Nicole van Kildonk's "Taking Chances" is a kid's movie that treads some very dark territory in an affecting way. Kiek, the nine-year-old Dutch girl at the centre of "Taking Chances", has a mop of unruly dark hair that keeps falling upon her tiny triangle of a face, but never quite enough to hide her prematurely wise, hazel-brown eyes. The girl's father is an army doctor about to leave on a mission to an unnamed country, and the child keeps asking him serious questions about his chances of survival.
She's relentless and genuinely concerned: the adults try to feed her evasive answers, but she won't have any of them. Once her father goes missing in action, her world becomes pervaded with a sense of dread and anxious anticipation of news – any news – about him. Nicole van Kilsdonk's movie, playing in the Berlinale Generation programme for children and young adults, is a surprisingly serious story of a child trying to incorporate the notion of death into her burgeoning mind. When Kiek learns that the chances of having one's father die are small, she tries to diminish them still by buying a pet mouse who'd die "instead" of him. Through some twisted – if entirely believable – child logic of her own, she imagines that the more death surrounds her at home, the lesser the probability of her dad being hit by a stray bullet on the battlefield.
The film treads some tricky territory in a subtle way, involving black humour in the scenes of Kiek doing all she can to cause her pet mouse's demise. Van Kilsdonk's approach is both unflinching and playful, with many stop-motion animation sequences that illustrate Kiek's fears, even tinging them with a surrealist streak. The girl's inner world gets more and more insular and aching, which is hauntingly rendered by the young actress Pippa Allen. Mid-way through the film, the tomboyish Kiek lands the lead role of Peter Pan, the ultimate reality-allergic character, in a school production, which she then rejects. Her need to face her fear has a pint-size gallantry all its own. By portraying a child trying to wish away death by means of morbid game-playing, "Taking Chances" resembles René Clément's masterful 1952 "Forbidden Games", in which a pair of war-time orphans created a pet cemetery in order to cope with the historical nightmare taking place around them. Kiek's situation is far less horrifying, but her father's possible death remains equally acute.
In the end, the movie doesn't opt for a cloying ending that would dismiss the girl's anxieties. Even when death doesn't win, its spectre never quite leaves the horizon.
Discovering the “Third World” within the global west in these times of economic and political instability has become a recurrent theme in recent movies. Robert Guédiguian's The "Snow of Kilimanjaro", Aki Kaurismäki's "Le Havre" and Ruben Ostlund's "Play" all explore economic inequalities and their resulting troubling social issues, unfolding within milieus that have long been considered prosperous and unproblematic. Ursula Meier's second feature and Berlinale Competition entry "Sister"(L'Enfant d'en Haut), Switzerland 2011), veers in that direction, exposing the socio-economic alienation at the heart of a ski resort in the Swiss Alps.
That alienation takes the form of family dysfunction, a theme Meier also explored in her first feature "Home" (Switzerland, 2008). But while the latter framed the story of a quirky family living in isolation on the side of a motorway into an absurdist, often laconic and dry portrait full of implicit humorous edges, "Sister" takes a more melodramatic path, excavating deep into the psychological makeup and relationship dynamics of the characters. A young boy, Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein), supports himself and his jobless older sister (Leah Seydoux) by stealing ski equipment from well-off tourists. The sister can't manage to hold down a job. Simon does his best to take care of her, but it's clear she doesn't give him the love he needs.
Kacey Mottet Klein gives an astonishing performance, spurring the narration forward. But the occasional melodramatic, and almost theatrically explanatory parts of the film prevent it from reaching both the absurdist detachment of Meier's first feature, or the observational style of Ostlund's film. In "Play", Ostlund shows how a group of young boys from immigrant families in Gothenburg steal goods from privileged kids; instead of providing commentary or excess information, he leaves the viewer to connect the dots. Meier, on the other hand, never risks leaving anything unclear. She makes it all too easy for the viewer to guess the nature of the relationship between the siblings. That keeps the viewer from becoming alienated by excessively obscure plot developments, but it also prevents full engagement with the reality presented in the film. "Sister" offers moments of genuine feeling and light-hearted humour, and reveals the hidden shadows beneath the world of opulence shining like the white snow at the ski resort. However, with its heavy emotional load and much too straightforward narration, it never takes the risks that would turn it into a truly revelatory social study or a formally interesting piece of cinema.
Outspoken Danish director Lars von Trier could use the editing finesse of Molly Malene Stensgaard during his run-ins with the press, not just with his films. The gracious and soft-spoken Stensgaard has edited Trier's highly regarded works including "Dancer in the Dark", "Dogville" and "Melancholia". After appearing on a panel at this year's Berlinale Talent Campus discussing the collaborative process between editors, directors and screenwriters, Stensgaard took time aside for an interview to explain how it's the "editor's responsibility to make the translation from writing to film."
Anders Wotzke, Talent Campus Press: It's often said that the best edits are the ones you don't notice. Do you think that's true?
Molly Malene Stensgaard: No, and the opposite of that is not true either. The film is always the main thing to consider, and if it's a film where a disturbing, visible language of editing is the right thing to do for the film, then it's the right thing to do. However, for another film, you might not even recall seeing a cut afterwards. It completely depends on the film.
You mention "the language of editing". Do you feel as though with Lars von Trier's films you've developed your own distinctive language as an editor?
Because I've been working so much with von Trier, we have really tried to develop a continuity in the editing. But I think it's important to distinguish that it's not the editor's language, it's the film's language. An editor having a language is not interesting. It's the film that has the language, and you have to adapt to that. Always.
Are there any editing clichés you try to avoid?
Pointing out subtext and dialogue; I hate that. Such as when somebody says: "Oh I'm so angry", when we can clearly see he's angry. You don't need to say it!
Isn't that an issue with the script, or is it the editor's duty to cut that out?
It's definitely the editor's job to cut that out. It's also in the script, yes, and you need to be aware of that, but I feel that it's the editor's responsibility to make the translation from writing to film. There's always a lot of lines that you don't need to say anymore because you can see it in the expressions. You can't always know that up front, so it's up to the editor to pick up on it.
Is the control you have over time your greatest weapon as an editor?
Yes, I think time is a very big thing, but very much on a detail level. It's the sense of time. For me, it's very important to try and create moments on the screen. Moments that feel truthful; authentic. But also the shift between that to something that feels like it's moving forward, feels efficient, is actually the great dynamic of filmmaking. That's very important to work on in the edit: to make time stand still, and then to make it really move.
Guy Maddin's new movie "Keyhole" is a gangster odyssey. Ulysses, the chief of the gang, is awaited by his band in an old creepy house, which is surrounded by the police, attacking from the outside, while screaming ghosts haunt them inside. Their mission is not known to us and they have a boy tied up as a hostage. Nobody seems to know who the boy is, and they just wait for orders.
As in Homer's Odyssey, Ulysses is there on a selfish mission, trying to get back to his wife – not Penelope, though, but Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini). To achieve his objective he needs to embark on a supernatural voyage, in which he deals with ghosts and mistakes from his past. To help him, he enlists the assistance of a young woman, who seems to have been brought back from the underworld, just like the Greek Odysseus when he goes to Hades in search for Tiresias' advice. The young blind woman (again, like Tiresias, who was blinded and transformed into a woman by the gods) is an oracle, who helps him connect with his past as well as with his progress through the house.
Homer's Odysseus uses his crew to face the unknown forces of nature and the gods, so does Maddin's Ulysses. He's the only one who can face the ghosts because he uses everyone to achieve his objectives. He takes advantage of both their obedience and their ignorance, and by the end, it seems his gang has the same unfortunate fate as Odysseus' crew. Even though the literary reference is a point of interest in "Keyhole", Guy Maddin's all too familiar experimentalism seems a bigger mannerism than usual. The film has a linear narrative structure, making the usual superimpositions look completely out of place. The movie tries to work as some kind of puzzle, and those "experimental" layers – images repeated one over the other – only induce a headache. As with Guy Maddin's other movies, this stylistic device is rather calculated, working more as a visual effect than reemitting something substantial.