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The Berlinale Blog: Location, location, location

Rory O’Connor looks at two films from this year's Competition and finds that when scouting for that perfect place to shoot, it’s often best to stick with what you know.

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Jack

Directors can sometimes manage incredible things when they choose to go abroad. Wim Wenders immediately springs to mind – his bottled up versions of American pop culture managed to maintain that difficult balance between fawning referential winks and postmodern dissection. But that can be a temperamental ratio at the best of times. Of the early Competition films to screen this week, Rachid Bouchareb’s Two Men in Town falls flat at this very hurdle, taking the 1971 film Deux Hommes Dan Las Ville and plonking it awkwardly on the US/Mexican border.

Forest Whitaker plays a cop killer who is released from jail after 18 years – reformed, Muslim and ready for a new life. His parole officer sits in the Forgive and Forget camp. The cop who locked him up (played by Harvey Keitel) does not.

If you think this all sounds familiar that’s probably because it is. The film is an overlong and exasperating outing filled with stock pop references and worn out clichés. The timeless closing shot from John Ford’s The Searchers inexplicably appears in the opening minutes and then it’s all downhill from there.

On the opposite end of the scale, filmmaker Edward Berger shot his latest feature in Berlin, where he’s lived for almost 20 years, and if Bouchareb found cliché in his overwrought references, Berger finds poetry in his city’s detail. His wonderful new film Jack is a superior effort, whatever way you look at it, but Berger manages to dodge all the hallmarks of his famous backdrop by showing us the city through the eyes of a child.

The film centres around a boy named Jack. His mother, while nurturing when present, really isn’t of much use otherwise, wrapped up in her own world and ill-equipped to raise kids. An accident at home leaves Jack in social care but, when a confrontation there goes bad, he cuts loose and takes to the streets. From here the film takes on a fairy-tale quality, the buzzing metropolis like the great dark woods. Jack is present in every scene and we in turn see Berlin through his young eyes. There’s a flash of Friedrichstraße; an U-Bahn train or two; the inside of the O2 Arena. We here know it of course, but this could be anywhere.

It might not sound so original but Berger inverts a great deal of what we’ve come to expect from these sorts of things. We’re not in council estates; no one’s OD’ing on the bedroom floor; it’s all quite middle class. Jack’s mom, while quite young, is a decent enough person. She’s just a narcissist; more interested in finding companionship than looking after her kids. It’s a fresh take indeed and with everything going for it, it might just be a contender too.

Jack screens: 8 Feb, 9:30 (Friedrichstadt-Palast), 8 Feb, 12:30 (HdBF), 8 Feb, 18:00 (Friedrichstadt-Palast), 9 Feb, 18:30 (Toni & Tonino), 16 Feb, 13:00 (HKW)

Two Men in Town screens: Feb 08, 9:30 (HdBF), Feb 08, 12:00 (Firedrichstadt Palast), Feb 08, 21:00 (Firedrichstadt Palast)