I was asked to review one of the films I have recently seen at the Berlin Film Festival Berlinale 2014 by my dear friend Stefanie Tendler. At first, I was not sure which one I should pick, but leaving the Friedrichstadtpalast on Saturday with a feeling of grief, my gut feeling told me “Jack“ was going to be just the right kind of film to tell you about.
A German production set in Berlin seemed perfect for S2S and most definitely stands for that kind of quality and beauty of German film that will hopefully make it across the German borders. If you are familiar with Berlin, you may recognize some of the places shown in “Jack.” However, as joyful as it may be to see your city as the setting of a film, the story told could have happened anywhere. Jack, our protagonist is around 10 years old and takes care of his younger brother Manuel. His mother is loving and caring when she actually spends time with her children, but often too busy and generally overwhelmed, she is not dedicating enough time to them. She places the burden of all responsibilities on the shoulders of her oldest son.
One inattentive moment and the severe incident resulting from it rips Jack away from his family and puts him into a shelter, making him face a different reality, friendly but brutal in its own way. An almost never-ending series of unlucky and to some extent traumatic events intensify Jack’s longing to go home coupled with his desire to provide care for his younger brother. When Jack realizes that his mother is neither answering any of his messages nor taking care of his younger brother, he decides to take matters into his own hands. As usual, he takes on the role of the missing father. After having picked up Manuel from a quite dodgy guy, the two brothers go on a daylong search through Berlin to find their mother. This search somehow feels like the essence of the film and proves to be adventurous and diverse, while enforcing the always present and unchanging feeling of compassion for the children and rejection towards their mother.
Director Edward Berger manages to present the audience with a perspective through the eyes of a 10-year-old. Not only by filming a lot on the boy’s eye-level, but also by refusing to make the spectator omniscient – leaving the bits and pieces of the story unsolved that Jack himself doesn’t have an answer to. Nonetheless, no matter how much the audience is sucked into the movie by this device, the film allows a subjective view. While the viewer can comprehend Jack’s love for his mother and can relate to his urge to defend her from any accusations, they may also feel condemnation for her selfish behavior and lack of responsibility for her own children.
The character Jack, created by Edward Berger and Nele Mueller-Stöfen, personifies the innocence of a child and the purely good will coming with it. Nonetheless, the incidents happening to Jack lead him to “immoral” actions, as a matter of defense or the only possibility and way out. This shows how the surroundings we are placed in and the events that take place in our lives, can influence our actions.
Not wanting to spoil the story for you, I will say that Edward Berger gives the film an unsatisfying and rather unexpected ending, leaving it up to you to put some more thought into it. Why do I personally highly recommend this German production? Not only does it give you a tour through the “real” Berlin, parting from the tourist and hipster cliché other productions might rely on, it also creates space for personal interpretations.
“Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clerq” (2014, Nancy Buirski)
After leaving the screening of “Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq” this morning at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, I couldn’t resist but to write another brief review about a film that introduces, to a wider audience, the dancer Tanaquil Le Clerq who performed for the New York City Ballet and became popular worldwide
This documentary creates admiration and a sense of affection for the very talented and extraordinary Tanaquil. I, myself, didn’t know of Tanny as she was referred to by her friends before watching this film by director Nancy Buirski. But the excerpts of her performances, seamlessly integrated in the documentary, are instant proof that Le Clercq was one of the great ballerinas of the 20th century.
I can only thank Nancy Buirski and her team for rediscovering this touching story and sharing it with us.
I agree with the rest of the audience, Buirski achieved her goal of “not just telling a story” [through all the historical footage and interviews], but also “creating a feeling,” as she stated during the Q&A following the film. However, in my opinion, she didn’t just create a feeling but rather a wide range of emotions. She takes you through the dramatic and poetic life of Le Clercq, from feeling aspiration and amazement to sadness and grief.
Le Clercq’s early rise to fame as a ballet dancer, making her a muse to many choreographers, such as Balanchine, whom she married and formed a unique collaboration with, is followed by an unexpected and rapid halt. The fate of a lot of dancers whose careers are everything to them but often are short ended. Le Clercq’s story, however, opens a very different kind of book, when she is struck by Polio – an illness most people in the Western hemisphere only know about from their vaccination records, but thankfully, have not been afflicted by.
Photographs and short film clips chosen by Buirski and her editor Damian Rodriguez are my first encounter with iron lungs, massive machines containing your whole body, apart from your head, that help you breathe, by contracting your lungs pumping air in and out of this respirator.
While you could probably create an entire documentary on the drastic course of Polio, I very much appreciate that a film which initially is engrossed in beauty and fame, also turns its attention to the hurtful and sad moments that are often part of our lives. By choosing to reflect on Polio in this film, the spectator is able to leave the screening room with a positive message – embodied by a strong woman, who was told she would only reach her forties but instead lived way beyond her doctors’ expectations to celebrate her 71st Birthday. She may have lost what she lived for but rediscovered it with the help of her friends, by becoming an amazing ballet teacher and living her dream in a different capacity.
Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil LeClerq opened last week in NYC.
Guest writer Marlene Somann, recently switched to Film and Media Studies in Berlin, after spending the last four years pursuing a technical degree. She has lived in England and Malaysia in the past and her desire to discover new places will probably never die. As Berlin has always been on her list of places to explore, she is now able to enjoy this multifaceted and vibrant city.