Cinema Scope: Berlin, Round Two

Kiyohiko Shibukawa and Katsuki Mori in Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021)

The new issue of Cinema Scope is the second in a row to devote the bulk of its main features to films that premiered at this year’s Berlinale. Little wonder; it was a strong lineup. The Golden Bear, the festival’s top prize, went to Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, in which a schoolteacher’s amateur sex video goes viral and has the parents of her students clamoring for her removal. Walking us through each of the Romanian director’s eight features leading up to this one, Phil Coldiron, a deft guide, argues that if Bad Luck Banging “signals a new chapter in his career even as it sums up much of what came before, it is so to the extent that it shifts his focus from the production of images to their circulation and distribution.”

In Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, which won the grand jury prize, Ryusuke Hamaguchi “considers the power of playing pretend across three discrete acts, applying his deceptively breezy approach to the stories of a trio of women at decisive junctures in their lives,” writes Beatrice Loayza. “Wheel continues the director’s interest in middle-class womanhood in all its shades and contradictions,” and after Happy Hour (2015) and Asako I & II (2018), “there is a new buoyancy to Hamaguchi’s latest, a feeling signaled by the title’s evocation of a carnival wheel.”

The competition jury gave a pass to What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?, but Alexandre Koberidze’s second feature after Let the Summer Never Come Again (2017) did win the top award from the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI). Jordan Cronk interviews the Georgian-born director “whose freewheeling approach to storytelling has, over the last half-decade, produced a small but invigorating body of work that makes the majority of what passes for adventurous modern-day narrative cinema look positively pedestrian by comparison . . . [I]magine Brakhage’s age-old maxim about an eye unruled by manmade laws of perspective, only applied in narrative terms and with a comparably childlike sense of all that cinema is ‘allowed’ to do.”

Introducing her conversation with Dasha Nekrasova, Gabrielle Marceau draws a thick line between The Scary of Sixty-First, the debut feature from the Belarusian-American director (and cohost of the podcast Red Scare), and Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999). As Addie (Betsey Brown) and Noelle (Madeline Quinn) move into an apartment once used as a “flop house” by Jeffrey Epstein, Nekrasova also “draws liberally from classics of ’70s genre cinema, as well as the works of other edgelord directors: the occult statues of The Exorcist (1973); the ambient paranoia of Polanski’s apartment trilogy, especially The Tenant (1976); the stylish, eye-for-an-eye rage of Ferrara’s Ms. 45 (1981). Keenly aware that her influences will not go unnoticed, she makes them unmistakable.” Compared to two other recent #MeToo movies, Kitty Green’s The Assistant (2019) and Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman (2020), “which can be dismally drab, deadly serious, or claustrophobically stylized, Scary is, refreshingly, entertaining.”

Like Scary, Andreas Fontana’s Azor is a debut feature that premiered in the festival’s new competitive program, Encounters. Fabrizio Rongione plays Yvan De Wiel, a Swiss private banker who arrives in Buenos Aires to reclaim the wealthy clients mysteriously abandoned by his predecessor, René Keys. “Disquiet steadily encroaches on the film’s palatable images but never disrupts their composure, the threat of violence having yet to fully infiltrate the torpid sheen of affluence,” writes Jay Kuehner, adding that “it’s as if the film itself was cautiously minding the toxic exuberance alleged to be Keys’s undoing.”

Beyond the Berlinale

The first half of Christoph Huber’s mighty tribute to the late Bertrand Tavernier examines his criticism, singling out 50 ans de cinéma américain, the book he cowrote with Jean-Pierre Coursodon and “the most useful reference work concerning Hollywood, which makes it all the more grating that it never got translated into the language of the films it is about.” Turning then to his films, Huber writes that “there isn’t one I would want to miss, simply because in each you feel an engagement with the world that is gripping even when it does not work out. What becomes clear is not only that Tavernier, although he was commonly seen as a director who tried many different styles and subjects, is almost shockingly consistent, but also that he was less and less interested in making films that strive for greatness in the conventional sense, instead aiming for a breadth that has more lasting rewards.”

Remembering Monte Hellman, Haden Guest focuses on The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind (both from 1966), Two-Lane Blacktop (1971), and Cockfighter (1974). “By declaring Hellman a cult director, some have tried to rescue, and even exalt, the many compromised films and jobs-for-hire that marked the zigzag path of a career defined as much by unrealized and fugitive films,” writes Guest. “Not discounting the occasional offbeat merits of his other works, in these four films Hellman’s vision finds its fullest expression, and upon them firmly rests his legacy.”

Claudia von Alemann’s Blind Spot (1980) “might look like a bourgeois character study on the surface,” writes Erika Balsom, “but it is better seen as a metahistorical gambit, a cinematic search for a feminist approach to the feminist past. The film sets aside the psychoanalytic inquiries that preoccupied so many feminist filmmakers and theorists at the time while remaining highly conceptual—a position that might go towards explaining its marginal status in existing accounts of women’s cinema.”

Rounding out the online offerings from the new issue are Robert Koehler on Raoul Peck’s HBO series Exterminate All the Brutes, Adam Nayman on Michel Franco’s New Order, Michael Sicinski on Abel Ferrara’s Siberia, and Chuck Stephens on Eberhard and Phyllis Kronhausen’s Psychomontage No. 1 (1963), “an arty, adults-only gag reel, and once upon a time sold by mail, like an 8 mm stag film, by Grove Press’s film division.”

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