Texas Road-Painters Battle Divorcee for Berlin Film Prize

The Berlin Film Festival ends this weekend, with the winners of bear awards to be announced tomorrow. A jury led by the Chinese film director Wong Kar Wai will select winners from 19 movies in competition.

These are my top three choices out of the 14 competing movies seen so far:

“Child’s Pose”: A dominant Bucharest mother smothers her her son Bardu with love as he tries to assert his independence at 34 years of age.

He kills a boy in a traffic accident: Bardu’s mother Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu) immediately sets wheels in motion, pulling strings and paying bribes to keep him out of jail for speeding.

Cornelia views her son’s state of shock as an opportunity to regain control of his life, letting herself into his apartment uninvited to pack a suitcase so she can bring him home. Bardu (Bogdan Dumitrache), so afraid of responsibility he is paranoid about his girlfriend conceiving, has to fight back.

The dysfunctional mother-son relationship is credible and the tension between them is compelling. While both characters are deeply flawed, they elicit compassion.

Directed by Calin Peter Netzer, “Child’s Pose” is a powerful portrayal of a dynamic that is probably more common in life than in the movies.

Rating: ***½.

“Prince Avalanche”: Alvin and Lance are in the wilds of Texas, painting yellow lines down the middle of the road, hammering in posts and camping in a fire-scorched forest. We learn that Alvin landed Lance -- who is much younger -- the job as a favor to his girlfriend, who is Lance’s sister.

Where Alvin (Paul Rudd) is serious and reflective, Lance (Emile Hirsch) is only interested in sex. Alvin spends a weekend alone in the forest, fancying himself as an outdoors hero foraging for his food. Lance heads into town to make conquests.

The mindless work and their solitude means they squabble, insult each other, compete and reconcile. The two build a surprising bond in this quirky, engaging movie by the American director David Gordon Green. The burned-out backdrop and a mysterious lady combing through the ashes of her house add a surreal dimension.

Rating: ***.

“Gloria”: She’s 58, divorced and determined to fall in love. It’s impossible not to adore the heroine of this Chilean movie, who takes life’s knocks with grace, humor and a spark that her owly glasses can’t conceal.

Gloria begins a passionate love affair with Rodolfo (Sergio Hernandez), a few years older and a divorced father of two. He cannot escape the clutches of his family, abandoning his new love in a beach hotel to rush back and care for his ex-wife after an accident.

What could be a depressing film about loneliness in middle age is uplifting because Gloria’s zest for life is so infectious. The actress who plays her, Paulina Garcia, must surely be in the running for an award.

Rating: ***.

The Berlin Film Festival runs through Feb. 17. For more information, go to https://www.berlinale.de/en

What the Stars Mean:
***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

Muse highlights include weekend guides for New York and London, Lewis Lapham on history, Catherine Hickley on movies and Scott Reyburn on the art market.

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