This year has been the second time I've attended The Berlin International Film Festival or Berlinale. Last time it was 2007, when lived in Berlin as an exchange student.
It has been a blazing experience. Berlin is just so much fun to visit, and when you add an open to the public movie festival to the equation, then little can go wrong.
Things actually started kind of tense, since we were supposed to buy tickets online before flying, but they were over before we could get our hands on them. But then I remembered that it was pretty easy for me to buy them on-site eight years ago, so we were not too worried.
The first day we wanted to see two movies, a documentary called Homo Sapiens and the Czech movie in competition, I, Olga Hepnarova.
The first movie only started at 7pm, so we walked for a while around The Berlin Wall before going to the main ticket venue, Postdamer Platz, where you could buy tickets for any movie (the other solution was going to the individual venues for each movie). We lined up for about half an hour before being told that no tickets were left, but may be purchased later "at some point during the day".
We found out during the weekend that many tickets are assigned to movie professionals, politicians, etc, that need to confirm attendance before certain time, otherwise the tickets are sold to the public. While that happened (hopefully) we headed towards the venue of the first film, Homo Sapiens. We got there about 3pm just to find out that they would start selling around 5pm, so we had two hours to waste. We met there a rather eccentric guy who promised to keep the line for us as long as we would buy tickets for a movie we were not going to watch (you could only buy two tickets per person per movie). He also stared at us very seriously when saying that we had to pretend we were good friends, otherwise other people in the line would not allow him to keep us the position in the line. To this end he made sure we remembered each other's names before letting us go, :)
The cool thing about having a movie festival in a city like Berlin is that you are just surrounded by lot of cool places to see and we happened to be close to the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (link) or the Protestant Church with a broken ceiling kept broken as a reminder of World War II. So we just went there and had a bite on the way, since we had not eaten anything since breakfast.
Two hours later our eccentric new friend was still the first on the line (he told us he had been there since 12pm!!!), but doors did not open for another hour, which we survived thanks to our now filled with food stomachs. At 6 o'clock, one hour before the start of the movie, we stormed inside the theater, but, oh surprise, there wasn't a single ticket available. After so much effort we did not even have a ticket to watch the documentary (which was not even part of Competition, or the group of movies that compete for prizes).
Our last chance was to wait for one more hour since someone could cancel their tickets last minute. 15 minutes before the start nothing had changed, but miracles (or dubiously strange things) happen in the capital of Germany, and all of a sudden tens of tickets went for sale, so our the effort paid off and we were finally going to watch one of the movies for the 2016 Berlin Movie Festival!
The movie (a documentary without dialogue picked by my trip companion) turned out to be just so so, but what really bothered us was that there were tons of free seats all over the theater.
Without time to do much complaining we rushed to Postdamer Platz (remember, the main Berlinale hotspot) to try to watch I, Olga Hepnarova, our last pick for the day. We had very little hope of getting a ticket though. What were our chances of getting a seat from the Competition section when it had taken us half day to get one for a Documentary with no dialogue?
As I said, strange things happen in these festivals (and they will get even stranger), so when we arrived to the super modern theater where the second movie of the day was showing we found that there was no one in the line and still plenty of tickets available. I bought the tickets, high fived my friend and headed to an Italian place I knew from my time as Erasmus student.
The movie, the Czech representative, tells the story of Olga, a woman who never connected with society partly because having being bullied by classmates and possibly because having been sexually abused by a family member (the movie only hinted at this).
--SPOILER ALERT--The protagonist is based on a real character who, in 1973, killed 7 pedestrians in Prague while driving a truck along the sidewalk. It was a premeditated action to address the evilness of society and its indifference towards bullying. She actually wrote a letter to the main local newspapers couple of days before committing the crime, which was essential for sentencing her to death:
"I am a loner. A destroyed woman. A woman destroyed by people... I have a choice - to kill myself or to kill others. I choose to revenge my haters. It would be too easy to leave this world as an unknown suicide. The society is too indifferent, rightly so. My verdict is: I, Olga Hepnarová, the victim of your bestiality, sentence you to death penalty"
I thought that for the most part the acting of the main protagonists was solid and the story was well told. There may have been a couple of loopholes, but possibly just on purpose. The director implies on lot of things that may have happened to Olga so that we don't have an straight forward verdict on her actions, and this lead that on some occasions the spectator cannot really tell what is going on in the movie.
Still, I thought the movie was fine, and that is why what happened at the end of the movie left me completely shocked.
So, this is what happens. Inside the movie: the main protagonist, Olga, gets sentenced to death and the movie end. Kind of tough ending for not an easy movie to watch. Back in the theater, the real world: The movie ends and the curtains of the theater are drawn. This is when people are supposed to start clapping and/or cheering, right, especially during an event like this. Not in Delphi Filmpalast in Berlin. No one claps, no one cheers. In fact, there is not a single sound among the almost 700 people that fill the room. Extremely silence, like nothing I've seen before.
In my astonishment I don't clap either (I am new to this kind of events, so I would rather wait something does it before me).
It was a really uncomfortable moment, especially considering that people knew that the movie crew were among the public. Couple of minutes passed before the host approached the stage and timidly asked the audience if there was any question. Given the grim atmosphere the host was smart enough not to let more time pass by and, instead, started asking the director herself. After a while some people intervened, and I left the theater thinking what on earth had just happened...
Still, apart from that sad moment it had been an amazing day, and we headed to the hotel to rest before our second day at the Berlinale started.