2013 Berlin Film Festival Day 4: Maladies
When attending a festival, the town in which it is hosted comes alive to match the draw of the event. All across Berlin, the presence of Berlinale is felt: shop windows are decorated with film reels and retro cameras, subway stations play the scores from Hollywood classics, and local bars and coffee venues host movie themed events. Sometimes it’s nice to get a break from the rush of the fest, and retreating to such venues can provide a lot of culture that you might not find next to the red carpet and hot press lights.
I came to the festival because I love movies. Obviously, the films that screen at Berlinale come from some of the most promising and talented individuals in the industry. As I mentioned at the beginning of my coverage, up until this point the majority of my festival experience comes from a much smaller, more localized scene. I enjoy these sorts of fests just as much as I have am enjoying my experience here in Berlin, and the reason is because there is nothing like seeing the raw and innovative ways the “little guy” comes up with to bring their vision to the screen. Sunday night I took the Subway across town to a little bar called Prince Charles, at 85 F Prinzensrtasse by way of the U8. Prince Charles, in conjunction with the Berlin Film Group, hosted an open mic screening–advertised via Facebook–inviting anyone and everyone in town to come with a film they had created to play for the audience in attendance. The event was a bit of a “stick it to Berlinale,” which is an unfortunate attitude to take, but it proved to be very fun and well attended with some surprisingly well produced short films.
What proved to be more alluring than the films themselves were the networking opportunities. I am not sure how many of the readers here at Way Too Indie are interested purely in viewing indie films and how many are interested in making them, but if you are an ambitions filmmaker looking to make it, such an event is a possible dream come true. Amateur cinematographers, producers, screenwriters, and actors were all in attendance, and all with the same goal of finding someone to collaborate with. If you have the opportunity to attend a festival of any size, and are interested in networking, keep an eye out for bulletin boards and pamphlet tables around the festival venues for smaller events like the one at Prince Charles. You may find the opportunities and experiences there are on par–if not greater–than what you may find on the festival grounds.
James Franco was involved with a total of three projects in this year’s programming for Berlinale, and Maladies was the second to screen at the festival. The film brings together a powerful cast to tell a story of mental illness in a time when such a thing was still very misunderstood. The press screening was surprisingly empty for a film with such a high number of fairly mainstream actors involved, which shows how difficult it can be to balance the films we choose to see at a festival. Often screenings overlap by just enough to make it impossible to get everything in, or a press conference runs long. Luckily, all films offer multiple screenings, and I hope for the sake of the rest of the press they will find a way to see this film.
Maladies tells the tale of James (James Franco) and his struggles with mental illness in 1963. James’ specific illness is never stated, though he hears voices and fixates on minute details. It is alluded that James–who used to star on a soap opera–lost his job due to his inability to cope with his affliction, and he now spends his time working on a novel; the subject of which is never stated. Living in the same house as James is his sister, Patricia–who also has a mental illness–and his friend Catherine. The film takes us inside the mind of James as we hear the voice he hears and see the hallucinations James sees. The voice inside James’ head serves the role of a quasi-narrator for the film, which I found to be a very unique use of its presence. As James slips in and out of his spells, he is at times a very lucid character and at other times very grounded. He fixates on his book, while also making statements on the creative process. In all, Maladies uses mental illness to tell a universal story of allowing distractions to keep us from accomplishing our life’s ambitions. For James, he continuously finds reasons to delay finishing his novel, and his commentary about his reasoning behind the delay (often absurd because of his illness) parallels his struggles with the life of anyone chasing a goal or dream.
As a period piece, Maladies does a great job of setting the scene of a seaside town just outside of New York in the early sixties. The set design is perfect, and the look of the image does a fine job of putting us in the mindset of the era. The film almost always maintains a very shallow depth of field, as though to make our minds feel the the same short-sightedness as the characters. There are several dreamlike qualities to the film, but never to the point that we lose touch with reality, and we are always grounded once more by the harsh realities that surrounds the story. The film keeps a steady pace, and the chemistry between the actors is beautiful and engaging.
Because the topic of mental illness can be so foreign and confusing for a lot of people, much of the press I spoke with afterwards did not feel as engaged as I did. James Franco does an incredible job in this film, and the look and tone of the picture do a lot to really help you level with the experience of the age. The message is one that I feel applies to everyone, regardless of where your focuses lie.
Coming out of the first weekend, Berlinale is in full swing. I have found my footing in navigating both the festival and the city, and I am really finding the enjoyment of the event outside of the cinemas. The folks who wait in line for hours in the cold hoping to get an autograph from someone leaving a press conference show the true dedication of a fan and movie goer. Outside the theaters, individuals not involved with the festival flock to the scene just to be part of the excitement, and the lights strung around the festival grounds give life and glamor to the square once the sun goes down.
COMING UP: Tomorrow comes a film I am very excited for called Computer Chess, a comedy about computer programming in the early 80’s; a German drama about the struggles of loss; and the third festival film from James Franco, this time as director, called Interior: Leather Bar.