In the run-up to the Berlin International Film Festival (10-20 February), Christoph Terhechte, Head of the Forum of New Cinema at the festival, shares his choice of 10 of the most promising directors working today, and selects one film as representative of the quality of their work from the last 5 years.
"I don’t like the type of international festival film that could have been made anywhere," explains Terhechte. "The films that I have chosen are all films which speak about their place of origin and the culture that the filmmakers grew up in, and they are all films that have something of the individual in them."
Director: Maren Ade
Film: Everyone Else (2009)
Synopsis: Maren Ade’s second film tells the story of Gitti and Chris (Birgit Minichmayr and Lars Eidinger), a couple on a holiday of secluded togetherness. Taking a leaf from the book of another couple they encounter, Chris tries to show his willful girlfriend who’s boss, and she attempts to conform to his new ideal. The film is a subtly humorous, cruelly meticulous study of the contradictory desires of a couple searching for their own identities and reflects the emotional disorientation of an entire generation.
Christoph Terhechte says: "Everyone Else is often funny, but it isn’t a comedy; it’s serious for the most part, but is certainly no tragedy. Above all, it’s the most complex, richly detailed, and imaginative film in a long time to deal with a couple’s relationship and all the humiliations, secrets, spite, and lies both big and small that come along with it. Ade’s precision, consistency, and objectivity are without comparison in contemporary European cinema."
Director: Aida Begic
Film: Snow (2008)
Synopsis: In Bosnia, 1997, only six women, one old man, and a few children live in the war-torn village of Slavno. Their families have been killed - though their bodies were never found - the villagers have created a very special world, one in which the absent are still very much present. One day, two businessmen show up unexpectedly, demanding that the residents leave Slavno in return for money. But when a sudden storm traps them in town, it forces the outsiders to face something bigger than anticipated - the truth.
Christoph Terhechte says: "Aida Begic was sixteen years old when the siege of Sarajevo, her hometown, began in 1992. The city was cut off from the outside world for nearly four years, hardly the typical way for a European teenager to grow up in the 1990s. Snow (Snijeg, 2008) is the young Bosnian director’s feature debut, which allowed her to address the trauma of experiencing violence in an incisive and unsentimental way. Cinema is actually capable of playing a unique role in revisiting the eternal question of how we live together in communities, our history becoming an essential form of sustenance. By avoiding the pitfalls of the history book and by taking the necessary artistic liberties, this sustenance can even become a true delicacy, as is the case with Snow."
Director: Andrew Bujalski
Film: Beeswax (2009)
Synopsis: Twin sisters Jeannie and Lauren (Tilly and Maggie Hatcher) are roommates in Austin, Texas. Jeannie, who’s in a wheelchair, runs a vintage clothing store with an increasingly estranged partner who’s threatening to sue. In her time of crisis, Jeannie turns to an ex-boyfriend, Merrill (Alex Karpovsky), who’s recently graduated from law school and is all too eager to try to fix her problems as a way of ignoring his own. Beeswax is a story about how we depend on families— the ones we’re born into and the ones we build for ourselves.
Christoph Terhechte says: "Oddly enough, there’s one thing that both fans and detractors of Andrew Bujalski’s work seem to agree on: nothing actually happens in his films; they’re “aimless,” “modest,” or “lacking in plot.” If his films' proximity to real life mean that they appear to lack a plot, then it would seem that having a plot implies turning your back on real life. Bujalski’s merit lies in his refusal to stick to the bigger-than-life doctrine that is so pervasive in American cinema."
Synopsis: This series of vignettes follows Linda (Ladya Cheryl), a young Chinese woman in Indonesia, and the people around her, all trying to become someone else. Linda rekindles her friendship with childhood friend Cahyono (Carlo Genta); Linda’s father, a blind dentist, wants to convert to Islam and take a new, younger wife; Salma (Andhara Early) appears on the show Planet Idol. The film depicts a fragile but panoramic vision of a community that is not at ease with itself, and hopes that can never be truly fulfilled.
Christoph Terhechte says: "Edwin expresses regional concerns in a universal language by drawing on some easily accessible clichés: the pig as a Chinese metaphor for luck (and, by contrast, as an unclean animal in a predominantly Muslim society), the melody of the Stevie Wonder song, and a remarkable opening scene that sets the film’s tone. In silence, we observe a face-off between two badminton players, one from China, the other from Indonesia. It is a competitive match that represents the struggle between two different political and cultural systems—a metaphor that’s nearly too overt. But Edwin demonstrates his cinematic intelligence by subverting the very clichés he employs, exposing the stereotypes at the same time he uses them."
Director: Bradley Rust Gray
Film: The Exploding Girl (2010)
Synopsis: Twenty-year-old Ivy (Zoe Kazan) heads home to New York for spring break with a fresh romance in her heart. When her best friend Al (Mark Rendall) can’t find a place to stay, she asks her mother to take him in. Spending time in the city together strengthens their friendship, while Ivy’s boyfriend grows more distant. Although troubled, Ivy keeps her emotions in check, until her feelings become something she can’t control.
Christoph Terhechte says: "The film’s excellent camerawork relies on a large focal length to follow the actors at a distance, observing them on the street or on the subway in the midst of other people in an almost documentary style. The viewer is not a participant in the action but more of an interested observer. There are almost always obstructing objects in the foreground, the shallow depth of field emphasising the isolation of the protagonists and intensifying the feeling of unreality generated by a warm New York spring."
Director: Hiromasa Hirosue
Film: Fourteen (Ju-Yon-Sai) (2006)
Synopsis: Ryo (Akie Namiki) is an eighth-grade teacher. Her workday should be as ordinary as any other, but when Ryo is subjected to the unique viciousness of fourteen-year-olds, her troubled past is exposed. By coincidence she encounters Koichi (Hiromasa Hirosue), a familiar face from her schooldays. Ryo and Koichi share a newfound connection as adults, and, reliving their adolescent traumas, discover that the fourteen-year- old within them still smolders just beneath their “grown-up” facade.
Christoph Terhechte says: "Fourteen deals with the abuse of power, psychological dependencies, how norms are pushed to the limit and eventually violated, and socalled deviant behavior. The portrayal of bullying, of physical violence, of how the weaknesses of both adolescent and teacher are brutally exposed, is often hard to endure. Fourteen does not, however, denounce familial, social, or school violence, and refuses to bow to either sensationalism or emotionality. It is from this radical sobriety that the film draws its shocking impact. The shots are chosen with great care, with a noticeably large number of people’s backs shown, underlining the indifference of both the perpetrators and the victims."
Director: Ulrich Kohler
Film: Windows on Monday (Montag Kommen Die Fenster) (2006)
Synopsis: A new city, a new house—it could be a happy moment in a family’s life. But Nina (Isabelle Menke) stands alienated in the half-empty space and leaves without telling anyone. She moves aimlessly through a surreal mountain landscape, and finds herself with an aging tennis star in a hotel. Nina’s attempt to break out does not end in existential revolt but in a fleeting encounter between two people who no longer feel at home in their worlds.
Christoph Terhechte says: "Rebelling against societal norms is a popular cinematic topos. But the rebels that interest German director Ulrich Köhler, revolt against what they’ve chosen for themselves, against an unnamed repression; they are their own enemies. This type of indiscriminate rebellion is more commonly found in literature and its internal monologues and reflections. Cinema, however, demands simplification, movement, tangible antagonisms. Audiences’ sympathies lie with intentional rebels, young and wild. The phlegmatic heroes of Köhler’s films are not attractive enough to gain such sympathies, they are not looking to create a presence; on the contrary, they strive to be invisible. The act of resistance here is not carried out by the protagonist but rather by the narrative itself, a resistance against cinematic norms."
Director: Esther Rots
Film: Can Go Through Skin (Kan Door Huid Heen) (2009)
Synopsis: A brutal assault changes the life of Marieke (Rifka Lodeizen). She leaves her familiar city rhythms for the solitude of a dilapidated house in an empty countryside. Her irrational fears on the frozen farm are a constant struggle. As spring’s orchestra begins, her curiosity for new things that cover the cold rot of winter pull her out of the suffocating interior of her mind. Slowly she accepts the help of John (Wim Opbrouck), her neighbor, but as the seasons change so does she.
Christoph Terhechte says: "Among all the different types of media, cinema is perhaps the best suited to not only address the human psyche but also to imitate it. Rots doesn’t approach Marieke’s soul as a surgeon or a psychotherapist. She is first and foremost an artist, capable of employing the means at her disposal in an assured way. In addition to writing and directing the film, Rots was also responsible for editing and producing it. This was the only way for her to retain the freedom necessary for her particular artistic approach, one that can be described as highly intuitive."
Director: Henner Winckler
Film: Lucy (2006)
Synopsis: Maggy (Kim Schnitzer) is a single mother but also an ordinary teenager without a clear idea of what she wants from life. After meeting Gordon (Gordon Schmidt) at a disco, she falls in love and moves in with him. At first Gordon takes pride in his new role as a father, but living together is a bigger strain for both than either expected.
Christoph Terhechte says: "The secret of Lucy lies in how discreetly Winckler is able to stage events. He shows the audience emotional states by allowing it to feel, to empathise. His characters are touching because the appear understandable and transparent in equal measure, much like the numerous panes of glass and window through which his camera observes them. The camera perspective ends up making the impossible possible, relating fundamental aspects of human relationships as if simultaneously from a distance and close up."
Director: Ho Yuhang
Film: Rain Dogs (Tai Yang Yue) (2006)
Synopsis: When Tung (Kuan Choon Wai)—a nineteen-year-old Malaysian living with his aging mother in a small town—sets out to meet his older brother in Kuala Lumpur, little does he know that a journey of self-discovery lies directly ahead. Tung soon finds himself drawn into a world full of deceit, treachery, violence, and loss, where the only lesson to be gleaned from his sudden coming-of-age is just how difficult adulthood can make it for any of us to ever go home again.
Christoph Terhechte says: "Ho relates all this through incredibly precise visuals and economical dialogue. The film avoids any sense of redundancy, demanding the audience’s attention, but in return providing a suitable reward. The film is never misleading or puzzling, never content to bask in its own aesthetics. Every image is a single tile in the mosaic that tells the story of Tung’s coming-of-age, whereby landscapes and corridors become metaphors for mental states and developments."