A Norwegian film that is part thriller, part spoof of the ‘Nordic Noir’ genre, and a Chinese movie set in a massage clinic run by blind people and using some blind actors were the main offerings at the Berlin Film Festival. Chinese director Lou Ye’s Tui Na (Blind Massage) is one of three Chinese films in competition, all of which represent a departure in being set outside of Beijing or Shanghai, with this one being the second Lou has filmed in Nanjing.
The body count in Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland’s Kraftidioten (Order of Disappearance) eventually hits 21. The victims’ names and a symbol suited to their religion, sometimes a Catholic cross, sometimes Orthodox, in one case a Star of David, are shown in white lettering on a black screen at the end of each bloody killing spree.
At first, the movie seems like a classic crime shoot-em-up, but this one drew laughs from a press preview audience with its references to the ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, a discussion by two gangsters of why northern countries have good welfare systems and southern countries don’t, and two of the tough guys turning out to have a covert gay relationship.
“It’s an original harebrained idea from Scandinavia,” Moland told a post-screening news conference. “It started out as an idea many years ago to explore the sort of porous line between our civil attributes and education and upbringing and being confronted with our various sorts of primitive instincts that we have when grave injustice is being done to us.”
The bloodletting begins in a snowbound part of Norway when the son of snowplow driver Nils, played by Scandinavian film veteran Stellan Skarsgard, is mistakenly killed by a drug gang who think the young man has stolen their cocaine. Because the killers disguise the murder as a drug overdose, the police are unwilling to investigate and Nils takes the law into his own hands.
“When did you become Dirty Harry?,” his ex-criminal brother asks him when Nils, who has killed off three of the drug gang’s henchmen and thrown them in a lake, comes to him for advice on how to hire a hitman to kill off the crime boss.
The Norwegian drug kingpin is played by Pal Sverre Hagen as a ruthless sharp-suited vegan who drinks bio fruit juices and whose luxurious home is a monument to bad-taste decorating. His main rival is a Serbian druglord played by veteran German actor Bruno Ganz. He said it was mostly a non-speaking role because of his limited Serbian but that he had tried to project his character as a big man, in the manner of the late Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic.
Challenged on the amount of violence in this and his other films, Moland said he was drawn to the theme of how violence affects normal people. “Violence is I think something that lurks in our depths as human beings and thankfully we restrain ourselves most of the time and occasionally it erupts. I’m interested in what violence does to normal people, normal well-adjusted people.”
Based on a novel
Based on a popular Chinese novel that has been made into a television series, Blind Massage is partly a soap operatic look at the lives, loves and frustrations of blind people working at a type of massage clinic popular in China, and partly a remarkable achievement with the integration of sighted Chinese actors with blind people who had never acted before.
“It was a very great chance for us blind people,” actress Zhang Lei said of appearing in the film. “There are very few opportunities and I know how to value this chance I got. I think we played ourselves, we enacted ourselves, that was it. We did not have a feeling of making a movie, it was more or less our own life.”
The festival ended on Saturday with the awarding of the Golden Bear for best film and in other categories.
Monster or god? Nick Cave explores rock performance in new film
Australian singer-songwriter Nick Cave, who has conjured up so much horror, lust and murder as well as haunting love songs in three decades fronting The Bad Seeds, worries that technology could destroy the mystique of live rock performance. The 56-year-old cult musician, scriptwriter and novelist, presenting his latest cinema project — 20,000 Days on Earth — at the Berlin Film Festival, said in an interview that live music should be a “transformative” experience.
“I think that the function of a rock star was at least — perhaps not so much these days — to be both monstrous and to be god-like at the same time,” Cave told Reuters after the film aroused critical and public interest at its Berlin screening.
In the film, Cave and the Bad Seeds’ violinist Warren Ellis recall a concert with the ageing Nina Simone when the jazz diva terrified her co-performers and the audience, before turning in a performance that was unforgettable for everyone present. “That notion is largely flatlined these days. With the internet you have everybody making music, everybody making art, and I’m not sure that’s such a good thing,” Cave said, adding that such democracy was “boring” in artistic terms.
Cave’s cinema collaborations have ranged from an appearance in Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire to a song in a Harry Potter film and his script and score for the bloody outback Western The Proposition, which got rave reviews in Berlin in 2006. The new film supposedly shows Cave on his 20,000th day of life composing Push the Sky Away, the Bad Seeds’ latest studio album (released in 2013), working up to climactic performances of the singles, The Higgs Boson Blues and Jubilee Street.
In between, the camera zooms in on his trademark dyed-black hair, snub nose and sharp suits as he drives around the English seaside town of Brighton, visiting a psychoanalyst or talking to people who have influenced his life and music.
Appearing fleetingly in his car like ghosts are Australian pop star Kylie Minogue, with whom Cave had his sole pop hit Where the Wild Roses Grow, the experimental German musician and ex-Bad Seed Blixa Bargeld, and British actor Ray Winstone from The Proposition and the raunchy Jubilee Street video.