Berlin - Day Five (2018)

A final full day of movies as I prepare to exchange one chilly city for another, as tomorrow I quit Berlin to return home to London. Today, I was grateful for Japanese brand Uniqlo (or more accurately the fact that there’s a branch in the Mall of Berlin, a few minutes walk from the heart of festival). Uniqlo make my underwear (phrased the way David Beckham might say it, but actually I just buy cheap undies there!). Let’s just say an error of mathematics when packing almost led to personal embarrassment on the road for Curzon, but the retail expansion of Uniqlo came to the rescue and today I am draftless and secure!

Virtual Reality

Virtual Reality is making its presence felt in Berlin this year, with a VR programme and a dedicated VR Cinema at the Marriott Hotel, one of the meeting hubs for the European Film Market that runs alongside the festival. With the VR Cinema at Curzon Oxford - our newest venue - now open, I spent a couple of hours today wired in to programmes from Sundance, France and even a VR film made with Dogme credentials. 

Highlights included a terrific ‘making of’ piece on Isle of Dogs, in which you hang out with each of the animated mutts as they give their philosophical opinions on the film or on their motivations for playing their canine characters. At one point you sit suspended in mid-air in a moving trash cable car toe to paw with Boss (Bill Murray). And there was an atmospheric South Korean VR drama called Eyes in the Red Wind, set on a boat during a ceremony for the soul of a drowned man. From your point of view you experience the shocking consequences of the truth about the death coming to light, including a beautiful moment when you’re elevated into the air. Hopefully all coming to a VR Cinema near you (in Oxford!) very soon.

 

U-22 July

I’m still trying to work out where I stand on this bold and uncompromising recreation of the Norway 2011 attacks, or more specifically a dramatic account of the shootings on the island of Utøya, when a Workers' Youth League camp of almost 600 teenagers came under gunfire, with 69 killed, just hours after a terrorist bomb attack destroyed a government building in Oslo. 

Since watching the film, I’ve been hammering Wikipedia to learn more about this awful event, particularly as my total ignorance of it before I saw the film has horrified a long line of people I’ve discussed it with since (I hate news and current affairs, I keep apologising - I’m a sports page and crosswords man!). But I needn’t have, because within hours of the film’s premiere here in Berlin, articles were popping up asking whether it was too soon for a film about such a painful episode and reporting the division of opinion forming around the movie.

There’s no debate that the film demonstrates an adrenaline-fuelled technical achievement that recalls Victoria, with single real-time long takes to capture the immediacy and terror of the students’ situation. To their credit, the filmmakers did work with survivors and parents in the making of the film, and the characters and action are fictional, albeit based closely on first hand accounts. I found the final film a tough watch but a distinctive and exciting piece of cinema. 

A friend pointed me toward an interview with Erik Poppe, the film’s director, where he expressed the need to create something about the event for the victims - rather than the obsession the world has with the gunman, Anders Behring Breivik (which, incidentally, also includes a Paul Greengrass movie for Netflix). With this in mind, perhaps it’s Poppe’s success as a filmmaker - in communicating the horror of those final moments of so many young people with such acute reality - that makes this title such a difficult film to accept.

 

Don’t Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot

Since its Sundance premiere last month, Gus van Sant’s Amazon Studios feature, a gently comic biopic of now deceased quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan, has come under fire from some critics (although Van Sant feels like an easy target given Milk was the last time he was on top form, which was a decade ago). Committed to a wheelchair after a drink-induced car crash, Callahan overcame his alcoholism despite this horrible setback, eventually channeled his situation into a career crudely drawing brilliantly funny cartoons that became infamous for their un-PC and provocative subjects.  

The film’s brilliant title comes from the punchline from one of Callahan’s most famous cartoons (see pic), scrawled with typical self-deprecating and darkly ironic humour. The film’s failings are wrapped up in the difficult challenge of making a film that has humour but also makes serious comment about alcohol recovery. For me, I’m genuinely grateful to have seen it for the discovery of Callahan’s story and his work, and his twisted sense of humour - a realisation on my part that cinema needn’t be a of 5-star standard to enrich and inform. 

Jon Wood