Mortality rates as major Berlinale theme

Thu Feb 14, 2008 2:13am EST
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By Kirk Honeycutt

BERLIN (Hollywood Reporter) - A filmgoer who comes to the Berlin International Film Festival directly from Sundance experiences culture shock. Sundance overflows with young writers and directors who have embarked on their first adventures in storytelling.

Not surprisingly, their themes revolve around coming of age, first love, family crises, sexual identity and problems at school -- along with imitations of Hollywood movies.

Berlin for the most part programs films from seasoned veterans with wide-ranging interests. They explore historical topics and social problems, marital failures, midlife crises and the process of aging. Their films show a greater acceptance of life's material limitations, often focus on characters that seek spiritual meaning to their lives and frankly face the stark reality of death.

This has never been truer this year as several competition films dramatized people's confrontations with mortality, either as they find themselves nearing the end of their lives or in the anguished aftermath of a loved one's death. Two of the most touching films in competition dealt directly with death.

In Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke's "Lake Tahoe," a son and peripherally his family must process grief over the loss of the father. But this is not clear until the film is nearly an hour old. Eimbcke's dramatic strategy is to withhold this information to concentrate on a comic, Jim Jarmusch-flavored, daylong odyssey of a young boy across a small town that seems locked in a permanent siesta as he searches for an auto part for his damaged car.

Only after our realization of the anguish that hangs over his head do we see that his calmness and seeming nonchalance in the face of failure at every turn masks much inner turmoil. His encounters with an aging mechanic, a young mother and a martial arts fanatic serve to reconnect him with life, perhaps against his own wishes.

In Doris Dorrie's "Cherry Blossoms -- Hanami" from Germany, a grieving spouse goes to Japan to seek Zen-like wisdom to reconnect spiritually with his lost wife. In his relationship with a young homeless woman -- who also is working through the loss of her mother the year before with Butoh dancing -- the older man, blithely unaware of his own impending death, finds inner peace and harmony. Dorrie's ending has astonishing power that resonates long after the lights come up.

In Antonello Grimaldi's "Quiet Chaos," a father (Nanni Moretti) and his daughter must overcome the loss of the mother. He impulsively waits outside his daughter's school for an entire day and then decides to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. He soon attracts co-workers and family members who share with him their own pain and use him as their sounding board. The man starts to look at the world with fresh eyes and a recovered spirit.   Continued...

<p>The logo of the 57th Berlinale International Film Festival is pictured during a news conference in Berlin February 11, 2007. Hannibal Hanschke</p>