The 59th edition of the Berlinale film festival was challenging before it had even started. After a day-long delay in snowed-in Heathrow, the first film that was on offer on arrival was Sion Sono’s dizzying, daring, nearly four-hour epic Love Exposure (Ai no mukidashi). Outrageously irreverent, both visually and thematically, the film is a fast-paced saga that follows a rebellious young boy whose life is thrown into complete turmoil upon the death of his saintly mother. The only way for Yu to gain the affection of his father, who has become a Catholic priest, is to perpetually commit sins, and by doing so he eventually runs into Maria, a man-hating riot girl. Possession, perversion, mass murder, up-skirt sneak photography, Christianity and mysterious religious cults, a sprinkling of martial arts and bold references to films such as the 1970s Female Convict Scorpion series are just some of the elements that make up this unique adolescent love story. Although the film starts off at a frantic pace, it gradually slows down as the devious plot develops before concluding on a surprisingly serious and truly emotional note.
After such a thrilling start, it was difficult not to wonder whether the rest of the selection could possibly match it, and it has to be said that on the whole this year’s Berlinale was fairly downbeat and uneventful. Despite this, there were pleasures to be had: although not quite on the same level of inventiveness as Love Exposure, there was something disturbingly funny and compelling about seeing a baby sprout wings in FranÃÂ§ois Ozon’s bizarre new feature Ricky, one of the films competing for the Golden Bear. However, once again the true gems were to be found not in the official competition but in the Panorama and Forum sections. Take, for instance, When You’re Strange, Tom DiCillo’s insightful feature-length documentary, which explores the rise and fall of The Doors against the violent backdrop of the Vietnam War and the Nixon era. Incorporating previously unseen footage, it provides the first detailed record of the band’s early years on film, from their initial performances to Jim Morrison’s tragic death in Paris in 1971.
Also of note was the new film by LucÃÂa Puenzo, the Argentine writer-director behind 2007’s well-received XXY: engaging and handsomely shot, The Fish Child (El NiÃ±o pez) mixed teenage romance and soft-centered thriller. This year’s Forum programme was dominated by four Korean productions, the most impressive of which was Baek Seung-bin’s debut feature Members of the Funeral (Jang-rae-sig-ui member), a quietly riveting and grimly funny drama. And the festival even offered a spot of Midnight Movie-type deviance with Dominic Murphy’s White Lightnin’, a phantasmagoric vision of the legendary ‘Dancing Outlaw’ Jesco White, who has spent most of his life battling madness, obsession and an uncontrollable wicked streak. Even though Murphy’s wild re-imagining of White’s story is at times somewhat over the top, White Lightnin’ was an enjoyable splash of cinematic ferocity, more of which would certainly be welcome in future editions of the Berlinale.
Explore the alternative side of the Berlin film scene with our online feature on Julia Ostertag’s DIY punk film Saila or read an article on Berlin squat cinema in the new print issue of Electric Sheep. Our spring issue focuses on Tainted Love to celebrate the release of the sweet and bloody pre-teen vampire romance Let the Right One In, with articles on incestuous cinematic siblings, FranÃÂ§ois Ozon‘s tales of tortuous relationships, destructive passion in Nic Roeg‘s Bad Timing, Julio Medem‘s ambiguous lovers and nihilistic tenderness from KÃÂ´ji Wakamatsu. Also in this issue: Interview with Pascal Laugier (Martyrs), the Polish New Wave that never existed and comic strip on the Watchmen film adaptation + much more!