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Berlinale. Palast of Swords Reversed: Dispatch #3

Berlinale 2010

Learn to be receptive to circumstances which are not constructive learning situations and consciously make the choice to remove yourself from any situation which produces sorrow or negative vibrations. Become aware of your natural "inner" sources of creativity and release any dependency on others for your ideas. Concentrate your efforts on organization - see the past as a whole picture.
Three of Swords (Reversed)

Berlin, 7:47am Monday 
Films seen (feature length) so far: 13.
Notably worthwhile: 2 (The Wolf's Mouth and Red Hill).
Walkouts: 1 (The Counting of the Damages).

"Seeing the past as a whole picture"—that would certainly be a key element to much of the Berlinale programme, indeed to the whole city of Berlin (and Germany, and Europe, and the world) itself. The Wolf's Mouth yesterday morning most definitely falls into that category, as will James Benning's Reforming the Past—a 'Forum Expanded' event set for 5:30pm in the Arsenal cinema later today, in which Benning will show an 80-minute new digital film based on his 1991 North On Evers and then perform some kind of spoken-word text addendum. Or something like that.

Making sense of the past is central to the second best new film I have seen here in Berlin, Patrick Hughes' Red Hill. A decidedly commercial entry in Panorama, this is No Country For Old Men meets Shane Meadows' Dead Man's Shoes in the Australian outback. It's a deceptively clever combo of tropes from westerns and horror movies, played almost entirely straight but with a witty touch that hovers perilously close to parody at times but never quite crosses the line. The plot concerns a rookie cop who arrives—with his heavily pregnant wife—in a dusty farming village to get away from the stresses of big-city life. His timing isn't great, as his first day on the job sees a much-feared Aboriginal convict bust out of jail and head to the sleepy settlement seeking revenge on the lawmen who put him inside.

The first half of the picture is largely an overwrought, cliche-ridden affair—to the extent that I pondered walking out, and wondered how it could have been selected for the Panorama section at all. When feature-debutant Hughes's intentions becomes apparent in the second half, however, Red Hill really takes off, hitting its marks in sonewhat predictable but highly satisfying style—so that, by the credit roll, I was wondering if it should perhaps have been a contender for the Competition. Having waited three days for a notably worthwhile film, I got The Wolf's Mouth immediately followed by Red Hill. A real "London bus" situation, but I am certainly not complaining.

Speaking of which, I have been telling all and sundry that the Golden Bear, if it is awarded to a single film, will go to Romanian entry When I Want To Whistle, I Whistle (Eu cand vreau sa fluier, fluier), the raw-boned juvenile delinquent drama from Florin Serban. I'm not seeing Competition movies this year—apart from Submarino—so my prediction is based on hunch rather than proper critical estimation. It's just that the title sounds like that of a top prize winner at a major festival (perhaps from the late 50s or early 60s) and there seems to be little "heat" behind anything else right now.

I say "if" a single film is rewarded, because I also have a feeling that jury president Werner Herzog might pull some kind of provocative stunt at the prize ceremony, and announce that there are joint winners: two movies ex aequo, or maybe more (or what about no winner at all?). Indeed, I wouldn't put it past him to reveal that each member of the seven-person jury was going to have a Golden Bear winner of his or her own. This would be radical and chaos-inducing, but certainly headline-grabbing—we wouldn't have seen the like since the four-way Eurovision Song Contest dead-heat back in 1969, when Britain's Lulu shared the honours with representatives of Spain, Holland and France. "Boom, Bang-A-Bang," indeed:

Du bist keine Fata Morgana
Drum sag aucht nicht immer "mañana"

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