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"A Fold in my Blanket"
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Wong Kar-Wai and Tony Cheung at the press conference for "The Grandmaster"
Eve Lucas sees some twinkle-toed commonalities in two of this year’s opening films: jury president Wong Kar-wai gets the ball rolling with "The Grandmaster" (out of competition) whilst "A Fold in My Blanket" opens the Panorama section.
Represented in previous years at the Berlinale’s Forum and Shorts sections, this year’s jury president Wong Kar-wai returns to our city – and an abiding concern with missed opportunities in The Grandmaster. But has he missed this shot at the epic genre?
Fans of Wong’s aesthetics will relish the almost ubiquitously tenebrous visuals in this story that pits Ip Man (Tony Leung Chiu Wai), legendary founder of the Wing Chun martial arts school, against a younger female nemesis, Gong Er (Zhang Ziyi), from whose father Ip Man has taken over a leading position in a southern Chinese kung fu school. Already embroiled in the wider conflict between southern and northern fighting traditions, the struggle (and failed romance) between Ip Man and Gong Er is further complicated by the political turbulence of the 1937 Japanese invasion and the Chinese Civil War. Even with a score that alerts us to multiple story lines by quoting Deborah’s theme from Once Upon a Time in America – that’s a lot to take in.
The stunning fight scenes, choreographed by Matrix master Yuen Woo-ping (one memorably shot by DP Philippe le Sourd in slow motion against the backdrop of a moving train), are an obvious constant as the wider action moves around between 1930s Foshan, the 1940s in Japanese-occupied northeastern China and the 1950s in Hong Kong: timing and skill turn fight scenes into meta-reflections on the epic Grandmaster themes of patience and humility. Unlike his more evenly paced earlier work, however, Wong’s psychological choreography here is not as convincing: alternating action scenes with close ups of the main protagonists immersed in inner processes is not enough to make these Wongian moments of self-awareness and regret stand up to scrutiny.
For my money, A Fold in My Blanket (Chemi Sabnis Naketsi) from Georgia does better – and not because it aims lower. Choreography of a different kind sets the pace in this disturbing tale of Dimitrij (Tornike Bziava) for whom the measured tread of rock climbing is an escape from a stultifying existence in small town contemporary Georgia. In an early scene, an expedition takes him into tentative exploration of a dark subterranean area (calling Dr. Freud) from which a door opens into the light. Shortly afterwards, we see other doors opening and closing in a courthouse corridor where Dimitrij works under the strict eye of his father. The movement of men stepping in and out segues into a white-collar ballet with distinctly surreal overtones, further exploited in the scenes that follow: of Dimitrij and his über-parents at a family gathering at which only the Alzheimer afflicted aunt says what she thinks whilst the rest merely occupy roles and repressively snug arm-chairs.
Director Zaza Rusadze is a graduate of a local film school in Potsdam. His debut feature invokes the work of at least four great directors: Buñuel’s stilted ennui, the fluidity of Tartovsky’s in-between states, Visconti’s operatic homo-eroticism and Cocteau’s descending Orpheus. But these are referential bonuses. The narrative works equally well at the far more basic level of a young man’s sentimental education. When Andrej (Tornike Gogrichiani), the rebellious ‘outsider’, arrives in town with his parents, Dimitrij senses an ally. He takes an him rock-climbing, but it’s when the two men leave that measured ascent and descend haphazardly into the beckoning, subterranean space of the film’s opening sequence that they change, emerging mysteriously altered in a way that Visconti might also have appreciated. The consequences, however, prove overwhelming.