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February 21, 2020 by · Leave a Comment 

The 70th edition of the Berlin Film Festival — the Berlinale — opened on Wednesday, a day after a right-wing fanatic murdered nine Muslims at a hookah bar and a café in the German city of Hanau. The festival had issued a statement in advance saying that during the opening ceremonies, it would pause for a moment of silence for the victims. But the deferral of that moment by the host of the ceremonies, actor/comedian Samuel Finzi — who opened his monologue by saying “Ladies and gentlemen” interminably in apparently every language spoken on earth — tested the patience of at least one woman in the audience, who shouted out a demand for the moment of silence to take place at once. What followed that moment were remarks by Finzi and others in which they maintained that one of the things that cinema does best is to bring people together, a sentiment that seemingly ignores those films that produced divisions, including the first box-office hit, 1915’s Birth of a Nation and the longtime box-office champ, Gone With the Wind. Indeed, on the same day of the shooting, President Trump complained about the decision to award the best-film Oscar to the South Korean movie, Parasite.

“How bad were the Academy Awards this year?” Trump asked a crowd during a Colorado Springs rally, producing a chorus of loud boos. “The winner is a movie from South Korea [Parasite], what the hell was that all about? … We got enough problems with South Korea with trade and on top of it, they give them the best movie of the year.” Trump wondered aloud why the Oscar voters didn’t just present the filmmakers with the Oscar for best foreign-language film instead. (Note: the film did indeed win that award, too.)

With that sort of background looming behind them — not to mention the tragedy of the coronavirus, which has devastated attendance at the festival, especially among the usual throng of Chinese and Japanese attendees — the filmmakers of My Salinger Year — and director Philippe Falardeau in particular — must have felt that there was a catch (if not a catcher) in the honor of having their film selected to open the festival. They would have been right.

Segourney Weaver and Margaret Qualley in My Salinger Year

Reviewers mostly trashed the film. Peter Bradshaw in Britain’s Guardian newspaper thought that it was “unfortunate” that the festival would give the opening spot to a film that “clunks hard enough to smash the concrete.” It was, he wrote, a “bafflingly insipid, zestless, derivative film – a simperingly coy knock-off of The Devil Wears Prada without the sexiness and fun.” Several critics did express admiration for the performance of Sigourney Weaver as Phyllis Westberg, the imperious head of a literary agency whose foremost client was J.D. Salinger, author of the classic ’60s novel, Catcher in the Rye. But they hardly knew what to make of the performance of Margaret Qualley, who, in her starring debut, plays one of Westberg’s assistants, Joanna Rakoff (on whose memoir the film is based), and whose stagey earnestness and blank, ingenue looks belie her design to become a published poet. As Peter Debruge put it in Variety: “When it comes to accepting Joanna [as] an author in the making, the film never convinces.”

On its surface, the film seems to resemble something akin to what used to be called a “chick flick” in the ’70s. Indeed, its subplot about the awkward relationship between Joanna and two boyfriends, appears more engaging than the story about her work at the office.

All in all, the critics seemed to agree, My Salinger Year is highly forgettable, unlike the actual events of the previous day.