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Critical mass(es)

As if the Berlinale wasn’t enough to quell filmgoers’ appetites, Berlin Critics’ Week (Feb 14-22) returns with an uncompromising programme for serious cinephiles.

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Scary Mother

As if the Berlinale wasn’t enough to quell filmgoers’ appetites, Berlin Critics’ Week returns with an uncompromising programme for serious cinephiles.

Critics’ Week is an independent venture that offers a more streamlined selection of films than the Berlinale’s sprawling and often dizzying programme. It’s proven to be much more than a mere sidebar to the festival and has successfully followed in the footsteps of Locarno and Cannes’ Semaine de la Critique. The overarching theme of this fourth edition is the focus on Publikum: how films reach and engage with an audience; by what standards they are produced; how we watch and perceive the medium. Fittingly, the German Critics’ Association has put together an eclectic, globe-hopping selection that should bring critics and cinephiles together for some particularly lively debates.

The programme kicks off with Ana Urushadze’s Scary Mother, the winner of Locarno’s Golden Leopard award for Best First Feature. The Georgian-Estonian co-production sees a middle-aged housewife who sacrifices her mental and physical health, and then her family, as her previously repressed love of writing evolves into a borderline-horrifying obsession. As a brazenly unique, female-directed film with strong allegorical tones, it’s joined by Mihaela Popescu’s darkly surrealist drama Yet To Rule. Executed with brio, featuring languorous pans and ambitious extended takes, the Romanian director’s purposely confounding narrative involves the physical manifestations and interactions of the Freudian id, ego and superego and is sure to prove divisive.

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Searching for Oscar

Two other standouts are the very different observational documentaries The Big House and Searching for Oscar. In the former, directors Kazuhiro Soda, Terri Sarris and Markus Nornes take a page from Frederic Wiseman’s playbook and explore the front- and backstage of Michigan Stadium, the largest football arena in the US. The focus is directed less at the on-pitch action or the players, and more on the place as a living organism; on its rites, rituals and traditions. It’s a fascinating snapshot of a community institution. Meanwhile, Octavio Guerra’s endearing portrait of Oscar Peyrou is practically tailored for Critics’ Week: its subject, the president of the FIPRESCI prize, is a film critic who seemingly doesn’t watch films. Instead, his (provocative) opinions – which may be concealing a secret – are based solely upon film posters and the “energy” given out by titles and actors’ names. By turns touching and funny, the film toys with the audience, who may question how much of the action is staged. It also gives plenty of food for thought regarding criticism, the embedded truths at the core of the critical community, and what is meant by the subjective/objective viewer; which is to say, it’s not to be missed.

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The Rub

Lastly, one experimental piece by Péter Lichter and Bori Máté is worth singling out: The Rub is a destabilising and at times intoxicating mood piece that features decayed and hand-painted 35mm and 16mm celluloid strips of mainstream films, spliced together over an hour. Eerie and oneiric, this artistic endeavour works in sensory movements, with colour schemes and sonic palettes evolving, all to recordings of extracts from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Whether it leaves you baffled, enlightened, or scrambling for some eyedrops, it certainly won’t leave you indifferent. Let the debates begin…

Berlin Critics’ Week Feb 14-22 Kino Hackesche Höfe and various venues, full programme at wochederkritik.de