REVIEW: The Grand Budapest Hotel, Love is Strange, Yves Saint Laurent, God Help The Girl, ’71

Yesterday night the Berlin International Film Festival opened its 64th season with a spectacular opening ceremony, welcoming national and international players of the film industry. And when Berlin calls – everybody follows!

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The Grand Budapest Hotel

Opening the festival with Wes Anderson’s long expected The Grand Budapest Hotel, the line-up at the red carpet was star-studded. His films feel like family reunion of the special kind – they were all there: Ralph Fiennes, Billy Murray, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Fisher Stevens, and on, and on, and on.

The story begins in 1985, when a regular house guest (Jude Law) of the decaying Grand Budapest Hotel meets its mysterious owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham). Eager to share his story, the two men sit down for dinner and reconstruct the troublesome history of the Grand Budapest Hotel. Zero takes his vis-a-vis and the viewer on a journey back in time, to when he learnt the fine trade of being a Lobby Boy (Tony Revolori) from the hotel’s first concierge Mr. Gustave H (Ralph Finnes). A murdered aristocrat (Tilda Swinton) and a family intrigue later, the two find themselves on the run, zig-zagging between the eccentric officer Henckels (Edward Norton), the deceased lady’s bloodthirsty and greedy sons (Adrien Brody & Willem Dafoe) and the only witness to the murder, servant Serge (Mathieu Amalric).

Noone masters an ensemble like Wes Anderson. In addition to the already named, his newest film also stars Harvey Keitel, Owen Wilson, Jason Schwartzman, Karl Markovics and Milton Welsh – enough name dropping? Where Ridley Scott’s The Counselor (2013) failed to keep the balance between its rows of A-listers, Anderson successfully unites Hollywood’s créme de la créme under his direction. Superbly cast down to the smallest side-roles, noone steals each other’s show.

Wes Anderson does what he is best at: an intriguing visual masterpiece his mise-en-scene is composed with love details. Picturesque landscapes are framed like in an art gallery. Interior sets are highly stylised , and especially the hotel lobby resembles more of a Barbie House theater stage, clad in candy colors.

The script is solid, the images alluring, the characters eccentric, the story speeding like a racing car – as usual. With The Grand Budapest Hotel Anderson lives up to his own standards, but unfortunately fails to exceed them. We get, what we were expecting. So far, so good.

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Yves Saint Laurent

This elegant bio-pic by Jalil Lespert, Yves Saint Laurent tells the story of the designer, who started his career in the 1950s as Christian Dior’s assistant, but gained world fame with his own label and his influential, but daring creations. Gracefully, Lespert weaves a carpet out of the strings of Yves’ private life, his inspiration and artistic expression, his love to his business partner Pierre Bergé and the obstacles in life they have to overcome together. Beautifully shot and held in elegant hues of white and beige, the cinematography is what is strongest in this film. In the end, a bio-pic is a bio-pic is a bio-pic. It’s not for everyone.

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Love Is Strange

Ira Sachs has a thing for reali-life stories, and his new film Love is Strange is no exception. After Keep the Lights On (2012), Sachs presents another story about a homosexual couple in New York. After 39 years together Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) marry. George immediately gets fired from his job at a Catholic school, and the couple subsequently looses their apartment. Each generously received by their family and friends, their relationship is put to the test. “I don’t write stories about gay people, I write stories about real life relationships,” Ira Sachs answers during a press conference for the film. And realistic it is – an absolute favourite!

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’71

Director Yann Demange sets his contribution to the Berlinale competition in 1971 during the escalating conflicts in Northern Ireland. Upon his first patrol through the hostile Catholic area of Belfast, Private Hook (Jack O’Connell) gets separated from his unit, and subsequently has to find his own way back to his base camp. Not an easy thing in a city full of hatred, terror, paramilitary units and backstabbing undercover agents.

Cinematographer Tat Radcliffe finds a balance between a shocking observance and shaky point-of-view images. At times we are right at the front with Hook, then again all-knowing witness of the terrors of riot and war. Demange does far more than portraying a cross section of the involved parties of the conflict. The characters’ individual fates dissolve in a pool of fear, violence and oppression, and form a universally valid anti-war plea.

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God Help The Girl

There are films, which you hear about loooooong before you see them – this is one of them. Stuart Murdoch’s pop musical God Help the Girl made its debut earlier this year at Sundance and was praised by critics and audience alike. The film is about young Eve (Emily Browning), who struggles with life, but finds hope spending a summer in Glasgow and making music with her friends James (Olly Alexander) and Cassie (Hannah Murray). But not everything is as pretty and sweet as it seems. Like a dream fantasy this film sticks to your head long after the credits rolled. A must-see!

Off to new adventures…

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