Berlinale Competition: A Cow, a Cat, and some Huskys

"First Cow"
John Magaro, Evie First Cow von Kelly Reichardt USA 2019, Wettbewerb © Allyson Riggs/A24

Kelly Reichardt‘s new movie, “First Cow”, my favorite in this year’s competition so far, is a Western told in a new fashion. Oregon, early 19th century, trappers are flooding the continent and the way she describes the development of the friendship of Cookie (brilliantly played by John Magaro) and King-Lu (Orion Lee), is like a well thought-out composition. There are so many little things to explore, the way they both dream of leaving Oregon for San Francisco or anywhere west to open up a hotel for travellers and/or a bakery, is told in hilarious, sometimes dreamy fashion, with a cinematography both promising and hopeful. The cow they need to fulfill their dreams, supposedly the first cow ever in this part of America, becomes the central focus of the story.

"Siberia"
Siberia von Abel Ferrara ITA, DEU, MEX 2020, Wettbewerb © 2020 Vivo film, maze pictures, Piano

In “Siberia”, Willem Dafoe plays a man who hides away in a forlorn hole somewhere in the middle of nowhere and starts to explore his dreams, his nightmares, visions, and his subconsciousness. He gets to see his dad several times, his ex-wife, some foreign visitors dropping by. His only friends seem to be his huskys, paving the way for him, navigating him through the wilderness. It’s a terribly disturbing movie, the new one by star director Abel Ferrara, and plays with metaphysical and lively elements, but totally fails to deliver anything deeply personal to the main character. There is simply too much detachment, the anarchy becomes a joke, the mystery a demon I couldn’t take seriously.

"Domangchin Yeoja"
Kim Minhee, Song Seonmi Domangchin yeoja | The Woman Who Ran | Die Frau, die rannte von Hong Sangsoo KOR 2019, Wettbewerb © Jeonwonsa Film Co. Production

South Corean director Hong Sangsoo has a totally different way of telling a story. Very long shots, massive dialogues, seemingly day-to-day, almost nondescript conversations are the name of the game. It’s the story of Gamhee who seems to run away from her husband (hence the title “The Woman Who Ran”), trying to find out how some of her friends try to cope with everyday, marital life. The men in the movie only play a minor role, are humiliated, degraded, vulgarized. You come to the conclusion of asking yourself what and why exactly she’s running away from and a cat plays a pivotal role here by emphasizing the redundant and superfluous role of the men in her life and those of the others. There are moments where I thought it all becomes too exhausting and the quality of the actors is not really convincing, but some enigmatic elements in the movie saves it from getting too stale.

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