Berlin Film Festival 2014: Day 4


If yesterday was love, then today it’s sin, walking the Via Dolorosa (literally) with Stations Of The Cross and Cavalry as well as mortifying that flesh with Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Volume 1. Dietrich Brüggemann’s Kreuzweg (Stations Of The Cross) follows a young teenage girl taking her confirmation in the traditionalist Catholic church, the Society Of St Pius, struggling to reconcile her priest’s admonishments to sacrifice her pleasures and become a warrior for God with obedience to her parents and her natural adolescent inclinations to look nice and make friends. Filmed in 14 fixed sequences, it’s formally daring, but its mocking humour is easy. And despite some enjoyable moments, Stations Of The Cross misses the opportunity to reform these religious fundamentalists, instead focusing on the confusion and psychological distortions made in the name of religion.

And John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary mines a similar vein albeit with a different tone. Starring Brendan Gleeson as a priest in Sligo, it beings in the confessional box with a parishioner placing a death threat over the holy man’s head – his decision to kill a good priest a political act of vengeance – in lieu of the late Catholic priest that abused him as a boy. In Calvary it’s not the Church’s traditionalism, with its demonic modern music or its asceticism but rather the cases of child abuse that have plagued the Catholic Church in Ireland. Brendan Gleeson makes for a vital, worldly priest (with a daughter, also movingly played by Kelly Reilly) but the rest of the characters are caricatures and Calvary struggles to alchemise its comedic kicks into tender moments.

Argentine Benjamín Naishtat’s History of Fear isn’t a million miles away from this sorrowful pilgrimage with its depiction of the everyday events that cause fear and anxiety. From helicopters flying overhead issuing eviction orders to broken lifts and intercom aggressors, History Of Fear brings its unconnected cast together as class sides are drawn – the poor serving as cleaner, gardener and cook to the rich. And when the wealthy are plunged into darkness, anxious for their lives from the displaced and disgruntled residents of the Zone, the line between rich and poor is drawn more clearly than ever. It’s a cerebral idea, but unfortunately only manages as much spark onscreen as an underwater firecracker.

And finally, Lars von Trier’s much debated and anticipated Nymphomaniac Volume 1. With Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Joe self-flagellating as she recounts her story to Seligman, her adolescent love of sex and her insatiable hunt for men takes on an easy and amusing analogy with fly-fishing. And with Lars von Trier wearing his literary references on his sleeve, from Proust and Bach to Edgar Allan Poe and more, Nymphomaniac makes for a diverting, and surprisingly sparing sexual film – with a scene-stealing Uma Thurman like you’ve never seen her before. And while it’s hard to evaluate only the first volume, there’s a distant blankness and emotional coldness to Joe’s character that leaves Nymphomaniac Volume 1 a little cool. But with a final-reel glimmer of feeling, there’s hope that Nymphomaniac Volume 2 might turn the heat up.

Join the discussion