Editor’s Notes: The following capsule reviews are part of our coverage of the 2015 Berlin International Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit http://www.berlinale.de and follow Berlinale on Twitter at @berlinale.
Dir. Jayro Bustamante
Director Jayro Bustamante’s first feature film Ixcanul is an indigenous drama set in a Mayan community in the rural and rough Guatemalan highlands. Not only is it Bustamante’s first feature, it is further the first official entry of a Guatemalan film competing at the Berlinale. The film’s title refers to a local volcano, constantly present as not only a picturesque yet threatening setting but also a representation of the physical border between the indigenous community and the westernized civilization that exists beyond it. Ixcanul is structured around Maria (Maria Mercedes Croy), a 17 year old girl who lives and works with her parents on a coffee plantation and seeks to escape the rural and simple life she is living. Although promised to marry Ignacio (Justo Lorenzo), the supervisor of the plantation, she seduces Pepe (Marvin Coroy), a coffee cutter, in order to pursue her dream of a new life. Pepe plans on escaping to the United States and promises Maria to take her along, yet ends up leaving without her. Shortly after his disappearance, Maria learns that she is pregnant with Pepe’s baby and decides to keep it despite her mother’s concerns. Once the pregnancy is revealed not only to the audience but also to Ignacio, the slow paced film further concentrates on the indigenous traditions, rites and the problems that come with the Mayan community’s clash with modern civilization, especially in terms of communication. The family has to put their trust on scheming characters, unaware of the injustice and corruption happening to them. With the slow development of the story, the setting of the drama in Guatemala and its representation of indigenous discrimination remains Ixcanul‘s strongest feature.
Dir. Sebastian Schipper
Sebastian Schipper’s competition entry Victoria is a stunning Berlin film and a rare German genre film, a heist thriller. It opens in a night club to flickering lights that grab your attention right from the beginning. After a night of clubbing in Berlin, Victoria (Laia Costa), a young Spanish waitress from Madrid, meets Sonne (Frederick Lau) and his friends Boxer (Franz Rogowski), Blinker (Burak Yigit) and Fuss (Max Mauff) on her way home. They convince her to join for a few more drinks and she enjoys flirting with Sonne. Up until then the mood is light-hearted but shifts once Boxer receives a phone call from Andi (André M. Hennicke), his protector while he did some time in jail. In order to return the favour, he has to rob a bank with his friends and steal 50.000 Euro, a stunt neither the small time criminals are prepared for, nor Victoria who ends up as their getaway car driver. The 140 minute film was shot in just one take, without any special effects or cuts and depicts the story of Victoria’s night in Berlin in real time. The twelve-page script and the technical circumstances encouraged the actors to improvise immensely, which adds to the charm and authenticity of this Berlin “Bonnie and Clyde” film. The camera remains completely with the protagonist, following her to capture her point of view and the handheld camera often invites the audience to feel like an additional member and participant of the group. Needless to say, the cinematography by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen is incredible. Victoria is a powerful, honest and thrilling film and among the strong contenders this year.
Diary of a Chambermaid (2015)
Dir. Benoît Jacquot
Based on the novel of the same name by Octave Mirbeau, Benoit Jacquot’s Diary of a Chambermaid is the third film adaptation following Jean Renoir’s version of 1946 and Luis Buñuel’s adaptation of 1964. Just like the novel, the period drama is set at the end of the 19th century and criticizes the french bourgeoisie and the class system in general. Célestine (Lea Seydoux), a young chambermaid moves from Paris to the countryside to work as a servant for the Lanlaire household in the French province. While Madame Lanlaire is overly strict and dainty, Monsieur Lanlaire is attracted to Célestine and more interested in duties beyond the household, but over the years, Célestine has learned how to use sexual exploitation to her favour. She is however, interested in the moody, strange and rough gardener Joseph (Vincent Lindon) and is willing to do what it takes to lead a more dignified, self-determined life, free of her servant status. Through flashbacks, the audience discovers Célestine’s troubled past and gets more insight into her unusual character and is able to understand her cold attitude towards her employers. But despite the good acting efforts by Léa Seydoux, Diary of a Chambermaid is a moderate film about an unjust class system, with unfortunately flat characters and a rather unemotional, ordinary narrative.