54TH BERLIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL , February 5-14. Daily online coverage on our Berlinale minisite. Rating: NNNNN
Berlin - Diane Keaton had a minor breakdown in front of the press here this week, but Charlize Theron didn't. Then, at a Sunday panel on politics and film, Israeli filmmaker Udi Aloni ranted for Palestine, driving the Israeli cultural attaché to admit she had to pop a Valium just to sit still. And on opening night, student protestors stormed the red carpet, getting in between übermodel Claudia Schiffer and her light. It's been emotional.
Now in its 54th year, the Berlin International Film Festival opened with Cold Mountain , but ever since then it's been a riot of feeling.
Before the Berlinale even started, festival head Dieter Kosslick got into a public scrap with Cannes over which festival would get Walter Salles 's new Che Guevara film, The Motorcycle Diaries . (Kosslick lost.)
It's the liveliest program I've seen in years, with new films from Eric Rohmer , Catherine Breillat , Richard Linklater , Ken Loach , Patrice Leconte and Korean bad boy Kim Ki-duk . Chantal Akerman 's made a whole movie on mother-daughter caprice.
The documentaries are more political and more passionate. There's a focus on 10 documentaries from South Africa, and a separate spotlight on Nollywood, Nigeria's hugely prolific video-feature industry.
With 394 films screening over 10 days, the Berlinale is big. It's also the coolest big festival in the world, drawing pretty young hipsters and leathered-up seen-it-alls from their homes in Lisbon and London and Shanghai to the rebuilt centre of this city. To lift a line from Bruce LaBruce 's The Raspberry Reich , which screens in Berlin's Panorama section, this is the world's Prada-Meinhof gang.
LaBruce premiered his film last month at Sundance, but it finds its natural home here. Both committed and flagrant, it's a Berlin film.
The same could be said for Tomorrow We Move (Demain, On Déménage), Akerman's weirdly captivating story of a mother and daughter trying to set up house together. The daughter writes porn and her mother plays a grand piano and interferes. It's a slim plot that takes whimsical, farcical turns, discovering sudden insights into the interdependence of parent and child, life and art or pleasure and dissatisfaction.
There's a similar blithe seriousness in Samaritan Girl , Korean director Kim Ki-duk's Competition entry. It's about a teenage schoolgirl who manages her best friend's prostitution career, then sets out to pay the tricks back when her friend dies after jumping out a window.
It could be that Kim (Bad Guy, The Isle) is Asia's Lars von Trier, telling stories that punish women in the name of honouring them. Still, as clumsy and suspect as his movies often are, they're fascinating. They manage to be both brutal and naive, which is at least an unusual combination.
It's more than could be said for the just-plain-brutal Monster , screening in Competition as a part of Charlize Theron's juggernaut up the Oscar aisle. Theron brought steely resolve to her press conference here on Sunday. Like a front-runner in the last days of a campaign, she stayed on message, praising director Patty Jenkins , emphasizing the work and training that went into the performance, deflecting questions about everything else.
The only time she slipped was when she said, "Everybody likes to make this correlation that if you go ugly you'll win an Academy Award. But the fact is the work is good."
She probably meant to say "the work was good," acknowledging past winners Nicole Kidman, Hilary Swank and Halle Berry. But she didn't.
Compare her appearance to Diane Keaton's, who arrived at the Something's Gotta Give press conference with a glass of red wine in her hand and proceeded to fragment, then shatter a little over the course of an hour.
Jack Nicholson played along with Berlin's famously mischievous press, but the packed room seemed to rattle Keaton. When an Indonesian reporter said, "I have two questions for you," she misheard him and stuttered, "You have the patience for me?"
A minute later she interrupted a reporter to cry out, "You ask weird questions and I don't know how to answer. It's just fucking weird. And the thing is, there's so many of you and so few of us. If we had the crew there'd be 200 guys here."
Nicholson stepped in to rescue her, and she mumbled. "I'm going nuts. Thank you."
As spiky and embarrassing as it was to watch, it felt real.
It might be impossible to identify a "real" emotion in another person, especially an actor, but this year feels like it's been full of them.
Richard Linklater premiered Before Sunset to roaring applause, thanks in part to Julie Delpy 's stunning, immediate performance. She and Ethan Hawke reprise their roles from Before Sunrise, nine years older and several relationships wiser. He's written a novel about that night in Vienna and she's become an aid worker sitting on a well of romantic rage. Over 90 minutes walking through Paris, they talk about love and life, and slowly the wells surge up.
Slight and improvised as it appears to be, this is a tightly structured story. Delpy gets better and better, building to an emotional payoff that tops anything in the original film. The last scene in this movie gave me my first big thrill of the festival. Right in the gut.
For daily updates from the Berlin film festival, go to www.nowtoronto.com.