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Breathless 7

In slow motion: Olivier Meyrou's "Celebration" (Panorama Dokumente)

This film is craziness itself, starting with the director, Olivier Meyrou. After the screening he explains how the project came about. He wanted to make a movie that would show the "celebration" of a fashion designer who is acclaimed throughout the world. A crazy concept, because Meyrou couldn't care less about fashion. All he's interested in is the "myth" surrounding a world that has nothing to do with him. A friendly, harmless fellow in jeans and a sweatshirt, Meyrou tells with a shudder of the atmosphere in Saint Laurent's offices. "As soon as you come in from the street, it's as if everything is in slow motion. People whisper and walk around on tiptoes before the weakling Yves Saint Laurent, who dominates everything." The etiquette was so foreign to him that he didn't dare ask the man any questions. Instead he filmed other journalists interviewing the fashion king.

Equally crazy is Pierre Berge, Saint Laurent's partner, who initially approved the project.

Shooting began in 1998, at a time when Saint Laurent was simply no longer presentable, a physical wreck, psychologically gaga. At one point a television team waits for him. The journalist is worried. She wants to talk with him about his "emotions". But is he going to show up at all? There's a huge hullaballoo, Saint Laurent's spokeswoman is under such pressure that the viewer cringes. The employees whisper and stare while Pierre Berge tries to lure Saint Laurent from his room upstairs. And then he comes. Berge walks in front of him, the camera follows. His shoulders slumped and his head hanging, he scuffles along the corridor and down the stairs behind Berge. A huge mirror hangs in the landing. Saint Laurent twists his head and leaps in panic to one side. He must have walked by this mirror a thousand times!

Later we see him interviewed by a French journalist. He has decided to make a new start. "I've decided to cast away my fears." He sticks out his upper lip. "I've decided to enjoy my life, and take pleasure in my work." A shy smile, again his upper lip is protruded. A coquettish old man pouting like a seventeen year old girl. But the most alarming thing about the film is that this ghastly atmosphere was not created by Berge, or any other businesslike men in suits. They have not transformed the employees into servants and the creative genius Saint Laurent into a spectre. Saint Laurent himself has created this atmosphere. Everyone is afraid of him. Even Berge is afraid of him. Berge's mouth twitches just like Saint Laurent's.

No wonder all this was foreign to Meyrou. How could it be otherwise? Nevertheless he must be reproached for his lack of interest in Saint Laurent's metier. The clothes remain completely in the background, and this degrades everyone who works on them, the seamstresses, couturiers, even Loulou de Falaise, to abject, obsequious slaves. Their pride remains incomprehensible, bizarre. The film can't be shown in France, on Saint Laurent's orders.

Anja Seeliger

"Celebration". Director: Olivier Meyrou. France, 2006, 74 mins (Panorama Dokumente)

A load of Spartans go bust. Zack Snyder's "300" (Competition out of competition)

This film was shot in hues of green and blue. Based on Frank Miller's comic ("Sin City" and "The Dark Knight Returns,") Zack Snyder has painted the battle of Thermopylae in pixels, searching for the land of the Greeks with the computer. Before backgrounds that they had no idea existed when the film was shot, men with muscles, swords and shields roll their eyes and declaim words as if they were standing on a Greek stage. Instead it's just Persian corpses, piles and piles of them.

Their bodies are of steel, their dialogues of brainless goo. Blood squirts. The air is a hail of arrows. Half-naked women's bodies squirm, wriggle and writhe. Half-naked men's bodies beat themselves black and blue, and the film sweats boyhood fantasies from every pore. Of course, anyone who considers cheap sci-fi paperback covers high art, anyone who sees in David Hamilton a poet of the female body, anyone who loves colour filters from behind which Greece's laboriously rendered mountains, ravines and planes, shine now golden, now tinny, anyone who confuses the fatuous spitting of grandiloquent claptrap with poetry and heroism or simply wants to giggle at a spot of fascist camp, will no doubt be on their knees before this leaden comic-book film like Leonidas before the beauteously pierced King and demi-god Xerxes. Let the rest of the world do then as Spartan warriors, and let them hurl towards this drivel their words like spears, in the hope – albeit vain – of cooking its goose.

Press screening visitor, go, tell the Spartans that thou hast seen the critics laughing, booing and taking to their heels. 300 Spartan warriors go bust at Thermopylae, King Leonidas eats an apple, heads roll, jaws grind, Antiquity, the English language and the art of acting suffer untold agonies and thou canst say, thou wast there.

Ekkehard Knörer

"300". Director: Zack Snyder. With Gerard Buttler, Lena Headey, David Wenham, Dominic West. USA 2006, 117 Minutes (Competition out of competition)

Steppes story with North Korean components: Zhang Lu's "Desert Dream" (Competition)

There are two types of film. In one you can never tell when you hear a cell phone ringing, whether it's coming from the audience or the screen. In the other, you know it's coming from the auditorium because there's nothing up there on the screen but the steppes of Outer Mongolia. Having watched "Tuya's Marriage" this is a familar sight, or at least it looks pretty similar to the untrained eye. (Perhaps there's a bit more green here.) And "Desert Dream" is a steppes story with North Korean components. Hangai (Bat-ulzii) lives in a yurt in the steppes with his wife and daughter. He plants saplings in the sand, more on principle or probably for symbolic reasons, because this is one of those films about eking out a living in the back of beyond. (A leitmotif of this festival which pops up all over the place from Thermopylae to Lebanon and Mongolia. Here we are spared all the yelling in Thermopylae but we still have plenty of what are probably poetically intended but tortuous North Korean folk songs). Hangai's daughter is ill, which is why his wife whisks her off to the capital Ulan Bator.

But Hangai is not left alone for long. Soon-hee (Seo Jung) and her son Chang-ho (Shin Dong-ho) have escaped over the river from North Korea; the father was shot during the escape. One day they are just standing there in front of the yurt door. Of course they don't understand him and he doesn't understand them. A fourth character, a soldier, enters the game and in the yurt and outside the yurt they gradually get to know each other, but it's a time consuming process. Everything here is a time consuming process. Deliberate the gestures, silent the characters, wide and empty the steppes. Occasionally the inexplicable happens, like when Choi Soon-hee heads off bare-bottomed into the landscape. And sure enough, when she takes off like that, which she does a number of times, she comes back again. Once a South Korean film team appears in the steppes, God knows, this is probably an ironic comment by the filmmaker.

Anyhow "Desert Dream" has a pretty weird camera manner. It's like this: it always begins with a still shot of one or two or three people in the image. Then they head off to the left (never to the right, as far as I could tell, although I could be wrong, having nodded off a number of times). The camera fixates doggedly on this deserted image. Then it slowly pans to the left, following the people who have just walked out of the picture. Sometimes, but not always, something appears out of nowhere, like a new person. But to keep you on your toes, there's the occasional shot where the people exit the frame sharply to the bottom left. Which would mean the camera would have to twist its neck abruptly to catch up with them. But it doesn't, and with these shots, after a spot of fixating on the deserted image, along comes a reliable cut.

Ok, "Desert Dream" is not a nasty film, and there's no doubt that it means very well. It's the sort of thing that Evangelical or Catholic Church juries love to vote as the film of the month. It is not really fair to take the piss out of it, but in a Competition which has huge patches of such abysmal quality, the overstretched patience of the critic eventually snaps. Stay away from me for the rest of the festival. I might just break out into a Spartan war cry or a North Korean folk song. But don't blame me. It's Kosslick's fault.

Ekkehard Knörer

"Hyazgar - Desert Dream". Directed by Zhang Lu. With Bat-ulzii, Seo Jung, Shin Dongho, Munkhjiin, Enkthuul, Bayasgalan, Nomin, Bakchul. Republic of Korea 2006, 123 mins (Competition)

See all our Berlinale film reviews at a glance.

Competition and Panorama
International forum of new cinema
Retrospective - let's talk european