February is the month of love with Berlinale serving as my Valentine this year. 🐻♥️🎥
Movies have the power to inspire, romanticize, and evoke phantasy. They let you glimpse into another world, and some of the best remind you all too much of a reality and feelings you already know. I believe that watching a great movie can change the way you perceive your surroundings and how you reflect on your life.
The films I’ve watched during Berlinale have had a haunting effect on me. My mind keeps drifting off to little scenes and remembering aspects that I really enjoyed. In a way they have been very present, always in the back of my mind, these past few days. In short, watching the few films I did really impacted me. That is one reason why I don’t try to “over do-it” at film festivals. I am perfectly happy watching a couple select films that are phenominal than watching several with half of them being just ok.
The first film I watched was the French film, Belinda, which was shown with English subtitles. It was written and directed by Marie Dumora and produced by Diane Thin. Belinda tells the love story and struggle of Belinda, the free-willed protagonist, who grows up before the viewer’s eyes. The film is a documentary capturing footage of the young girl at the age of 9 when she is split up for her sister and put in foster care. Chronologically, the film progresses fourteen years to the present, when Belinda is 23. She is planning her marriage, but it is postponed several times due to her to-be husband’s ongoing stints in jail.
Marie Dumora, the director, provided great insights into the filming process during the Q&A session. Marie met Belinda when she was nine, and this is the second film that she has shot with her. The previous film, Je voudrais aimer personne, was released in 2010 and shows Belinda at age 15.
In total, Marie estimated that the actual filming took about three months, which was spread out over a year. She developed trusted relationships with all the characters over the years, fostering authenticity in the characters’ actions and dialogues. To my surprise, the director stated that she intentionally shot with a bulky camera and audio producer at her side to create a strong presence while filming. She didn’t want to be a fly on the wall, but rather she wanted to remind everyone she was shooting that they were being filmed.
A great question that was asked during the Q&A was why there isn’t any footage shown inside of the prison? Maria responded that everyone has an idea of what is it is like in a prison already. She wanted to leave it up to the audience’s imagination. “It was a personal choice.”
Belinda really won me over. At first, I wasn’t sure if I’d like the film. It is a difficult story, filled with disappointment, displaying what it is like to be the underdog in society, where characters often reinforce stereotypes. Yet, the personal elements of the true story, and the director’s honest narrative reproduction really make it an exceptional film.
The second film I watched was Ciao Ciao. It is the first professionally released film written and directed by Song Chuan, who flew in from China for the festival. He shot with a French production team during the five years of shooting, which added an interesting western twist to a Chinese film.
Ciao Ciao is the self-titled name of the protagonist, who comes back to her small mountainous hometown in the Yunnan province. She left the town for the city, Canton, along with prosperity and freedom from traditions and parental influence. When she comes back, she hates that everything is the same and connects with other boys her age that have also gone to big cities and returned. The film depicts the internal struggle of longing for more, while coming to terms with expectations, and the strange isolation of coming home.
The cinematography of Ciao Ciao is truly brilliant! Watching this film on a big projection screen is a must, especially with the beautiful landscapes of rural China filled with vibrant colors. Even better than the beautiful scenery is the wonderful soundtrack produced by Jean-Christophe Onno. It again shows the French production influence mixing impeccably!
Song is absolutely charming, and it was a pleasure to have a personal introduction to the film. He started by saying that he is terribly shy and he indulged in some Dutch courage before going on stage. The main message he said he wants to get across with the film is that you will always be from the same place, regardless of whether or not you change or even if your hometown changes, as is often the case with the rapid developments seen in China. You must comes to terms with this part of you that you can’t alter.
The third film I watched was Japanese, called The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue (Yozora ha itsu demo saikou mitsudo no aoiro da). It was written and directed by Yuya Ishii, and featured the prominent actors Shizuka Ishibashi and Sosuke Ikematsu. The film is based on poetry written by the modern Japanese poet Tahi Saihate.
The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue is a film about the struggles of living in Tokyo, following two characters whose paths cross several time before they become friends. Mika works as a nurse by day and is a bartender by night. Shinji works in construction and is half blind. Their lives are worlds apart, yet they experience similar feelings of isolation and confusion by the many global changes going on around them.
Several social issues are brought up throughout the film such as suicide, death, insufficient wages, migrant workers, earthquake warnings, the aging Japanese society, and much more. However, the issues are just hinted at, much like a poem, without being explained in much depth. This created the effect that you would start to think about one issue and how it would can create certain precarious circumstances. Towards the end of the film the influence of such issues do not explicitly come together, but rather you start to form an idea of what a current state of existence is based on. Problems are dealt with lightly, allowing the viewer to decide whether or not to take a deeper dive.
Throughout the film, beautiful shoots of the city nightline are shown. The film also includes several animations, scenes of a street singer singing, and split screens. During the Q&A, the director said that he wanted to show a of jumble of visual sequences just as you would sense the chaos of walking down a street in Tokyo. Additionally, he revealed that the character Shinji is blind in one eye to represent the ever-incomplete understanding you have of your surroundings in Tokyo. You can never see the whole picture.
I really enjoyed the film and particularly liked the interesting variety of visuals. Leaving the cinema, you get the feeling that the you gained a small understanding for Tokyo. Not the glamorous image shown in a guidebook, but you start to grasp the struggles many people experience daily.
The grande finale of Berlinale 2017 was the Chinese animated film Have a Nice Day (Hao ji le). Liu Jian wrote, directed, and animated the film, serving as his third feature film. Have a Nice Day was featured in the competition section of the film festival, and sadly did not receive the Golden Bear for Best Film, which was awarded to the Hungarian film On Body And Soul by Ildiko Enyedi.
Have a Nice Day opens with a quote from Tolstoy’s last novel, Resurrection. The quote states that spring can be seen even in cities where all nature has been removed by man. The film tells the story of how a bag of money unites various people in a Chinese town over greed. Each person who gets a hold of the bag views it as their lifeline to change their lives. Like any great film, there are lots of unforeseen plot twists, and oftentimes things turn violent, yet most brutality is kept off-screen.
The film is absolutely hilarious, and great for anyone who enjoys black humor and in-your-face irony. One joke in the film was about how rich Chinese parents shouldn’t send their children to university in the UK, because it will soon no longer be part of the EU. Another funny scene is when one of the characters wants to start a startup that addresses society’s needs and then proposes opening a restaurant, because people are always hungry. There is also a scene in the car when Donald Trump is being played on the radio congratulating Hillary Clinton for her hard-fought campaign.
Witty and relevant, the dialogue and ironic chain of events in the film will keep you snickering the entire 75 minutes. When is comes to the animation…wow I can’t even begin to talk it up enough. The influence of capitalism in a small Chinese city are shown with signs, billboards, and construction. However, everything looks dirty, tainted with yellow smog, and removed from Hollywood glamour. Life is shown as bleak, and the characters have guts.
Have a Great Day takes the win for my favorite film in Berlinale 2017, followed by Ciao, Ciao, and The Tokyo Night Sky Is Always the Densest Shade of Blue. The film festival itself was extremely well organized, had a crazy variety of films, and was held in great theaters. Buying tickets on time was a bit tricky, because online tickets sold out extremely fast. Overall, the 67th Berlinale was a real treat, and added some much needed life to the city during this very cold winter!