I'm hoping that I'll soon be able to post thoughts on Ulrich Köhler's Sleeping Sickness, Wim Wenders's Pina (I'll be arguing the case for the defense), Ralph Fiennes's Coriolanus and, from programs other than the Competition, Aditya Assarat's Hi-So, Joe Swanberg's Silver Bullets and Art History, Seung-wan Ryoo's The Unjust and Cyril Tuschi's Khodorkovsky — but for now, a quick roundup on films of potential interest (for whatever reason) that I've missed and, considering the way the schedule's panning out, may not get around to seeing, at least at the Berlinale.
"As the 25th anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster approaches, it's time for the tragic events of April 26, 1986 to find filmic expression, beyond the several excellent documentaries already made," writes Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter. "Given the tension and humanity of its first hour, Innocent Saturday should have been that film. It isn't, because the script takes a suicidal dive into ennui, throwing away a film that could have been a major contender in this year's Berlin competition."
More from Jonathan Romney in Screen: "While the opening sequence ostensibly promises an art-house variant of the generic disaster movie format, [Alexander] Mindadze's film proves much more distinctive and stylistically heightened, so much so that its sheer relentlessness can feel overwhelming. But, in its attempts to create a stylistic correlative for the panic concentrated in one protagonist who's in the know, Innocent Saturday (the original title V Subotu simply means 'On Saturday') creates a mood of agitated unease from start to finish."
Neil Young, back in THR: "As its unassuming title suggests, French-Canadian slow-burner Familiar Ground (En terrains connus) doesn't seek to push back any cinematic boundaries. But while droll, observationally bittersweet comedies about dysfunctional suburban families have for years been a staple of the film-festival circuit, it's still a pleasure to see a writer/director unearthing fresh humor and pathos down such well-trodden paths." And that writer/director is Stéphane Lafleur. A Forum entry.
Also: "A classic case of a first-time feature director biting off more than can be comfortably chewed, Free Hands loses focus of the ill-fated love-story at its core within a counterproductively complex film-within-film (-within-film) structure. A belated big-screen debut behind the camera for 55-year-old director/co-writer Brigitte Sy — frequent collaborator of revered French auteur Philippe Garrel (and mother of his son Louis) — it's a surprising choice for the supposedly cutting-edge Forum section here. The film was released in France as long ago as June (to fairly respectable notices), and creatively is much less adventurous, and much more conventional, than it superficially appears."
Dan Fainaru in Screen on Utopians: "A test of endurance that even hardcore arthouse crowds might find hard to crack, Zbigniew Bzymek's debut feature bears all the earmarks of an experimental theatre video artist who is less than concerned with narrative clarity or plot structure, preferring to produce flows of images that generate instinctive rather that intellectual emotions." More from Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter: "This does not look like it will travel far beyond the Berlin Forum."
Lee Marshall in Screen: "A same-sex attraction between a swimming teacher and one of his adolescent charges is turned into an initially compelling forbidden relationship thriller in young Argentinean director Marco Berger's second feature Absent (Ausente). The film goes off the boil in its stretched second half, and is a little too in love with its quirky soundtrack and odd sound design, full of muffled passages of dialogue and buzzing undertones, but this is still an impressive example of directorial control on a shoestring budget from a New Argentinean auteur to watch." Forum.
Guy Lodge at In Contention: "'From first-and-last-time director Victoria Mahoney,' cracked one particularly acidic critic, while a kinder one observed, 'It's like a promising Sundance development project taken out the darkroom too early.' The film in question was US indie Yelling to the Sky, and while it's an under-drawn and sometimes ungainly debut, I don't mind admitting to being quite taken with some of Mahoney's bolder formal flourishes." More from Movieline's Stephanie Zacharek: "A wag writing for one of the trades here has already dubbed Yelling to the Sky 'Precious lite,' and unfortunately, that really does seem to be the vibe Mahoney is going for. (Gabourey Sidibe has a small role as the school bully.) Mahoney seems to be feeling around for her own visual style: There are a few blurry-edged sequences that hint at the loneliness and hostility of a kid spinning out of control. But she doesn’t know how to harness them in the service of storytelling." Competition.
Fionnuala Halligan in Screen: "A warm-hearted, nostalgia-tinged crowd-pleaser and also a manipulative, irresistible tear-jerker, Almanya: Welcome to Germany (Almanya Willkommen in Deutschland) is the Turkish/German riposte to East is East's Pakistani immigrants in the UK." And Yasemin Samdereli's feature has screened Out of Competition.
The Guardian's Andrew Pulver finds Gianni di Gregorio's The Salt of Life to be "as charming as Mid-August Lunch; a tremendous achievement." Berlinale Special.