Amid one of the coldest winters to hit Berlin in recent years, the 60th Berlin Film Festival kicked off on Thursday, announcing the beginning of a busy 10 days of film screenings, seminars and potential business transactions.
Earlier in the day, the International Competition jury members, headed by German filmmaker Werner Herzog, was presented.
Both Herzog and jury member Renee Zellwegger were asked about the increasing obstacles facing non-Hollywood films. Zellwegger, whose last acclaimed film “My One and Only, which premiered here in Berlin last year but flew off the radar when released in limited screens in the US, said: “I honestly can’t explain it. There are many things I don’t get about this industry. I was just glad it [the film] got a theatrical release.
Herzog, surprisingly, was more permissive regarding the issue. “We shouldn’t worry about this issue too much, he said. “When [his 1972 film] ‘Aguirre’ was first released, no distributor wanted to release it. But two French theaters decided to screen it and it kept playing for two and a half years and was always sold-out. If you make a good film it can have a long life.
Asked about opinion of the rise of 3D and digital effects, Herzog said; “I’m in a position to dismiss it [3D]. But I do think great testament of human ingenuity and I think it’s a phenomenal instrument.
“There are moments of great beauty in ‘Avatar’ for example despite its story deficiency; it’s the small moments I enjoyed the most. I am personally not a man of digital. I’m still a man of celluloid.
The opening film, “Apart Together, by Chinese filmmaker Quanan Wang was a letdown for this reporter. Sincere, restrained and quiet, this modest family drama, nonetheless, dabbles with a conventional story to which Wang – winner of the 2007 Golden Bear for “Tuya s Marriage – brings nothing new to. The film was met with mostly positive, if reserved reaction from critics.
Set against modern-day, skyscraper-jammed Shanghai, the film centers on a Chinese soldier, named Lui Yansheng, who was among an insurgency that fought against Mao’s communist party during the Chinese Civil War in 1927 before retreating to Taiwan in 1949.
Fifty years after the end of the war, the Chinese Republic finally allows the Nationalist soldiers to return to China to visit their families once a year.
An ageing Lui returns home to meet the love of his life, Qiao Yu, whom he left behind half a century ago with no explanation. Qiao has since married an officer in the People s Liberation. Since his Taiwanese wife passed away three year ago, Lui asks Qiao to spend the rest of her days with him in Taiwan.
The congeal husband doesn’t seem to mind either, rejecting Qiao’s offer to take his life’s savings as a compensation. But Qiao’s children are not as understanding, and the bureaucracy she and her husband’s face to acquire a divorce certificate hampers the old lovers’ plans.
At the heart of “Apart Together is a notable commentary on the rift between China and Taiwan, allegorizing the politics – which is only referenced but is not tackled directly – in a story of two lovers torn apart by the war.
In this film we see geographical distance but there s also the question of time, a temporal distance, which gives rise to a rift between people, Quanan said at the film’s press conference.
Family unification is something that everybody in China really yearns for. These people are caught up in the flux of history and telling those stories is extremely important.
Despite its commendable intentions, the highly conservative treatment of the issue hardly engages, containing few emotional peaks with little impact.
There are a few outstanding moments of humor – Qiao and her husband having their photo taken for their marriage certificates – that ranks among the highlights of the film. Those scenes aside, the film continues to march in a fixed track that fails to bring the plight of these characters, and the war’s victims in general, to the forefront.
Restrain does not automatically beget great results. With this approach, and with such derivative plotline, Wang’s storytelling appears quite pedestrian. “Apart Together is a film that sorely needs not only zest but guts as well to connect with viewers. Unfortunately, it rarely does.