The 2010 edition of the Berlinale has just started and in her first dispatch from Berlin Pamela Jahn tells us about the highlights of the first few days. Check this section for more reports from the festival in the coming days.
This year’s Berlinale opened on Thursday 11 February, but the real standout event was the gala screening of the newly restored version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis at the Friedrichstadtpalast on Friday 12, with live accompaniment from the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin. Part of the myth surrounding Fritz Lang’s best known work comes from the fact that the original was cut shortly after the premiere of the film at the Ufa-Palast in Berlin on 10 January 1927. Although the restored version is 30 minutes longer than the print released in 2001, it still doesn’t completely recreate the original version. One sequence of the 16 mm negative of the film that was miraculously found in Buenos Aires in 2008 was simply too damaged and had to be narrated in intertitles. The newly added scenes not only help to better understand the fragmentary plot of Lang’s futuristic epic about the struggle between workers and bosses in a capitalist dystopia, but they also ensure an entirely unique and captivating cinematic experience. In addition to sequences depicting the conflict between industrialist Joh Fredersen and scientist Rotwang, creator of the machine woman, and extended scenes at the end of the film, when Maria is pursued by the masses of uprising workers, stunningly mounted images of Metropolis‘s red-light district Yoshiwara and inserted biblical references intensify the fantastical portrait of a time and place that feel both strangely affecting and disturbingly familiar. This reconstructed classic was the perfect – if ‘unofficial’ – opening to the 60th Berlinale.
Also worthy of note in the first few days of the festival was Howl, one of the American films in competition, which dramatises the landmark 1957 obscenity trial revolving around Allen Ginsberg’s poem of the same name. Combining animated sequences, dramatic narration and documentary style, the film offers a captivating, yet partly unsatisfying, insight into the creative process and personal struggle that Ginsberg was going through while writing poetry. The dark Kafkaesque animation – which is reminiscent of the visual style of Ari Folman’s Waltz with Bashir – creates a vibrant and fascinating imagery that brilliantly evokes the poem, complementing the dramatic courtroom scenes and fragments of a re-imagined interview with Ginsberg (played by James Franco), given to an unseen interviewer and interspersed with flashbacks from his past. Directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman aim high both aesthetically and conceptually, but they only really dazzle on the former level. Yet, despite a slightly artificial, long-winded feel, Howl is a vivid, engaging and lovingly made film.