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The Berlinale Blog: A lighter shade of jade

As common sense and concentration wanes, Rory O'Connor finds two of China’s Competition features vying for our attention.

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No Man’s Land

As the week wears on, the festival maul begins to lose its bite. The dignity stealing races from screening to conference have mellowed significantly and eyes begin to jade. Standing out can be a major hurdle at this stage of proceedings but two Chinese films are vying to do just that. Diao Yinan’s Black Coal/Thin Ice and Ning Hao’s No Man’s Land close out that country’s representation in this year’s competition (after Monday’s Blind Massage which I didn’t catch but Eve thought was quite good) but both rely heavily on more established American forms. One’s a saturated sultry film noir; the other’s a dirt-grain-sepia Western.

Black Coal/ Thin Ice follows a downcast detective on the trail of a killer. We see a wild summertime shootout in a day-glo hairdressers then cut forward five years. Its winter now and the chill’s set in. The detective’s been suspended but bodies again begin to pile up. All roads lead to a femme fatal dry-clean worker, so the suspended detective gets to work.

Yinan’s interesting colour palette lands somewhere between Wong Kar Wai and Woozy and the performances are decent from both its leads but sadly, on a whole, it is a scattered, often baffling piece of work.

No Man’s Land follows a genre leaning Hollywood pathway of it’s own. It’s about a Lawyer called Pan Xiao. He’s a cynic and a careerist who gets bad guys off the hook. One such bad guy demands that he wait for his fee so the Lawyer, in turn, takes the man’s car as collateral. He signs a deal with him, perhaps a deal with the devil. He sets off in the car for his next job but ends up lost in no man’s land. It’s lawless and brutal but of course Xiao will find something else entirely: Love; reinvention; whatever. We all know the drill.

It isn’t saying a great deal to suggest that Hao’s is the superior film here. Indeed, the competition proper has offered scarce pleasures thus far. Richard Linklater and Yoji Yamada lie in wait. All fingers remain crossed.

No Man’s Land screens Feb 14, 09:30 (Friedrichstadt Palast), Feb 14, 13:00 (Zoo Palast 1), Feb 14, 22:30 (International), Feb 16, 12:00 (Friedrichstadt Palast).