The Birds Are in Berlin
BEV programmer Daniela Boban is at the Berlin Film Festival, catching the latest films by women directors including our favourite Julie Delpy with an early, (even more) gruesome version of botox, and a Chytilova comedy classic on the side…
Yesterday, I caught Julie Delpy‘s latest offering: The Countess, Panorama Special screening, a period piece about a notorious 17th century Hungarian countess Erzsebet Bathory, played by Delpy herself, who allegedly used virgins’ blood as a pre-botox youth potion, in a desperate and increasingly gruesome bid to retain her youthful looks. A powerful, independent noblewoman falls for a lovely young man 20 years her junior after her husband’s death. This young man ends up breaking her heart and unleashing her murderous tendencies. She believes that the reason for the abandonment is her age, and becomes convinced that virgins’ blood can reverse signs of ageing, starting a series of gruesome murders of local maidens to feed her obsession with youth and beauty. Although the film portrays the story as if it was actually true, Delpy very strongly suggests that this was all possibly fabricated by the Countess’s enemies – what better way to get rid of a powerful woman than by spreading rumours about her as a blood-thirsty insane monster.
Both Screen International and Variety slated the film. While some of the criticism is justified – I did find the film was a bit clanky at times and somewhat lacking in energy, and Delpy’s portrayal as the icy countess not always satisfying the desire to have a deeper understanding of the character’s complex psychology – perhaps they would have enjoyed it more if they didn’t take it so seriously! I felt Delpy was doing much of it tongue-in-cheek, with an often funny script, twisting the period genre into something which is much more about our own times, about an obsession with looks and youth, about a woman’s place in a man’s world, about hypocrisy of men who go to war but are intimidated by a strong woman. What jerked the critics most was the dialogue which oscillated between old world grandeur and contemporary street talk, as well as the myriad of strange accents by the international cast. I personally didn’t mind that at all. I don’t believe it is possible, or even desirable, to portray ‘authentic’ worlds that are centuries old, and these days every cosmopolitan place you go it is perfectly normal to hear people speak everything other than Queen’s English.
The cinematography is beautiful, creating a stark and somewhat oppressive atmosphere, and Delpy’s own music score does the job effectively. It is a certainly a daring offering by Delpy, who obviously didn’t give into temptation to play it safe and follow the winning formula of 2 days in Paris (read about 2 Days in Paris in our First Weekenders Club section) . Admittedly though, it doesn’t work as well. The film is not for the faint hearted, with a lot of blood and gore, but I did see the funny side. The exaggerated brutality gave subtle clues about the possibility of the whole story being an absurd lie, much before Delpy spells it out later on in the film.
The second film I saw was Glowing Stars by a Swedish director Lisa Siwe, about a teenage girl who watches her mother gradually die from cancer – and her learning to cope with the loss. The film is solid enough, a compelling subject brought to life by good hand held cinematography, and a stunning performance by the young lead actress, who is utterly convincing in portraying the complexities of the character – frustrated and angry at the inevitability of her loss, whilst having to cope with the usual trials of being a teenager. The film was screened as part of Generation programme for youth here at Berlinale, and the cinema’s largely teenage audience really connected with the film. They laughed and cried, which, admittedly, I did as well. I did find the film overly sentimental at times, and although it was obvious that the director tried to avoid most clichés, and I did wish she was slightly more brave in doing so.
The last film of the day was the utterly brilliant and side splittingly funny 1979 The Prefab Story, by one of the grand-dames of Czech cinema, Vera Chytilova. I absolutely loved the film, it is an absolute classic, the best of scathing satire of the grand plans of communist governments, as well as people’s own stupidity. Chytilova is a now aged but still active and iconic filmmaker. More on her here.
And more from Berlin to follow!