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Wednesday
Feb132019

Berlinale 2019: Three queer selections, a doc from the Sudan, and one walkout

Hallo! Seán here reporting from the 2019 Berlinale. It's the first big European film festival of the year, where new work premieres, deals get made, parties go on (and on) and where cinephiles prove their love of film by standing around in the freezing cold. I'm doing my best "Berlinale business bear" I'm here in an offical capacity: getting a first look at the queer TEDDY titles (which we'll talk about after the jump) and the short films for festivals in London and Dublin, but aside from that I'm also here to enjoy the film festival experience i.e. standing in the wrong line and walking in completely cold to something truly bizarre and extraordinary.

The Berlinale has many distinct and diverse sections, each with their own different forms and appeal. As someone who (a year later) is only a year later beginning to figure this out, allow me to impart my knowledge on the sections before we jump into the queer selection...

Competition: The easiest one to understand, really. Big films, all receiving a big red carpet premier at the Berlinale Palast. The films compete for the top prize of the Golden Bear as well as multiple Silver Bears for categories including acting. Films that win the Golden Bear don't exactly become blockbusters but guarantees them a certain top distinction and previous big winners include A Separation (2011), Spirited Away (2002) and The People Vs. Larry Flynt (1997).

Panorama: Films that have an edge to them, play with style and form and very often deal with provocative titles and many of the TEDDY titles come from this section. It's also the only one voted on by the public.

Forum: Experimental. Multi format. Narrative and documentary. No restrictions on form. Challenging and not for everyone.

Forum Expanded: Like the Forum except it might be on film and video, jump back in time, go from colour to black and white, the screen will change size four times and it will either be 6 minutes or 360 minutes in length.

THREE TEDDY TITLES

 

TEMBLORES (dir. Jayro Bustamante, Guatamala/France/Luxembourg)
Over the last few years there's been a noticeable increase in the amount of queer stories coming out of Latin America, both radical in content and more formal in others. A lot of LGBT festivals aim to prioritise queer stories with upbeat, optimistic and affirming stories, but if art is to imitate life it's necessary to remember that  life is hard. Temblores is a refined and assured film from director Jayro Bustamente centred on Pablo, a married father of two from a well-to-do background in Guatemala. The film begins in confrontation. Pablo's entire family, rigid and imposing, are ready to shame the truth out of their son -- that he has been seeing a man whom he has fallen in love with. Immediately ostracised from his family, Pablo moves in with Francisco. But while the entire film seems to exhale as Pablo escapes from the tyranny of the upper classes to the freedom of his gay life, he is far from saved. He adores his children, he is devastated that he has lost his family, and consequently is fired from his job because they consider him immoral. Pablo is forced to ask himself just what is more important to him, and what follows is a painful set of choices. While Temblores does not redefine the output of queer film in Latin America, it's a necessary and accurate reminder that progress is not universal, and that many must sublimate their truth to survive.


MONSTRI (dir. Marius Olteanu, Romania)
Nestled in the Forum section is a challenging and contained drama from Romania, a nation with its own highly particular cinematic vision. Monsters, a film in three parts, is about the marriage of Dana (Judith State) and Andrei. Dana comes home from a trip and instead of going home, pays her taxi driver to stay in his car the entire night. Meanwhile, Andrei has an impersonal hook up with another man (one of the best depictions of an awkward sexual encounter I've ever seen on screen). Dana and Andrei know that they are hurting each other in their own way, and that their love has become detestable - yet neither seems to be able to separate. State plays Dana as a woman who feels incapable of playing wife and mother even if her husband weren't without his "monstrous" side. The film never boils over into domestic melodrama, instead unveiling as an incisive commentary on the way our deepest flaws are sometimes what bind us tight to another person.

NORMAL (dir. Adele Tulli, Italy/Sweden)
The tagline of this film should read "the most shocking depiction of heterosexuality ever seen on screen!" Presented completely without comment (which we know is, itself, a comment), this observational documentary has the veneer of the anthropological, when mostly it is a leering gaze at the horrors of gender conformity.

...And it's fabulous!

From infancy to adulthood, Tulli's camera is fixed on typically ordinary Italian men and women doing their particularly ordinary things - being princesses, losing their mind over boys, walking in bikinis in high heels (the women, of course) to the boys stuff - motorbikes, pellet guns, how to talk to girls. While individually this may be mundane, together it is a alarm sounding to wake us up to our conformity. The most scathing scene is its very last, asking us to consider just who is assimilating by force or by desire. 

AND TWO DOCS FROM THE PANORAMA SECTION...

TALKING ABOUT TREES  (dir. Suhaib Gasmelbari France / Sudan / Germany / Chad / Qatar)
A truly sweet and joyous documentary about the love of cinema and community in the Panorama section. Four Sudanese filmmakers, well past their heyday, due to the swinging door of democracy and dictatorship in Sudan, band together to restore a crumbling cinema. As if the power blackouts weren't enough, the men are hindered by the complete lack of infrastructure - where to get chairs, how to project the film and sound? But also how to screen a film in between all the calls to prayer? And most of all - how to achieve all of this in a dictatorial state where "immorality" is a public enemy that takes quite a lot of forms. The film is ultimately as much about the reality of failure as it is about the cinema, with our four central characters's love of movies completely unwavering, even when their hopes are fading.  


SEARCHING EVA (dir. Pia Hellenthal, Germany)
Produced by VICE - which is in itself a trigger warning - Searching Eva follows social media star, model, sex worker, feminist and writer Eva Collé navigating life through both Berlin and her home town in Italy. Eva is an intelligent and interesting subject (or should be) - the daughter of two former drug users, who was partially raised by nuns. She's deeply self assured and self-aware and fully in control of her own destiny. But sadly Eva is also ultimately nihilistic and lethargic, choosing to look entirely inward, toxically self-obsessed and destructive. For someone who is so obviously intelligent, she keeps the company of annoying hangers-on and obnoxiously affected drugged out  girls ...which was when I choose to walk out of the cinema, beginning a ripple effect as people followed behind me. It is a film festival after all.

About the Author
Seán McGovern
is an Irishman based in London. He is the co-host of Broad Appeal, the podcast that looks back at female-driven films from the not-so-distant past. He's a film festival Programmer with Fringe! Queer Film & Arts Fest and has also worked for the BFI and the National Film and Television School. His mustache was once complimented by Wallace Shawn.  
You can follow follow him on Twitter.

More from Seán at the Film Experience

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Reader Comments (6)

Temblores is not a debut for Jayro Bustamante. He directed the wonderful film called Ixcanul, which premiered in main competion in Berlin in 2015 and won Alfred Bauer award.

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterShtajner

@Shtajner - typo! corrected :)

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSeán

I follow him on Twitter and in my dreams

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I'm here for Temblores, sorry I am going to be that annoying person this season with the movie of his country, but my bf was the cast director, so...

Sorry ;)

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLuiserghio

Thank you very much for this extensive coverage of the Berlinale!

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterIvonne

@Ivonne - more to come!!

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSeán

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