BERLINALE20 REVIEW: La déesse des mouches à feu [Goddess of the Fireflies] [2020]

I feel like I’m wasting my life. Die-hard grunge fan (and drug dealer) Fred (Noah Parker) tells Catherine (Kelly Depeault) she can’t play her Hole cd because Courtney Love killed Kurt Cobain. It’s a remark that was probably half joke and half memorial that leads into Keven (Robin L’Houmeau) dropping the necessary wisdom of knowing Love wouldn’t have been able to stop him if she tried. Cobain wasn’t a victim. He lived hard and walked a road of his own making to an end he ultimately embraced enough to pull…

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BERLINALE19 REVIEW: Kameni govornici [The Stone Speakers] [2019]

We need both spiritual and physical healing. Writer/director Igor Drljaca takes us on a contemplative tour through four towns in Bosnia-Herzegovinia with his documentary Kameni Govornici [The Stone Speakers]. We never hear him speak nor watch any of his subjects respond. All we hear are their disembodied words atop static portraits of them standing against the backdrop of their environment and all we see are the remnants of and creation from destruction post-World War II and civil ethnic unrest. There are the locals lamenting their dying land as its unable…

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BERLINALE19 REVIEW: Ringside [2019]

You can hit people and you can’t get in trouble. Boxing became the way two fathers in Chicago could keep their sons off the streets. Kenneth Sims Sr. was a brawler back in the day before turning his passion into a career as a coach. Destyne Butler Sr. was a pugilist aficionado who succumbed to the allure of drug dealing before getting out of the game. They therefore knew how easy it was to fall into a hole that seemed impossible to climb and what it took to do exactly…

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BERLINALE19 REVIEW: MS Slavic 7 [2019]

You’ll have to use this pencil. Director Sofia Bohdanowicz found a series of letters written between 1957 and 1964 by her great-grandmother Zofia Bohdanowiczowa (a poet) to the Nobel Prize nominated author Józef Wittlin at Harvard’s Houghton Library. Both literary figures were forced to leave Poland during World War II with the former heading to Wales and the latter New York City. Zofia would eventually cross the Atlantic into Toronto, the newfound proximity allowing them to finally meet after so much correspondence. You truly get an insight into their minds…

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BERLINALE19 REVIEW: Breve historia del planeta verde [Brief Story From the Green Planet] [2019]

Don’t be scared of what you’re about to see. I have no idea what’s happening inside Santiago Loza‘s Breve historia del planeta verde [Brief Story from the Green Planet]. This quest on behalf of three outcast best friends since childhood to deliver an ailing alien to the place where one’s grandmother found it is disorienting and obtuse, but above all else beautiful. There are parallels running through every scene whether the sense of “other,” the desire to feel included and at-home, or the notion of embracing one’s origins no matter…

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BERLINALE19 REVIEW: Querência [2019]

Treme Terra. You don’t have to look much further than the definition of the title to understand writer/director Helvécio Marins Jr.‘s goals with Querência. Its English translation is “homing” and actually does a good job at getting to the heart of its Spanish metaphysics. The former deals with an animal’s ability to return to a destination after being far away—like a trained pigeon. The latter goes deeper into metaphor, springboarding off its usage in bullfighting terms (the place a bull goes to feel safe within the ring) towards a psychological…

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BERLINALE18 REVIEW: Les rois mongols [Cross My Heart] [2018]

“They’re good guys doing bad things” While you can debate the success of politically motivated events like 1970’s October Crisis in Quebec, Canada, you can’t question their danger removed from the cause. The media reports the carnage whether terrorist bombings or kidnappings and murder. They provide an objective account of what’s happening—in this case the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) wreaking havoc to force secession from the country and become an autonomous nation—and leave it to their viewers to understand the context. Adults can handle this because many already…

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BERLINALE18 REVIEW: Cobain [2018]

“My little man” There’s a scene in Nanouk Leopold‘s Cobain where the titular fifteen year-old (Bas Keizer) tells his estranged, junkie mother Mia (Naomi Velissariou) that he wants to help. Her response is to ask whether she cares about what he does, the answer tragically understood before his mouth utters the word “No.” To watch her shrug her shoulders and say, “Why should you?” epitomizes love’s power and its strength in circumstances where you couldn’t be blamed for believing it didn’t exist at all. Mia has never been a mother…

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BERLINALE17 REVIEW: Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau [Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves] [2017]

“People do not yet see they are miserable. We will show them!” There’s universality to Mathieu Denis and Simon Lavoie‘s Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau [Those Who Make Revolution Halfway Only Dig Their Own Graves] even if it is very much a Québécois film. Marking their second collaboration together (after 2011’s Laurentie), the two were desperate to tell a tale about young radicals on the cusp of disillusionment after the failed Maple Spring protests (an infamous series of student demonstrations and…

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BERLINALE16 REVIEW: Ani ve snu! [In Your Dreams!] [2016]

“I hate the ropes” The world of Parkour meets teenage coming-of-age angst in Petr Oukropec‘s Ani ve snu! [In Your Dreams!] and it’s a welcome mixture. Whereas most sports inherently breed competition to the point that American films must delineate good versus bad or favorite versus underdog because they underestimate their audience, the urban appropriation of French Special Forces training (Parcours du combattant) here deals in the communal spirit of freedom. There’s a kinship between participants—one highlighted by the Prague group that Egon Tobiás‘ script creates—wherein “pros” and “amateurs” alike…

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