Here's a wrap of some of the films I've seen that stuck out. I'd like to take a moment to thank DFD editor Alan Bacchus for his invaluable guidance, the Berlinale staff for the opportunity, my Frau Daniela for her patience and Jacob Sullivan for his couch and ashtray. And thanks to you for your support of Daily Film Dose.
By Blair Stewart
How I Ended the Summer (2010) dir. Alexei Popogrebsky
Starring: Grigori Dobrygin and Sergei Puskepalis
The most Herzogian of films in the festival, "How I Ended the Summer" has a gruff man and a punk kid stuck together on a remote weather station waiting for their ship to come in literally. Alone in the Arctic, the setting is haunting with the endless horizon and the threat of polar bears, so when the younger meteorologist makes a crucial error and keeps screwing up afterwards I believed the psychological strain he was under. Takes far too long to reach its tense conclusion, but Popogrebsky is a director I'll keep an eye out for in the future.
WON: BEST ACTOR PRIZE FOR DOBRYGIN/PUSKEPALIS AND OUTSTANDING ARTISTIC CONTRIBUTION
If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle "Eu Cand Vreau Sa Fluier, Fluier" (2010)
dir. Florin Serban
Starring: George Piştereanu and Ada Condeescu
Much lauded at the Berlinale, "If I Want to Whistle" is a Romanian handheld docu-drama set inside a reform school that should quickly remind one of the Dardennes output. A hand-wringer about a young convict in his last days of incarceration who deals with a family crisis in a novel way is both revealing and packed with a few twists, but I don't feel its worthy of a Golden Bear, it just didn't reinvent the wheel for me. The performance by newcomer (and non-actor) Piştereanu should earn him the attention of future leading roles, perhaps Romania's answer to Vincent Cassel or Russell Crowe. He has that fire in his belly.
WON: RUNNER-UP SILVER BEAR JURY PRIZE AND CINEMATIC INNOVATION AWARD
Please Give (2010) dir. by Nicole Holofcener
Starring: Cathrine Keener and Rebecca Hall
A bright spot in female-driven comedy direction, Nicole Holofcener's ("Lovely and Amazing, "Friends with Money") latest "Please Give" is nice and kinda funny, but also twee and kinda forgettable. Somewhere Woody Allen just felt a chill. Concerning the guilty consciences of uptight Manhattanites in personal relationships and public appearances, Catherine Keener plays against type as a bleeding-heart used furniture store owner who preys on the collections of the newly dead to turn a profit. My crush of Rebecca Hall and her acting abilities continues as the granddaughter of the next-door neighbour; a potential mark for Keener's re-sale value. A few laughs and all but I failed to reach the transcendence the self-absorbed characters may have achieved.
Red Hill (2010) dir. by Patrick Hughes
Starring: Ryan Kwanten, Tom E. Lewis and Steve Bisley
Based on the recent gems coming out of Oz and my love of "The Proposition" I skipped Noah Baumbach's latest to see this. Whoops. A modern Antipodean bloody revenge Western where the writer, director and editor might know the music of Walter Hill, "El Mariachi", Carpenter and early Raimi but they sure as hell don't know the beat. Suffers from a stilted pace, a wildly unnecessary 3rd act expository-flashback-monologue by the protagonist and most damning for a debut, an interesting sub-plot with a cheap CGI pay-off. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.
Caterpillar (2010) dir. by Koji Wakamatsu
Starring: Shinobu Terajima and Shima Ohnishi
Koji Wakamatsu's scorched-earth rant of the foolhardy ideals placed in the minds of Japanese peasants during the wars in China and the Pacific, "Caterpillar" is an agonising experience with two brave performances. A hideously deformed soldier returns from the second Sino-Japanese War and his wife feels forced to take care of the "War God" as he is called. Gradually she'll regard him in much less lofty terms and we'll experience flashbacks to his abuses both in the household and on the battlefield. A soldier with a belief in his status as a Deity of Battle would be unlikely to have qualms with the Rape of Nanking, it is in his right after all as the victor, no? Intelligent in its commentary and the acting by Terajima and Ohnishi but undone by a garish, exploitative visual style shot with a lousy digital camera. Cut out the crap and this would have been the best of the festival. Unforgettable in part due to the amputee sex.
WON: BEST ACTRESS AWARD FOR SHINOBU TERAJIMA
Puzzle "Rompecabezas" (2010) dir. by Natalia Smirnoff
Starring: Maria Onetto
An Argentinean charmer I would take my old Lady to see if it passes through town, "Puzzle" is about a browbeaten housewife who comes into her own in the high-stakes world of puzzle solving. A plain critique of Argentina's stuffy attitudes toward women (the lousy male bastards get away with murder down there!) that was also enjoyably frothy and easy on the eyes.