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The Berlinale Blog: True love

Whatever happens in the next 10 days, today has been the highlight of the year. Who cares about a boring film if you can sit in a cinema with Isabella Rossellini?

Image for The Berlinale Blog: True love
Photo by Richard Hübner

I’m in love. Forget this morning’s competition film, Margin Call, in which a bunch of rich guys (and a token women, but she’s played by Demi Moore) try to figure out how to save their asses in the early days of the recent stock market collapse. They’re all such flat, one-dimensional characters that it’s very hard to care for longer than 10 minutes (basically until Stanley Tucci is gone, who gets sacked in the very beginning, but not before making an ominous statement).

Only the guy played by Kevin Spacey has an actual ethical conflict – whether to toe the company line and tell his people to sell papers that will be worthless the next day, ruining their reputations and careers while saving their bosses’ assets – but I didn’t understand this until his final speech to his underlings, 10 minutes before the end. It’s hard to take a character seriously, though, who’s introduced by crying over his dog’s impending death while half his company is being fired so that we understand he’s the only one in this film who has a soul.

And in case we missed that point, the director helpfully supplies a scene toward the end where he’s listening to an opera aria right when the world’s about to end. And the clichés go on and on. It could have been interesting, mind you, if there had been a director (J.C. Chandor is a first-timer) to challenge the venerable crew of veterans (next to Spacey, Tucci and Moore, there’s Jeremy Irons and Paul Bettany, and rising star Zachary “Spock” Quinto) to do anything else than what they always do.

I mean, what they do, they do well – so well even that the audience was laughing not so much at the few dry one-liners as at the way Irons delivers them in that quintessentially Ironsian way, or at the classicly delayed “what?” that Spacey can ask with such impeccably perfect timing. And no one can do “volcanic rage accumulating behind a near-immutable façade” like Tucci, and then release it in a decisive smash of the cell phone to the ground.

Anyway, for the 90 minutes between the first and the last 10 minutes, while I was pretty bored with Margin Call, I could comfortably bathe in the glow from Isabella Rossellini’s presence that I’m imagining was warming my back. A few years ago, I saw a man photographing the empty seat in which Catherine Deneuve had been sitting just before, but I have never seen so many journalists, who usually try to pretend that they don’t care that major stardom is within reaching distance, grab their cameras and try to take a photo when Rossellini sat down. And I understand why. Even at 30 feet away, you can literally see her eyes sparkle.

So whatever comes next, I think I’ve seen the highlight of this year’s festival already. The rest will be mostly afterglow.