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The Berlinale Blog: Late flourish, Marty’s fling

On the Competition’s final day, a knackered Rory O’Connor welcomes a late Yoji Yamada flourish and an American master with wide open arms.

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The Little House

Well, well, well. Who saw that one coming? We plunged into the Valentine’s spirit with a midday screening of the Lea Sedoux/Vincent Cassel Beauty and the Beast redo; a dreadfully indulgent €33 million Babelsberg production with little apparent meaning except to bring some final day glitz to proceedings. For the day that’s in it perhaps Nymphomaniac would have made a better choice… but then, I digress…

After the screening, and the host of guffaws which followed, we meandered to CinemaxX in the bizarre February sunshine like it was the last day of school, from 33 million to 35mm (the only such projection we’ve spotted outside of this year’s Retrospektive section) and the final press screening of this year’s Competition. The film is The Little House from Berlinale stalwart Yoji Yamada. It’s melodramatic and sincere (how desperately unfashionable) but, completely out of the blue, it is, without question, the most moving piece of work this competition has offered.

We open on a funeral. The grandson of the recently deceased reads from the late lady’s memoirs. We cut back a few years to the grandmother as she writes them. Then, much like the Grand Budapest which opened this festival, we cut back again. We’re in Tokyo in the late 1930s. The lady, now a young woman, is the maid of a household. She becomes the sole witness to a love affair between the mother of the family and her husband’s employee and from there we follow their romance as the country around them descends into war.

Whether it was religion, family, love or sex, much of this Competition’s offerings have been drenched in cynicism. Yamada’s film, which has come so late in the day, provides a remarkable breath of fresh air. The director is 82 and that fact is wonderfully evident in his deeply sincere and traditional form. The score is basic but touching; he shoots head on like the late great Yasujiro Ozu; he seems obsessed with the physical contact taboos of Japanese society of the time and films even the briefest of touches in tender close up.  It’s so tragically old fashioned and yet it makes you hope that there’s still room in our dry disillusioned world for such simple heartfelt sentiment. Hirokazu Kore-Eda is still doing it and they’re already calling him a master. Let’s hope both keep it up.

The evening progressed to an awestruck Haus der Berliner Festspiele as the audience welcomed Martin Scorsese to the stage as he eloquently introduced Nicholas Ray’s peerless Rebel Without a Cause for what was a perfect full-stop to proceedings (aside from the loud mouth piece of shit sitting front row left. You know who you are sir. A special level of hell awaits). At one point in the film Plato turns to Judy and says “He doesn’t say much, but when he does you know he means it. He’s sincere.” To which Judy replies, “Well, that’s the main thing…” You get the feeling Yoji Yamada would approve.

The Little House screens Feb 15, 15:15 (Friedrichstadt Palast).