Festival Diary: The Shot Heard Round Berlin


Gold director Thomas Arslan (right) with actors Marko Mandic, Uwe Bohm and Lars Rudolph Saturday in Berlin. Photo: Brian Brooks

Insiders at the Berlin International Film Festival buzzed Saturday about the blizzard on the U.S. east coast and whether late-comers would make it into the German capital this weekend. Snow, in fact, fell here also as early risers headed to the early Competition screening of Russian filmmaker Boris Khlebnikov's A Long Happy Life, one of a number of films taking Saturday's spotlight. Also debuting were Sundance alum The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman with Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood as well as a gala screening of Tom Hooper's Oscar hopeful Les Misérables. Meanwhile, at the very crowded European Film Market, which is a hive of activity for sellers and buyers of international film, some fest-goers talked about last night's screening of a Forum film which caught some good word of mouth.

A Single Shot
Though not in the festival's main competition, some insiders couldn't stop talking about last night's screening of A Single Shot by David M. Rosenthal and starring Sam Rockwell, Jeffrey Wright and William H. Macy. Guns come to the fore in this feature about a hunting accident and subsequent panicky cover-up. Rockwell plays John Moon, a hunter who becomes the hunted when a misfire hits a young woman. Cornered like wounded animal by criminals and crooked lawyers, he'll do anything to undo the past and win back his wife and children. "It played very well," one potential distributor said.


Boris Khlebnikov's A Long Happy Life

A Long Happy Life
The title of this feature belies a story of the harsh experience of Russian villagers who eek out a living amidst a the spectacular Russian wild. "[The movie] started out as a little joke while I was watching a classic Western American film," director Boris Khlebnikov said about the origins of his film today in Berlin. Without naming the Western that inspired him, he added, "I started to imagine how this would translate into a Russian context and we started doing research about Russian farmers and their problems. By this time, it was very far from a Western."

The film centers on Sascha, a farmer on what was once a collective. His farm workers respect him and turn a blind eye to his affair with the secretary of a local government official. Life is hard, but one day he is faced with a difficult decision. A group of less-than-principled officials offer him a lucrative deal for the farm. But his employees urge him to stand firm, though Sascha may not have the final word over the farm's fate.

"If you travel from farm to farm, you get a sense that these villages are dying," noted Khlebnikov. "Talented people leave and the rest are left to degrade." Khelbnikov acknowledged the irony of the title, though he said Russians are able to relate to its context. "[Sascha] has a short and brutal life, but the point is that he could have had a long and happy life, which is sad. but I'd disagree that he was never happy. He overcomes some of the obstacles he faces and in that sense he finds happiness."


Nina Hoss in Thomas Arslan's Gold

Gold
The Russian wilderness morphed into the Canadian outback Saturday afternoon with the debut of German director Thomas Arslan's Gold starring Nina Hoss (Barbara, NYFF50). The film, about a group of German immigrants who set out to find their fortunes in a Gold Rush in the northern territories of Canada, was also described by some viewers as akin to a Western. Like Khlebnikov, Arslan found inspiration for the film unexpectedly. "I stumbled upon some photos from this period and it fascinated me, so I did research," he said. "I wrote the screenplay a long time ago. In diaries [of the period], it was striking to me how these people could leave everything behind."

The film, which is also screening in Competition here, centers on seven travelers who take a train to the final stop deep in the Canadian wilderness and set off from there on a 2,500 km. journey in hopes of striking it rich. Not surprisingly, the journey is perilous and cold weather, exhaustion and conflict begin to take their toll.

Actor Lars Rudolph noted about his character, "I could sing and I played the banjo. I had no money, but had four kids and a wife back in New York and this was the only chance I had."

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