La Presse at the 74th Berlinale | At the limit of tolerability

(Berlin) In the next seat at the Delphi Palast, an old cinema almost a century old in what was once West Berlin, a young woman sobbed, then sighed in exasperation upon hearing spectators laughing, confided in her neighbor, then sobbed harder. She discovered like me on Sunday Intercepteda moving documentary by her friend, Montrealer Oksana Karpovych, on the war in Ukraine.

Oksana Karpovych, a Concordia University graduate who has lived in Montreal for around ten years, had just returned to Kyiv when Russia attacked her native country in 2022. She became a “fixer” (translator, guide, etc.) for various media in Ukraine, including Al-Jazeera. “I never thought I would have to do this, but I thought it was important to show the world what was happening,” she explained after the screening of her film on Sunday.

It was at this time that she discovered recordings of telephone conversations between Russian soldiers and their relatives, intercepted by Ukrainian intelligence services and relayed on YouTube. “I was shocked by what I heard. It gave me the idea of ​​making a film that would show two parallel realities. That of the violence of the war, which I discovered every day, and that of the Russian soldiers and their families. »

Intercepted, co-produced by Les films du 3 mars au Québec and presented in the Forum section of the Berlinale in a packed room, is the marriage of these two realities. Based on 30 hours of extracts from some 1,000 telephone conversations, Oksana Karpovych has scripted a film where images of the desolation of the war in Ukraine – gutted apartments, bombed neighborhoods, rubble and debris – are offered as a counterpoint to discussions at bloodcurdling.

Russian soldiers speak with varying degrees of detachment about those they pillage, torture or kill, and resign themselves to their own imminent and inevitable death. But it is their interlocutors – their mothers, wives, companions, sisters – who have the harshest, most dehumanizing remarks towards the khokhols (contemptuous nickname given to Ukrainians). We understand that their prejudices are not only the fruit of propaganda, but of decades of hatred between these two brother peoples.

There is a contrast, desired by the filmmaker, between the often poetic images – still shots “where time has stopped, as if there was no future”, says Oksana Karpovych – and the words exchanged by Russian soldiers and their relatives, often at the limit of tolerability. “I was interested in what these people said to each other in private and I was surprised to see that the cruelest words came from women. I still don’t understand why,” explains the young filmmaker.

It’s an intimate tale of fear, of what should never be said. The soldiers speak of the civilians they have been ordered to kill, of the corpses piling up in the streets. “We killed a mother in front of her two children,” one of them said to his wife. “Of course,” she replied in a neutral tone. She counts. She is also one of the enemies. »

“I was a good person and now I’m killing people,” a soldier told his mother. “Are you sure they’re people?” “, she replies. “Do you make kebabs with the meat from the khokhols? a woman asks a soldier. Kill them all and have a BBQ! » A soldier explains in detail a torture technique called the “21 roses”, which concerns the fingers, toes and penis, called to open like a flower…

It is a film that bears witness to the inhumanity and dehumanization of war. These Russians talk about Ukrainians as if they were animals to be put in cages. Comments which reminded me of those made, during a stay in Israel, about the Palestinians.

A Russian woman claims COVID-19 was made in Ukraine with US help, despite her husband’s protests. Some soldiers admit that they did not release anything at all, that they were sent to the front under false motives, that this war is absurd. A woman tells her husband that Russia claims that many soldiers died of strokes so as not to pay financial compensation to their families. “Make sure our son doesn’t join the army,” he replied. This is my last wish. »

“These soldiers and their loved ones are victims of propaganda,” notes Oksana Karpovych, “but they also have collective and individual responsibility for the acts they committed. I do not agree with this idea that this is Vladimir Putin’s war. These are real people committing real crimes. I looked for empathy in these recordings, an awareness of their responsibility, but unfortunately I did not find it. »

Insult or reparation?

Another documentary film, this one more impressionistic, even supernatural, was presented on Sunday at the Berlinale, in competition: Dahomey by Mati Diop, revealed in competition at the Cannes Film Festival by Atlantic in 2019. The Franco-Senegalese filmmaker was interested in the restitution by France to Benin, in 2021, of 26 royal treasures from Dahomey. Works looted by the French colonizer in 1892 and which were until recently exhibited at the Quai Branly museum in Paris.


Filmmaker Mati Diop

Mati Diop filmed the transport, from France to Benin, of these looted works. But it is in the metaphysical questioning of the souls freed from these uprooted sculptures – I said “supernatural”, likeAtlantic – and in that, very concrete, of the students of the University of Abomey, that this atypical documentary finds its full meaning.

The works are exhibited at the Presidential Palace, guarded by soldiers. There are only 26 works, out of 7000 stolen, which have been returned. Is this an insult or the start of repair? What does this say about the relationship with the colonizer? Is this a way for the Beninese president or the French president to clear his conscience? Will this reappropriation of heritage only benefit the elites?

All these questions, and many others, inhabit and haunt this powerful film of barely an hour on colonization and its impact on the deculturation of African populations.

Star Wars among the Ch’tis

In a completely different register, completely offbeat, the Frenchman Bruno Dumont unveiled on Sunday The Empirehis expected pastiche of Star Wars, a Z series film in the Ed Wood style, to be appreciated to the fourth degree. As usual with Dumont, we find a story set in the north of France and a voluntarily forced marriage of non-professional and professional actors, including Camille Cottin, Anamaria Vartomolei, revealed by The event by Audrey Diwan, and Fabrice Luchini, that you would think it came straight out of Donkey Skin in an intergalactic version.

Jony, a young crab and lobster fisherman, lives in a bungalow by the sea with his mother and her son, a baby who, we quickly discover, is neither more nor less than the Prince of Darkness… 0 and the 1s who dispute it, as well as the fate of humanity, in order to impose on it either kindness and leniency, or damnation and hell.

In this parody which has nothing to do with Spaceballswe especially make fun of this eternal debate between Good and Evil, which the saga Star Wars tended to take very seriously. There are capes and lightsabers, but also, unlike Star Warsblood and sex and vulgar language.

Against the background of peplum music closer to Jesus of Nazareth than John Williams, we find Bruno Dumont far from The life of Jesusof Humanityof Camille Claudel 1915 or even the most recent Francebut we reconnect with the investigators of the delicious series Little Quinquin and the unique humor of the filmmaker My Loute. It’s comical, it’s nice, but it runs out of steam with the force (THE force) of wanting to reach new heights of absurdity. And it remains a very strange choice for the official competition of a festival like the one in Berlin.

Not just a queer story

Kristen Stewart, president of last year’s competition jury, returned to the Berlinale on Sunday to promote Love Lies Bleeding by the British director Rose Glass, in which she plays the main role. Presented out of competition, it is a film with strong retro accents, which tells of the complicated love passion between two young women at the end of the 1980s. Not complicated for the reasons you might think, but because Lou (Kristen Stewart) , manager of a training room, where she meets bodybuilder Jackie (Katie O’Brian), is the daughter of an arms dealer hunted by the FBI (Ed Harris).


Actress Kristen Stewart

“I no longer want to talk only about the reasons why [les personnages queers] are marginalized, but from their real experience. What they like, what their desires are, where they come from, where they want to go. And then not having the impression of always having to take every platform to be a spokesperson,” declared the American actress, when asked at a press conference if her outlook had changed on the way in which stories queers are addressed in cinema.

Love Lies Bleedingfirst presented at the Sundance Film Festival, has the air of an old film by Michael Mann or Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive), with the difference that Rose Glass seems to take herself much less seriously than her Danish colleague. The film, which will be released on March 8 in Quebec, combines genres (here too, there is the supernatural) successfully. It’s funny, exciting, surprising, and you never get bored for a minute.

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