Monday, 13 February 2012

'Metéora' Berlinale (Competition) review:

Folks who have no interest in arthouse cinema or festival films probably assume that they are all humourless, chin-scratching borefests like 'Metéora', a Greek film from director Spiros Stathoulopoulos. Over 82 minutes that feel far longer, it's the story of a Russian nun (Tamila Koulieva) and a Greek monk (Theo Alexander) who are doomed to live lives of quiet despair unless they consummate their forbidden love. Turns out they're in luck because, conveniently enough, "the only sin that cannot be forgiven is despair".

They repeat that word, "despair", over and over (in Greek and Russian), whenever they aren't in mournful solitude, gazing through the windows of their remote, mountaintop monasteries across the abyss that separates them physically and emotionally. A stunning setting for the well-worn theme of sexual repression and self-flagellation within the church, with Nun burning her hand in order to resist the temptation to masturbate. Monk is tempted not only by what's under Nun's garments, but also by the simple rural idyll outside the order. In fact he is so much more at home among the shepherds and such that it's hard to understand why Monk became one in the first place.

As an escapist outlet for repressed fantasies, both experience vivid dreams brought to life via crude, jerky animation and styled to replicate traditional Christian art. These segments, infused with provocative religious imagery, deserve credit for being imaginative and, aesthetically, they represent an improvement on the ultra-low quality cameras used to film the live-action stuff. There are some nice touches here and this device is a clever one.

Yet the part of the film that's destined to live longest in my memory is a scene in which a real mountain goat is cornered, captured, stabbed and skinned - a scene which feels unnecessary and cruel. I'm not a vegetarian and am under no illusions about where food comes from (however much I'd rather not think about it), but filming the grisly death of a screaming animal for the purposes of a movie just doesn't sit well with me.

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