Festival Diary: Fracking, Porn, and Teen Diet Camps Hit Berlin

Posted by Brian Brooks on 2.8.2013


Joseph Gordon Levitt at a Berlin press conference for Don Jon's Addiction. Photo: Brian Brooks

Friday's big star-wattage premiere at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival was the European debut of Promised Land. Both Gus Van Sant and Matt Damon are in the German capital promoting the film, which already opened stateside. The story of a small town in Pennsylvania confronting the windfall but unclear environmental impact of fracking, the feature, which only measured so-so at home, may resonate here. Many countries in Europe have either moved tepidly or not at all with the extraction practice that has brought energy wealth to the Rust Belt. Starring Damon as an energy company exec, crowds gathered en masse outside the Hyatt Hotel, where filmmakers and talent typically enter and leave, hoping to catch a glimpse of the star. But Damon was not the only Hollywood name making a stop in Berlin's Postdamer Platz today.

Joseph Gordon Levitt brought his praised directorial debut, Don Jon's Addiction to the Berlinale. A veteran of television, indie films and, more recently, big blockbusters like Lincoln (NYFF50), Looper and The Dark Knight Rises, Gordon Levitt has added feature filmmaker to his résumé. Don Jon's Addiction debuted at the recent Sundance Film Festival and is screening here in the Berlinale's diverse Panorama section, which trains the spotlight on everything from documentary to experimental and broader market titles.

Starring Gordon Levitt, Scarlett Johansson, Julianne Moore and Tony Danza, Don Jon's Addiction lands firmly in the latter category, though he said the film was a "low budget" project. In the film he plays Jon Martello, a casanova who charms the ladies at his local disco. But after his one night romances have left—or are asleep—he opens up his laptop to indulge in his real passion: lots and lots of porn.

"I wanted to tell a story about love and what gets in the way of that is how we objectify and expect things from each other," said Gordon Levitt Friday. "Media is one way we formulate those expectations."


Johansson and Gordon Levitt in Don Jon's Addiction.

In the course of a night of carousing, Gordon Levitt's character Jonny meets what he believes is the perfect woman. Outwardly beautiful, if also a bit of a prima donna, Barbara (Johansson) is nearly as perfect a trophy girlfriend he could imagine—but not quite the full monty. He still turns to porn to satisfy sexual cravings that have built up over years of easy access—his every taste sated with the click of a mouse. Barbara, meanwhile, has also created an ideal image of a mate through Hollywood movies.  Both want the other to fulfill their expectations, but their relationship heads for a clash of opposing desires.

"I feel passionately about the way media can impact our vocabulary and perspective," offered Gordon Levitt. "Commercials, magazines, Hollywood movies are all important forces. And whether or not they intend to be important—they are. I think it's also important that people who make media take responsibility for what they do. And likewise, it's important for people who consume media to take responsibility. In the 20th century, it was much more of a one way street, but in the 21st century, media creation and consumption works two ways."

Though media has evolved by leaps and bounds in recent decades, Gordon Levitt will nevertheless have to contend with a remnant of old media when it comes time to release Don Jon's Addiction in the U.S. The actor/filmmaker acknowledged that he will have to cut some scenes in order to get an R-rating stateside, though he did not appear ready to take on the MPAA's ratings system, at least in this go around.

"I do expect to make cuts to get an R in the U.S. I'm OK with it. What's more important is to find the rhythm of the [film]. But I don't expect it to change the movie."


Ulrich Seidl's Paradise: Hope

With a mixture of professional actors and first-timers in front of the camera, Berlinale main competition film Paradise: Hope did not boast the same celebrity of Friday's big debuts, but it managed to pack theaters nonetheless. The third of Austrian director Ulrich Seidl's Paradise trilogy, Paradise: Hope is "the most gentle" of the series, noted Seidl in Berlin Friday. Thirteen year old Melanie's mother headed to Kenya in search of carnal satisfaction in Paradise: Love, while her uber-Catholic aunt took on door-to-door evangelism in Paradise: Faith. This time, it is young Melanie who takes the spotlight.

In the final installment, Melanie heads to a diet camp in the Austrian mountains. Along with newfound friends, she takes on physical training and nutritional counseling hoping to shed weight. In between the camp's regimen, teen rebelliousness percolates in the form of sneaking beer into a dorm room, games of spin the bottle, and a night sneaking off to a local disco. She also falls in love with the camp counselor and doctor who is 40 years her senior. Reminiscent of the Dogma-style filmmaking that became popularized in Denmark in the '90s, improvisation and very loose adherence to script are clearly evident in the film.

"We set up a pseudo diet camp on set with teachers and a special low-calorie diet [for the cast]," said Seidl, who plucked some of his actors directly from actual diet camps. "All of the actors got to know each other during a preparatory period so they would become very comfortable with each other."

In one scene, Melanie lays in bed speaking with her friend about her crush on the camp leader, who has taken notice of her emotions. The two teens banter back and forth about boys and other topics that would not be out of place in any teenage slumber party. While there's a sweetness to their conversation that sounds like it's flowing completely off the cuff, Seidl maintains a course in Paradise: Hope that guided the preceding two features.

"All three films are defined by the idea that if you don't correspond to a dictated sense of beauty then you are ostracized," said Seidl. "In this film, it's about how do you deal with it when you're still a child."

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