Category Archives: Now Showing

BERLIN, I LOVE YOU

Producer: Claus Clausen and Edda Reiser
Director: Peter Chelsom, Dennis Gansel, Til Schweiger, Justin Franklin, Dani Levy, Stephanie Martin, Claus Clausen, Fernando Eimbcke, Dianna Agron, Massy Tadjedin and Josef Rusnak
Writer: David Vernon, Dennis Gansel, Neil LaBute, Justin Franklin, Dani Levy, Edda Reiser, Fernando Eimbcke, Massy Tadjedin, Claus Clausen and Rebecca Rahn
Stars: Jim Sturgess, Charlotte Le Bon, Sibel Kekilli, Iwan Rheon, Toni Garnn, Mickey Rourke, Nolan Funk, Laila Maria Witt, Alexander Black, Carol Schiler, Hannelore Elsner, Emily Beecham, Veronica Ferres, Lili Gattyan, Phoebe Nicolls, Jake Weber, Diego Luna, Michelangelo Fortuzzi, Luke Wilson, Dianna Agron, Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Liam Gross, Rafaelle Cohen and Robert Stadlober
Studio: Saban Films

C-

The latest installment of Emmanuel Benbihy’s Cities of Love series, which has already dealt with Paris, New York and Rio, is set in Berlin, though with few exceptions the episodes could take place virtually anywhere. “Berlin, I Love You” lacks the sense of place that previous installments have highlighted. Unfortunately, it’s also without much charm.

The episodes, most of them from ten to twelve minutes long, come from a variety of directors, some working from their own scripts but many using ones penned by others. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to make any difference; even the best of them are mediocre, and quite a few positively poor.

After an animated collage depicting aspects of Berlin’s history, the film opens with a sketch directed by Josef Rusnak that introduces a street performance artist (Robert Stadlober) who mimics a statue of an angel, presumably channeling “Wings of Desire.” A young lady (Rafaëlle Cohen) takes up a spot beside him and begins singing, much to his annoyance, and he leaves. But the two find one another again, and the film periodically returns to their romantic journey until they commit to each other in the big finale that assembles the stars of other segments at an outdoor concert.

Probably the biggest stars represented are Helen Mirren and Keira Knightley, who appear as mother and daughter in Massy Tadjedin’s “Under Your Feet.” Knightley is a young woman who brings home a refugee child, whom Mirren, initially opposed to sheltering the boy, becomes attached to. Addressing Germany’s current immigration crisis is laudable, but why two British women should be at the center of things is puzzling.

The best-known of the writers involved in the project is most likely Neil LaBute, whose “Love Is In the Air” is directed by Til Schweiger. Mickey Rourke plays a man who picks up a much younger woman (Toni Garrn) in a bar and takes her back to his room, explaining how he regrets never having known his daughter—not in the Biblical sense, of course. Given LaBute’s characteristic concerns, the ending will come as no surprise, and the vignette could be set anywhere.

So could other episodes, like Peter Chelsom’s “Berlin Ride,” about how a talking car leads a young man (Jim Sturgess) to love, or Dianna Agron’s “Lucinda in Berlin,” with Luke Wilson as a burned-out movie director who’s renewed by meeting a pretty young puppeteer; both have the city in the title, but it doesn’t seem essential to either, although each shows off some of its sights. A car is also involved in Dennis Gansel’s “Embassy,” about a taxi driver drawn into the world of espionage when she picks up a passenger; it’s Hitchcock very light.

In another segment, Fernando Eimbcke’s “Sunday Morning,” a teen (Michelangelo Fortuzzi) meets a transgender woman (Diego Luna) on a bridge, and they talk until he asks her for a kiss. It’s pleasantly played but amounts to little. “Me Three,” by Stephanie Martin and Claus Clausen, centers on a group of women who meet in a Laundromat into which a piggish man stumbles; it morphs into one of the movie’s musical numbers, like the big closing concert.

“Berlin, I Love You” features some nice cinematography by Kokja Brandt, and one has to admire the work done by editor Peter R. Adam in trying to tie all the strands together into something resembling a coherent whole.

But the writing would have to be a lot sharper to make this a recommended stop on your cinematic itinerary.

ARCTIC

Producer: Christopher Lemole, Tim Zajaros and Noah C. Haeussner
Director: Joe Penna
Writer: Joe Penna and Ryan Morrison
Stars: Mads Mikkelsen and Maria Thelma Smaradottir
Studio: Bleecker Street

B-

Survival stories that emphasize the indomitability of the human spirit can either go a romantic route (for instance, the recent “The Mountain Between Us”) or keep to a sterner path, as, for example, Robert Redford’s “All Is Lost” did. Joe Penna’s “Arctic” chooses the latter option, even if the ending, if taken literally, is more upbeat. (It might, on the other hand, be intended as a hallucination.)

The film begins in medias res, as we find Overgard (Mads Mikkelsen), the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Arctic, struggling to survive alone until rescue arrives. He has set up several lines in holes in the ice, all rigged to sound an alarm when a fish bites, and carefully stores his catch in a locker inside the wrecked aircraft. He also sleeps in the cabin and keeps a record of the days as they pass. During the day he laboriously builds an SOS sign of rocks atop the snow that can be seen from the air, and dusts it off regularly to make sure it remains visible. He also laboriously cranks a signal transmitter in hopes someone will be close enough to hear it.

Finally his efforts pay off: a helicopter shows up. Unfortunately, it’s caught in heavy winds and crashes, too. The pilot is dead, and only the female co-pilot (Maria Thelma Smáradóttir) survives—but barely: she’s seriously injured, with a deep gash in her side, and is only semi-conscious, unable to speak.

Her need for medical treatment prompts Overgard to change his plans. He rigs up a sled for her and whatever supplies he can manage, maps out what he thinks would be the best route through the hills and valleys, and determines to pull her to a research facility. The rest of the film is devoted to the journey, an unbelievably difficult trek marked not only by natural obstacles, but by the appearance of a third character—a ravenous polar bear.

The great strength of “Arctic” lies in its feeling of authenticity. The sense of place—frigid, unforgiving, always dangerous—is palpable (it was shot in Iceland), especially as captured in Tómas Örn Tómasson’s crisp cinematography. Penna and his editor Ryan Morrison (who also co-wrote the minimalist dialogue) moves the film along at a stately—some might say glacial—pace, giving the widescreen images a poetic cast.

No less convincing is Miikkelsen, who genuinely looks as though he’s been stuck in the Arctic wilderness for a couple of months, and who grimly conveys Overgard’s combination of desperation, determination and utter exhaustion. Though Smáradóttir’s is clearly a more passive role, she suffers persuasively. Unfortunately, the bear’s big close-up is marred by some less-than-stellar effects; from a distance, however, the animal is plenty impressive.

As with most tales of one person’s lonely struggle against the elements, the slow, repetitive quality of “Arctic” can test a viewer’s patience, but Mikkelsen’s doggedness and the crystal-clear visuals make for a compelling, if daunting, journey. You might, however, want to take a jacket along to the theatre with you: the mere act of watching Overgard’s struggle might bring on a chill.