Saturday, February 07, 2009

Berlinale: Human Zoo

Director Rie Ramussen holds court after the screening of her film, Human Zoo, at the Berlinaledir Rie Rasmussen

This one had it all: drama, controversy, dramatic entrances--and that was off-screen. The film was pretty good, too.

It all started when the woman introducing the screening announced that director Rie Rasmussen was not attending and that there would be no post-screening discussion.

OK, so on to the film, which was a disturbing, violent affair asking (but not answering) a lot of questions about morality. Adria, a Kosovo Albanian, escapes certain death at the hands of the Serb Army in 1998, then falls in with a deserting Serb soldier and embarks on a life of crime. Intercut with this are scenes from her present-day life as an illegal immigrant in Marseilles (how she arrives is never explained), as she fears deportation and cuts herself off from emotional entanglements. After meeting nice guy Shawn, she dreams of a new life but then finds herself dropped back into violence.

Part war drama, part jet-black comedy, part romance and part social commentary, the film is wildly uneven in tone. In Serbo-Croat, French and English, the dialogue varies from astute to embarrassingly obvious. The film takes a wild left turn when the heretofore timid, restrained Adria suddenly turns into The Terminator and starts chopping off hands and shooting up strip joints. Most bizarre.

The director, who also played Adria, has very strong views on gender roles and I think somewhere in this picture is a comment on violence and strength but I found the ending a huge copout.

With the film over, I waited to leave. But then Nick Corey, the actor who played Shawn, jumped on-stage (with the lights still down), and the drama became a farce. He told us the director was outside the screening room and wanted to speak to us. The woman who had done the introductions appeared with a mic (and a spotlight) and explained there was no time for a post-screening discussion.

Cue Rie Rasmussen (see pic), who strode on stage. No messing with her. She and Corey traded insults directed at Luc Besson, who is credited as producer but apparently hated the picture. She also said the story had personal resonance, in terms of the immigration and trafficking theme (a sub-plot of the film), as her adopted sister's mother had been trafficked to Russia.

Extraordinary stuff, but it was cut short to make room for the next screening. Corey repaired outside and continued slagging off Besson and bigging up Rasmussen, who mortgaged her house to make the film. Then she held court. I was quite interested to hear her views on the reversal of gender roles in the film, with Adria taking an all-action stance while Shawn is a support. Once she started talking about women's natural function being reproduction, I rather lost interest--biological determinism is so 20th century.

But, the Human Zoo continues in various locations throughout Berlin for the next week or so. Ba-dum-bum.

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