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2018 Berlin Film Festival: Emily Atef’s triumphant and poignant ‘3 Days in Quiberon’

Synopsis: Over the course of 3 days, late German actress Romy Schneider is interviewed in a hotel in France. Surrounding her are a journalist, her best friend and her trusted photographer.

‘Do we keep on living or keep on going crazy?’. Romy Schneider asks herself and those around her, whether she will ever be able to go with either choice. Right now, in the hotel room where she is being interviewed for the German magazine Stern after years of no interviews of any sort with the German press, the legendary actress simply does not have the courage to answer.

That’s not to say she’s weak, fragile or confused. Like most human beings and unlike many film characters on screen, nothing is black and white. There is no absolute strength or weakness, happiness and misery, hope and despair. Like most of us, Schneider lived in the grey area. But that grey area was the camera. Rather than letting capturing fame, the flashlights captured her. When the camera is on, she comes alive, enthralled by the lights that lift her up and transport her away from the real world who thinks of her as scandalous, fragile, innocent Sissi (her most famous film performance) and perhaps even crazy. Just like the actress herself admits halfway through the film, she is a person living between extremes and can’t just settle on either side.

Emily Atef’s 3 DAYS IN QUIBERON is one of the smartest and nuanced biopics to come for a while. Just like the character it depicts, it is a film of utter beauty and real complexity. To frame it as a biopic may do it a disservice, because its impact is much more than the sum of its parts. Capturing the impact of show business in subtle and effective ways, this is a film that should be watched more than once to appreciate its sharp observation of a German screen legend on one hand, and its honest commentary on the lush prison that is: the camera.

Events take place in Quiberon, France, where Schneider is spending a few days of dieting and health checks. After years of no interviews for years with the German press, Schneider finally agrees for one. Choosing not to film any flashbacks, the film is based on these three days prior and during which her final interview takes place before her death. Deceptively simple, the film is not about the price of fame as much as it is about the experience of those who living it. Everyone surrounding Schneider wants a piece of her, to a point when she stops minding it. Swinging between victimizing herself at times and blaming herself for being an incapable and irresponsible mother, Schneider is both a victim and an addict to fame. In her worst moments, she chooses – and perhaps resorts for a better word – to being photographed, finding her best refuge in the spotlight which glows so strongly that she dissolves and disappears under it.

Carried by a fantastic performance by Marie Bäumer who perfectly captures the actresses’ vulnerability, anger and fear, 3 DAYS IN QUIBERON presents an interesting take on the stars we love and unconsciously project our own perceptions and opinions on. Far away from the camera, they are fractured – and sometimes even tormented – souls that we can not claim we actually know. And it may take us years – or perhaps never – to understand them properly after they leave our world. One of the film’s best scenes depicts the character’s contradictions. She is out there by the rocks, in one of her darkest moments. She agrees to be filmed, walking on the rocks while the people surrounding her stand there watching. Watching her beauty, her agony and her fame from afar and watching her as she stumbles and rises in front of an ever-glowing spotlight.

The film’s moving final scene celebrates Schneider’s resilience as a person who finally embraces her flaws and chooses to live with them, perhaps realizing she will never be perfect in her own eyes or the yes of the media scrutinizing her. She will remain the star the camera loves, the object of affection that people chase and the subject of media’s ridicule, critiques and attention. But she embraced that until her very last breath.

Verdict: Far more complex than it may seem, 3 DAYS IN QUIBERON features a standout performance and a layered script that does more than create empathy or pity for an actress tormented by fame. A unique and triumphant look at the battles we continue to win and lose when we are in the spotlight and the experience of never finding peace except when the camera is on.

Grade: A

Mina Takla

Mina Takla is a foreign correspondent for AwardsWatch and the co-founder of The Syndicate, an online news agency that offers original content services to several film brands including Empire Magazine’s Middle East edition and the Dubai Film Festival. Takla has attended, covered and written from over 10 film festivals online including the Dubai International Film Festival, Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Cannes, Venice and Annecy Film Festivals. He has been following the Oscar race since 2000 with accurate, office-pool winning predictions year after year. He writes monthly in Empire Arabia, the Arabic version of the world’s top cinema magazine and conducts press junkets with Hollywood stars in the UK and the US. He holds a Master’s degree in Strategic Marketing from Australia’s Wollongong University and is currently based in Dubai, UAE.

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