The 64th Berlinale opened with The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson's most unapologetic film to date. Anderson is a director who doesn't fear overwhelming us with style: the film is a maze of decoration and detail, packed with colonial design elements, star cameos, fun typography, and opaque tableaux (lots of stark faces against orange and brown panels). With its precise use of flashing color, the film resembled a collection of illustrated plates.
Head of the competition jury was James Schamus, one of the most intriguing figures in film, who represents the intersection of three worlds: a university professor as well as a studio executive and a screenwriter. It's unusual to find an academic who can greenlight films, turning high theory into live action, but Schamus has done just that: his first feature as producer was Raul Ruiz's 16mm The Golden Boat (1990), and he has been a key collaborator on Ang Lee's great Lust, Caution (2007), Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), and the underrated Hulk (2003). The latter is an electrifying film which may be the most ambitious, experimental blockbuster ever made.
The Panorama section was typically eclectic, spanning work from Tsai Ming-liang and Robert Lepage, to topical films focused on sexuality, to interesting new takes on genre. Opening night was Nuoc (2030), billed as the first Vietnamese underwater sci-fi: a premise which proved irresistible to audiences. Nghiem-minh Nguyen Vo's promising film combined a Tsai-like interest in bodies with a detective story and the feel of minimalist slow cinema.
Elsewhere, the Berlinale featured a Ken Loach retrospective, tributes to Maximilian Schell, Miklós Jancsó and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and a splendid new film from Alain Resnais, Life of Riley (Aimer, boire et chanter), which captivated the FIPRESCI competition jury with its play of intense emotions and unreal settings.
One of the most exciting sections this year was Aesthetics of Shadow, an examination of lighting effects in Japanese, German and US films from 1915 to 1950. This program brought many little-known histories to light: the influence of Weimar street films on early Japanese cinema, and the phenomenon of Sessue Hayakawa, the glamorous Japanese-born Hollywood star who was a sex symbol for American women — a combination that has yet to be repeated. (Lesley Chow)
Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival: www.berlinale.de