Sit Down, and I'll Tell You a Story: A Spectacularly Intense Fantasy Is the Pick of the Berlin Festival Crop
Gilbey, Ryan, New Statesman (1996)
57th Berlin International Film Festival, 8-18 February 2007
It was on my fourth day at this year's Berlin Film Festival that I received the kind of cinematic boost any festival-goer needs almost as badly as intravenous espresso. What I'd seen up until then had not been without merit. The opening film, La Vie en rose, is a grand biopic held together by Marion Cotillard's performance as Edith Piaf: with her popping eyes and petrified mouth, she's mesmerising in a kabuki kind of way. For I'm a Cyborg, But That's OK, set in the dream-world of patients at a Korean mental institution, Park Chan-wook swaps his trademark violence for a calculated whimsy that some might find even harder to stomach. Top marks, though, for the scene in which the hero yodels enthusiastically as the heroine is whisked away by a giant ladybird.
The combination of ice and grit on the streets of Berlin was reflected in The Good Shepherd, an analysis of the dawn of the CIA, directed with surgical precision by Robert De Niro. Matt Damon is the operative for whom international espionage becomes an excuse to avoid his family. And while three hours is a long time to spend in the teeth of a vice, it's worth it for the most loaded hug since Al Pacino clasped John Cazale in The Godfather Part II and seethed, "I know it was you, Fredo."
You'll have heard by now whether the Leonard Rossiter lookalike Karl Markovics got the Best Actor prize he deserved for his turn as a master forger in the riveting Austrian/German thriller The Counterfeiter. This true story, about concentration-camp prisoners put to work making forged bills to fund the Nazi war effort, is handled with deftness and flair. And I was gripped by the Italian drama In Memory of Myself, set among the new intake at a Venetian seminary. When things start going bump in the night, it becomes clear this is as much horror film as theological meditation. With Paul Schrader, patron saint of religious angst, as the Berlin jury president, there has to be some prize in the offing. How about Best Performance Without the Use of Facial Muscles for the lead actor, Christo Jivkov?
Out of competition, Schrader unveiled his own new picture, The Walker, in which Woody Harrelson is revelatory as a gay escort to the wives of powerful men. …