The View From Here

Radiohead, Madonna, Gorillaz -- Berlin Film Festival pt 2

Michael Bonner

Here's the second report from this year's Berlin Film Festival by our man in the lederhosen, Stephen Dalton...

It’s the end of a bitingly cold weekend here in Berlin, where the 2008 Berlinale Film Festival has just closed its doors for another year. Among the glittering gongs handed out at Saturday’s prize-giving ceremony was a special Silver Bear honouring Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood for his soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson’s THERE WILL BE BLOOD. A fitting finale to a film festival where rock stars have hogged the headlines.

But the Berlinale’s top prize, the Golden Bear, went to the slick Brazilian crime thriller TROPA DE ELITE, directed by Jose Padilha. Based on the real exploits of the heavily armed, paramilitary-style super-cops who police Rio de Janeiro’s lawless favela slums, Padilha’s film is basically City of God meets Magnum Force. Featuring scenes of routine police brutality and torture, it has already proved politically controversial in Brazil.

Unsettling questions of state-sanctioned torture were also raised by the festival’s Silver Bear second-prize winner, STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE, directed by documentary veteran Errol Morris. With his usual mix of forensic detail and dramatic reconstruction, Morris dissects the notorious abuse of Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib jail. Which may sound like a dry subject, but Morris makes it a gripping human story, interviewing most of those charged with crimes while implicating their silent superiors.

Berlin’s Best Actress prize went to Sally Hawkins, the Polly Harvey lookalike who stars in Mike Leigh’s latest bittersweet comedy, HAPPY-GO-LUCKY. Hawkins plays a North London schoolteacher with a relentlessly sunny manner, even in the face of family friction, playground violence and racist driving instructors. The film stands or falls on the main character’s charms, and many will find her irritating. Even so, this is a welcome reminder of Leigh’s more gentle and upbeat side after the relentless drabness of Vera Drake.

Having started strongly with flying visits from the Rolling Stones, Neil Young and Patti Smith, the second half of the Berlinale delivered yet more music movies and megastars. Madonna caused a media frenzy when she unveiled her feature debut, FILTH AND WISDOM, a surprisingly competent but ultimately charmless London rom-com which only really comes alive when its male lead, Eugene Hutz of gypsy-punks Gogol Bordello, is on screen.

Meanwhile, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett dropped by to offer mumbling, apologetic introductions to the world premiere of BANANAZ, a documentary profile of Gorillaz directed over seven years by Ceri Levy. Sadly, despite guest appearances from the likes of Dennis Hopper and De La Soul, the film is a slight and sycophantic affair. The cartoon pop phenomenon deserve a serious documentary, but non-fans will learn very little from this rambling fly-on-the-wall portrait.

Much more interesting is HEAVY METAL IN BAGHDAD, a profile of Iraq’s only known hard rock band Acrassicauda, which was party shot in the war zone by co-directors Eddy Moretti and Suroosh Alvi. The film is playful and entertaining in style, but it ends up concentrating on Iraq’s mammoth refugee crisis as the band flee for safer havens in the Middle East and beyond. Their tragicomic story is not over yet. But this festival blog is. Until next time, auf wiedersehen pets...

STEPHEN DALTON


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