My first Berlin Film Festival was fun and productive, which is about all you can ask from a film festival. I saw 13 films, talked to four terrific artists (some of which is still forthcoming), and was thrilled to bump into some people I only know from the Internet, as well as several friends from home who are living in Berlin. I also ate a lot of food from food trucks and drank some gluhwein in the cold.
Also I wrote like a crazy person. For Christianity Today, I wrote a series of dispatches (short reviews) for six films:
For RogerEbert.com, I interviewed Jeff Nichols and Michael Shannon (two of my very favorite artists) about Midnight Special, which was doubly cool since it was my first article for the site, which I love.
And here are the other movies I saw:
- Barakah yoqabil Barakah, a little Saudi comedy that looked (as so many films from the Middle East have done recently) at the life of ordinary people under a restrictive religious regime, and had some things to say about public speech in person and on the Internet.
- Lotte, an unexpectedly moving low-budget drama about a trainwreck of a woman and a teenage girl who encounter one another in a surprising way. It's about mothers and daughters, and mistakes.
- A Serious Game, which played to me like a better-made Swedish version of Far From the Madding Crowd (I apologize if you liked that film, because I definitely did not). This one is based on a early 20th century novel, the story of a long affair. I was with it till near the end, when I felt like it fell way apart for overromanticization. But it was beautiful and compelling.
- Aloys, a film I honestly chose because the timeslot was convenient. Well! I was surprised. It was great, somewhere between a thriller and a less whimsical Michel Gondry dreamscape film. I really recommend it.
- Illegitim: a low-budget Romanian family drama that lives up to others right off the bat by starting with an explosive family conversation about abortion and being an informant under an oppressive regime. It pulls that thread along throughout the film by dramatizing the most extreme version of that situation (very subtly); that said [SPOILER] the plot hinges on brother-sister incest, and that is probably a bridge too far for a lot of people.
- The Commune, a Danish film about a commune in the 1970s. The characters are wonderfully watchable and the filmmaking is solid; it's a lot of fun to watch. The writing is weird, though. I felt as if it may have been trying to hard to pull A Dramatic Story out of what was essentially a funny crowd of people (warning, a fair amount of nudity in both sexual and non-sexual contexts; in classic Scandinavian fashion they all go bathing in the sea in the nude).
- The Dreamed Ones, which I discovered when it started was square in the middle of one of my obsessions: collections of letters between writers. The film is almost experimental (but don't take that as code for "unwatchable"; it's anything but): two actors read letters between two poets on camera, and take breaks to smoke and joke around and listen to music. Strangely compelling.
So that about wraps it up. Tomorrow I'm off to Paris for some reading and writing and pretending I'm in what Crazy Ex-Girlfriend calls a "sexy French depression." And my next festival is March 3-6, when I'll be at True/False in Columbia, Missouri, writing updates from there!