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Berlinale 2014: Nymphomaniac, In Order of Disappearance, Aloft | reviews, news & interviews

Berlinale 2014: Nymphomaniac, In Order of Disappearance, Aloft

Berlinale 2014: Nymphomaniac, In Order of Disappearance, Aloft

Scandi moods, and landscapes, rule in Berlin; von Trier controversial as ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg and pals in the second part of Lars Von Trier's 'Nymphomaniac'

Stellan Skarsgård is having a good Berlinale. The veteran Swedish actor proved the main calming influence in Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac Volume One (***), which the Berlin festival screened as a world premiere in the director’s version, running at 145 minutes. That’s about 25 minutes more than the UK will be seeing from 21 February, when both parts of the work will be released.

There are no prizes for guessing which scenes seen in Berlin won’t make it to your local screen, on grounds of decency – though there will be for spotting the exact moments when, and how, body-doubles were cut into the very explicit sex scenes.

Skarsgård, along with Christian Slater and Uma Thurman (pictured, below right), prove that the film’s stronger parts (unfortunate choice of word) were actually those when we aren’t watching a bonk-a-minute movie. Action at the film’s press conference was no less controversial, with von Trier declining to face the press, while Shia LaBeouf abandoned the stage after a single gnomic remark (subsequently borrowed, we found out, from Eric Cantona). LaBeouf’s evening red carpet appearance with trademark paper bag inscribed “I Am Not Famous Anymore” only added to the general sense of lunacy.

It’s hard to say these days whether von Trier is in any way Scandinavian in his film-making – rather, he seems to inhabit his own Danish offshore territory, a sort of cinematic Greenland. For fans of true Scandinavian stuff, the revenge drama In Order of Disappearance from Norway is a treat in store (it’s been acquired for the UK). Skarsgård reunites with Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland to play the driver of a snow-blower who keeps the (very, very) snowy remote rural area where he lives clear for continuing life. Until his son dies, apparently from a drug overdose.

Skarsgård, as hero Nils Dickman (pictured below, right) - plenty of jokes on his name follow - doesn’t accept that verdict. When he learns what’s really happened he sets out to take revenge on everyone involved with the drug cartel responsible. He works in ascending order, from the little people right up to the parodic local drugs boss: the film’s no less parodic title alludes to each new death being marked on screen by a graveyard-style cross (Protestant, Orthodox, Jewish or atheist, all are marked appropriately).

The laughter, too, is of the graveyard variety, riffing on absolutely delicious black humour that tackles every subject under this snowy sun; it gets even funnier (and bloodier) when a rival Serbian drugs gang enters the fray, led by the great Bruno Ganz as the clan’s aged crime godfather. It all ends with a colossal shoot-out that would be completely at home in the Wild West. Female roles are few and short, but with one of them going to Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (Katrine from Borgen, for anyone who’s forgotten), what’s to complain about?

Moland’s film certainly wouldn’t work with the tagline, “Even in the coldest place on earth, forgiveness can bring you warmth”, that’s been attached to Peruvian director Claudia Llosa’s Aloft (***). Llosa’s moved on a long way since her previous film The Milk of Sorrow won the Golden Bear back at Berlin back in 2009: she’s now working in English, with a top rank cast led by Jennifer Connelly and Cillian Murphy.

The two films certainly share a freezing landscape, though, with Aloft closing in the icy-waste lakes of what we assume is Canada – that’s where it was shot, and there’s a French-language background as well, though location didn't seem to be indicated any more clearly – though it could equally be taking place in some undefined future. Despite some strong playing, Aloft proves rather too elliptical for its own good, not least when its action jumps ahead 20 years in the middle, with little indication as to what’s happening.

Connelly plays Nana, who’s bringing up her two young boys in some hardship; one of them has some unspecified ailment that may be cured by an equally unspecified treatment coordinated by a mysterious “architect” (William Shimell). The other son, Ivan (played by Murphy in adulthood, pictured above right), seems to centre his life on his falcons, one of which comes to a nasty end in the first reel. That’s not the only tragedy to blight these lives – Llosa certainly knows how to bring home the impact of such disasters with considerable emotional heft. Nana comes to realise she has mysterious healing powers which need to be put to the disposal of the human race, even if it means saying goodbye to her son.

Twenty years on, a more than contrived plot development sees Ivan setting out on a long and precarious journey that will reunite him with his mother. That makes for a powerful conclusion, but while Llosa must be applauded for not hanging out her film’s emotions tidily on the line, a little more coherence along the way would not come amiss. There’s some beautiful landscape photography, and Ivan’s attachment to his avines remains a salient element. What exactly a hybrid falcon may be is something we never learn, though. Aloft is a hybrid film: it seeks to fly high, but somehow loses by keeping its cards so close to its chest.

The laughter, too, is as graveyard as it gets, riffing on absolutely delicious black humour that tackles every subject under this snowy sun

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