Berlinale Quick Hits Part III: 7 Films from Top to Bottom

A Tangled Web of Sex, Money and Murder: Minoru Shibuya’s “Modern People”

Modern People (dir. Minoru Shibuya) – Another stunner by Shibuya, whose vigorous artistry of 60 years ago is a league above nearly everything new in the fest. A bureaucrat accepts bribes to pay for his wife’s hospital bills, merely the first in a chain of moral compromises that ensnare him and his daughter, co-worker and lover. Shibuya flips through the proceedings with stunning alacrity, a bracing experience for anyone who associates the domestic dramas of Shochiku studios with the gentler pacing of Ozu and Naruse. Shibuya seems to have held fast to the salty Poverty Row dramas of ’30s Warner Brothers, as well as the lively humanism of Jean Renoir; his camera moves like a needle weaving together a complicated tapestry of social relationships and conflicting values. A moralistic ending seems tacked on but it’s no large mark against the revelatory filmmaking that precedes it.


Cave of Forgotten Dreams (dir. Werner Herzog) – In one of the best uses of 3-D technology to date, Herzog explores the Chauvet caves of Southern France, site of the oldest cave drawings yet found. Accessible only to researchers, the fragile, pristeen etchings come to life with Herzog’s use of 3-D, giving us a sense of what it’s like to stand in their presence, submerged in a netherworld hailing from the origins of humankind’s existence. As such the journey carries as much psychic power as visual. For the most part, Herzog’s typically imposing voiceover does more to support than undermine the film’s spine-tingling, primal sense of awe and mystery.

Matchmaking Mayor (dir. Erika Hníková ) – Simple, delightful doc of Czech village with a preponderance of unmarried folk, for whom the town’s colorful mayor organizes a dating party. Modest but with numerous well-observed moments, reminiscent of ’60s Milos Forman, especially in the hilariously disastrous climactic ball, which plays like a group of thirtysomethings forced to relive their high school senior prom nightmares (with parents in tow!).


Brownian Movement (dir. Nanouk Leopold) – As conceptual as its title suggests, this ultra-dry melodrama plots a psychiatrist inexplicably sleeping with patients, with her marital aftermath rendered in long, long takes contemplating wife and husband’s blank confusion. There’s a certain integrity to it all, and crisp camerawork lends dignity to the scenarios, but the long silences stretch scenes to the brink of endurance.

Women Art Revolution (dir. Lynn Herschman Leeson) – Serviceable TV-ready documentary breezes through the history of feminism in art from the 60s to the present. Touches all the bases, weaving together a rich tapestry of voices, from Judy Chicago to Miranda July, while acknowledgng the explosive tensions that divided the movement.

Pina (dir. Wim Wenders) – Originally intended as a profile of legendary dancer Pina Bausch, but her sudden death diverted project’s attention to surviving members of her comany – each gets a brief moment to testify to her legacy through their performance. It’s a well-intended way of acknowledging both Bausch and the family of dancers who advanced her vision, but this democratic approach gets repetitive while staying on surface level insight. 3-D impressive in opening sequence at conveying, force, beauty and human expressiveness of Bausch’s art, then it’s more or less on auto pilot to the end.


Tales of the Night (dir. Michel Ocelot) – Ocelot’s art thrives in two dimensions (cf. Kirikou and the Sorceress), so making a 3-D movie is a largely pointless endeavor. Some financier must have imposed 3-D thinking that it’s now standard for animated features. The stories themselves aren’t particularly inspired in their telling – feels like straight to children’s TV fare.

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