Film festivals are the proving ground for new filmic talent, and Berlinale International Film Festival, which took place in Berlin 15-25 February, was no exception. Venue’s roving Film editor Gus Edgar watched over 30 films to find the best of the fest. Here, he shares some of his favourites.
Josephine Decker’s heady, swooning babble of a film proves that drama classes are just the worst. She’s created a film about the making of a play about the making of her own film, where identity is temporary and power struggles are permanent.
Madeline’s Madeline focuses on Madeline, a teenage girl with an unspecified mental disorder. In the opening scene, she’s a cat – next, a turtle, images bleeding into one another and creating an impressionistic collage of the senses. It’s abstract stuff, and would perhaps be alienating if not for the film’s fierce emotional core.
This core is anchored by Madeline and her mother, whose concerns over her daughter’s well-being meld the lines between maternal love and paranoia. Complicating matters is Madeline’s pregnant theatre instructor, who clearly sees her as a trial-run daughter, but also the show-piece for her next production.
An enthused and compelling take on mental disorder fetishism and power roles, Madeline’s Madeline is so full of wonderful ideas that its protagonist’s headspace seems barren in comparison.
In Hicham Lasri’s Moroccan pseudo-anthology, no-one is content. There’s a suicidal construction worker who has his death all planned out; a woman, fighting staunchly against her arranged marriage, chained by her feet for fear of escaping her own house; a blind father, who is, ironically, a dedicated racist; and a wife/house servant whose dreams of becoming a belly dancer have all but disappeared.
These characters, and many more, populate Jahilya’s kooky, half-tragic half-screwball world, where everything is off-kilter (including the camera). Tellingly, the only figure who seems to have fun is a young boy; it’s difficult to know whether he’s too young to understand the gravitas of the violence surrounding him, or if he’s already desensitised to it.
Jahilya is a fascinating microcosmic dreamscape. Structured through 12 seemingly randomly separated segments, the narrative is a discombobulating concoction that weaves a furious indictment of the state of its country with plenty of farce, shock, and fancy camerawork.
An Elephant Sitting
The best film of Berlinale goes to Hu Bo’s An Elephant Sitting Still, a four-hour electric epic and a staggering achievement in pacing, moodmustering and thematic integration.
We follow a day in the life of four discontented individuals through a smog-soaked city in Northern China as their lives intertwine. They each talk of a fable, where an elephant in Manchuria is said to remain still in spite of the mass of spectators that prod and poke at it. It’s a symbol of the apathy that Bo is claiming to have consumed mainland China – yet to these four individuals, it’s a monument of introspection and connection for them to work towards.
Novelist-turned-director Hu Bo committed suicide last year at the age of 29, and it’s impossible not to look at his debut – and his magnum opus – through that lens. The four hours fly by before culminating in a rigorously powerful final stretch that sneaks up on you; by the end, you feel both emotionally and physically exhausted.