Berlin Film Festival 2010: Dave Calhoun reports

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Missing directors. Wild rumours. Provocative apes. And Martin Scorsese. Dave Calhoun reports from the 60th Berlin Film Festival

The rumour that art prankster Banksy’s first film was a spoof was so rife after its premiere at Sundance last month that by the time ‘Exit Through the Gift Shop’ reached an icy Berlin, the elusive artist had filmed a shadowy video intro for festival-goers to stress that his film was kosher. Which only fuelled more talk that the whole thing was a hoax. But what does ‘genuine’ even mean in the art world, where repetition is a money-spinner and hype trumps originality?

That’s half the point of Banksy’s playful documentary, which, from a teasing angle, presents the rise of street art from the late ’90s alongside its creeping commercialisation, a development in which Banksy admits he’s complicit. The film’s subject – or fall guy – is Thierry Guetta, a hipster Frenchman in Los Angeles who ditched his day job selling secondhand clothes to film street artists at night, starting with his cousin, Invader and moving on to Shepard Fairey and finally the holy grail… Banksy! Only, as Banksy tells it, Guetta was a keen cameraman but a rubbish filmmaker and his edit of his footage was a disaster, so Banksy took over. At the same time, Guetta, egged on by our host, became an artist himself, selling dreadful Warhol and Banksy rip-offs to the zombified herds of LA, causing Banksy to groan that he’s created a monster.

Too good to be true? Perhaps. But if, as some have suggested, Guetta the artist is just another Banksy creation, that doesn’t make the film a fake. Either way, it’s an energetic, provocative and very funny tour through the world of street art and raises endless questions about authenticity, fame and creativity.

Banksy, of course, didn’t show his face at Berlin. I’d like to think he was keeping Roman Polanski company in Switzerland, while the Polish director’s Robert Harris adaptation The Ghost had its world premiere in his absence. The film is a literal version of Harris’s pulpy book (funny that; it’s scripted by Harris) but has a little more of a black-comic edge in its telling of a former British PM and Blair-a-like (Pierce Brosnan) facing trial for war crimes while trying to meet the deadline for his memoirs by working with an eager but green ghost writer (Ewan McGregor). The plot is ridiculous but honestly so. This, and Polanski’s tight direction, keeps you on board for a fast and topical ride, and the parallels with Polanski’s own situation – the remote exile, the impending trial, the media circus – make for amusing viewing.

Festivals breed rumours, and one going round Berlin was that Lars von Trier is working on a remake of ‘Taxi Driver’ with Scorsese. Nonsense, most likely, but Von Trier was indeed in town to sell a new script, ‘Melancholia’, while Scorsese was presenting ‘Shutter Island’, a 1950s-set, asylum-bound mystery with a B-movie bent. It’s a sometimes brilliant, sometimes tiresome shaggy-dog story which sees Scorsese reaching into his Hitchcock toolbag and daring to experiment, both with story and his audience’s patience.

France’s impressive culture minister, Frédéric Mitterand (nephew of François) was in town for a screening of Eric Rohmer’s ‘Pauline at the Beach’ (1982) to celebrate the life of the director who died last month. Mitterand gave a lucid 15-minute introduction to the film; hard to imagine a British politician doing the same. The film followed ‘The Art of Sharing Movies’, an inspiring short documentary about the veteran French critic Michel Ciment, with contributions from the likes of Ethan Coen, Wim Wenders and Bertrand Tavernier.

It would take a critic with Ciment’s clout to get the small but beautiful ‘The Wolf’s Mouth’ by Pietro Marcello into cinemas in this country. Which is a shame as this experimental doc is a gem: a poetic portrait of both Genoa, past and present, and a former convict who has been in a loving relationship with a transsexual since a stretch in jail in the 1980s. The film’s use of archive in projecting one extraordinary life on to the life of a whole city recalls Terence Davies’s ‘Of Time and the City’.

Another eccentric doc was ‘Nénette’ from Nicolas Philibert (‘Etre et Avoir’), a 70-minute portrait of a 40-year-old orang-utan who lives in Paris’s Jardin des Plantes. We see Nénette and her family through the glass – but we only hear various visitors and interviewees who visit and discuss her. The more Nénette stares at us, the more we see ourselves, although the film’s main message is that any appreciation of Nénette and her family is presumptive or even egotistical on our part. Only she knows what she’s thinking. We can only guess. And the guesswork might say more about us than them. Which, come to think of it, might apply to critics too.

Read Geoff Andrew's Berlin report here

Author: Dave Calhoun



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