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The Climb (2019)
8/10
Collection of nice finds and unexpected turns of events. Inventive stories centering around two men their relationships with women and resp. families, spanning several years
12 July 2019
Saw this at fhe Film Festival Munich 2019 (in German: Film Fest München). An intriguing collection of nice finds, augmenting the at-first-sight downthrodden path of triangle relationships where two men compete for one woman, but there is so much more at that. A parallel topic is male bonding, said to be stronger than between man and wife but even so often falsified, but nevertheless working out surprisingly here in a very original way. We watch a series of separate stories, mostly some time passed in between, each having the same two men as center of attention. Each chapter carries a specific title, foreshadowing what we are going to see as dramatic development(s). For instance, in the first chapter with the title "I'll kill you!" comes to light that one of the men had a sexual relationship with the fiancée of the other one (no fatalities, however, despite the title of this chapter).

That said, I would have preferred that each of the chapters was introduced not only with an intriguing title but also with some context and a time frame. A spoiler-free example of the latter is the start of chapter 2. We obviously attend a funeral, but I was left too much time wondering who and why. Th "who" question is answered implicitly when the funeral leader invites "her husband" to say something. The "why" remains unanswered, and ditto how much time elapsed between chapter 1 and 2. The chapter ends in a very unusual way, when the husband gets into a fight with churchyard personnel around a shovel. Expect more such unexpected turns of events in this movie. This is one of its trademarks.

My feeling that I had to grasp for context happened similarly with subsequent chapters, where new protagonists were thrown on us without telling who-was-who. Nevertheless, the respective stories become clear after some time to get acquainted. Most important aspect of this movie is that the turns of events are unexpected and ample humor is included, contrasting with the also prevalent sadder moments. It all makes up a perfect mix. In other words, just like real-life outside the cinema runs its course, with ups and downs, and for better or for worse.

When ignoring the flaws in storytelling (assuming these flaws are real and not just my fault), watching this movie is a rewarding experience, not the least of the humor-riddled dialogs. Take for instance a "how long" question in the opening chapter, that was answered "still 2 miles", obviously not the assumed answer how long the offending sexual relationship had lasted. And the "I'll kill you!" exclamation was not to be taken literally, as we can see when the front cyclist hits a passing car, triggering its driver to leave the car and tries to attack him. The ranks are closed very fast in their combined effort to contain the angry car driver, and the earlier death threat is forgotten on the spot.

All in all, each of the chapters has its own merits, are well written and treat relevant situations and real people with real attitudes and opinions. The stories are diverse in topic and show different people in different circumstances, sharing our two main protagonists as common denominator. Indeed, their connection and their chemistry remain the central theme throughout the running time. Seeing them go through all these phases and events makes watching this movie a memorable experience.
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6/10
Down-to-earth social commentary packed in a noisy way of story telling. Watch how civil servants behave when they deem themselves important. Don't expect gadgets or aliens
11 July 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Saw this at fhe Film Festival Munich 2019 (in German: Film Fest München). This movie can easily be considered a vehicle for political/social commentary, rather than telling us anything about extraterrestrial worlds or civilizations. It can be deemed a spoiler, when I say that Celeste does not leave earth for any moment.

After a (too long) introduction to familiarize us with her family and work, we see the whole journey to the designated collection place for the take-off to another planet. As flies-on-the-wall we observe how everyone interacts with each other while waiting several days on something that no one is very sure about what to expect. We also meet people who were not chosen but still want a free ride to the planet, and their sneaky approach to achieve their goal.

Even more important, I think, is the interaction with the guards who try to smooth the emigration process and to control the undisciplined crowd. We see uniformed people, obviously power hungry and self-aware of their assumed importance, presumably showcasing the average civil servant or military. This is Cuba, and the movie lets us see some of it, how it functions and how people behave there. The story serves very well its purpose as a vehicle for social commentary.

The director made remarks in that direction in the Q&A, but I was not sure his express intention to put the guards under a magnifying glass. He especially mentioned the whistles that the chief guard consistenly uses to make clear that she had something to "say". I even heard her use the word "comrade", something that reminds me of earlier communist times. It made me wonder whether that word indeed survived recent developments in Cuba, or that it is only used by said power hungry people to enforce a situation in which they think to have the upper hand.

Insightful as it may be, the story is full of noise and not very well organized, throwing protagonists on us without making clear why (or if, or how) they are important for future developments. Maybe I should not have worried about this, merely enjoying the couleur locale and the way these people behave in their normal habitat (home, work) and later in an abnormal situation (waiting at the pickup point). But the first impression counts, leaving me with mixed feelings about how well the film makers succeeded in their goal of packaging political/social commentary in a story that can be seen by a wide audience. There are no gadgets, no aliens, just normal people thrown in a not-so-normal situation.
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8/10
Unusual plot. Remarkable and concise way of story telling, also presenting some unexpected turns of events. Very well watchable for non-fans of LGBT+ stories
11 July 2019
Saw this at fhe Film Festival Munich 2019 (in German: Film Fest München). Interesting plot, albeit a bit surreal, but it perfectly combines the attitude of the common man (m/f) towards queer behavior, on one hand, with superstition about life and death issues and incurable illnesses that may be cured nevertheless by unorthodox practices, on the other hand. This mixture offers all ingredients for unexplored avenues and unexpected developments. And it keeps us wondering all the time, against all scientific reasoning, whether our main protagonist will survive the two months allotted by his doctor.

Overall impression: Compact scenes, showing everything what had to be shown but nothing more than that. In other words: a very clever way of story telling, no frills and no distractions from the core theme. Very remarkable how we are led from A via B to C, and so on. I would hope that more film makers followed this example.

One does not need to belong to the LGBT+ community to nevertheless appreciate this story, so it can serve a broad audience. It is a fairy tale rather than showing how villagers react on queer behavior, as the latter can be predicted from very far away. Yet it is handled differently in this movie, leading to some unexpected turns of events, in addition to the obvious reactions from the crowd.
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The Pool (III) (2018)
8/10
Don't let an uninviting plot mislead you. Go watch tense scenes, unexpected developments and surprising twists. It's a showcase for the saying: Limitation Reveals The Master
3 May 2019
Saw this at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival 2019 (BIFFF for intimates). Remarkable how the film makers succeeded in filling one and a half hour running time with just a seemingly simplistic situational plot. Impossible at first sight, but they did it. It was not super-tense all the time, but there were ample unexpected developments to keep us alive. A bit of humour was included, also a bit of romance mixed with marital problems (even a row about an abortion in such dire circumstances). There is no limit to the number of mishaps and stupidities included in this movie, but without these we would have had no story and thus no movie with several tense scenes, unexpected twists and surprising developments.

I'm at a loss why the crocodile was not threatening all the time. It may be the nature of the beast, e.g. sleeping when its stomach is filled. A very unexpected development was that the crocodile even laid some eggs (it was a female one, the twosome deduced), coming in very handy when being stuck in the pool for three days already. Yet a dangerous thing to do, as the crocodile was not very happy when she could not find her eggs back, hence not prepared to be lenient.

The script also succeeded in giving an important role to dog Lucky a few times. Its action were not always in their advantage, but he still was very present some of the time, despite being outside the pool and with an unbridgeable distance between the dog and the twosome in the deep. Shouting to a dog and telling him what to do, does not always have the desired effect.

If on a quest to find an illustration of the saying that Limitation Reveals The Master, don't look any further. This movie has it all: less than a handful of protagonists, a confined stage for the players, only a few props, all of this assembled in a very simplistic decor. The crocodile may very well be the costliest item on the set, as it looked very convincing and alive, apparently not a DIY product.

All in all, though obviously an example of one-off entertainment, this movie is well made and included a lot of original ideas. Its synopsis may look uninviting upfront, but don't that let mislead you when deciding to book tickets for it. See for yourself who (if any) will survive.
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Cutterhead (2018)
8/10
Tense thriller in an underground world unknown to us before. It includes inherent dangers and safety issues, also showing a variety of foreign nationalities working together
3 May 2019
Saw this at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival 2019 (BIFFF for intimates). It is not a Horror or Thriller in the standard sense: no squeaking doors, no jump scares, no suddenly appearing ghosts, none of those clichés. Its tense may be felt nevertheless. We are constantly unsure how this story will end, given the deadly dangers awaiting the threesome we follow underground when disaster strikes.

Nice view on building operations underground, in this case construction works for the Copenhagen Metro. The setup looks like an organized chaos, but that is only the first impression and very unjust. These people know what they do, even when things go terribly wrong. And if all else fails, they can also count on salvage procedures and rescue teams. Panic and hasty decisions are out of the question, as theses are mostly counter productive.

Rie, our resident reporter, however, detests waiting for a rescue team. She wants action, even when it is risky, or when it violates regulations and safety procedures. She also goes against technical knowledge her fellow victims have, just wanting to do "something". She even lies about wanting to pee and needing some privacy, when in fact she prepares herself (out of sight) for an action the others would frown upon had they known her intentions.

Being there for PR purposes only, Rie's presence as a guest may be a nuisance, but she is a perfect vehicle for telling the story and following its developments from nearby. It gives us ample chance to understand why some things are done the way they are done in a working environment that we seldom get to see. As such, the screenplay is a success and seems the best (even the only??) way to sustain the story for one and a half hour, without risking to bore us. It clearly showcases the differences between people in Denmark, with Rie as piece de resistance in this movie, and the underground workers of all sorts of nationalities, who are there as the work pays very well (relative in their own country) and take the disadvantages (far away from family, problems with the language, risky and dirty working conditions) in addition and as inevitable.
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Permission (2018)
8/10
Powerful movie, well-told story, illustrating inequality between men and women as per current laws in Iran. Note: this movie successfully passed Iranian censors
27 April 2019
Saw this at the Movies That Matter film festival 2019 in The Hague. Very powerful movie, well-told story, perfectly illustrating inequality between men and women as per current laws in Iran, and also showing that women football is deemed to be of a lower level than male football. The latter even so applies in our part of the world, so no reason to be condescending about Iran for this part of the plot.

The bad guy in this movie is the husband, who is very stubborn in forbidding his (ex)wife to get a real divorce. He is also very creative in finding nasty means to get her back. One of his methods is to refuse permission to let her travel abroad. He has allowed her football career for many years, and they live now separated for one year already. What the husband really wants to achieve with this travel ban, I deduce from the proceedings, is that he wants to prolong their marriage and to resume living together again. Their struggle around the travel ban is even put before a legal court. We get the feeling that the judge was inclined to rule in her favor, but the law stood in the way. The husband, having the last word, was not prepared to give in anything.

It is important to note that this movie successfully passed Iranian censorship, something that we could have derived (if we'd known) from the words "In the name of God" appearing after the opening credits. Lately it became news that one Iranian cinema chain banned the movie, though for a reason we deem trivial (something to do with her flat mate; details escaped me). One can speculate that Iran allows a movie like this to be seen in their own country as well as in the rest of the world, if only to show that they are open to many contemporary issues and are reasonably liberal in letting women act on fields that were previously reserved for men only.

Several issues in this struggle are shown by means of a well-written story with believable characters. It also shows, between the lines, that Iran is a modern, civilized sountry, with streets and houses looking very much like streets and houses in our side of the world. Of course, we see scarfs everywhere, and many women dressed in black. I've seen many other Iranian movies, some passed censorship and others smuggled out of the country, but overall the modern, civilized image of Iran prevails. Whatever we may find about their emphasis on religion and the impact of related rules, Iran has by far surpassed the status of a developing country.

The final Q&A covered two main topics, namely inequality between men and women in Iran, and inequality in sports in Iran and elsewhere. Football is the best-known example of the second issue. I was not aware beforehand that it was so bad as told here by a former football player. With other sports, male and female competitions can run at the same time, but that is never the case with football and major football competition events always run in different locations and at different times. It seems to be related with football regarded as a typically manly game. It strengthened that image since the first woman liberation movement, many years ago, and maintained that until nowadays. For other sports, the male-female separation is not and never has been so severe as it was and still is for football. So, you learn something new every day.
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Profile (2018)
8/10
Original way of story telling. The story compellingly shows how women are recruited by ISIS, and how risky it is to participate, even if only for research purposes
27 April 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Saw this at the Movies That Matter film festival 2019 in The Hague. It was much better that I had expected after having read the announcement. We follow a risky strategy to obtain more insight how ISIS recruitment works for women. (Side note: Previously I saw various movies about recruitment of men, running along very different lines. Logical, as men are targetted to become a warrior and not the wife of a warrior. So, how the men are approached and recruited is completely different.)

The story telling is original, even while having a clear parallel with Unfriended (2015) by Levan Gabriadze. Nearly everything relevant happens on screen, alternating between Facebook, Skype or Texting/Messaging, whatever the situation demands. Similar to Unfriended, this movie is impossible to describe to people who did not see it with their own eyes, experiencing the very proof it is indeed possible to create a compelling story this way. I've seen both movies, and I can vouch that it really works. One reviewer wrote about Unfriended: (quote) It's a premise that seems ridiculous until you start to realize it might actually be brilliant, or at least charmingly clever (end quote). I wholeheartedly agree with that observation.

The story itself is told in time jumps spanning some 20 days. The timeframe we are in remains clear throughout, as we see the day at hand selected on screen. Obviously, everything we see is in the past tense. It has been continuously recorded and is thus accessible on a day to day basis. There are no time jumps backwards. The developments are shown in chronological order.

In parallel, we see main protagonist Amy leading a "normal" life too, as the female part of a couple looking for a new house. Her "other" life plays a role on the backseat, however. What we get from it implicitly is that their relation is not 100% harmonious. Does it suggest she is more inclined to get bonded with the ISIS commander, or is that just my interpretation between the lines and not intentional?? Or is it merely her research drive as an investigative journalist that carries the story forward??

Switching on screen between the two lives is sometimes confusing and clobbering the story logic, yet necessary to maintain proper context. The tension rises near the end, when Amy is about to travel to Turkey, with a pivotal moment while having a stopover in Amsterdam. In Turkey she expects to finally meet the ISIS commander she had continuous contact with, the same person who made various promises about her future life as his wife. He, for example, showed her around in a big house (a room for baby 1 and one for baby 2, and of course the master bedroom), also promising ample money to spend. In short: a life as a princess (literal quote).

During aforementioned stopover in Amsterdam she learns that her future husband does not meet her personally in Turkey. When she clearly states that he is breaking his promise as she was looking forward to meeting him personally, suddenly his tone of his voice changes considerably, becoming more imperative. There is no trace anymore of the former sweet "love bird" tone of voice. In the end, we have a better view on what this "marriage" entails. Amy knows it now too, just in time while still in Amsterdam.

The consequences for her future life are devastating for reasons shown in the final scene and in the text boards that appear before the credits. (*** spoiler ahead ***) Her false Facebook profile does not protect her as much as she had hoped. The ISIS commander has obtained ample location information where she lives, not by hacking Facebook but by investigating images that were visible via windows behind her, like the train line that runs behind her house, and some defining pieces of the city skyline. A fatwa is issued that tasks every true Muslim to find her and kill her in the nastiest way possible.
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Sakawa (2018)
8/10
Revealing fly-on-the-wall documentary about Ghanese scams luring overseas people into sending money by promising sex
21 March 2019
Saw this at the IDFA documentary festival 2018 in Amsterdam. Being a world premiere, there was no information available before the screening. I only had the festival website, from which I deduced that the story would delve deep into the problem of e-waste. For sure an interesting topic. Apart from the obvious pollution it leaves behind, this movie shows additional issues arising when disposed computer media like disks or other data storage hardware, is abused to blackmail someone elsewhere in the world, by using privately made photo or video material stored on it. Alternatively, one may exploit passwords found on a disk to masquerade as someone else. Still another method is establishing contacts based on personal data, using initimate knowledge found while pretending to be an acquaintance.

Contrary to my prior assumptions, however, I saw that e-waste was not the main issue at all. It was merely shown in passing. We see hardware being dismembered, often with greater force than I had imagined. I had wrongly assumed that rare chemical elements were to be rescued, being worth some money. I don't think recycling is common practice here, after having seen how crudely everyone dealt with the material. But we can leave that topic to another documentary: Welcome to Sodom (2018) by Krönes and Weigensamer (see IDFA website for details).

Plenty couleur locale is included in this movie. Many scenes show money going from one person to another, involving meticulously counting bank notes by both sides. Everyone seems eager for money, for all sorts of purposes, including legitimate ones, like entering an internship to become a hairdresser. Other examples demonstrated that everything can be bought, including a passport that one can obtain via a travel agent. Is this one of the (many) messages that the film makers want to convey?? As a result, I found this a "noisy" movie, by showing a lot of personal stories, thus hiding the main subject for unprepared viewers. An example is above "hairdresser" story that confuses the issue. Such side-paths prevent the movie from hitting the target audience with the intended morale or message.

The announcement on the IDFA website mentioned the example of a man having to buy fish ad 250 euro per week commissioned by his employer, while himself earning only 12 euro per month for the job. Indeed, this gap in incomes and wealth seems typical for the situation of many in that country. It may explain why there is no compassion with the people they rob overseas via the so-called Ghanese scams. Everyone living there knows as a fact that people in the USA, Europe etc have lots of money. Simply browsing through photos found on the disks or via Google Street View displays expensive houses. It clearly depicts an unsurmountable gap in perspectives on the value of money. (The situation is comparable for the so-called Nigerian scam, Commonly known as the "419" scam. It is practiced for many years already, and does not seem to stop. This has little to do with Nigerians having no conscience, but rather comes from said gap in incomes and wealth.)

The movie does not take a stand, nor does it frown upon what is happening. We see the complexity of what is going on, which we never would have known otherwise. Superficially, the scams look so easy but in fact take a lot of care and persistence to massage the victims. I would not be surprised when a large percentage of the contacts "worked on" will eventually falter, meaning that the victim doesn't transfer the money asked for a sea voyage across the Atlantic Ocean, either while suspecting a scam or simply while not having the requested amounts available. That these scams are happening is an open secret in Ghana. No one condems it when "whites" are on the other side (see reasoning above).

In the final Q&A, the film maker mentioned that he avoided taking interviews, these usually leading to sad stories about money shortage and their deplorable way of living. He has chosen a different composition by just observing, something he could do without disturbing the proceedings. This "fly on the wall" way of filming is typically something an arbitrary film maker from outside Ghana would not have been able to accomplish.
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Retrospekt (2018)
7/10
Kaleidoscope of issues around domestic violence, and balancing work vs home. Expect an unusual way of story telling, probably puzzling unprepared viewers but rewarding
11 March 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019. This movie shows a kaleidoscope of contemporary issues, easily recognizable by everyone. Apart from a central role of domestic violence that triggers most developments, we also see underlying problems around being passionate for your job and to what extent you can let it go in favor of your family and related domestic tasks. These are cleverly mixed to demonstrate there are always two sides.

On one hand, Simon foresees problems when he would pressure his employer to have all Fridays off, after which his wife Mette simply tells him "go find another job where you can". Simon reacts with a puzzled and confused look, unable to find the proper words stating she doesn't understand anything about his line of work. We see later that her lack of understanding seems irreconcilable, when for instance, as part of a hefty discussion, she belittles his work as "finding an efficient way to operate a steamroller" (Simon works for a road builder). Most people will recognize similar debates from their own situation, or know of others in their neighborhood.

On the other hand, Mette takes her work literally home when she finds Miller not getting sufficient help from the support group where Mette's previously worked. She feels an urgent need to act on the problems Miller has with her violent partner cq ex-boyfriend Frank, by taking Miller home when husband Simon is a week away on business. This solution starts off very well in the beginning, but it is bound to have unexpected consequences. Mette's and Simon's job passions may look very different on the surface, yet are very similar in that everything must make way for solving job-related problems, at the expense of a safe and peaceful family life. Each in their own way, neither can let go of problems at work.

Contrary to many reviewers I found the story not overly puzzling. I must admit that I was prepared for a non-linear way of story telling, saving me lots of confusion (I think) during the screening. I cannot deny, however, that I missed more than a few clues and hints. For example, only in hindsight we learn that Frank is the one and only bad guy in all story lines. It can be deduced from a passing remark in the beginning. That is the moment when Miller tries to convince Mette that they both should join forces in pressing charges against Frank, because he is both her violent ex-boyfriend as well as the cause of Mette's injuries and her subsequent recuperation after an obviously serious mishap. The connection between these two problems and that Frank seems to have caused both, becomes clear after the screening when talking to others who had seen the same movie but picked up very different hints than I did.

One can wonder whether the non-linear way of story telling contributed anything to the viewer experience. Was it only a gimmick, an experiment, something to let reviewers chew on?? The recitative singing voices surfacing every now and then, may be intended as an extra form of subtitling. It may represent the "ideal spectator", like the chorus in a Greek drama. In other words, to point out or to comment on what happened just now. Alas, if that was the intention, it missed me all along, partly as the words were not always understandable, partly due to being not aware that the voices might have been an important aspect of the way this story was told. So, on one hand I was prepared for the time shifting way of story telling due to having read the announcement on the Berlinale website. But, on the other hand, I still was not aware that the sound track was in some way significant. I may thus have overlooked a lot of important information.

All in all, even when missing part of the story line, the issues are very recognizable. Finding a balance between work and home is an important topic, next to the problems with domestic violence that move the story forward. I found the acting very convincing, particularly the scenes in the rehab center. Mette obviously had severe speech problems, apart from her visible scars (including a large one showing through her hair, apparently from brain surgery). She needed help for even basic tasks, like eating. Frequently in her circle was a cynical and obstinate co-patient, named Klaas, bringing life to several scenes that would otherwise have left us depressed.

The scenes where Mette and Klaas were in, inside and outside the rehab center, emphasized the unfavorable situation of such patients. Though each had very different health problems, all showing only very little progress with few ups and many downs, regardless of the obvious care and help they got. Also, visits from family and friends were well-intended but not always helpful. In a way, Klaas had a similar role as aforementioned Greek chorus, by repeating that Mette may feel being in bad shape and not recovering very well, but he emphasized that she had the least problems of all other patients.
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8/10
Successful undertaking to show three decades of life within a Chinese rural environment, covering all ups and downs that can befall an average family
1 March 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition. Two prizes were awarded: Silver Bear for Best Actor (Wang Jingchun) and one Silver Bear for Best Actress (Yong Mei). Apart from the acting, it was very interesting to see China transform in thirty years time, albeit that we see only a rural part of China, far away from the big city centers, thus avoiding large scale business and touristic areas.

Showing China while undergoing a drastic change, is one of the main themes of this movie, if not the main one. From a side line we get to see the transformation in progress, going from a communist country towards modern (semi?) capitalism. Factories, workplaces and houses the people work and live in, seem carefully designed to be true to the reality of the times at hand, thereby demonstrating an admirable attention for details.

A perfect example was the factory closure. The gathering with the workers was very illustrative. It showed that such things went in communist times exactly as how it goes nowadays. The workers assembled can protest and find that the director must be sent away. The harsh reality was (of course) in communist times exactly as in our capitalist times. Jobloss overcomes the humble workers, as if it was a natural disaster. There is nothing they can do about it, regardless of all being called "comrades". Neither can help be found in communist textbooks and the principles of "worker's self management".

On the other hand, regarding the implicit second theme, the family related stories of the protagonists, the developments were difficult to follow for me. This was partly due to some unnecessary time jumps and flash backs, partly caused by not telling who-is-who when a new protagonist appears, partly because of me being unable to tell Chinese people apart. Though the story starts with a fatal drowning accident, the people involved will re-unite in the end and will live happily ever after, even when the real truth comes out thirty years later, and even after someone admits having played a dark role in the accident.

It is no problem to sit out the three hours this movie lasts, though not really involving on a human level. And it was certainly not moving or heart-breaking as per what other reviewers wrote. The ground cause for this psychological distance is (see above) the difficulties I had to follow the persons involved, besides the fact that their logic was failing on me a few times.

All in all, I was glad to have seen this movie, regardless of my problems with following the various personal story lines and their interwoven connections. The nearly three hours are easy to sit through, so no problem there. And the ending was a surprise (no details, no spoilers), particularly because it did not cause a hard break in relationships, despite there would have been ample reason for a break-up after admitting a few 30-year-old lies.
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Ghost Fleet (2018)
8/10
Insightful documentary about shady fish catching practices at sea
1 March 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the Culinary Cinema section. We watched an insightful documentary, about something that we (really) don't want to know. It is somewhat similar to our knowledge that we need cows/chicken/pigs to grow meat/eggs/milk, while at the same time being worried about their welfare. Nevertheless, we rather do not want to give up our daily portion of the final product.

That there was something sinister going on with sea food, was new to me. Firstly, there is the slavery which is the core of this movie's story. Indeed, a daunting fate for those who come into such a situation. Secondly, there is also the fact that these fishermen do not care about destroying the fish population in general: loads of extra incidental catch that they find in their nets, is thrown overboard as redundant stuff they don't need.

The people who succeed in escaping usually land on a very foreign coast, having no other choice than hiding in the jungle for years. There is no future for them. Their family in Thailand thinks they are dead, after having fruitlessly waited for a number of years. It is all very depressing, but the movie makes it abundantly clear and is impressive in that respect.

There is uncertainty about the number of contemporary slaves. The only sure thing we know is that the group of activists who we followed in this movie, already had found and repatriated some 5,000. In itself this is an impressive figure. It makes us wonder, however, how many are still there at sea, without any hope to escape. Estimates, mentioned at the end, vary wildly but numbers with 5 and 6 digits came about.

All in all, insightful but feeling helpless to do something about it, other than observing control stamps and quality labels on what we buy in the supermarket.
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2/10
For me a WTF experience. Synopsis was promising but story went nowhere. Interesting to see very different scores from professional critics versus "normal" viewers like myself
1 March 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition. The Jury awarded a Silver Bear for Best Director (Angela Schaneler). Not my idea, as this movie was a WTF experience for me. I did not walk out as something happened all the time and I was hoping for a desperately needed binding conclusion where it was all about, alas to no avail. The synopsis was promising, but the story actually went nowhere.

The threesome animals (donkey, dog and hare) we see in the beginning, suggesting life on and around a farm, returned in the end, without having any connection (as far as I could see) with what happened in the rest of the movie. No clue whether it is relevant or not.

All of the core story is located in Berlin, far away from the country side. I also noticed, especially in the first quarter, a lot of semi-still scenes, like a cartoon where someone says something significant, after which the scene jumps to a subsequent scene with a new meaningful sentence spoken.

There are a few longer scenes, all centering around the mother. Among others, we see her buying a second-hand bike, having a long monologue towards a stage director she meets at the supermarket, delivering unsolicited advice towards the teachers at Philip's school, returning the bike to its previous owner due to some malfunctions (wasting a lot of running time), and much more such scenes without any obvious useful purpose.

Peculiarly, contrary to the gist of the announcement on the Berlinale website, not Philip was apparently the center of the story but rather his mother with her unpredictable behavior. She seems to hide a lot of rage underneath, bursting out at random moments, like when her daughter has used the stove to prepare something to eat, followed by a heated discussion and even throwing both her children out, who can do nothing else than wait on the street until she cools down. This is not motherly behavior in any way, though her children embrace her even after being pushed away, so I assume this sort of scenes happened more often before.

One reviewer wrote that there was boe-ing ànd applause at the end of this movie's premiere yesterday. I'm glad that I'm not alone in loosing track of this movie and its theme (if any). It is also interesting to see that professional critics score very differently (average 7) from "normal" viewers like myself (average 4.4). I don't know what to write about this movie, other than the above. It is very difficult to write a consistent discourse about this movie.
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9/10
Uninviting plot but the atmosphere "got" me. Developed very well into a tense story. Not the downtrodden path horror movie with zombies that it initially seemed
1 March 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition (but got no prize). Peculiarly, the venue was only half full, contrary to all other screenings in foregoing days in the Berlinale Competition with usually 1,750 viewers present in the same venue. I assume that many people thought this movie had all appearances of a downtrodder path Horror movie with zombies. That genre left traces by everyone, caused by bad B-movies we all sat through in the past but avoid them nowadays. However, this movie does not have any of the negative characteristics of said genre with a bad reputation. It is true that strange figures appear when the story progresses, but they stand still, make no sound and do not attack. They just stare from a safe distance.

The fatal car accident in the opening scene could have been a suicide or a real accident. We saw it happen and we can't tell either way, and neither has the police any idea. The dilemma casts a shadow over all daily tasks within the village. The uncertainty eats the villagers, and the topic returns several times in conversations. It is a closed community of 200 to 300 people, committed to support each other, to the extent that outside help is flatly refused by the mayor.

At first, we see nothing out of the ordinary. But strange things start happening, albeit innocent and harmless. Gradually, it gets stranger and stranger. The first time that we come to think there is more to it than just strangers wandering around, is when a "social worker lady" is locked up after one of the unknown figures outside a derilicted building slams the door while she is inside. No harm gets to her, she easily escapes and reports the incident. Without any witnesses she meets nothing but disbelief. Probably a "weak nerves" case is a common conclusion.

When more and more strange figures appear, we become gradually aware that something is really going on. The figures do not harm anyone. They maintain a safe distance from the villagers, they just stand there and make no sound. Nevertheless, their mere presence feels threatening. It is no use to describe what happens next. Suffice to say that situation and atmosphere "got" me. It became more intense by the minute. I have no explanation why, and also no idea how the film makers achieved the effect it had. For me a unique experience, as most "horror" movies have no effect on me at all.

I must confess to be slightly put off at first, due to the festival announcement talking about the 16 mm format intended to strengthen the admosphere, and that traditional celluloid was used for similar reasons. This sounded like a typical case of format-over-substance. In other words, conversation pieces for professional critics and film makers, but shooting over the heads of layman viewers like myself. But I stand corrected and my prejudice proved false. Despite the format and the cellulloid, or maybe even thanks to this, the atmosphere took me in and kept me interested all the time.

All in all, an intriguing movie by effectively letting a tense atmosphere grow on me, something I felt deep inside. I wonder how the film makers did it.
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Mr. Jones (2019)
7/10
Documentary about something that happened nearly a century ago. Still, its "fake news" topic is more relevant than ever
28 February 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition section (but got no prize). In the current era of "fake news", this documentary comes at a suitable moment. Propaganda is not new and invented many decades ago, if not centuries ago. The current scale and persistence is without precedent, however. If this movie showcases the value of professional and honest journalism, it is very welcome today. Even when showing a chapter in history that is nearly a century old, it brings a contemporary message.

We witness a daunting adventurous trip that results in a report about the famine in the Ukraine. It is a story that no politician at the time wanted to be brought in the open. He has to deal with obstructions on several levels and by several parties, in Russia where it could be expected as well as in his homeland UK. The Powers That Be deem a good relationship with Stalin more important than people's lives in the Ukraine. The actual truth behind the industrial "miracles" in the Ukraine, as repeatedly told by the Sovjet propaganda machinery, is very different. We witness it from close by. Alas, our reporter is captured and moved out of the country, with no proof whatsoever other than his memory. With famous Pulitzer Price winner Duranty siding on the Sovjets and consistently countering Jones, there is a problem who to believe...

The story develops in stages. We see the risks he takes, we see him remove some obstacles e.g. by forgering a letter of recommendation, we see his arrival in Moscow with a visum valid for a week only, and most of all we see his journey through the Ukraine in question. We see from very near that such a journey was not something to be taken lightly, coming very close to witness what a famine really means. We also see wheat being shipped to Moscow, as this is the "currency" that Stalin needs to pay for armery and planes, things that are officially manufactured in Ukraine as per Stalin's propaganda (aforementioned industrial "miracle").

As a documentary about the pre-WWII part of Russian history interacting on a political level with the rest of the world, particularly UK and USA, it works very well for me. I knew little about this beforehand, and it clarifies a lot. However, did I miss that insight before today?? (I think not.) It was nevertheless a tense two and a half hours, where so much could go very wrong, fatally wrong even, be it in Moscow, be it in the Ukraine, or even back in the UK with spies and hired killers all around. His adversaries may deem his reports unwelcome, and with their deep pockets and vazals to be hired they can get away with everything bad that an honest reporter may befall.

Question remains whether the two-and-a-half hours running time were necessary to get the message across. I know that Killing Your Daughters is not always easy, but we viewers have rights too. Please don't construe this as a statement that I was being bored stiff. Nevertheless, mixed feelings about the pacing of this movie remain.
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8/10
Beautiful story, covering religious traditions and ineradicable male chauvinism. A "loser" category woman rises to the challenge and an improved version comes out of it
27 February 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition for the golden bear. The jury awarded none of the available prices, however, but still I was very satisfied to have seen thie movie. At its core is a nice story, that develops very well, irrespective of the initial setting of a "loser" type of woman who consistently fails to find a job. It covered lots of social commentary about religious traditions dating back from medieval times and about ineradicable male chauvinism. Both topics were to be expected after having read the synopsis.

You can imagine that it has all the elements of a biblic parable, combining several parties who all claim they are right: (a) the vaste gathering of young men, having trained for diving to get the cross, but Petrunija was first, so the men hold that she "stole" the cross while only men can participate in the ritual since centuries, (b) the church is involved, but the patriarch refuses to file a complaint that she "stole" the cross, which would be a lie, so he tries several other arguments, (c) the police, populated of course with lots of male chauvinist pigs, but not all of them fit in that category, (d) the two parents, concerned about what the neighbours will say, and (e) a woman journalist accompanied by a male camera man, having their internal struggles with their bosses and with each other.

Everything that happens in this movie, a lot more than can be derived from above ingredients, showcases the current state of that part of the continent: it is a small world, and residuals of past centuries are still very persistent. The visible presence of mobile phones at the scene where the cross is dropped in the river, allowing the diving act of Petrunija to be filmed and going "viral" on Youtube, seems contradictory to the previous sentence. Can it both be true??

The nice thing is that we see Petrunya change from a sheep to a wolf, something related to a story told by the interrogating police officer, about a sheep disguised as a wolf. But then she turns the story around in the final scene.

Petrunija is a perfect example of a "loser" in the beginning, but she becomes calmer and calmer as the story progresses. We see her grow to become a better woman out of it after this experience. Notwithstanding (I must admit) that I had expected some police brutality while she was held in "for her protection" custody, but there was none of it. And neither is there any trace of corruption, albeit common in many East-European police forces (I know that Macedonie is no ex-Sovjet country, but still I cannot avoid thinking of the many ex-USSR movies that I've seen).

All in all, while covering several interesting topics as side dishes on the menu, the fact that Petrunya rises to the challenge and comes out of it as a better version of herself, is the main course of this story. Unattractive as she is from the outset, the process she goes through is richer with developments than could be assumed from the synopsis. So ignore the uninviting title of this movie, and book tickets for it at your earliest convenience.
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3/10
Visually attractive but I failed interest in what the main protagonists did
27 February 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition for the golden bear. While not winning the 1st Prize, the jury awarded a Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution, for Rasmus Videbæk who was responsible for the cinematography. Be that as it may, however, the movie failed to interest me in the protagonists and their behavior. Shots of landscapes, rivers, nature and (of course, given the title) the horses were more interesting than what the actors said and did. So, it could have been a nice watch but that is never my prime reason to see a movie.

In particular, the frequent switching between 1999 and 1948 annoyed me several times. It broke the logic flow in the story line. Luckily, it was clear with every flash back/forward in which time frame we were, due to other actors playing the younger variants. For me it remained unclear from start to finish what it was that the protagonists did tick, and why they did what they did. I cannot imagine that the fatal Cain/Abel scene, where a young boy inadvertently shot his brother, can have such a long term bearing on everyone actions, but what do I know??

Maybe the underlying book is better in explaining the psychology driving these people's actions, but I missed it dearly here. It is even very well possible that the Cain/Abel scene was not so important after all, but that it was the woman he had eyes on but who was in fact courted by his father. I wonder, due to suggestions in that direction in the announcement on the Berlinale website, but I can recall only a single scene from memory to more or less confirm this plot element.

All in all, despite the visual elements to make it a nice watch, I failed to get interested in the story or the psychology of the protagonists. I see hints in various reviews that there is more substance than I could derive from it. Such things can happen during a festival where one sees three of four movies per day.
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Homing (2019)
5/10
Story telling confused me. Scenes seem in the wrong order. May be deliberate choise of film maker. Nice to watch farming and landscapes
27 February 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019. I was glad to have read the synopsis beforehand, otherwise I would have understood nothing of what happened. Without preparation I had admired the farming rituals and the rural environment, mostly due to reminiscences of my younger years when I grew up on a farm (half a century ago), some distance from neighbours and far from the rest of the world. I must admit, of course, that the distances between farms in this movie are much larger than most in my youth, but inevitable feelings of similarities remain. The isolation creates a 24/7 life style, very different from city life and hardly understood by outsiders. That mental distance is two-sided. We see that illustrated when the farm hands (for example) scratch their heads about the term "happy hour" for the consumation of large quantities of alcoholic drinks in a short time frame.

Farming, working on the land and handling animals may seem romantic in the eyes of the average citizen, but there are other sides of the coin. Though cattle can be objectively considered to be not much more than moving capital, the warm way these people handle their animals show that it by far exceeds money on four legs moving around (or two legs in the case of chickens). We see price negotiations, on the other hand, follow familiar rules as we know "in the city", after which the sold cattle is handed over without any form of mourning. Money must be made, another (colder) side of said coin.

The robbery in question is shown several times throughout the running time (quote: "a robbery has to be fast", literally repeated). I assume (not supported by facts) that we saw a recurring nightmare, as the fragments did not logically fit in the story at hand. Also remarkable in the screenplay is that we see Marcelo just coming back at work after some absence. In one of the opening scenes someone says to him that he could have prolonged his absence longer. In other words, he is back from a down period, sort of sick leave after the robbery of 100 pieces of cattle for which he felt himself responsible. Conversely, his last work day on the farm is shown near the end.

All in all, I conclude that everything is shown out of sequence, leaving it to us viewers to join the puzzle pieces together in order to arrive at a logical story. It is a choice any filmmaker can make, as long as it benefits our viewing experience. This time I'm not so sure. Nevertheless, I won't go that far as to dismiss this way of storytelling. My only grip on the story was the synopsis that I've read beforehand. I fear that not everyone will be so lucky, and I wonder what they will think when watching this movie unprepared.
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Flatland (2019)
6/10
Not my way of story telling so be advised to read synopsis beforehand. Too much emphasis on the lowly position of women in South Africa. Several things confused me
27 February 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was the opening of the Panaroma section. I saw too much emphasis on showing that the situation of women in South Africa (and, by extrapolation, everywhere else in the world) is deplorable and deserves our pity. Didn't we know that already?? Further, it was very peculiar how black women openly talked about white's penises on a wedding party, and how others talked explicitly about the first night together. Is this typical for South Africa?? Before today, I assumed that only men say such things "among us", yet never in mixed company. But what do I know??

Anyway, it was nice to see South African landscapes and how people live there, far away from the big city, sort of a modern African variant of the American pre-1900 Wild West. The movie was South-African spoken, a language that "sounds like" Dutch, but I was glad that we had English subtitles. We got a touristic tour as icing on the cake, as integral part of the story, with Nathalie and Poppie fleeing on horseback to get away from lawful prosecution.

But apart from the icing, the cake itself had not so much taste, mostly due to the far-fetched-ness of the story. Most irritating example are questions what Billy was doing in the shed, not visible to us, where we saw only Nathalie, her horse, and the priest in the wheelchair. We heard some shooting, while leaving us in the dark who shot who. Billy was just released on parole after 15 years in prison, but he had no real purpose in the shed (I deduce from information given in a different scene, there were 500 miles in between), other than looking for a quiet place to stay where no one would bother him. The fact that the same Billy was once engaged (15 years ago) with Captain Beauty, the second main protagonist of this movie, turns the story into something overly complicated without any useful purpose.

Despite that a detective story may present false tracks to bring color to the story, three confusing things were thrown at us for no reason. Firstly, we saw Bakkies and Beauty on the murder scene while messing with some tracks, leaving unclear why they did that, given that Billy was considered guilty of the shooting from the outset. Secondly, we had to outguess that Bakkies and Beauty had at least contradicting reasons to have Billy as a confirmed killer. Thirdly, we were led to believe all along that Nathalie was the real killer of the priest, but we did not really see it, so the investigations going in many different directions casted doubts. Normally this is a good thing in a detective story, but now I'm not so sure. The order in which subsequent events are shown on screen, is not very helpful and adds to the (my) confusion.

Another confusing element is Poppie, the third main protagonist. She does everything to confirm what male chauvinists say about women in general, like being irresponsible, emotional, and so on. On the other hand, Nathalie and Beauty convince me to be no cardboard figures, unlike Poppie who destroys all hope that women can have all sorts of faults yet nevertheless capable of re-inventing themselves once needed in a difficult situation. The other two, Nathalie and Beauty, make a commendable attempt to counter the clichés we find in Poppie.

All in all, as opening movie for the Panorame section of the Berlinale 2019, I do not consider this the perfect choice. Though I usually admire detectives and thrillers that show a good building-up of the plot and explore several side lines to keep the tension about the ending, this movie did it all wrong (in my opinion). Reading the synopsis beforehand may alleviate some confusion about how the story develops, it still has its flaws, many of which I outlined above.
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Born in Evin (2019)
7/10
Well-made documentary but her research does not provide any answers. The cliché that Time Heals All Wounds does not apply here
27 February 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, as part of the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section (Perspectives on German Cinema). I left the venue with mixed feelings about this documentary, thereby not meaning to dismiss its qualities as a documentary, but rather that her objectives make me doubt as well as that she eventually achieved not much. The research attempt was commendable, but we did not learn much more than what we already suspected. The mother of the film maker was not the only obstacle withholding her to find information about circumstances in the Iranian prison where she was born. All others were equally defensive about their years as a political prisoner, only providing sparse details, or even cancelling the appointment at the last moment, thereby telling it was too difficult to recount those dire years. The cliché that Time Heals All Wounds does not apply here, obviously, even after forty years have passed.

It is daunting to imagine daily life in an Iranian prison at the time. These prisoners have done nothing wrong in the context of our legal system. They were only held in custody while deemed political adversaries of a regime that tolerated no free expression whatsoever. Some of the prisoners were hanged eventually, some were "only" interrogated (mind the quotes), but all were kept under miserable circumstances for many years, packed with many in the same cell, without due medical care nor proper food.

The little we get to know about giving birth in such a prison, is nightmarish to say the least: if the mother in labor made too much noise, the other women in her neighborhood would be beaten. Another former prisoner who lived there as a young child, has nightmares about beatings and blood all over, something deep in her memory as she was very young at the time, but the dreadful images keeps popping up regularly in her dreams.

The opening scene tells a fairy tale (or a myth) that baby's are born with a burning candle on their head, knowing everything there is to know. Once they are born the candle is blown out and he/she forgets it all, thus having to regain that knowledge piecewise during their future lifetime. This story is told with a purpose, I assume, and lets us ponder how much a very young child remembers from their first years. This notion resurfaces near the finale, but I can't remember exactly whether it was linked to said nightmares and what is kept in memory of those very young years in prison.

The daughter/filmmaker goes to every imaginable length to learn more about her years in prison. She was born there and lived there some years together with her mother. As a result, she thinks she has every right to know, though her mother stubbornly refuses to tell anything about it. Remarkably, halfway in the movie someone says that the history she is researching is not her history but that of her mother's (and a large part of the audience applauded, so it felt on furtile ground). Gradually, she learns some fragments about the time in prison, some bits and pieces, but a real insight is not provided. And given the few fragments we heard, it is OK to leave it at that, as such details are not the things you really want to know.
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10/10
Strong visualization building a legal case against priest who abused summer camp scouts. How it works out in the church hierarchy is shown too
27 February 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition. It did not win the 1st prize, the golden bear, but instead the 2nd in line: the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize. Strong visualization of building a legal case against a priest who abused children in summer camps on a regular basis some 20 to 30 years ago. What is shown in a perfect way is that each victum has struggled with what overcame him, but each in his own private way. No one was prepared to listen at the time. Some still suffer the consequences, again each in his own way. Some become normal citizens with a job, a family and still going to church. Others cope with persistent problems, without a proper job and without a family. And all combinations thereof. Compelling story telling fills over two hours without a problem.

The first main protagonist has a family with 5 children, all going to church and receiving the sacraments. Within his family he is very open about what happened to him when he was a boy scout. They talk about it (with all children attending), how he felt once seeing the offending priest in question still active in mass and confirmation classes. It was a trigger to start writing letters to the official contact person for these matters. As a result, meetings take place with minutes made. His case is handled proficiently and professionally by that contact person, following-up with replies, establishing contacts with the priest in question, later with higher echelons in the church hierarchy. Even two of his sons have a meeting with the superior of the priest. Every meeting runs its course in a polite and peaceful way.

The interaction with the church officials went much better than I had assumed beforehand, but still the case falters after some time and for no obvious reason. Seeing the priest still serving mass, he leaves church together with his family, explicitly stating that he does not want communion to be served out of the hands of that priest. Not knowing what else to do, he files an official complaint with the district attorney. To demonstrate that his case is not unique, he talks with a fellow participant of the summer camps where most of the sexual contacts took place, attempting to convince him to file a complaint too. Alas, he has troubles to follow suit and is unwilling to go to the police. The case seems to get a dead end.

Separately, others chime in and also file complaints with the police. They hear that someone else did the same before them but have no clue who it was. From that moment on, the story takes off, the addresses of other summer camp participants are collected and are phoned up. A few times they get only an indifferent response, while others show hefty reactions like bursting into tears. We follow some of them in the story, to show their attitudes and their motivation to follow suit, or conversely why they refuse to act.

New for me, even an eye opener, was that we also see how the case develops within the church hierarchy. It turns out that the church bureaucracy perfectly knew what was going on. Even worse, the priest in question had frequently reported that he had problems with children, but he persistenly got jobs where he could not avoid them, even in summer camps with ample young boys around and where he had all freedom to do what he wanted. The church deemed the priest very charismatic, preaching very well, and thus bringing in a lot of very desperately needed finances. For the church officials it was thus very difficult to dismiss his services, or even to defrock him. Their actions confined to moving him around several places but letting him keep his role in mass, sacraments and confirmation classes. The latter activity offered him ample opportunities for extra lessons on an individual basis, hence new opportunities for sexual activities with boys entrusted to him.

I could not avoid remembering an earlier movie with a strongly related theme, namely Le silence des eglises / The Silence of the Church (2013) by Edwin Baily. There are considerable differences, however, due to the 2013-one having only one boy and one priest as main protagonists. This new 2019-one has a reverse setup, focusing on a single priest and his hierarchy, with the abused boys taking action after 20 years. Still, similar is the instruction to the victims to keep it a secret or telling them that they are selected out of the group and treated as a favorite. Also similar is the denial by parents, teachers and other educators, as they cannot imagine that the priest who does so much good work and who is loved by everyone, can be suspected of something evil like sex with minors. And both movies show that the immediate as well as the lasting effects can be very different for each of the boys, some even killing themselves as their only escape to avoid the unwanted sexual advances.

All in all, both movies show a contemporary theme that has come in the open after decades of hiding. This one also shows the side of the church bureaucracy and their staffing problems, given a shortage on priests and hoping that denial and switching places moves the problem away. The story telling in this movie is very strong and keeps our attention for two hours without a problem.
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9/10
Perfect storytelling and deep delving portrait of how teachers, social workers, therapists and foster parents end up without options to find a suitable future for a 9-year old
26 February 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official competition for the golder bear. It won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize "for a feature film that opens new perspectives".

I myself can only humbly add the following praises: Perfect storytelling, deep delving portrait of the many people involved (social workers, schools, therapists, foster parents, natural parents, and so on), all having their daily struggles in general like everyone else, but additionally must cope with such a difficult (hopeless) case as Benni is. Pitying and caring is not enough. Benni defies all logical behavior, despite of normal intelligence and old enough to correlate her own behavior with how people respond on what she does and how she acts. Some of the hefty scenes are uneasy to watch but without overdoing it nor over-exploiting the situation.

This movie succeeds in avoiding most clichés about difficult children, incapable parents, and well-meaning social workers. All protagonists act believable in their own role, even Benni's natural mother who is a problematic case herself, apart from being unable to handle Benni, even to the extent of fearing her own daughter. Thus, she cannot fulfill Benni's desire to live with her natural mother, regardless of how often Benni repeats that she really wants that. Acting such, she frustrates all efforts wanting her in a different direction.

Micha is a different case altogether. In the beginning he seems the only one capable of dealing with Benni, thereby showing progress for the first time in the story. But he "comes too close" (his own words), and fears to lose his professional distance. The two instances when Benni encounters Micha's family, one on Micha's own initiative and one due to Benni arriving on their doorstep. Both seem to work out very well initially, alas both strand in some sort of near-disaster after a few seemingly happy days.

The child protection service woman believes and repeatedly says that living with a natural mother will solve all problems. She really beliefs that natural parents implicitly have a supernatural influence. It is clear (and proven in this case) that it does not work every time, and certainly not here. Apart from that misconception, she goes at any imaginable length to find a solution. Her despair is truly visible. The repeated efforts to find a new home for Benni are heart moving as well as hopeless.

We can do nothing else than follow this well-meaning woman in her feeling of despair. We witness many situations that seem to start well yet always end in a sort of disaster. It follows that pattern repeatedly, nearly exhausting all options for Benni as well as drawing on us viewers. Though all subsequent attempts end miserably, the situations are still sufficiently varied. The apparent repeats may be wearing us out along with the social workers, but not in a boring repetitive way.

We are offered no hope for any sort of happy end. Even worse, I'm not sure what to think about the ending. The final scene leaves unclear (I assume on purpose) how the story with Benni ends. I imagine that a better way to end the movie cannot be thought of, given the ingredients.
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Hail Satan? (2019)
8/10
Despite this movie's title it shows nor says anything blasphemous. The movement, however, uses symbols bound to confuse people to think they are really Satan's followers
25 February 2019
Saw this at the Rotterdam film festival 2019, where it was part of the Big Screen Competition (but another film got the price). There is nothing blasphemous in this movie, though one could derive it from the title, especially when overlooking the question mark. Nevertheless, this movement gives rise to frequent controversy, as shown in many examples. Such an amount of resistance can be readily expected in a country where "In God we trust" signs are everywhere, on banknotes, in governmental buildings and many other public places. The mere existence of this sentence all over the country, is always the standard argument against The Satanic Temple (TST for short), to point out they have no place in the USA, and even to suggest they are unconstitutional.

The seemingly obvious fact that religion and the existence of God is laid down by the Founding Fathers and hence in the Constitution, proves incorrect as per the talking heads (I did not verify it). The binding role of religion came about in the 1950-ies as a determining (uniting) factor in the days that Communism was deemed something dangerous, the "red scare" as it was perceived at the time. Think of McCarthyism and more such political phases in USA's history. In 1956 US Congress made "In God We Trust" the national motto.

TST fights for separation between religion and state, and they lay their fingers on many aspects of life that are (inadvertenly?) grounded on Christian beliefs. USA may advertise adhering a strict separation between religion and state, in practice it is not. Take for example the prayer in schools, which should also be allowed to be led by someone belonging to a non-Christian belief. Thus, by extension, prayers could also be led by someone from TST. Be that as it may, a negative side effect of this (in my opinion) is that TST outings state that one could also praise Satan in those prayers. This will inevitably lead to uproar, being purposely controversial in its choice of words. So, though their basically proper intentions about separation of religion and state, they also create resistance while bordering on what is allowed versus what is frown upon in "standard" religions. The naming of their TST movement alone is evoking resistance, both from people basically supporting their principles, and (even more so) also by everyone else balking on their name, their rituals, and particularly the "black mass" events they organize.

As a documentary, this movie does a good job in showing many aspects of this movement, regardless of being against them, for them, or somewhere in the middle. As I wrote in previous paragraphs, I see their cause and what they stand for, but their attributes and their outings are deliberately confrontational. This is not really helpful in spreading their word. Each time when Satan is mentioned or when satanic symbols are shown, resistance can be expected, with the result that their actual cause is overlooked and drowned in the upheaval.
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Joel (II) (2018)
9/10
Believable, real-world people and compelling dilemma's incorporated in a well acted/casted drama. What would my choice be in that situation??
25 February 2019
Saw this at the Rotterdam film festival 2019, where it was part of the Big Screen Competition (another film got the price, alas). It was a mixture of real world dilemma's and believable people. A compelling drama, very well acted/casted, and all intermediate steps were very good to follow. Moreover, not everything was predictable, keeping us interested all the way. There were no good or bad people. All meant well for their children, if not the best. That is the reason that the adoptive mother (as she stated) ran out of arguments when trying to talk individually with the loudest protestors. Similarly, the last couple she spoke with, where man and wife disagreed, both had proper arguments to support their respective opinions. Despite some opinions were blown out of proportion, it was clear where they came from, making it difficult for us to prove them right of wrong.

To top the uneasy choices to be made: Even the adoptive couple disagreed. One parent found it more important to remain in peace with the village, given that it was very relevant for his work. On the other hand, the mother wanted to sue everyone who decided to shift the problem away to a different school in an adjacent village. I concur with the feelings of the mother, despite I understand the motives of the father very well (grown up in a small village myself, so I see the merits of his opinion).

All in all, I could do nothing else than scoring a maximum 5 for the audience award. Others seem to disagree, as this movie eventually got a mediocre 50th place (out of 162) with score 4.409 (out of 5). I assume that the odd mixture of issues raised by the story, are not all that easy to digest. Both the opinions of the adoptive parents as well as the parents of the other pupils are understandable from their viewpoint, and I cannot be sure what my stance would be when in the position of the parents involved. I consider it a complement for the film makers that they were able to stir up those dilemmas within the viewers, thus arriving at a mixed score. It is not easy for everyone in the audience to judge the quality of the movie and keep it strictly separate from the actions and opinions of the main protagonists.
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8/10
Compelling plot, believable characters and unexpected developments. Despite that I usually avoid relational dramas, this one did its very best to counter my usual reluctance
25 February 2019
Saw this at the Rotterdam film festival 2019, where it was part of the Big Screen Competition (another film got the price, alas). Despite that I usually do not like relational dramas, this one involved me due to a compelling plot, believable characters and unexpected developments. It is sad that it does not end well for everyone involved (no details, no spoilers), but I don't think that a different outcome would have been so much better. Main character Anne makes unwise choices, and has to live with the dire consequences, but it is easy for us to say from our comfy chairs.

All in all, unexpectedly for me with this kind of relational theme, I scored a maximum 5 for the audience award, for which it eventually received a very good 13th place (out of 162) with score 4.487 (out of 5).
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5/10
No variation on Clockwork Orange or Funny Games that I suspected beforehand. Some interesting parts but the overall result failed on me
25 February 2019
Saw this at the Rotterdam film festival 2019, where it was part of the official Tiger Competition. It is not a variation on A Clockwork Orange (Kubrick 1971) or Funny Games (Haneke 1997) that I deduced from the synopsis, but very different. It kept us awake and let us suffer along with the candidate vicitims. I was glad that the recurrent encounters with the evil threesome were very different each time, luckily leaving out redundant repeats from previous instances, like the discussion in the car about B&B versus tent. The role of the white cat is not clear to me, maybe just a gimmick letting us wonder whether its recurrent appearances were intended to mean something.

There is no morale or message embedded in the story, other than Tobias and Elin stopping their previous mutual nitpicking in the final scene and visually were connected again. What still puzzles me is that only Tobias seems to remember the previous encounters with the evil threesome, albeit only part of it and only knowing that some awful things are about to happen again, contrary to Elin who has no reminescenses at all. On the other hand, we see Elin following the white cat in a nightly quest of her own. Another mystery is why the evil threesome pops up at places far away from the camping spot where the couple fled from, after a fruitless attempt to evade unhappy encounters like the previous.

All in all, a lot of things are not understood but may mean something. The movie does not make me long for a real explanation, however. The only morale or message that I could deduce from this movie was that the couple may have been at a breaking point in their relationship when the story started, but were visibly together again near the end after the dire events they went through.
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