I know there's a Berlinale opening night gala because I see women in sheerbackless gowns slogging up the wet red carpet as sleet pelts at theirshoulders. But that's as close as I get. Last night Marion Cotillardsmiled bravely for the cameras ahead of her premiere as Edith Piaf in LaVie En Rose. But just across klieglit Potsdamer Platz, there was anotheropening happening in Berlin's Panorama section.
Inside the CinemaxX 7, Panorama honcho Wieland Speck welcomes abarrel-chested guy in a black cowboy hat to the stage. Direct from CollegeStreet in Toronto, it's Bruce McDonald and he's beaming. Here to makethe world premiere of his new film, The Tracey Fragments, he saysthis night is a dream come true. In German. He also harks back to his firsttime in Berlin about 15 years ago, when he drank beer standing on top of thenewly breached Berlin Wall. That story he had to tell in English.
McDonald leads a massive charge of Canadians this year in Berlin. Alsopremiering in the Panorama section: Clement Virgo with his NovaScotia boxing drama Poor Boy's Game and Sarah Polley, makingthe European premiere of Away From Her.
Then, in the boundary-pushing Forum section, Guy Maddin screensBrand Upon The Brain with a full orchestra at the Deutsch Oper.Montreal director Catherine Martin screens two films, The SpiritOf Places and In The Cities, and Garine Torossian makesthe European premiere of Stone Time Touch, a return to Armeniastarring Arsinee Khanjian. There's also Toronto avant-garde stalwartDierdre Logue, mounting her award-winning installation Why AlwaysInstead Of Just Sometimes inside Berlin's Canadian embassy as part ofthe Forum Expanded section. I flew over on the same plane as Logue and shewas adorably nervous.
Apparently Berlin's curators are hot for Canadian talent, and this year itall starts with McDonald.
The Tracey Fragments stars Ellen Page as a pissed off 15 year-oldsuffering a meltdown at the hands of psycho parents and predator guys. Pagegoes all out here and gets to let that coiled rage of hers fly. But that'snot what you notice most. McDonald and his three editors have sliced anddiced the film into a rapid-fire Mondrian painting. The screen constantlydivides into smaller frames, breaking down scenes into component moments. AsTracey sits with her shrink (hilariously played by Julian Richings in askirt), we see each of them in separarte frames, with smaller boxes for hishands and her twitching feet. The effect is dazzling and scattershot all atonce, forcing you to take in a constantly shifting kaleidescope in eachscene.
It's a character portrait that Bracque or Picasso would have recognized,though I'm by no means comparing McDonald's achievement to theirs.Interestingly, he says he was inspired in part by Norman Jewison's TheThomas Crown Affair, which took its lead from Canada's multi-screen film atExpo 67 in Montreal.
Brendan Canning from Broken Social Scene did the music for TheTracey Fragments, in keeping with the cut-and-mix visuals. Canning DJed thefilm's after-party -- also attended by
Peaches. At one point hedropped a Brian Eno track from My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, and the Berlincircle was complete.
Zip back across the Platz and the portraiture on screen in the BerlinalePalast is not so different from McDonald's. Olivier Dahan's approachto Edith Piaf is to slice up the chronology that defined the life of thelegendary French chanteuse and scatter it to the winds. The film jutschildhood against middle age (Piaf died a physical wreck at 47), andshuttles recklessly between years. That means the film never builds up theemotional momentum it could, and the lower third of the screen is jammedwith more date and place markers than a Hollywood spy thriller.
Still, Marion Cotillard is a marvel as Piaf. Yesterday at the film's pressconference, she looked like an actress in the classic French style -- allcreamy angles. But her performance comes from the Anglo-American school --fully inhabited, powerfully physical and without vanity. She nails thetight, forceful vibrato of Piaf's speaking voice, and the weird, marionetteway she held her body. This is the kind of work they gave Charlize Theron anOscar for, but Cotillard is more persuasive.