Prominent film festivals such as the Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale) offer red carpet events, press conferences, screenings and after-parties to those in the film industry. For many locals, however, Berlinale means an overcrowded city, fully booked restaurants and a frustrating hunt to find tickets. Occasionally, film aficionados might discover the works of talented directors under the festival’s Forum and Panorama sections or even score a ticket or two to the competing films. The process of purchasing tickets is tough: Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. three days prior to the screening at and almost always sell out within seconds. Despite failing to see Wes Anderson’s world premiere of “Isle of Dogs” (2018) or any of the award winners, this reviewer was lucky enough to attend screenings of three movies, two of them competing for the Golden Bear, the festival’s top prize. Overall, these movies respond to the audience’s perceptions regarding a group or nation’s cinema by rejecting, accepting or complicating them.
A Queer Anti-Romance: “Tinta Bruta”
Queer narratives saw some mainstream success in 2017, namely through the release of Luca Guadagnino’s “Call Me By Your Name.” Such success fostered debates on the sheer (im)possibility of depicting intimate queer romances without a larger statement or narrative. “Tinta Bruta” responds to such debates by offering a queer anti-romance. The movie’s protagonist is Pedro, a shy introvert who earns his living through gay chat rooms and faces criminal charges for assaulting a bully. Although Pedro is in a queer relationship, the romance is never front and center. The movie chooses to focus on Pedro instead, and does a tremendous job portraying a character trapped by the adversities he faces as a queer man. With this goal, the movie ultimately shifts and reverses the debate and asks whether queer narratives can exist without concentrating on romance. Featuring stunning neon visuals involving and a catchy soundtrack including a feature from Anohni, “Tinta Bruta” is a rewarding discovery.
Throwback to Hollywood Mid-Budgets: “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot”
“Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot” is Gus Van Sant’s much-anticipated return to the spotlight after critical flops “Restless” (2011), “Promised Land” (2012) and “The Sea of Trees” (2015). It is an adaptation of cartoonist John Callahan’s memoir of the same name, which centers on Callahan’s battle with alcoholism and physical disability. Joaquin Phoenix plays Callahan, and the film features an all-star cast including Jonah Hill, Jack Black, Rooney Mara and Carrie Brownstein. The casting, along with the uplifting storyline, makes it clear that Van Sant’s main inspiration is Oscar-winning Hollywood mid-budgets of the ’90s and early 2000s. Although Phoenix’s performance is top notch and the script has plenty of amusing moments, the movie fails to bring anything new to the table. The director’s ultimate offense is conforming too much to Hollywood conventions. Although the movie was well received at Sundance, it is surprising to see itamong the more ambitious, challenging movies in the competition.
Dark, Bloody Comedy set in Contemporary Iran: “Khook”
In a December 2010 TED Talk, visual artist Shirin Neshat declares, “Every Iranian artist, in one form or another, is political.” Mani Haghighi’s “Khook” verifies this. It provides a commentary on social media in a time in which the Iranian public’s access to it is denied and displays the government’s control over Iran’s film industry by having a blacklisted director as its protagonist. Yet, more importantly, “Khook” shatters Western audiences’ assumptions about contemporary Iran as well as what constitutes Iranian cinema. A complete inversion of the subtle, humanist filmmaking of famed Iranian directors Abbas Kiarostami and Asghar Farhadi, “Khook” is loud, vulgar and awfully entertaining to watch. It features several murders, a costume party and a dream sequence involving a neon tennis racket and Persian hard rock. Unjustly (but expectedly) overlooked at the awards ceremony, “Khook” will most likely remain an audience favorite instead of a critical darling.