Berlinale 2015 Film Reviews by Graduate Student, Jasmin Krakenberg

Submitted by Stephanie N. Welch on

Grad Student Jasmin Krakenberg received a 5-month DAAD grant to the Deutsche Kinemathek and is currently in Berlin conducting research for her dissertation on visual arts and the Berlin School of filmmaking. She reports this month from the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival, with a firsthand look at films that might be of particular interest to the cinephiles among us.


Before attending a film screening by one of the giants at this year’s Berlinale (Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Terrence Malick, Peter Greenaway, also new documentaries on Rainer Maria Fassbinder and Jia Zhang-ke…notice the lack of female filmmakers), I saw a rather quiet film that premiered at last year’s Berlinale, and finally made it to the movie theatres in Berlin last month. Jessica Hausner’s dryly amusing Amour Fou is based loosely on Heinrich von Kleist’s suicide in 1811. His question “Would you care to die with me?” is asked more than once, making it one of the most memorable lines. It is simply beautiful—the writing, the colors, the light, the wallpaper! It is a treat.

I was also impressed by the group exhibition of the Berlinale Forum Expanded, entitled “To the Sound of the Closing Door.” Films, videos, installations, and performative work, with panel discussions and talks by Gertrud Koch and Diedrich Diederichsen provided a critically centered perspective and expanded sense of Godard’s quote and the various meanings of “doors.”

still from Jem Cohen's "Counting"

Still from Jem Cohen's Counting

There were two beauties among the Forum films. The first one is Jem Cohen’s Counting that gives visual impressions in multiple chapters and tracks--a somewhat perceptive travelogue in fragments. The second one, The Forbidden Room by Guy Maddin, is a cinephile’s dream--a surrealist collage of reconstructed, lost movies. Both are worth seeing on the big screen.

still from Guy Maddin's "Forbidden Room"

Still from Guy Maddin's Forbidden Room

The highly anticipated Queen of the Desert by Werner Herzog was, to many, a disappointment—a painful example of a grand filmmaker’s collaboration with Hollywood, as some may say. I admit I enjoyed watching it amongst hundreds of viewers at the opulent Friedrichstadtpalast on that freezing Saturday night. The biopic turned out to be a rather campy melodrama about Gertrude Bell, an explorer of the Middle East, and her love of both men and travel. Herzog read her diaries, and the film turns to her letters and diary entries throughout the film. Rather than listening to Herzog’s familiar voice-over, the viewer listens to Nicole Kidman as Bell reading the lines, telling the viewer that her heart belongs to no one but the desert. I am not quite sure what the audience actually expected to see. But they certainly did seem to enjoy the moments when the camera turned to camels, lions, deer, swans, nightingales, and vultures.

still from Werner Herzog's "Queen of the Desert"

Still from Werner Herzog's Queen of the Desert

Reading the short description of Janina Herhoffer’s Freie Zeiten (a documentary about after-work activities),I was not really inspired to go and see it. But then I saw that photographer Tobias Zielony did the camera work, and thought to give it a shot ;) It is a series of long-takes. Each motionless frame fixates on the physical and psychological work involved in participating in group-exercises (such as yoga, laughter, running, role play, or reactive chanting). And each time we come back to a group, the camera angle is different, either pulling the viewer into a tight point of view or drawing her back. The most striking images for me are the ones of isolation, when the camera singles out one group member against a blank background. It is definitely worth seeing again.

still from Janina Herhoffer's "Freie Zeiten"

Still from Janina Herhoffer's Freie Zeiten

The last screening I attended was the closing film of the Critic’s Week, a film screening platform that tries to reach beyond the Berlinale as an open space for debate about topics such as activism, genre, resistance, or lust. Christoph Hochhäusler’s Die Lügen der Sieger was screened and discussed under the banner of controversy. The film takes aim at the power plays in the world of journalism. Similar to his last film, Unter dir die Stadt, his new film takes genre conventions as vessels to explore institutions of powers (the capitalist elite). Reinhold Vorschneider is the cinematographer. Each image is stunning and demands re-watching. Especially the ones capturing the reflections of light on glass, mirrors, or steal, either bathing the figures in a soft glow, or cutting through their faces to an obscuring effect. Die Lügen der Sieger will be released in theaters this summer.