Berlin - Day Three (2018)

If you’re late for a screening or you’re held up in a queue, as I was for a film today, competition for entry and for seats can get pretty intense, I can tell you. If there was an Olympic sport for queue jumping, Team GB (or any national squad for that matter) needn’t look further than its film industry for champions.

Today I was edging down the back row of the festival’s main cinema as the lights dimmed for the start of the film; only to see a pregnant woman chuck her bag over the top and leapfrog into the only remaining empty seat. Bravo, an outstanding festival effort. (For the record, it wasn’t our Head of Acquisitions Cate, with her bundle of joy, but I certainly wouldn’t put it past her).


The Guilty

The winner of the Sundance Audience Award this year, The Guilty is an ingenious little Danish film that recalls one-set concept thrillers like Phone Booth, Buried and Locke. As a foreign language title, perhaps the best comparison is the Belgian thriller Loft, which was later adapted for US audiences by the same director but starring X-Man James Marsden (another of those remakes that fell off the rope ladder and into the abyss). I can’t argue with IndieWire: a Hollywood remake is a foregone conclusion for The Guilty.

Not settling for a phonebox, coffin, car or apartment, The Guilty is set in a police emergency call room, where a policeman is serving a demotion as he awaits an inquest of unlawful killing. As a desperate situation involving a kidnapped mother and an abandoned child develops, he takes emotional and redemptive action. The film’s bold achievement is to evolve the narrative and create intensifying drama through a vivid complex of phone calls - an impressive embodiment of the school of ‘less is more’. 

By the way, I was convinced I’d seen The Guilty’s excellent lead Jakob Cedergren before, assuming it had to be a Nordic Noir TV series. Shows like Borgen and The Bridge have created a genuine global problem by giving an army of talented Scando actors facetime in compelling dramas and thrillers - it’s a memory virus that has spread from Northern Europe to infect the world. I find myself Googling Nordic actors at least weekly to prevent my failing mind from breaking. I don’t think Sweden or Denmark have ever apologised for this, by the way. 

And so local IMDb confirmed that Cedergren was in The Killing, but it also revealed the popular police series was blandly named “Commissioner Lund” here in Germany. What a disappointment, but no surprise from the language that brings us brilliantly logical and literal translations such as “breast wart” for nipple and “hand shoes” for gloves.


The Prayer 

Let us take a brief moment for The Prayer, an excellent and moving drama from French director Cédric Kahn. Kahn was last seen in our cinemas in the early 2000s with a series of well-reviewed French dramas such as L’Ennui and Roberto Succo. But after Red Lights in 2004, he’s fallen out of commercial favour and his last four movies haven’t been picked up for UK distribution.

The Prayer is the story of an angry and rambunctious 22-year-old addict compelled to conform to life in a religious country house of recovering young men. It doesn't really offer anything new to the brand of social drama that the French-speakers do so magnificently, but it's directed and performed with authenticity and great sensitivity. Watch out for young French actor Anthony Bajon in the lead role, as a young man cured by religion but in conflict in respect to the depth of his belief. 

In many ways, it’s a film that closely recalls the films of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, however Kahn’s approach is broadly far more positive than the downbeat gut-punching of the Belgian brothers. As a result, The Prayer lacks that raw emotional power, which made me a bit ashamed to admit - is the positive really less impactful than the negative? I’ll leave you to work that one out - I have films to watch.

Jon Wood