2013 Berlin Film Festival Day 2: Don Jon’s Addiction & Paradise: Hope
A professor of mine once made a startling statement. He believes that the current generation is the last that will experience movies in actual theaters. He has some good reasoning for this claim: the fact that instant home entertainment is becoming more and more available, the fact that technology is leading to better and better home theaters for the average individual, and–most significantly–that social interaction is now achieved without physical contact.
Seeing a film in the theater is a very social thing, regardless of how frowned upon it is to speak once the lights dim. Being part of an audience totally engrossed in a film is powerful. There is energy. There is presence. There is a sense of community involvement, as hundred of us gather to spend two hours of our lives in a dark room together, experiencing a story, told by people we do not know, but somehow seems to speak to each of us individually.
What marks a film festival as a truly unique cinematic experience is the audience. Each morning when get off the S-Bahn in Potsdam Hof, I exit the station via the Arkan Galaria–directly across from the Cinemaxx and Berlinale Palast. Every morning the same scene meets my eyes: hundreds of people camping out in a line spanning the length of the mall. Some in sleeping bags, others in fold out chairs; but each with a copy of the program open upon their lap, pen in hand, circling the screenings they hope to get tickets to. This is not a line for the midnight showing of some highly anticipated blockbuster hit. This is not even a line for a festival premiere, as most–particularly for the big name films–have long been sold out. This is a line for the 5:15pm showing of an Indonesian drama by a director no one has heard of. This is the line 10:00am screening of a documentary concerning an issue many never knew was an issue. People are here just for the chance to participate. This is dedication to the art, and brings a whole new energy into the theater. This is cinema.
Don Jon’s Addiction
I had the opportunity to attend both the press screening and the festival premiere of Don Jon’s Addiction. Because of the energy of the general public–enhanced by the fact that the director, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was in the theater–I had a much better time in the premiere screening. This being said, there is a reason I chose to view this film twice. Gordon-Levitt’s feature directorial debut with this film was nothing shy of brilliant.
The character of Jon Martello comes from what would be the typical caste of a Jersey Shore Guido. He is a lady killer, obsessed with appearance, and ends each night out with his boys by taking home an 8 or better. He doesn’t hide the fact that he is in it for the short haul with these ladies (which makes it a surprise to his friends and family when he decides to take a break from his “streak” to focus on just one girl). “The most beautiful girl in the world,” according to Jon. When Jon is not fulfilling his life with his girls, family, boys, body, and car, he spends his time focused on his other true passion: pornography. Jon loves pornography better than actual sex, because he is able to “lose himself” in it. To him, it is perfect satisfaction without work or expectations. When his girlfriend discovers his hobby, she leaves, and Jon is forced to cope with the fact that his need for porn is a result of an inability to truly connect within a relationship.
There are several cinematic elements Gordon-Levitt uses to present his original story in a satisfying and memorable way. Moments of repetition in both sound and image–used to identify patterns and habits in Jon’s life–juxtaposes starkly against the meticulous shot diversity that makes up the most of the movie. In the first half of the film, the same shot is never repeated, and the camera is always in motion via pushes, pulls, quick pans, and steady glides within dialog, evoking a feeling of calm. Everything is new, and everything is smooth–like the beginning of a new relationship. The music is intentionally overly romantic in a fairy tale manner. As the story progresses and conflict is introduced, the style of shooting transitions to shaky, handheld shots that hold much longer within each scene, and the moments of earlier repetition (such as Jon’s experiences in church and at the gym) begin to vary more and more as the character begins to transform.
In all, the film tells a great, original story that is both humorous and critical. Don Jon’s Addiction makes a statement about allowing media to set unrealistic expectations in out lives, and the dangers of allowing these expectations to dominate our experience. The film managed to pull a great deal of laughter from both audiences I experienced, and in a press conference following the film, Gordon-Levitt said he believes the best way to tackle difficult issues is through humor, citing films like Dr. Strangelove as his inspiration. As stated, a brilliant debut from a very talented individual, and I think we can expect great things to come as Joseph Gordon-Levitt begins to branch out in work.
Paradise: Hope (Capsule review)
The other highly anticipated screening I attended was Ulrich Seidl’s third installment of his Paradise trilogy, Paradise: Hope. I have only seen one other film in the Paradise trilogy, which was Paradise: Love, but this did not impact my reception or understanding of the film, as Paradise: Hope is perfectly capable of standing alone because it runs parallel to the other two films.
COMING UP: The theme of sex and pornography is proving to be a overarching theme in many of the films in the festival, having begun with Don Jon. On Saturday the film, Lovelace, a story about the making of the 1970’s porno Deepthroat, will screen and continue to examine this topic. The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, as well as a shorts program and a British film called The Look of Love will also be on the Saturday agenda.