BERLINALE22 REVIEW: Queens of the Qing Dynasty [2022]

We’re both needing something. Our introductions to writer/director Ashley McKenzie‘s leads in Queens of the Qing Dynasty are not to be forgotten. Whether Star’s (Sarah Walker) open-mouthed and fully dilated thousand-yard stare in a hospital bed after her latest suicide attempt (this time for drinking poison) or An’s (Ziyin Zheng) voice regaling the women nurses with a Chinese song while their supervisor drawls “Old Macdonald” in response, the notion that we’re dealing with two eccentrics in a world that may never understand them is abundantly clear. It’s therefore only right…

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BERLINALE22 REVIEW: Super Natural [2022]

Have we started yet? Less a film than an experience, Jorge Jácome‘s Super Natural is the sort of work that only achieves the sort of transcendence it aspires towards if the viewer is willing to meet it halfway. Unfortunately for me, doing so is easier said than done considering most of the narration (subtitled computer noises reminding me of videogames that don’t have the budget to hire voice actors) is very clearly trying to engage with me throughout. That device can work when the questions being asked are rhetorical in…

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BERLINALE22 REVIEW: Stay Awake [2022]

It’s kind of scary to think about it. Ethan (Wyatt Oleff) doesn’t have to say anything when he shows up at his brother Derek’s (Fin Argus) work unannounced. They’ve gone through this too many times not to know the reason for any impromptu visit: Mom (Chrissy Metz‘s Michelle) is missing again. So, they get into the family car, flip their middle fingers at the office of the doctor who prescribed her first bottle of medication (and continues to refill it despite years of failed rehab stints), and check all the…

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BERLINALE22 REVIEW: The City and the City [2022]

I’ll calm down when you wake up. Directors Christos Passalis and Syllas Tzoumerkas describe their film The City and the City as the untold story of Thessaloniki, Greece. It isn’t that because there’s a lack of interest, though. No, this story is one that the majority Christian city doesn’t want told. Why? Because it damages their narrative. This is their home and that’s all anyone needs to know. To believe the start and end of a place’s history lies with those currently in power not only exposes you as a…

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BERLINALE22 REVIEW: Geographies of Solitude [2022]

It’s been a process of discovery. Considering the Wikipedia page for Sable Island states a population of zero (minus the six-to-twenty-five rotating personnel team from the Meteorological Service of Canada), the text labeling Zoe Lucas as a “full-time inhabitant” at the end of Jacquelyn Mills‘ Geographies of Solitude seems to confirm what we presume throughout its duration: this twenty-five-mile-long and one-mile-wide crescent sand dune off the coast of Nova Scotia is a world of one. It’s been that way for forty years, ever since Lucas returned following a brief stint…

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BERLINALE22 REVIEW: Manto de Gemas [Robe of Gems] [2022]

We see things differently. I made the mistake of worrying about plot while watching Natalia López‘s feature directorial debut Manto de gemas [Robe of Gems]. The synopsis dares you to worry with its talk of three women colliding courtesy of a missing person in Mexican cartel territory, asking us to wonder how things will resolve. Except we already know. The bodies found in landfills and marshes throughout the film prove it. If those who are kidnapped aren’t already found dead, you can assume they will be soon. That doesn’t mean…

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BERLINALE22 REVIEW: Mis dos voces [My Two Voices] [2022]

We’re doing great. The title to Lina Rodriguez‘s documentary Mis dos voces [My Two Voices] says it all. Her three subjects (as well as her) are Latin American immigrants living in Canada with similar journeys full of insight, experience, and perseverance that are important for those about to follow in their footsteps and those lucky enough to never have to do the same. The idea of two voices is steeped in the idea of past versus present, but also identity considering the challenge of that shift. They want to hold…

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SLAM22 REVIEW: Gleich zurück [Be Right Back] [2022]

Circles everywhere. Hearing director Frauke Havemann‘s story about traveling into the woods with her dramaturg to discuss a new project at the onset of COVID-19 feels crucial to understanding the experience that she and her co-writers Peter Stamer and Matthias Wittekindt have brought to the screen with Gleich zurück [Be Right Back]. The initial sense of escapism. The inevitable introduction of that nightmare via social media and the internet. The increasing emotional uncertainty and existential crisis born from knowing you must return to the world as it’s shutting down. The…

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SLAM22 REVIEW: کشتن خواجه [Killing the Eunuch Khan] [2022]

Where is the escape? It would be a mistake to take the synopsis for Abed Abest‘s Killing the Eunuch Khan at face value because this is not a film about a serial killer in the generic sense of the word. Khan (Ebrahim Azizi) isn’t some cult leader a la Charles Manson sending his disciples out into the world to murder people in his name. He’s not a monster in the vein of Jigsaw either, entrapping victims to do his dirty work in the hope that doing so will earn them…

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SLAM22 REVIEW: Paris is in Harlem [2022]

I think she told them what they wanted to hear. Enacted during Prohibition—and the Harlem Renaissance—the New York City Cabaret Law made it so any public establishment that served food and/or drink needed a license to allow musical entertainment and dancing. Like so many similar laws (see pushes for voter ID), proponents championed the initiative as a means of “keeping the peace.” Critics conversely saw how the extra cost and sheer absurdity of its enforcement targeted businesses that were owned and frequented by marginalized groups (whether race, sexuality, etc.). And…

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SLAM22 REVIEW: Yelling Fire in an Empty Theater [2022]

Double samesies. A long-time coming fit of exasperation gets Lisa (Isadora Leiva) to ask herself the question she should have asked before leaving Florida behind: is New York City a place or just an idea? A stranger at the airport tried to prepare her for this inevitable reckoning by handing over an unsolicited fifty-dollar bill along with advice to temper expectations, but dreams aren’t so easily thrown away. This move is about hope and excitement. It’s about leaving behind the only life she’s ever known to adventure forward into a…

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