Christopher Shea, our correspondent at the Berlin Festival,
a.k.a Berlinale 2013, files this report.
Set in World War II-era Foshan and Hong Kong, The Grandmaster traces the rise and fall
of Kung Fu master Ip Man. The movie is gorgeous, strange and
stylized, bouncing between tea houses and brothels and beaches and back alleys,
all with operatic sweep. A slow-motion Kung
Fu fight in a train station is a highlight, as is one slow-motion scene where
brothel employees sweep fans across their faces while staring straight into the
camera. The ladies don't fight often in this movie, but their strength is nothing
to sneeze at.
Still, full enjoyment of the movie probably rests largely on
your belief in the infallibility of Wong Kar Wai's genius. Seen through this
lens, the movie's inscrutability is a sign of mastery; its nearly
incomprehensible early scenes - during which we learn the details of 1930s
Sino-Japanese politics and the history of Kung Fu - aren't sloppy, but
deliberately, unsettlingly obscure. If you trust that your ignorance of Kung Fu
wisdom and Wong's craft lie behind these
little confusions, you'll love the movie; otherwise you might find it
satisfyingly epic, but opaque.
PARADIES: HOFFNUNG (PARADISE: HOPE)
The third installment in Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy takes place in a summer camp
for overweight teens, where a young camper (Melanie Lenz) begins a strange
almost-love affair with the resident doctor. What starts out as a slight breach
of standard bedside manner slowly morphs into something chaste enough to stay
within the bounds of law, but far from fully kosher.
Seidl has a terrific cast, a good ear for teenage dialogue, and
a sly humor about the whole dictatorial enterprise of fat camp. He doesn't pass
moral judgment on his characters, refusing to humiliate the ones who behave
badly or to reward those who do good. Instead, he seems content simply to creep
us out quite mildly by showing the budding relationship but allowing it to
remain tame enough that we can never quite cry foul. The result is an
exceedingly clever movie, and a satisfyingly amoral one, but one your brain
sheds as easily as water weight.
DON JON'S ADDICTION
Don Jon (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) hits the gym daily, slams ladies
on the weekly, makes good money at the Jersey
bar where he works, and looks a bit like Rocky. Unfortunately, he's also
addicted to porn-- like several times a day addicted. The combo's well and good
and fairly unobtrusive, all things considered, until a husband-hungry
ladyfriend (Scarlett Johansson) turns up, discovers the porn, and wants the
filth to stop.
The movie is Levitt's first foray into feature film writing and
directing, and it has a rookie's feel, steeped as it is in obvious metaphors -
Don Jon's hair frees itself from gel just as he frees himself from himself, and
so on. Certain things also straight up don't make sense. Barbara (Johansson)
really cares that much that he watched porn? Don Jon's really never heard of
clearing his internet history? The latter wouldn't be such a problem if the
plot didn't hinge on it.
Still, Joseph Gordon Levitt's movie is sweet, funny, and
incisive. Levitt is appealing as always, and it's intriguing to see this
congenitally erudite-shy boy take on the persona of a meathead. Julianne Moore
provides her usual blank but soothing presence, as a woman who Don Jon meets in
night-school who ends up being his cure. The script is sympathetic to all of its
characters, but also probing, and by the end it makes a very trenchant point
about how selfish the selfless drive to start a family can be.
Overheard at The Grandmaster:
"These are the expensive seats. There are no more expensive
seats. We are only not sitting down in those seats because we got here later
than they did."
"If you're happy and you know it clap your fat"
On the movie screen just before Paradise: Hope began, we could watch the actors and directors enter
the building lobby and walk into the movie theater in real time.
Notable: The sound of hundreds of press heads trying not to
turn and gawk.
The perfume of the woman
sitting next to me's thoroughly altered my experience of Paradise: Hope.