Berlinale Quick Hits Part II: 6 Films from Top to Bottom

Embracing the World in “Life in a Day”

Life in a Day (dir. Kevin Macdonald and various) – Last July 24, YouTube solicited thousands of user videos documenting their life that day. I was skeptical of the project as a grand publicity stunt, and did not expect to be as impressed with the outcome as I am.  Yes, it has its anthemic, fanfare-ish sequences of human joy and drama spliced from around the world, edited at an eplilepsy-inducing pace. And there is a dubious paradox in having professionals cull through YouTube’s bounty to impose a vision of life from others’ footage. And yet that footage breaks through again and again in moments of piercing intimacy, as people around the world divulge their inimitable experiences, both beautiful and ugly. The monumental significance of this work, as a call to reflection on how our lives are lived and shared today, simply cannot be denied.

Doctor’s Day Off (dir. Shibuya Minoru) – Pretty much an unknown outside of Japan, Minoru directed over 40 features for Shochiku Studios in the middle of last century. The first screening from his Berlinale retrospective unveiled a boisterous talent with an uncommon ability to juggle characters, stories and tones, leaping improbably from a post-rape trauma scene to wild slapstick without batting an eye. Loveable Yanagi Eijiro plays the dedicated doctor who, in servicing several neighbors at once, stands as the moral touchstone for a working class milieu still reeling in post-WWII devastation.

Sleeping Sickness (dir. Ulrich Köhler) – European doctors flail about in Africa, contending with bureaucratic funding demands and their own post-colonialist impulses. It plays like a left-brained version of Claire Denis’ White Material, opting for hard, sharp social observation in place of fever-dream drama.  Has some of the richest, deep-staging compositions in a festival drowning in shallow hand-held camerawork.

Under Control (dir. Volker Sattel) – A sober, visually striking tour of the shambling nuclear power industry in Germany, largely dismantled after the Chernobyl more or less killed public opinion on power plants. Sattel has a rare gift for parsing graphic patterns out of the plant facilities, almost to the point of being dotingly fussy – a quality not unlike that of the proud, meticulous plant operators he interviews.


“E-Love” (dir. Anne Villacèque)

E-Love (dir. Anne Villacèque) – A Parisian philosophy professor tries online dating. The film is described as a contemporary feminist update of ’60s New Wave romantic films, casting a couple Eric Rohmer regulars and one scene featuring Francois Truffaut’s The Soft Skin. But from the results, you’d think Nancy Meyers has infiltrated the French studios. Anne Consigny in the lead makes the marzipan go down easy.


Follow Me (dir. Johannes Hammel) Another debut effort involving the director working out childhood family scars. Intriguingly he incorporates archival family super 8 footage, juxtaposing them with memories re-enacted on black and white digital video. Unfortunately the new stuff, whose gloomy renditions of family dysfunction suggest an emo version of Michael Haneke, can hardly compete with the evocative wonder of the old.

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