Festival Files: Dallas International 2017, Dispatch #1 – ‘Bomb City,’ ‘Berlin Syndrome’

Now in its eleventh year and spanning numerous locations throughout Dallas (including the Angelika, Magnolia, Dallas City Performance Hall and others), the 2017 edition of the Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) kicked off on March 30 with a special screening of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), before unspooling an impressive slate of films that will run through Sunday, April 9.

With a tagline of “See things DIFFerently,” I took that mantra to heart, hewing close to regional film making and world cinema … otherwise known as films whose distributive future is in limbo but, quite often, pack the most imagination, ambition and heart. Films like James Gray’s The Lost City of Z, Francois Ozon’s Frantz and Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion have already secured upcoming releases here in DFW, so what’s the rush to see them? Instead, I focused on the marginalized, and it’s paid off terrific dividends so far.

Jameson Brooks’ Bomb City is exhibit A. I initially called it a grungy, true-crime Texas tale, but that doesn’t quite do it justice. It is based on a true story about the violent collision between Amarillo punks and football jocks in 1997, but Brooks’ film is about much more than that. Highly reminiscent of 1980s lost-and-confused-teenager-films such as Over the Edge (actually 1979 but close enough) or early Nick Gomez films (Laws of Gravity especially) Bomb City charts the simmering adolescent tension between two specific milieu of kids as their hatred slowly festers and eventually explodes into raw displays of violence.

Expertly made, scored and shot, Bomb City also toys with our expectations as the film cuts back and forth in time and then re-orientates our anger and confusion. Starring a predominately unknown cast (with the exception of well-known character actor Glenn Morshower), it’s a film that feels as fresh and electric as anything I’ve seen at the festival so far. And judging by the energetic crowds that exited the second and (possibly) final showing of the film on Saturday night, I’d say it has a real and deserved shot to win the Audience Award.

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As a huge fan of filmmaker Cate Shortland’s 2012 masterpiece Lore, her entry here, titled Berlin Syndrome, was a bit of a letdown. Utilizing the same queasy aesthetic that made Lore all the more bracing, such as her very short depth of field and a probing camera style that’s at once tactile and obscured, Berlin Syndrome could be described as suffocating. I imagine that may be Shortland’s point.

Starring Teresa Palmer as a tourist visiting Germany on a sort of artistic sabbatical, she quickly meets and falls for smart and charming Andi (Max Riemelt). The problem is, Andi is quite a sadistic monster and wants Teresa to be much more than a simple girlfriend.

Staying close to the thriller genre- including an ending that would fit right at home in a Hitchcock thriller- Berlin Syndrome has its narrative shortfalls, but its still interesting to see the kinks that a female director like Shortland provides to a kidnapping drama usually reserved for the masochistic male filmmaker. She certainly doesn’t hold back any punches, literally and metaphorically. It’s as if she’s seeing things differently as well.

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