Another Berlinale, another heap of docs.
Some of the gems: Minoru Matsui’s Riben Guizi presents a series of subtitled interviews with veterans of the Japanese occupation of China and south-east Asia. The film, a confessional, lays bare the sheer barbarity of the event. The simplest of formats for the most powerful of testimonies. Germany’s Hartmut Bitomsky gives us B-52. A man who believes "the filmmaker should let the pictures do the talking," Bitomsky offers a two-hour portrait of the "world’s most perfect aircraft," showing the machine as an embodiment of human intelligence and a metaphor for power and self-destruction. Priceless: the installation artist and the rear gunner’s toilet.
The Optimists, a story of how Nazi-allied Bulgaria turned civil disobedience into an artform, is uplifting, in spite of its theme. Produced by Americans Jacky and Lisa Comfort, the film uses archive footage and interviews in Israel, Bulgaria and the U.S. (as well as a cast of characters beyond Hollywood), to tell the story of how Muslims and Christians stood alongside their Jewish neighbors and refused to do the wrong thing. As Jacky Comfort says, "people talk about the mob. This was the mob in action. I love the mob!" Comfort, a writer and comedian, brings a feature writer’s sense of drama, pace and even humor to the story. The Optimists received that rarest of Berlin accolades: an extra screening.
From Brazil came Senta a Pua!, Erik de Castro’s story of P47 pilots. Regardless of the unfortunately spelled subtitles, there’s a great film in it. Lastly, there was Extranjeros de si Mismos (Strangers to Themselves) by J.L. Lopez-Linares and J. Rioyo. This Spanish film about the veterans on the losing side of the Civil War showcased interviews and archive footage, but never really came together as a whole, except to say young men will do this kind of thing whether for ideology or adventure.