The View From Here

Jimmy Page, Tommy Lee Jones, James Brown! Berlin Film Festival report

Michael Bonner

Here in Berlin, the annual film festival is gearing up for its closing weekend. But although the presence of Kate Winslet, Michelle Pfieffer, Keanu Reeves, Clive Owen and Demi Moore may have attracted the kind of flashbulb frenzy usually associated with more bling-heavy festivals like Cannes, few of the movie premieres here managed to generate the same level of excitement.

All the same, there have been some minor gems in the official programme. Lone Scherfig’s AN EDUCATION, scripted by Nick Hornby from a memoir by Lynne Barber, is a sublime snapshot of first love and teenage disappointment in pre-Beatles London. Meanwhile, Sweden’s Lukas Moodysson delivered his most mainstream drama yet, MAMMOTH, starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams as a wealthy young New York couple opening their eyes to global injustice. Radiohead and Ladytron feature heavily on the soundtrack.

Tommy Lee Jones also popped up in another of his grizzled, world-weary detective roles, this time playing novelist James Lee Burke’s long-running Louisiana sleuth Dave Robicheaux in Bertrand Tavernier’s IN THE ELECTRIC MIST. Blues veteran Buddy Guy and The Band drummer Levon Helm both have cameos in this foggy swamp of serial killers, Hollywood drunks and ghostly Civil War generals.

As ever, some of Berlin’s more unusual pleasures lurk on the festival’s fringes. Actress Julie Delpy was in town this week with her third feature as director and star, THE COUNTESS, a biopic of Elizabeth Bathory, the notorious 16th century Hungarian bisexual aristo and mass murderer. Delpy’s high-minded gothic gorefest presents Bathory as a proto-feminist martyr and desperate housewife who just happened to enjoy bathing in the blood of virgin girls. Come on, we’ve all had nights like that.

Among Berlin’s smattering of rockumentaries, nostalgia rules. The editor of Leon Gast’s 1995 boxing Oscar-winner When We Were Kings, Jeffrey Levy-Hinte has now assembled a musical sister film. SOUL POWER features ace live footage of James Brown, BB King, Miriam Makeba and others all playing in Zaire around the Rumble In The Jungle. Uli Schueppel’s VON WEGEN captures local Berlin noise overlords Einstuerzende Neubauten in their late 1980s prime, playing their first ever East German show just before the Wall falls. Director Tom DiCillo also brought his slightly barmy Doors doc WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE fresh from Sundance - as reviewed in detail in previous Uncut blogs.

One of most jammed gala screenings of the week has been IT MIGHT GET LOUD, director David Guggenheim’s follow-up to his Al Gore Oscar-winner An Inconvenient Truth. A love letter to the rock guitar that brings together Jimmy Page, Jack White and U2’s The Edge for an amp-blowing axe summit, Guggenheim’s film is a visually lush but slightly self-indulgent affair. Each of the three guitarists also revisits a significant location - in Page’s case, Headley Grange, the manor house where Zeppelin recorded most of their landmark albums. The Edge gave a brief introduction at the Berlin premiere. No Jack or Jimmy, alas, but the trio’s monster onscreen jam session at least gave the festival a much-needed jolt of excitement.

That’s all from the Berlinale 2009. Achtung, babies.

STEPHEN DALTON


Newsletter


Editor's Letter

Inside the new Uncut...


Vile day here in London, improved to some degree I'd hope by the arrival in UK shops of the new edition of Uncut. It has Nick Drake on the cover, as you probably know if you're a subscriber and your copy arrived over the weekend.

It's the first time that Drake has appeared on our cover,...