The 56th Berlin film festival is wrapping up, as am I — it's nippy! Only got here for the last few days so I can't pretend to be offering a full run-down of what's been on offer. But I seem to have picked lucky, for the most part. Here's the buzz.
- Everyone's agreed that Hans-Christian Schmid's Requiem (above) is one of the best films in competition, and that Sandra Hüller can hardly fail to win Best Actress. Her performance in this quietly searing religious drama is already earning comparisons to Emily Watson's in Breaking the Waves, and let's just say that if cinema ever needs another Joan of Arc (which I hope it doesn't anytime soon, but still...) she should be first port of call. As an actress she reminds me less of Watson than Kerry (An Angel at my Table) Fox with a welcome dash of Maggie Gyllenhaal. The film's based on the same case that inspired The Exorcism of Emily Rose, except that here the words "possession" and "exorcism" aren't even mentioned until the last reel; it counters that film's credulous hysterics with a humane rationalism that I found exceptionally moving, and the direction, cinematography and editing are all superb. Give or take The New World, it's the best film I've seen so far this year. A—
- No one's agreed about whether Michael Winterbottom's The Road to Guantánamo is (position one) a creditably restrained but vigorous piece of docu-dramatic corner-fighting or (position two) a devious con job. Both views are flying around, as is everything in between, which hasn't stopped it becoming a hot favourite for the Golden Bear. Potsdamer Platz sure does love a spot of controversy. I gave it a positive review, but it has to be said that the movie, for all its overt strengths, opens up enough of a can of factual worms to keep a trout fishery going for weeks. This may be sheer cowardice in the face of a cacophonously split festival reception, but I find my support for it ebbing away by the day. B(?)
- I really liked Ben Hopkins's 37 Uses for a Dead Sheep, a playful, creative, slightly Herzog-y ethnographic study of a displaced Central Asian tribe called the Pamir Kirghiz. Or at least I did until Hopkins came on afterwards and somewhat deflated the movie's toothy charms in a disappointingly po-faced Q&A session. It's a really nice idea, though, one of the freshest docs I've seen in some while, and the film cements Hopkins's reputation, after the gloriously nuts The Nine Lives of Tomas Katz, as the closest thing we've got to our very own Guy Maddin. B+
- Vin Diesel's (actually rather good) hairpiece and attempt to develop an acting style beyond Cro-Mag grunts will be the main talking points in Find Me Guilty, Sidney Lumet's best film since Night Falls on Manhattan. Which still isn't saying much. (Did anyone else see Critical Care? Jeepers.) A hard-working support cast (Linus Roache, Ron Silver, Peter Dinklage, the sadly underused Annabella Sciorra) make it pretty watchable even while you're registering its shameless shucking and jiving to let Italian organised crime off the hook. As a friend wondered, are the Mob bankrolling Vin's next few movies by any chance? C+
- I found Mary Harron's The Notorious Bettie Page perfectly enjoyable, if gossamer-thin and essentially a bit needless. Gretchen Mol is really quite good, and there are six words I didn't imagine I'd ever string together. Major dyke turnout at the screening, which was fun to see, and, on a side note, the cinematographer is called W. Mott Hupfel III, which I think has to count as the single best name ever. B—
- The new Chabrol film, L'ivresse du pouvoir, is a comedy. Sort of. Starring Isabelle Huppert as a pushy magistrate and scourge of corporate fat-cats unsubtly called Jeanne Charmant-Killman, and François Berléand as her squirming chief target. It's quite droll but too flabby and lethargic to be my cup of tea; I ducked out after an hour to forage for, well, a cup of tea. (B—)
- Might get to see the new Altman, A Prairie Home Companion, tomorrow morning. I hear mixed things. Still, I heard mixed things about The Company, which was wonderful, and don't you dare deny it. I'll give Altman the benefit of more doubt than just about anyone. Watch this space...