following “Le Havre,” the second chapter of Kaurismäki’s unofficial port trilogy finds the doyen of drollness at the height of his powers.

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Like Roger Federer’s forehand or Jiro Ono’s sushi, Aki Kaurismäki’s deadpan is one of those beautiful things that’s been refined beyond all reason over years of intense practice, eventually approaching a perfection that makes it easy to predict but impossible to deny.

Consider one early bit of business in the Finnish filmmaker’s latest fable, a wordless sequence in which a middle-aged man named Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen) leaves his wife (Kaija Pakarinen). It’s the dead of night. The man is wearing a suit and looking at his reflection in the bedroom mirror; his wife is pouring herself a drink at the tiny table in the corner of their kitchen. A fat cactus sits next to her booze. Wikström saunters over, places his wedding band and apartment keys on the table, and walks out the door. His wife lights another cigarette, picks up the ring, and stubs it into the ashtray. Packed into a small handful of unmoving shots and told without an ounce of outside context, it’s a micro-masterpiece of comic timing, and a perfect example of why Kaurismäki is unquestionably the cinema’s reigning doyen of drollness.

Viewers familiar with his work, however, will know to expect that the scene isn’t as bitter as it seems — that no one in these profoundly sweet films stays mad at each other for very long, or is ever left to go it alone. “The Other Side of Hope,” which finds the artist at the height of his powers (if not quite the peak of his ambition), proves that point with charm to spare.

In one particularly telling moment, after Wikström has sold his clothing business and bought a very shitty restaurant, he experiences a very telling exchange with the hilariously shabby doorman (Ilkka Koivula) that he’s inherited from the previous owner. The employee, a zombified beanpole who looks like Iggy Pop’s burnout younger brother, flatly explains his unfortunate lot in life, to which his new boss replies: “At least you know your place.”

In the films of Aki Kaurismäki, to know one’s place is the greatest happiness of all. And those who don’t — those who have been exiled from their place in the world, or seen it taken from them — have to find a new one before their story can end. And that isn’t something they can do on their own.

“The Other Side of Hope”

Winsome, sweet, and often very funny, “The Other Side of Hope” is more of the same from Kaurismäki, and thank God for that. The second chapter of his unofficial trilogy about port cities, this delightful story about the power of kindness unfolds like a slightly more somber extension of 2011’s “Le Havre,” following new characters down familiar roads. Once again, Kaurismäki begins with a refugee, telling another two-sided seriocomic adventure that twines together an aging local with a much younger refugee. This time, that refugee is a twentysomething Syrian man named Khaled (terrific newcomer Sherwan Haji), who escapes from Aleppo after burying most of his family and sneaks into Finland by stowing away in the cargo hold of a coal freighter. Seeking asylum, he tells the immigrations officer that he’s desperately looking for his sister, and that his own life doesn’t matter. The government agrees, determining that he’s not under sufficient danger in his home country. Khaled disagrees, and slips out of the holding facility with a little help from a friend.

READ MORE: 8 Must-See Movies At The 2017 Berlin Film Festival

Wikström, meanwhile, is something of a refugee from his own life, even if the circumstances of his escape are considerably less dire (and his fortunes, if his luck at the poker table is any indication, are much brighter). He and Khaled’s separate threads  eventually tie into a knot, of course, though it takes much longer than you might expect, and the characters mesh so well that it’s tempting to wish they had crossed paths earlier.

But the path there is a compelling one, full of sly humor and stretched across 35mm compositions that look like the coldest paintings Edward Hopper never made. All the while, Kaurismäki crafts another of his magical Scandinavian idylls, turning this remote stretch of Finland into a light fairy tale land where the constant threat of danger is mitigated by the overwhelming sense of community.

Part Roy Andersson and part Frank Capra, “The Other Side of Hope” lacks the narrative pull of “Le Havre,” as well as the fullness of its emotional bouquet, but it has a cute dog and — in its own wry way — it deepens the director’s recognition of how immigrants and refugees are victimized by their invisibility. “No one wants to see us,” a fellow refugee says to Khaled. “We just cause problems.”

But, as the film argues so warmly, all it takes is for one person to open their eyes, and when Wikström spares a thought for Khaled a world of difference disappears between them. “The Other Side of Hope” may present itself as an explicitly political film, but it resists the idea that decency should be determined by world events, or that where someone comes from should have any bearing on where they feel at home (an idea that’s manifest through an amusing and uncharacteristically broad setpiece in which Wikström reconfigures his restaurant into a very ill-prepared sushi joint).

Even at its most pointed, Kaurismäki’s current trilogy always boils down to kindness (and old men playing rock songs in super depressing bars). His films feel like fairy tales in order to remind you that they probably shouldn’t — in order to illustrate that real life is only one charitable act removed. But if they have to be fairy tales, at least they leave us with a simple moral: Hope is something we all need to have, but can only get from each other.

Grade: A-

“The Other Side Of Hope” premiered in Competition at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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‘The Other Side of Hope’ (‘Toivon tuolla puolen’): Film Review | Berlin 2017

Finnish master Aki Kaurismaki returns with his first feature in six years, ‘The Other Side of Hope,’ a bittersweet comedy-drama about the unlikely friendship between a Syrian refugee and a low-rent Helsinki restaurateur.read more


Finnish master Aki Kaurismaki returns with his first feature in six years, 'The Other Side of Hope,' a bittersweet comedy-drama about the unlikely friendship between a Syrian refugee and a low-rent Helsinki restaurateur.

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Watch: ‘The Lost City of Z’ Filmmaker James Gray and Cast Hit Berlinale for Live Press Conference

The film bowed at the New York Film Festival late last year and will be released by Amazon later this year.

Starting today at 5:50AM ET/2:50AM PT, you can watch a live stream of the Berlinale press conference featuring the cast and crew of “The Other Side of Hope.” Filmmaker James Gray is expected to attend the conference, as well as various cast members.

The film bowed at the New York Film Festival late last year and will be released by Amazon later this year.

READ MORE: Paul Verhoeven to Serve as Berlin Film Festival Jury President

Per the film’s official synopsis, “Private Percy Fawcett’s humble background means that his chances of promotion in 1920s England are pretty slim. Seconded to a Royal Society land surveying expedition to Bolivia, he finds himself fascinated with the jungle – in spite of the strenuous conditions. He agrees to a further expedition even though an absence of several years will distance him from his wife and mean that his children will barely know him. In the Amazonian rainforest he finds vestiges of lost civilisations. He becomes convinced of the existence of a sunken metropolis, the mysterious city of Z. But his claims are laughed off by the scientific establishment. Driven by the desire to prove his theory, Fawcett sets out on one last fateful journey with his now adult son.”

The Berlinale adds, “The dramatic events that occurred in the Brazilian jungle at the time have given rise to numerous speculations that have endured to the present day. Based on David Grann’s non-fiction book, James Gray’s dramatic adventure story is also an accomplished portrait of social conventions in a time of great scientific and social upheaval.”

You can find the full list of live stream options for the run of the festival right here, and check out the live stream for today’s press conference below.

The Berlin International Film Festival runs from January 9 – 19, 2017 in Berlin, Germany.

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Watch: Aki Kaurismäki Brings His ‘The Other Side of Hope’ to Live Berlinale Press Conference

The filmmaker’s latest feature is debuting in competition at the festival.

Starting today at 5:00AM ET/2:00AM PT, you can watch a live stream of the Berlinale press conference featuring the cast and crew of “The Other Side of Hope.” Filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki is expected to attend the conference, as well as various cast members.

The filmmaker’s latest feature is debuting in competition at the festival.

READ MORE: Paul Verhoeven to Serve as Berlin Film Festival Jury President

Per the film’s official synopsis, “This film tells two stories that converge after forty minutes. The first of these features Khaled, a Syrian refugee. A stowaway on a coal freighter, he ends up in Helsinki where he applies for asylum without much hope of success. Wikström, the second main character, is a travelling salesman peddling ties and men’s shirts. Turning his back on his trade, he instead decides to put his poker face to good use at a gambling table and subsequently buys himself a restaurant in the remotest corner of Helsinki. When the authorities turn down Khaled’s application, he decides to remain in the country illegally, like so many other people who share his fate. Going underground in the Finnish capital, he lives on the streets and encounters all kinds of racism, but also some cool rock ’n’ rollers and genuine friendship. One day Wikström discovers Khaled sleeping in the dark backyard behind his restaurant. He provides him with a bed and a job. For a while, these two band together with the restaurant’s waitress, the chef and his dog to form a utopian union – one of Aki Kaurismäki’s typical communities bound together by fate which demonstrates that the world could and should be a better place.”

You can find the full list of live stream options for the run of the festival right here, and check out the live stream for today’s press conference below.

The Berlin International Film Festival runs from January 9 – 19, 2017 in Berlin, Germany.

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‘Freak Show’: Film Review | Berlin 2017

Alex Lawther stars as a transplanted gay teen whose fabulousness doesn’t play so well in the red state South until he takes a stand by running for homecoming queen in Trudie Styler’s feature debut, ‘Freak Show.’read more


Alex Lawther stars as a transplanted gay teen whose fabulousness doesn't play so well in the red state South until he takes a stand by running for homecoming queen in Trudie Styler's feature debut, 'Freak Show.'

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‘The Party’ Review: Sally Potter’s Farce Is Undercooked — Berlinale 2017

The fearless British filmmaker’s latest film is her first outright dud, but hopefully this misfire won’t do anything to slow her down.

A tepid farce that that combines the brevity of a one-act play with the lo-fi desperation of a student film, “The Party” is the kind of star-studded misfire that might only have made sense in the context of an artistic movement like Dogme 95, whose strict dictums could have explained its experimental zeal and excused its fundamental shabbiness. Of course, such formal recklessness is par for the course when it comes to the cinema of Sally Potter, a British dynamo whose work ranges from a radical adaptation of Virgina Woolf’s “Orlando” to an erotic Joan Allen drama that’s spoken entirely in iambic pentameter. But if the dazzling eccentricities of Potter’s previous films might help to prepare viewers for her latest trick, their intellectual rigor casts this new one in a strange and unflattering light. It’s different, yes, and made with conviction. But it also feels flimsy, hollow, and tossed off — a shrill trifle from someone who’s previously made only multi-tiered soufflés.

Shot in a digital black-and-white that recalls the plastic, high-contrast look of “Sin City, “The Party” runs (or crawls) only 71 minutes, but its problems are evident from the very first one. The opening shot — a dippy flash-forward that’s meant to serve as our invitation — finds Janet (Kristin Scott Thomas) opening the front door of her London flat and pointing a gun at the unseen guest who made the mistake of knocking. Thomas immediately appears as strained as the framing device that introduces her, and her performance never really recovers.

Fortunately, there’s a lot of other nonsense to distract from this wobbly start and everything it portends, and Thomas won’t be the only brilliant actor who’s stranded at sea. Observe the great Timothy Spall (playing Bill, Janet’s husband) as he fiddles with the record player, parks himself in the living room, and stares at the garden outside with a lobotomized blankness. There’s a good reason for Bill’s fugue state, and his problems are a lot more pressing than the knowingly bourgeois bullshit that preoccupies the other characters, but the only interesting thing about him remains the coyote that he spies nipping through the backyard. It’s a lame bit of symbolism, but an accurate one — the small cluster guests that Janet has invited to celebrate her recent appointment as Britain’s new health minister are a carnivorous bunch, shameless scavengers of love and kindness.

READ MORE: 8 Must-See Films At The 2017 Berlin Film Festival

The most fun (and the funniest) of the lot is undoubtedly April, who Patricia Clarkson embodies as a truth-telling tornado. As blunt as she is bitter, April announces herself to the shindig by declaring that she’s ready to dump her longtime boyfriend (a daffy spiritualist played by “Wings of Desire” great Bruno Ganz).

While most of the dialogue in this relentlessly shrill satire makes “The Party” feel like a manic sitcom remake of a Chekhov play, April is gifted with a few choice lines that speak to the film’s interest in how seldom the fantasy of relationship goals squares with the act of punting them. “I expect the worse of everyone in the name of realism,” she offers, immune to even the plot’s most ludicrous twists and reversals. April isn’t fazed by Cillian Murphy’s coked up “wanker banker,” and she hardly bats an eye when Jinny (Emily Mortimer) tells her partner Martha (Cherry Jones) that they’re expecting triplets. Her apathy alone is enough to make her the film’s most relatable character.

Over time, Potter’s mirth achieves enough momentum to overcome the story’s haphazard staging, and “The Party” grows more enjoyable as it spirals out of control. Everyone is in disguise and everyone is afraid of losing each other. “Have I wasted my life on a mirage?” one character asks amidst all of the political sniping and amusingly over-cranked sound effects (every punch sounds like it was thrown by Batman), but Potter doesn’t have an answer ready for them. She eventually heats the water to a boil, but her film ends long before she can find anything worth cooking in it.

Grade: C-

“The Party” premiered in Competition at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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‘The Party’: Film Review | Berlin 2017


Patricia Clarkson, Cillian Murphy, Timothy Spall and Kristin Scott Thomas get more than their just desserts in British director Sally Potter’s dark comedy of manners ‘The Party’, which is competing for big prizes in Berlin.

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Patricia Clarkson, Cillian Murphy, Timothy Spall and Kristin Scott Thomas get more than their just desserts in British director Sally Potter’s dark comedy of manners 'The Party', which is competing for big prizes in Berlin.

read more

‘Butterfly Kisses’ Exclusive Trailer: A Teen Hides a Horrifying Secret in Moody Black and White Drama — Berlinale 2017

Plus, check out the film’s exclusive poster.

On the surface, Rafael Kapelinski’s feature debut “Butterfly Kisses” looks to fit neatly into a certain subset of angsty teen dramas set against the backdrop of London’s drab housing estates, but something far darker — and, admittedly, much more complicated — looms just below the surface of the filmmaker’s dramatic offering.

“Butterfly Kisses” premiered last week at the Berlinale and stars a young and up-and-coming British cast, including Theo Stevenson (“Humans”), Rosie Day (“Outlander”) and Thomas Turgoose (“This is England”). The film was shot entirely in black and white, and it appears to earn all the moodiness that such a style implies.

READ MORE: The 2017 IndieWire Berlinale Bible: Every Review, Interview and News Item Posted During the Festival

Ostensibly concerned with a pack of teen friends goofing about around their council estate home, the film follows a trio of dudes — Kyle, Jarred and Jake — as they navigate such relatable themes as boredom, sex, love, pornography and friendship. It’s clear from the get-go, however that Jake (Stevenson) is a little bit different than his more outspoken and gruff pals, and is someone who enjoys solitude, observing people and doing his own thing. When Jake appears to take up an interest in a new local lass, unexpected consequences abound.

Jake, you see, has a secret. A big one.

READ MORE: A Fantastic Woman’ Review: Sebastían Lelio’s Trans Drama Is A Grippingly Humane Tale Of Grief — Berlinale 2017

Per the film’s official synopsis: “We follow Jake and his two best friends, Kyle and Jarred through a world distorted by sex and porn. The leader is Kyle – he talks about girls non-stop, Jarred can’t stop cheating on his girlfriend and then there’s Jake, a quiet and shy teenager whose friends are determined to help him lose his virginity to Zara, the pretty girl on the 19th floor of their estate. All three are trying to find their way in a complex world. They all have their demons, but Jake’s secret is one that he must keep to himself.”

Check out our exclusive trailer and poster for “Butterfly Kisses” below.

“Butterfly Kisses” will screen this week at the Berlin International Film Festival. Find out more at the film’s official festival page.

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‘A Fantastic Woman’ Review: Sebastían Lelio’s Trans Drama Is A Grippingly Humane Tale Of Grief — Berlinale 2017

Following up his prize-winning “Gloria,” Lelio delivers the rare movie about a trans person that feels of its time, not a half-step behind.

IWCriticsPick

Sebastián Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman” settles into a defiantly grounded drama about a trans woman fighting through her grief, but it starts with some incredible sleight of hand.

Set at the height of a Santiago summer, the film begins with a man named Orlando (“The Club” actor Francisco Reyes) as he gets a massage at his local sauna. Fifty-seven years old and looking like a gentler Jeremy Irons, Orlando leaves the health club and steps into the tired Chilean sun, eventually making his way to a nearby nightclub. He locks eyes with the singer onstage as soon as he steps inside, and she returns his attention with interest. Her name is Marina (first-time actress Daniela Vega), she’s roughly half Orlando’s age, and she’s very much in love with him. The feeling is mutual.

Later that night, the two of them have sex against the floor-to-ceiling window of the high-rise apartment they share together. Afterwards, Orlando suffers an aneurysm, falls down a flight of stairs, and dies. At the hospital, Marina is treated like a criminal; not because of the terrible bruises on her partner’s body, but because she’s transgender. It will be the first of the many indignities she’ll have to suffer as she mourns the greatest loss of her life. In most tellings of this story — and in the opening passages of this one — Marina would be little more than a curious accessory, a fetish object who exists for no other reason than to complicate the male lead’s inner crisis. In Lelio’s film, she becomes the story, and that pivot does not go unnoticed. “A Fantastic Woman” is about her, and damn if she doesn’t earn that title.

Second only to Pablo Larraín among Chile’s most popular emerging filmmakers, the young Lelio has already established himself as a compassionate chronicler of marginalized women (Paulina García won Best Actress at the 2013 Berlinale for her role as an aging divorcée in Lelio’s “Gloria”). He deepens that sense of empathy here, unpacking a drama that resists the heightened sensationalism of genre and remains sobering even as it cribs a number of highly stylized elements from the likes of Fassbinder and Almodóvar.

The result is a rare movie about a trans person that — for better or worse — feels of its time, and not at least a half-step behind. The casual (and then not so casual) prejudice that Marina has to put up with from Orlando’s family is completely believable, as are the pockets of space where she’s able to simply be her own person, whether during her shifts as a waitress or just sitting alone in her car, anonymous amidst the traffic.

Vega plays her character with the steady resolve of someone who knows that they bring out the worst from strangers, and the rookie does a remarkable job of negotiating a heartache that she’s told she isn’t entitled to feel, delicately sliding between love and blankness, and rage. I suspect she’s drawing upon first-hand experience.

It begins with her having to downplay the nature of her relationship with Orlando (“We’re friends,” she tells the doctor), and soon escalates into denying that her dead lover paid her for her companionship. Orlando’s ex-wife rejects Marina for being abnormal, snidely referring to her as a “chimera” (a term that makes you wince with its bestial implications). Orlando’s son does far worse, taping her mouth shut and stealing her dog. Only the deceased’s brother — played by round-faced “Neruda” star Luis Gnecco — is humane to her, but his unerring saintliness is a dull foil for such open hostility.

READ MORE: 8 Must-See Movies At The 2017 Berlin Film Festival

As the funeral preparations proceed and everyone begins to grapple with the fallout, the film starts to flirt a bit more heavily with its flourishes. Marina sees visions of Orlando often enough to make this feel like a ghost story, while the one-sided war that her dead lover’s family is waging against her eventually crescendoes from the soft bigotry of cruel remarks to the stuff of bonafide hate crimes, in the process giving Lelio every opportunity to spin this story into a righteous crusade of revenge.

But he resists — Marina compels him to. She allows for a smattering of daydream sequences, each more transcendent and beautifully choreographed than the last, but her circumstances are too pedestrian to support anything more than that. She and Orlando were in love; now he’s dead and she’s in mourning. It’s simple. By filling in the space between the normality of that predicament and the nightmare that it becomes for its heroine, “A Fantastic Woman” exposes the embarrassing banality of intolerance.

Lelio supports that idea by denying viewers the kind of information to which normative society often feels entitled. When Orlando’s son demands to know if Marina has had reassignment surgery, her curt reply speaks volumes: “You don’t ask that.” The movie hears her, it takes that response to heart. It doesn’t ask that. While the storytelling grows frustratingly elliptical, Lelio so desperate to constrain the drama that he resorts to removing helpful pieces of it, the scenes that remain are succinct and evocative.

Consider one bit towards the end of the film, which finds Marina completely naked in the tub. Lelio looks at her from the side, inviting viewers to crane their necks and look for something between her legs. What we see, when he cuts to a POV shot, is a circular mirror wedged between her thighs, a clear reflection of her face obscuring the sight of her genitals. What more is there to see? Lelio’s film fogs up that gaze, not with easy declarations of empathy that absolve our bleeding hearts, but with a gripping, nuanced character study that humiliates our ignorance.

“I see you,” Orlando’s ex-wife says to Marina, “and I don’t know what I’m looking at.” But the movie leaves no doubt: She’s looking at a fantastic woman.

Grade: B+

“A Fantastic Woman” premiered in Competition at the 2017 Berlinale. Sony Pictures Classics will release it later this year.

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