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The Berlinale Blog: Eastern dystopias

Rory O’Connor sees this year’s Panorama and Forum open with two enticing pieces of speculative sci-fi from way out East.

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Snowpiercer

The stars are among us, the carpet’s been unrolled, the Moet’s bubbling and tonight, for the 64th time, the Berlinale shines its cinematic light over the city. It all sounds so ceremonial, yet, for many festivalgoers, it’s the unknown quantities which keep these grand occasions ticking over. Opening tonight on a beautifully sombre note is one such film.

Nguyen-Vo Nghiem-Minh’s Nuoc (2030) is a box-fresh global warming allegory which swaps the Deep South Louisiana Bayou of Ben Zeitlin’s kindred Beasts of the Southern Wild for the coastal fishing towns of Nghiem-Minh’s native Vietnam.

His film places us in the titular year 2030. Ocean levels have risen to such an extent that those in lower altitudes – and lower incomes – must face a new life afloat. We meet a local girl called Sao whose brother has been murdered. A flashback suggests that she fell for a marine biologist 10 years prior while he researched salt water farming in the area. Conspiracy is in the air so Sao decides to track her old flame down.

It’s a production which manages to do a great deal on relatively low means. Like Zeitlin, Minh sets his story on the periphery of society and through shrewdly placed visual hints; he cleverly suggests the big scale dystopia surrounding them. There are flaws no doubt – Debussy’s Clair De-Lune rears its decidedly familiar head a few too many times – but finding Vietnamese cinema in such rude health is worth the ticket price alone. Who knew?

Hot on its heels tomorrow comes Bong Joon-ho’s long awaited Snowpiercer; another Far East feature to speculate on class in our not so distant future, albeit a tad more spectacularly.

The absurdist plot sees our planet amidst a new ice age. Mankind’s only survivors inhabit a self-sustaining super train which travels the earth in yearly cycles. It’s a sort of Orwellian Ringbahn with social classes segregated from front to back. We meet our heroes – the lowest class inhabitants – on the eve of a revolt which will set them rampaging up the carriages in the hope of confronting the train’s deified engineer and taking control of his sacred engine.

It’s a breathless watch with Ho at the helm. The maverick director mixes video game violence with a dark strain of humour, twisting the steam-punk world of the lower classes into a decadent new-romantic nightmare up front as Tilda Swinton chomps away the scenery in remarkably daft form.

The Weinstein Company want to scrap 30 minutes from Snowpiercer’s reasonable two hour running time in the future, so catch the bloody thing quick, before Harvey gets the scissors out.

Nuoc (2030) screens Feb 6, 21:00 (CinemaxX 7), Feb 7, 20:15 (CineStar 3), Feb 8, 20:15 (Cubix 7), Feb 9, 22:30 (Colosseum 1) and Feb 14, 22:00 (Zoo Palast 2)

Snowpiercer screens Feb 7, 18:30 (CineStar 8) and Feb 8, 22:15 (Cubix 9)