Lord Almighty this film is magic, just pure musical magic. Aretha Franklin is a goddess. But we all know that already, right? She is truly one of the greatest singers of all time. The moment she opens her mouth and begins to sing, everything else in the world suddenly goes quiet, there's peace and harmony, you can feel this great power of calm and goodness. Amazing Grace is a long lost film from 1972, finally fully restored and released for us to bask in glory and brilliance. I had the pleasure of watching this documentary film at the 2019 Berlin Film Festival, and it's just wonderful. Watching this joyful performance filled me with so much goodness and happiness and all I wanted to do after is dance around the streets all day. Can I get an Amen?
"If we opened people up, we'd find landscapes." Agnès Varda is a genuine master. She is unquestionably of the greatest filmmakers, storytellers, and artists to ever live - there's really no debating this. It may have taken decades for everyone to catch up with and learn about her (and discover her work), but now we all know the truth, and gosh darnity she's still making more films (even at age 90). Varda by Agnès is a new documentary made by Agnès Varda looking back at her entire life as a filmmaker and artist. It's a beautiful examination of the inspiration and explanations behind some of her work (in cinema & in art) she created throughout her life. She has an immaculate understanding of cinema, and shares some of her insights here (but not all of them, of course) and it's an utter joy to watch her talk for nearly two hours. Varda is the best.
Norwegian filmmaker Hans Petter Moland continues to impress me with every new film he makes. Even if it's not the best film, even if it has some issues or falls apart with a story that doesn't amount to much, his work is still remarkably compelling and gorgeous to watch. He's a true master of cinematic visuals and gives us such evocative imagery in every film, making it seem like it's so easy to capture such stunning beauty to accentuate his storytelling. Out Stealing Horses, originally titled Ut og stjæle hester in Norwegian, is the latest film by Hans Petter Moland who reteams with Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård (they last made the film In Order of Disappearance together, which also premiered at Berlinale in 2014). There are some good ideas in this, but alas it doesn't amount to much despite intriguing layered storytelling. Which is a let down.
One of the international highlights at both the Berlin and Sundance Film Festivals this year is a Colombian thriller titled Monos, the second feature film from director Alejandro Landes (born in Brazil, raised in Ecuador and Colombia; his first feature was Porfirio in 2011). The strength of this fantastic film lies in its simplicity, and its stunning dream-like feel that makes it a rush to watch. The official description is just as vague as the film: On a faraway mountaintop, eight kids with guns watch over a hostage and a conscripted milk cow. We follow as they progress deeper and deeper, yet nothing is revealed (in an obvious way) about the context of what they're doing or why they're doing it. And that vagueness works well when the film itself is as vigorous and compelling as this one, making it all the more enthralling to experience on the big screen.
There's only so much screaming one can deal with before they go crazy, too. And this film seriously comes close to crossing that line. System Crasher, also known as Systemsprenger, is a very intense German drama about a young girl with serious anger issues who often blows up and gets really, really crazy. It's a meaningful, well-made feature film that attempts to examine the challenges of working with a child known as a "system crasher" but unfortunately it's a one-note story that never turns the page. There's no character arc or story development or anything beyond the basics, beyond the initial introduction and then two hours of screaming and yelling and temper tantrums. There are numerous attempts at making some progress, but nothing works. And after a while it gets a bit tiring and frustrating - which is the point of it the film, I guess.
"I don't know anything about life, but everything about cinema." From one film festival this January, right into another. The 69th Berlin Film Festival, also known as Berlinale, has kicked off this week in Berlin, Germany. Due to a change in the timing of the Sundance Film Festival, that festival ended and then only a few days later the Berlin Film Festival started up. Meaning for those of who go to both festivals (which isn't many people but there's a few of us out there) we didn't have any time to rest or recover. I hopped on the plane Monday afternoon in Salt Lake City and flew right over to Berlin, spending a few nights trying to get properly adjusted to this time zone (it didn't really work) while also figuring out and preparing my schedule for Berlinale. What is there to see? Well, not much. The line-up this year honestly isn't that exciting (to me).
Another year at the Berlin Film Festival, another set of invigorating discoveries. Every time I attend fests in Europe, I discover exceptional films and documentaries that have barely been mentioned in America yet. I feel like this is a chance for me to bring attention to these films, in hopes others will discover them and be moved, or influenced, or inspired. Great films are deeply emotional and affecting for good reason, because cinema is more than just entertainment. And these films prove that. This year, I fell for a doc about tennis, and a doc about a musician. I also flipped for an Austrian coming-of-age drama, and I can't stop thinking about two very upsetting films - one about a terrible shooting in Norway, the other about a journalist falling in love with an ISIS recruiter over the internet. These are my 8 favorite films from Berlinale 2018 below.
This is the story of Astrid Lindgren, a Swedish woman who went on to write the massively popular series of books about Pippi Longstocking. Becoming Astrid is a feature film about the teenage years of Astrid's life in Sweden. She was born in 1907, and in her youth struggled to find her independence and place in the small town of Näs where she was raised. From the moment the film started, I had a good feeling about it, with the score and the opening scene of an elderly Lindgren reading cards that children have sent her at her home. The rest of the film takes place in the 1920s in Sweden, telling the true story of a young Astrid and her love for an older newspaper man. It's a lovely, engaging tale of an intelligent woman who strives to be different.
Sometimes you don't need to actually say anything to tell a powerful story. Styx is a remarkable film that uses minimal dialogue to tell a very powerful story. We've seen these kind of films before, but they're still effective, and if the filmmaking is up to par, they can leave a lasting impression. Styx is a drama directed by German filmmaker Wolfgang Fischer that's about a woman who embarks upon a solo sailing voyage from Gibraltar to an island in the middle of the South Atlantic. She's interrupted when she encounters a boat full of refugees. To be curt, Styx is essentially a mix of All is Lost (the Robert Redford silent sailing film) meets Fuocoammare (the Berlinale Golden Bear-winning documentary film about rescuing refugees from boats).
It's exciting to stumble across a film late in the festival that turns out to be one of my favorites. L'Animale is an Austrian film playing at the Berlin Film Festival, the second feature film written & directed by Austrian filmmaker Katharina Mückstein. The film focuses on a teenage girl named Mati, who is wrapping up her last few weeks at high school just before taking the final exam and figuring out what's next. L'Animale is mostly a coming-of-age story about this young woman recognizing her sexuality and accepting it, while also realizing she needs to grow up. In addition, it's a much more deeper, meaningful film about honesty and fear and passion, and how so many struggle to speak their mind. Fresh filmmaking makes this really stand out.
As another film festival comes to an end, it's time to celebrate and commemorate with the announcement of the awards. The 68th Berlin Film Festival is finishing up, and the winners were revealed at the Closing Ceremony, including the winner of the coveted Golden Bear for Best Film. That top prize was given to a film called Touch Me Not, an experimental feature about intimacy and touch, directed by Romanian filmmaker Adina Pintilie (seen above). This is an odd pick, not because it's bad, just because it's so experimental and more of an art installation than a film. Other big winners include Isle of Dogs' Wes Anderson winning Best Director, and the Russian film Dovlatov picking up quite a few awards as well. Read on for all the winners.
"Cinema lies. Sport does not." That's the quote, from Godard, that bookends this film and it encapsulates the entire concept of this marvelous documentary. In the Realm of Perfection is a worth-discovering film made by French filmmaker Julien Faraut, and is made up entirely of footage filmed in the 1980s by Gil De Kermadec. Faraut explores the connection between cinema and tennis by examining the reels of footage that were shot in the 1980s by this die-hard French tennis lover, who was filming John McEnroe to make at-the-time modern instructional / educational cinema focused on sports. It's an entrancing film, that lulls you into its rhythm and discussion about sport and the unique mind of John McEnroe and the art of tennis.