Rated "G" For Globalization
Categories: 2009 Berlin Film Festival
Meanwhile, for the last two weeks, the North American box office has been dominated by Taken, a French movie made in France with an English-speaking, Irish-born star (Liam Neeson) that had already been released in most of the rest of the world before it ever crossed the Atlantic. Qu'est-ce qui se passe?
Films made by actors and directors working outside of their national borders and mother tongues are, of course, as old as the cinema itself, with Hollywood having first been colonized by emigré filmmakers (Capra, Griffith, Wilder) who went on to make some of the most iconic American films. Likewise, there is the equally longstanding tradition of American and British movies set in foreign cultures, but starring predominately Yank and Anglo actors speaking anachronistically in English (for recent examples, see Valkyrie, with its cast of British-accented Germans, and The Reader, with its cast of faintly German-accented Brits). And whether now or then, American moviegoers have paid such nuances little mind -- in large measure because most Americans, whether at home or traveling abroad, assume that everything from restaurant menus to movie dialogue ought to be in English. I mean, if we're going to complain about the lack of German accents in Valkyrie, why not mention that, by rights, everyone in Ernst Lubitsch's The Shop Around the Corner ought to be speaking Hungarian?
What's different about the crop of English-language international productions at this year's Berlinale is that they largely take matters of language and nationality as their very subjects. They could, one British colleague has joked, be rated "G" for globalization. Or, better yet, "P" for pedantic. That's certainly the case with Storm, which much like The International seems hellbent on finding a multinational bogeyman to finger for all of the world's injustices. In Tykwer's film, it's the global banking industry; in Schmidt's, it's the UN, which pays predictable lip service to the idea of bringing justice to bear on fugitive war criminals from the Bosnian conflict, provided it doesn't take too long or -- God forbid -- impede the breakaway Balkans' efforts towards EU membership. "Do you watch those kind of movies, where the good always wins in the end?" asks the potential star witness (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days star Anamaria Marinca) to the idealistic Hague prosecutor (Kerry Fox) who's urging her to testify against a former Yugoslav Army commander. From there, Storm becomes exactly one of those movies, complete with a grandstanding finale in which our two crusading heroines create massive disorder in the court and, by doing so, tip the scales of justice back into balance.
Ironically, London River, which is mostly in French, seems a lot likelier to make its way to international art-house audiences than either Storm or Mammoth, which are mostly in English. The instructive difference is that, where Bouchareb's film feels personal and human-scale, the others seem anonymous and monolithic -- movies more concerned with saving the world than telling stories, hammered into existence by international sales companies and co-production boards rather than by artists with singular visions.