Sight&Sound - 05.2020

(Jacob Rumans) #1

18 | Sight&Sound | May 2020

By Jessica Kiang
Perhaps the most misleading thing about
this year’s Berlin Film Festival were the
numbers attached to it: the year 2020! The 70th
edition! Year one under new directorship!
Such lovely, round, important-seeming
numbers usually promise an extra festive dose
of stops pulled, galas hosted and champagne – or
at least Germany’s ubiquitous Rotkäppchen
Sekt – supped. But for reasons that range from
the capricious (the loss of key venue CineStar;
the shuttering of the nearby Potsdamer Platz
Arkaden shopping mall) to the cultural (the
discovery of the alleged Nazi affiliations of
Alfred Bauer, in whose name a major prize

used to be given) to the Covid-19 outbreak, this
year’s Berlinale felt unusually muted. And with
a main competition light on levity and heavy
on heavy, the only real fireworks to be found,
at least in the Berlinale Palast, the flagship
Competition venue, were in the sparkly starburst
of Berlin’s unimprovable opening ident.

The Competition has been struggling a little in
recent years, it should be said. During the last
couple of lame-duck editions that ended Dieter
Kosslick’s two-decade reign, masterpieces like
the 2019 winner, Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms, were
thin on the ground. Still, on paper, 2020’s line-up
looked promising; but reactions to new films from
bigger-name directors ranged from moderately
underwhelming (Tsai Ming-liang, Christian
Petzold) to extreme disappointment (Sally Potter).
There were gems: Hong Sangsoo’s slight, witty,
warm The Woman Who Ran earned the most
purely affectionate response. Given that there

was no way to award its outstanding feline actor
(if Cannes has a Palme Dog, why no Purrlinale
Award, you cowards?), the Silver Bear for Best
Director was the next best thing – besides,
giving awards to long-adored South Korean
filmmakers is just what we do now, right?
Hong’s film offered a much-needed dose of
simplicity and spontaneity. The Competition
line-up also included a stiff treatise on
Brazilian slavery (Marco Dutra and Caetano
Gotardo’s All the Dead Ones); Rithy Panh’s
profoundly despairing essay-doc on global
atrocity (Irradiated); and Ilya Khrzhanovskiy
and Jekaterina Oertel’s Dau. Natasha. This last,
which details Stalin-era institutional oppression,
has emerged as part of the incomprehensibly
ambitious ‘Dau’ project, a conceptual art
experiment, documented in many hundreds of
hours of footage, that has used a cast of thousands
to create a simulacrum of life in Soviet Russia.
The two top prizes went to serious-minded
dramas: Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes



This year’s Berlinale, the first
under new leadership, was an
understated affair, but there were
unmistakable signs of promise

Our reviewers offer a tantalising
selection of the most exciting
features by emerging filmmakers
at this year’s edition


I heard it through the bovine: Kelly Reichardt’s lovely First Cow

Los conductos
Camilo Restrepo, France/Colombia/Brazil
Camillo Restrepo’s debut feature – which won
the Encounters Best First Feature prize – is a
potent, angry, stylish 70-minute rail against
structural injustice. The film is a depiction of
the Colombian criminal underworld through
the figure of the vagrant Pinky – a Christ-
like figure, all skin, bone and beard in Luis
Felipe Lozano’s portrayal – on the run from
the faceless ‘Padre’ and his criminal cohort.
Restrepo’s assured control of imagery thrusts
his inventive, elusive film forward even when
its narrative is unclear – match-cuts, long
takes and saturated colour maintain suspense,
drama and even gentle humour. Rhys Handley

The American Sector
Courtney Stephens/Pacho Velez, US
This fine documentary traces 60 concrete
slabs of the Berlin Wall that ended up in the
US – in military compounds and museums,
but also in restaurants, parks, universities,
homes and even horror arcades. The film
shows how quickly the fall of the Wall became
a shorthand for Cold War triumphalism, again
tested in today’s tense political climate. Each
slab’s provenance is briefly narrated by its
new owners, while the directors also engage
immigrants, refugees, indigenous persons and
African Americans, whose own interpretation of
freedom, and of the price paid for it, transcend
facile nationalist pathos. Ela Bittencourt

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