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Saturday, February 11, 2012
Berlin and the Bolsheviks
Berlin, Feb 10
Overthrown kingdoms mark the first two highlights of the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival, commonly known as the Berlinale. On Feb 9 the festival, taking place amidst the temperature so cruel to tropical creatures that I'd venture to nickname the event the Brrrrrrlinale, opened with Benoit Jacquot's stylish, wry and fluid "Farewell My Queen", a French Revolution drama that re-tells the final days of Louis XVI through the eye of Marie Antoinette's loyal servant, Sidonie Laborde, played by Lea Seydoux (aka the French assassin in the latest "Mission: Impossible").
Almost the entire film takes place in the hollow chambers of the Versailles, an ignorantly tranquil world whose calm surface is about to tremble with the revolutuinary force. The whispers of the Bastille incident arrive, along with the "decapitation list", and Laborde, whose love for Marie Antoinette suspiciously borders on the erotic territory, grows more anxious by the minute. For a costume drama, the film feels light of touch, a quality that works for and aginst this kind of material. Diane Kruger plays Antoinette, a majestic babydoll who seems to live on another plain of reality, and Virginie Ledoyen, beautiful like a painting, is Duchess Polignac, another peacock in this glittering, mournful zoo.
Then on Feb 10, I made the right choice of going to the evening show of the historic 1928 Soviet film, "Oktober", the propagandistic epic that has just been digitally restored to a marvellous condition by the Munich Film Museum (there are several versions of the film circulating cinematheques around the world due to the various exports and censorships of the original). The film was directed by, of course, Sergei Eisenstein, and the Berlin screening was accompanied by live orchestra playing the newly unearthed score by Edmund Meisel. It was a thunderous, heart-pounding experience -- 116 minutes flew by in a flash as the packed theatre saw the re-staging of the Bolshevik Revolution that toppled Tsar Nicholas in luminous black-and-white. Eisenstein's well-known montage technique, with its fervid cutting and superimposition of symbolic images onto the realistic, crowded action, was incredibly heightened by the skillful orchestra that matches the lightning-quick editing pace with rhythmic precision. And it's the live music that made all the difference: the ham-fistedness and grandiosity of the propaganda might have come across as comical and dated to contemporary viewers, except that Meisel's score restored the film's original earnestness and (blindside) sincerity. A powerful performance -- bravo to the 83-year-old film and the orchestra.
More report on the films showing at the Berlinale will continue here in the following days (if the cold doesn't finished me off first).
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