The Berlin File (EIFF 2013)

The Berlin File is a film that focuses on two agents, one from South Korea and one from North Korea. As the film’s title suggests, it is set in Berlin, a city used to the kind of divides these two opposing agents have had to get used to.

The beginning of the film sees an arms trade between the North Korean agent, a Middle Eastern man, and a Russian man go wrong when an Israeli agent shows up. Panic stations are manned, as the South Koreans, who have bugged the room realise what is happening, and the two Korean agents confront each other on the rooftop, setting up their relationship for the rest of the film.

If that all sounds quite confusing, that’s because it is. Unnecessarily so. Along with these five countries, an arrogant CIA agant also takes an interest in the Korea’s affairs. It soon becomes difficult to reconcile who is working for whom and where loyalties lie. Especially when the North Korean ambassador is rumoured to want to defect to the South.

The film’s main problem is that it opts for complexity of plot over complexity of character. There is little room for anyone to breathe as all these different interests overlap shoot at one another, and take part in some pretty spectacular action scenes.

When the movie is able to get away from who is betraying who, and instead concentrates on someone running away from someone else it begins to hit its stride. The action sequences are very well handled. In particular one which sees the North Koeran agent falling through some glass and dangling on some wires as he tries to escape from his flat towards the end of the film.

Also impressive is the finale, which sees our agents running through a field of corn, hidden from each other. Colour filters and low angles are well used to create a great sense of space and isolation where each of the characters could be metres apart without realising it.

However, overall The Berlin File can be seen as nothing but a disappointment and a missed opportunity. It suffers from major problems with its story, which should have been stripped down and simplified to allow some actual characterisation and development of theme to come through.

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