Sunday, February 20, 2011

Berlin Film Festival 2011: Berlinale Special Gala

The descriptions are from the 2011 Berlinale catalogue.

Escuchando al Juez Garzón (Listening To The Judge, Isabel Coixet, ES 2011). Documentary. "Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón is not afraid of big shots. He became a household name in 1998 when he issued an international warrant for the arrest of Chile’s former president Augusto Pinochet, accusing him of the murder of Spanish citizens. As a result, Pinochet was taken into custody in London and placed under house arrest. Later, when he was allowed to return to Chile, this courageous judge announced his intention to press charges against former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger for his involvement in political crimes in Latin America. Moreover, Garzón instituted proceedings against members of the Argentinean military dictatorship regarding the ‘disappearance’ of Spanish citizens. And, as if this wasn’t enough, in 2001 Garzón applied to the European Parliament for the annulment of Silvio Berlusconi’s immunity. In 2009 he opened proceedings concerning accusations of torture in Guantánamo and ordered an inquiry into the actions of former members of the Bush government. Outside his home country, Baltasar Garzón is a much revered, highly decorated lawyer. In Spain, however, he has been suspended from office since spring 2010, having been accused of prevarication. Isabel Coixet visited him in Madrid on 18 December last year. Their conversation lasted over six hours. When the director later showed him her ninety-minute rough cut, he had no objections to her selection of footage, and only asked shyly, “Don’t I look a bit larger than life?” Isabel Coixet’s immediate response was, “Baltasar, with everything that you’re going through, if you weren’t larger than life, I’d begin to worry!”"X

Gianni e le donne (The Salt of Life, Gianni Di Gregorio, IT 2010). "There are plenty of things that Gianni, a married man who has recently retired, needs to think about, but love certainly isn’t one of them. Gianni lives with his wife and daughter in a small apartment in Rome. He spends his days walking his dog as well his attractive neighbour’s mutt, shopping for cleaning agents and food and – under his wife’s vigilant eye – paying the bills. He is a kind of general dogsbody – even for his daughter and her unemployed friend, who seems to have moved in with them. Gianni’s ancient, aristocratic mother – a relict from a bygone age – lives with her pretty carer Cristina in a huge villa. Ensconced in her crumbling retirement home she is busy squandering her son’s savings playing poker and quaffing expensive champagne. But then one day Gianni’s old friend Alfonso tells him some astonishing things about his recent sexual escapades. Somehow Gianni seems to have ignored the fact that all his contemporaries are in the throes of reliving their youth. Even old Maurizio who always hangs out in a shell suit has found a younger woman. For this reason, Alfonso decides that it’s time that Gianni rejuvenated his love life and found himself a girlfriend. And yet, in spite of his best endeavours among all the fairer sex of his acquaintance, and a dose of Viagra, good old Gianni still seems to chug along like a rusty motor. Nonetheless, the spark plugs have indeed been ignited – one only wonders if and when the engine will begin turning over."

Late Bloomers (Julie Gavras, FR/GB/BG 2010), with Isabella Rossellini, William Hurt, Joanna Lumley, Simon Callow. "Adam and Mary have been married for over thirty years; they have spent more than half their lives together. Their children left home long ago; it seems as though Adam and Mary have enjoyed and endured all of life’s ups and downs together and are now looking forward to what should be a quieter phase in their lives. But then, gradually, certain irritations begin to creep into their lives and both are obliged to acknowledge that the years are now taking their toll. Mary complains that she is having trouble remembering things. Is she just a little confused? Or does this herald the beginnings of dementia? Adam was once a successful architect and is reluctant to let go of his status in life. As far as he is concerned, it would be best if things just stayed the way they used to be. Perhaps this is the reason why he’s overly keen to surround himself with young women. But his career and his financial situation are no longer as flourishing as Adam likes to maintain. Slowly, he and Mary begin to drift apart – until their separation seems inevitable. Their children have also noticed their parents’ problems. They would dearly like to repair their marriage but soon realise that any intervention from afar is fruitless. They have been living their own lives for too long. And so, all they can do is hope that Adam and Mary to come to their senses."

Sing Your Song (Susanne Rostock, US 2010. Documentary with Harry Belafonte. "Singer, actor, activist – over the past seventy years Harry Belafonte has had many roles. In fact, the entertainer, who was born in New York in 1927, doesn’t even see himself as a singer – at least not when he thinks of the singers that took to the stage in his day. He is an actor, he says, whenever he is asked about his main profession – the best proof of this being the number of people who believe him to be a singer. Easy-going understatement and ebullient friendliness are the salient characteristics of his art. The young Belafonte’s greatest role model was singer, actor and left-wing activist Paul Robeson, who once visited Belafonte’s dressing room to give him a piece of advice: persuade the audience to sing your song, then they will feel what you feel and share your conviction. His admiration for Robeson, who was persecuted in the USA on account of his left-wing views, but also his friendship with Martin Luther King and the ubiquitous discrimination against Afro Americans in the USA during the 1950s and 1960s to which black celebrities were also subjected, are just some of the things that made Harry Belafonte one of the most popular propagandists of the American civil rights movement. Harry Belafonte is still politically active today, and his criticism of America’s foreign and social policies still causes a stir. Susanne Rostock’s film follows the personal trajectory of this extraordinary artiste."

The King's Speech (Kuninkaan puhe, Tom Hooper, GB/AU 2010).

Toast (SJ Clarkson, GB 2010), with Oscar Kennedy, Helena Bonham Carter. "Great Britain in the sixties – as seen through the eyes of Nigel Slater who, thirty years later, was to become one of the country’s favourite cookery writers. Even as a child he seems to display a propensity for this profession. Nigel is no normal boy. He consumes cookery books as others might consume pornography. His mother may have something to do with this for she has always been a poor cook and neither her asthma nor her predilection for anything in tins will do anything to change that. No wonder then that Nigel looks longingly at anything that seems remotely appetising. His father long suspects that there is ‘something not quite right’ about his boy, and the relationship between the two is somewhat troubled. Nigel gets on much better with Josh the gardener, who reveals to him the wonders of nature as they scoff fresh radishes and pork pies. As Nigel’s mother deteriorates, so too does the relationship between Nigel and his father, who one day fires Josh for no apparent reason. Shortly before Christmas, Nigel’s mother dies, leaving two broken-hearted men behind. Soon after, Mrs Potter, the new cleaner, enters their lives. Her curvaceous form and her lemon meringue pies bewitch Nigel’s father and prompt him to take them all on a country outing – much to Nigel’s horror. Only by attending home economics classes, decides Nigel, will he have a chance to acquire the skills that will help him trump his adversary and gain his father’s attention. A job in the local pub opens up yet more prospects – both culinary and sexual. And, when his father dies, he is ready to set out for London…"

Zhao shi gu er (Sacrifice, Chen Kaige, CN 2010). "For more than four generations the members of the Zhao clan have held the highest positions in the land. Zhao Dun is currently chancellor and his son, Zhao Shuo, a general in the royal army. He is married to the king’s older sister, Zhuang Ji. Tu’an Gu, the Zhao’s arch-enemy, is not content to accept the clan’s power and influence; he incites a massacre which decimates the entire Zhao clan – over 300 members of this family fall victim to the carnage which leaves no-one alive. As her husband faces death, Zhuang Ji goes into labour and gives birth to the last Zhao. She dies in childbirth and the doctor, Cheng Ying, takes the baby into his care. This news reaches Tu’an Gu and, angered that his plan to wipe out the clan might be thwarted, he takes all the babies of the city hostage until the last descendant of the Zhao is found. The doctor Cheng Ying has also just become a father. When Tu’an Gu’s soldiers arrive to take away his son, his wife hides her own child and gives the soldiers the little Zhao, pretending that he is her child. Shortly afterwards they find the baby that Cheng Ying’s wife was hiding. Taking him to be the last member of the Zhao clan, Tu’an Gu has the boy killed. The townsfolk’s children that were being held hostage are given back to their families. The last Zhao now grows up as Cheng Ying’s son in the doctor’s house. Years go by. Cheng Ying decides to take his step-son with him to serve at Tu’an Gu’s court. Tu’an Gu becomes a patron of the last Zhao. But Cheng Ying has other plans in mind – plans in which his step-son will play a central role."

Il marchese del Grillo (not released in Finland / The Marquis of Grillo, Mario Monicelli, IT/FR 1981), with Alberto Sordi, Caroline Berg. "Onofrio, the Marquis del Grillo, is a member of the nobility close to His Holiness Pius VII. Boredom prompts him to make regular forays among the common people, accompanied by his friend Ricciotti with whom, in disguise, he frequents Rome’s taverns. During one of these secret excursions Onofrio meets a coal merchant named Gasperino, a coarse drunkard who however is the spitting image of the Marquis. Onofrio persuades Gasperino to swap roles, so that Onofrio can follow the beautiful Olympia to France. Meanwhile, the pope has condemned Onofrio to death; Gasperino, now standing in for the Marquis del Grillo, is arrested. The day of the execution arrives. Onofrio is among the crowd that has gathered to watch. Although struggling with his conscience at the thought of an innocent man going to the gallows in his stead, he is even more upset that the pope sentenced him to death in the first place – and hatches a plan … (Catalogue text from the 32nd Berlin International Film Festival, 1982) Italian director Mario Monicelli died on 29.11.2010. He had taken part in the Berlinale seven times since 1956 and received the Silver Bear three times as Best Director: in 1957 for Padri e figli, in 1976 for Caro Michele and in 1982 for Il marchese del Grillo."

Taxi Driver (Taksikuski, Martin Scorsese, US 1976) 4K digitally restored version presented by Grover Crisp of Sony Pictures.

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