Berlin film fest delves depths of euro crisis

AFP, Monday 18 Feb 2013

European filmmakers hardest hit by staggering unemployment and debt, such as Spain and Greece, portray the struggles of their societies at the 2013 Berlin film festival

Berlin Fest
Photo: AP

The human cost of swingeing cutbacks and spiralling debt have provided inspiration for film-makers from countries hardest hit by Europe's financial crisis at the Berlin film festival.

A clutch of gritty movies from Spain and Greece portraying the violence, fear or sadness wreaked on society, have burst onto the big screen at the 11-day Berlinale, arguably an ironic backdrop given Germany has weathered the financial crisis relatively unscathed.

But while its economic might has made it the object of rancour in some parts of struggling southern Europe, the political slant traditionally found in the German-based line-up of films makes for a good fit.

Presenting the world premier of her latest movie "Ayer No Termina Nunca" (Yesterday Never Ends), Spain's Isabel Coixet said it was "very difficult" for a contemporary Spanish film-maker to avoid portraying the country's troubles.

Futuristically set in 2017 when Spain has hit rock bottom, her intense, purely dialogue-driven tale runs the gamut of emotions when a former couple meets again five years after parting ways following the death of their young son.

Still deeply traumatised, the pair, one of whom has gone to live in Germany, also reflects a lost country with more than seven million unemployed and three million homes empty because their owners cannot keep up payments.

"This film is a distillation of my confusion, of my impotence. Through the settling of scores by this couple, behind their pain, is the situation of Spain," Coixet told reporters.

"Two years ago we were reading what was happening in Greece and now it's happening to us. Perhaps this film will serve to warn other countries," added Coixet, whose first international success was "Things I Never Told You" in 1996.

"I have friends who have emigrated to the United States, Germany, England."

Greek director, producer and Berlinale jury member Athina Rachel Tsangari said that although the arts, and especially cinema, had been the first thing hit by Greece's financial woes, some artistic good had come out of it.

"I have to say that actually not having access to state money and working with each other independently and in great cameraderie... has greatly helped our cinema," she told reporters as the festival opened.

"It's been very invigorating, it brought us all together," she said.

Festival director Dieter Kosslick indicated before the curtain went up on the 63rd Berlinale that it would examine the "collateral damage" from the crisis, upholding its niche first carved out during the Cold War for politically charged cinema.

"Greece is finished. It's dead," says one of the protagonists at the beginning of "Sto Lyko" (To The Wolf), setting the tone for the dark docu-realist film about remote shepherd life in the Greek mountains, which did not set out as a "crisis" movie.

However directors Christina Koutsospyrou and Aran Hughes said that when they began filming, the crisis' impact became inescapable and the portrayal of Greece is far from its picture postcard image.

"It became so intense that it came through," said Koutsospyrou, whose father comes from the rain- and wind-battered village featured in the film whose characters drink and smoke to forget their poverty and despair.

Meanwhile in Greek-Italian film "I Kori" (The Daughter), the crisis invokes fear, when 14-year-old Myrto, played by Savina Alimani, kidnaps the son of her father's business partner whom she blames for bankrupting him and his disappearance.

Against the backdrop of a noisy and chaotic Athens, Myrto, left to her own devices by parents overstretched by the crisis, hides her victim in a wood workshop leaving the audience nervous over the boy's fate.

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