Masculinity takes charge in today’s Berlinale selection, starting with Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land – a Chinese Western of silent, bone-crunching machismo as a clever defence lawyer takes on the local criminals, hillbillies and extortionists in a dog eat dog world. No Man’s Land is briefly elevated above its slash and burn comedy action blockbuster with some contemplation on what it means to be human – a lack of selfishness or a knack for fire. And as nearly all the protagonists come a cropper in the final reel, No Man’s Land proves it’s a woman’s place after all, on a righteous path of truthfulness and honest employment.
11 years in the making, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood is a fascinating journey through time as we watch its principle cast age – from 2002 to the present. The film marks all the most important moments in a boy’s life – from birthdays, house moves, parties, weekends with his father and graduation, and incorporates some great dialogues and one-liners but also some clumsy attempts at deep and meaningful. With some good performances from Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette and Ellar Salmon, Boyhood is a return for Linklater to emotional and narrative minimalism, wallowing instead in a spirit of youth in the vein of Dazed And Confused. But without the psychological and emotional turbulence of those awkward years, Boyhood is a portrait of youth that’s only loosely recognisable.
And finally, there’s also Adam Csaszi’s Viharsarok – a sensual portrait of a young Hungarian footballer trying to make it in Germany. But when he misses his chance with a football scout from Dortmund, he returns to the house in the Hungarian countryside he inherited from his grandfather – now windowless and ramshackle. As Szabo silently battles his own sexuality and the homophobia of the macho worlds he inhabits, Viharsarok is also the delicate tale of love finding root in a barren land straining with patriarchic and homophobic violence. Adam Csaszi bites off too much with his unexpected threesome and his martyred conclusion, missing the opportunity for a happy ending and a more permanent act of cultural resistance. But with nuanced performances from András Sütö and Ádám Varga, Land Of Storms offers an alternative view to masculinity in no man’s land.