One down, who knows how many to go before I depart a week on Sunday. Actually, this isn't going to be a "cram-em-in", six-film-a-day festival for me. Maybe three, perhaps four, with some gaps for writing before, in between and after (I'm covering the festival for Another Publication, who will be getting 300-350 words on certain new titles, mainly from the supposedly "edgy" Forum section.)
Actually, it's one-and-a-half down, strictly speaking. I bailed at the halfway point in my first screening, Mental, a 135-minute high-def DV Japanese documentary on - um - mental health, focussing on one particular large institution which has numerous employment/community outreach programmes. Worthy, empathetic, humanistic stuff. But pretty undistinguished also, and after an hour I decided that the only reason for the unusually lengthy running-time was to make people take the enterprise as significant, artistic, bold, whatever. Not much to look at and lacking any kind of surprise or revelation in the case-studies included (talking-head testimonies at considerable length), it might pass muster chopped into bits and screened over a few days on evening TV. The big screen served only to amplify the project's limitations.
Part of the reason I bailed was that I remembered about a press-screening of the festival's opening movie, The International, elsewhere in the same cinema, at 12:30. I felt somewhat guilty abandoning a Forum title for such a mainstream alternative, but perhaps this betrays my innate and seldom-acknowledged cinematic conservatism...The first time I came to the Berlinale the opening film was another Tom Tykwer effort, the ill-named Cate Blanchett starrer Heaven, based on a script which K.Kieslowski had been planning to shoot before his untimely death intervened. The International is much less high-falutin, a fast-moving thriller of corporate intrigue and espionage in the Bourne/neo-Bond vein, built around a typically urgent, serious, downbeat performance from Clive Owen, very much back in Children of Men mode.
The plot takes some cheesy and/or implausible turns here and there, and Naomi Watts is given conspicuously little to do (except get knocked over at one daft interlude) - there's not even the spark of romance between the leads, as she's very happily married, thank you very much, and Clive's too much of a lone wolf to waste time with messy entanglements. On the plus side, there's a rather smart extended shootout (I timed it at six minutes) in the Guggenheim that features various video-art installations being smashed apart in hails of bullets, and doesn't totally wither in comparison with the famed truck-robbery sequence in Michael Mann's Heat.
The word on Potsdamer Platz is lukewarm-to-negative on this glossy, country-hopping, rather old-fashioned affair, and one could argue that the Berlinale should be opening with something a bit more artistically ambitious and respectable. Then again, considering that the festival wraps with - ahem - The Pink Panther 2, maybe we should just count our blessings while we can.