The 70th edition of the Berlinale is living up to its reputation as the most political of festivals, wirh films taking direct swipes at Silicon Valley and the gig economy, the failure of men to deal with women as equals and the aftermath of slavery in Brazil.
“My p–sy’s in the Cloud” — on a sex video — is the line of dialogue most likely to go viral from the uproarious French film “Effacer l’Historique” (Delete History), jointly directed by Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern. The film, set in a cookie-cutter housing estate in northern France, depicts the travails of three neighbours-next-door types whose lives are being ruined by the temptations, traps and outright scams that bombard them through the Internet and their mobile phones. Bertrand (Denis Podalydes), who barely makes a living as a locksmith and has a billfold full of maxed-out credit cards, is being seduced by a telephone sales caller from Mauritius named Miranda, peddling a new veranda for his house. Miranda, who turns out to be a creation of artificial intelligence, knows everything about him, including his habit of collecting snow globes, and she calls and wheedles him until he falls in love with her. During one of her calls, he masturbates in the bathroom.
Meanwhile his neighbour Marie (Blanche Gardin) is a freewheeling mother of one whose drinking habits go a long way to explain her separation from her husband. She falls for a quickie pitch from a young man at the Badaboom bar who, after he has taken her home in an inebriated state, threatens to post the video of their one-night stand online unless she pays him 10,000 euros.
Their friend Christine (Corinne Masiero) has lost her job as a guard at a nuclear power station because she became so addicted to binge-watching television serials at work that she failed to monitor an accidental nuclear release on one of her screens. She now drives a car for an Uber-like ride service, but no matter how much she butters-up her customers, her rating remains at one star. Unbeknownst to her, rivals are hiring click services to boost their ratings and lower hers.
The trio met at one of the “gilet jaunes” (yellow vest) protests that have swept France, demonstrating against the difficulty of making ends meet in a system seen as rigged against blue-collar and middle-income workers. The feistiness of those protests comes through in the way the trio solve their problems. Not to give too much away, suffice to say that the denouement involves Marie flying to California to try to get her sex video wiped from Google’s servers (labeled, hilariously, “Sex Tapes Hauts-de-Seine”, “Sex Tapes Vatican”, etc), allowing her to yell the viral line as she barges past security. A film that is as funny as it is disturbing.
“Schwesterlein” (My Little Sister) is a Swiss film by the co-directing team Stephanie Chuat and Veronique Reymond that deals with the deeply loving relationship between twins born two minutes apart — ex-playwright Lisa (Nina Hoss) and her gay actor brother Sven (Lars Eidinger), who has terminal cancer. The film is largely an exploration of how Lisa rearranges her life as a married mother of two whose husband runs an international school in Switzerland, to help her ailing brother in Berlin who wants to get on stage one last time for a revival of his hit version of Hamlet.
But the film also deals with women’s rights issues as Lisa’s ambitious husband Martin (Jens Albinus), who sees renewing his contract at the Swiss school as the road to financial success, while Lisa is concerned about leaving Berlin, makes life-changing decisions without her input. Some dramatic scenes in which Lisa is pushed to the edge — by her brother’s impending death, and by her husband’s dictatorial and manipulative ways — provide some of the film’s most heart-wrenching moments — and a possible best actress gong for Hoss.
Finally, the Brazilian film “Todos os Mortos” (All the Dead Ones) looks at the still uneasy relations between the descendants of white settlers from Portugal and the indigenous populations and the blacks who were brought to Brazil as slaves. The film mostly plays out in an upper-crust but financially troubled white patriarchal family’s home in Sao Paulo. The time, ostensibly, is 1899, 11 years after the abolition of slavery, but in the magical realism style of Latin America, modern Sao Paulo increasingly manifests itself, so that by the end we are in modern times.
Isabel (Thaia Perez), the matriarch of the family, is bemoaning the loss of a trusted black servant who used to wash her feet and made her morning coffee, with beans from the family plantation run by her husband, far from Sao Paulo. She has two daughters, Ana (Carolina Bianchi), who plays the piano incessantly and is a nervous wreck of sexual frustration and latent insanity, and Maria (Clarissa Kiste), who has become a nun and tries to hold the family together.
Lured from the plantation to help, as the old lady goes into decline over the loss of her beloved servant, is Ina (Mawusi Tulani), a former family slave. She has suppressed her practice of Angolan traditional rites, in order to fit in better in Catholic Brazil, but she agrees to stage one of her rituals, in order to help the ailing old woman. Isabel does, in fact, seem to revive, but this touches off conflict with Sister Maria, who has a crisis of faith when she sees what has happened and gets a strong reprimand from her Mother Superior. Ina gets nothing but trouble for what she has done for a white family she mistrusted in the first place, and whom she accuses in a scorching scene of trying to lure her young son away from her, to become their future servant.
A startling ending, set during carnival, shows that co-directors Caetano Gotardo and Marco Dutra know how to combine the gruesome and the macabre, in the service of showing just how difficult race relations were, and still are.
By Michael Roddy