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  • DAY 9: Definable Success


DAY 9: Definable Success

To have or to have not, that is the question for two of today's excellent offerings from the Berlinale's Panorama section. Join them. You might just end up with a winner or two.

For the 9th day of the Berlinale, consumerism and the perception of success obliterates every other consideration in the Panorama section. Whether it’s a dream that you hang on to too tightly or an idealised paradise that you can’t let go of, outward perception defines how each of today’s characters sees themselves.

Joe Cole, Donna Duplantier in One of These Days
Photo courtesy of © Michael Kotschi/Flare Film

One of These Days

Each year, a Texan car dealership stages a one-of-a-kind competition where entrants must keep their hands placed on a dream SUV Truck for as long as they can. The premise is simple. The last one still touching the truck, wins the truck. For well-intentioned, burger-joint employee Kyle Parson (Joe Cole) the truck is much more than a ticket to a better future for his wife and child. However, in front of him are a dozen or so other determined contestants, each of whom plan on being there when the going gets tough…

In what amounts to a deceptively-drawn portrait of American values, director Bastian Günther has assembled a pitch-perfect cast for this sly, automotive critique. 

With a rolling, southern drawl that could coat crayfish with hot butter, Carrie Preston is the pumped-up PR girl who never left town. Mindhunter‘s Jesse C. Boyd is the appropriately loathsome Kevin and Lynne Ashe’s bible-reading Ruthie is just one page turn away from parody. However, earnestly tormented throughout the whole proceedings is Peaky Blinder‘s Joe Cole. In another Brit-born-but-wholly-believable US performance, he disappears inside Kyle’s freckled skin with absolutely no trace of anglicised origin.

Caked in sweat and with everyone assembled around the truck, what starts out as a redneck companion to Logan LuckyOne of These Days quickly becomes a much deeper and significant treatise. As each contestant’s personalities and peculiarities start to break down, the importance of “winning” becomes even more apparent. The reason is that in a country where what you drive says more than the contents of your immortal soul, the car is actually king. A modern-day symbol of freedom, upward mobility and the American way of life, that truck-to-be-envied is a precious, vital commodity and each of ‘One of These Fine Days’ characters means to hang on to get it. 

Yet beyond blood, love and reason, no matter how hard they believe, each falls off like bugs burnt off the windshield of life. -And that’s how the movie should end, right? But it doesn’t. 

In a one final, delicious act that many might find a step too far, One of These Days digs deeper still. In a further exploration of all the motivations that we missed in the contest’s frantic build-up, director Bastian Günther further peels his characters’ sunburnt skin back further.

Like the movie’s thought-provoking premise itself, it could be argued this final addition is much like the hang-on contest itself, in seeing just how far you’ll go. Depending on your stamina, a satisfying ending can’t always be found within easy touching distance.

I Dream of Singapore by Lei Yuan Bin
Photo courtesy of © Looi Wan Ping/Tiger Tiger Pictures

I Dream of Singapore

Commercially co-dependant, Singapore and Bangladesh are in a marriage of convenience. Whilst the immigrant labour camps might not be the dream that Bangladeshi workers paid their five-figure migration fee for, the draw is still the same. With its bright lights and progressive architecture, Singapore’s skyline is built on the risks that migrant labourers take as they dangle against cargo tankers in a blanket of welding torch sparks.

In one such example, fortunately, cradled in the convalescence of a TWC2 (Transient Workers Count Too) bed, Feroz Mamum is one of many injured migrant workers. Unlucky in catching the white-hot end of the Singaporean dream and ignored by his employer when it comes to any healthcare, the documentary centres on caseworker Ethan’s desperate attempts to fly Feroz back to Bangladesh. 

Commendably shot and relayed without narration, I Dream of Singapore is a hypnotic walk through the highs and lows of migrants life lived on the edge of a dream. From their tears at morning prayer, some of which stain the t-shirts of their commercial allegiance, to the desperately charming discos for two on a steel bunk bed, the Singapore skyline is revealed to be permanent benefactor to an ugly truth: “Bangladesh has the humanity but it doesn’t have the human rights” – and there, in the space of one, wry, single sentence, the intoxicating dream of working in Singapore is revealed. 

Whilst I Dream of Singapore subtly underscores the neon-lit advantages being taken, it is also the heart-touching story of Feroz and Ethan that will live the longest in your memory. If he returns home with bags of first world goods, Feroz will be seen as a returning hero, but inwardly it will be the tears of both the carer and the cared-for that will splash down the hardest on your cheek.