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Blackberry – Berlinale 2023 (Film Review)

3 min read

Still Courtesy - Elevation Pictures

Aside from its bombastic comedic timing and exhilarating pace, 's cinematic epic is self-contained with an enriching sociological metaphor. The film is a near-perfect examination on 's dependency and financial relationship with their capitalist hive-minded neighbor. For its economic insight, Johnson priorities his anti-corporate thesis with a singular Canuck Lens. Images of Shoppers Drug Mart, Don Cherry, and Waterloo are included in the film's referential citations and period-homages. There's an invigorating opposition between the harmonious nature of Canadian entrepreneurship and the fetishisation of capital gain. The Yin and yang duality of the film's colour-grade provides artistic evidence for Johnson's historical re-interpretations. In many regards, Blackberry is an essential and riveting cinematic investigation on the American Dream's international influence. The film is arguably the most thoroughly researched document on the aforementioned subject matter since American Factory (2019)

Johnson attempts at recreating the technological ingenuity of a long-lost era, by deliberately casting filmmakers and artists based in Ontario's growing independent film community. His research and subsequent casting-direction is symbolic and essential to the film's growing metaphor. The larger-than-life narrative behind Blackberry isn't just about the failure of Canada's most notorious tele-communication company. In the context of Canada's film industry, many filmmakers are forced to leave their national cinema in favour of contract deals and franchise-indulgence. The questionable career trajectories of Denis Villeneuve and Ivan Reitman are prime historical examples in Johnson's meta-text. Both filmographies share a distinct influence within their uprooted commercial hierarchies There's no more room for celebration, nor experimentation. The studio system is designed to bring in new filmmakers who are mere hot commodities. The artists are nothing more than just a singular name in their capitalist overgrowth.

There's a tragic parallel between Canada's film industry and the fall of Blackberry, as the film's casting is ingenious. The youngest member of the film's Research in Motion ensemble is Ethan Eng — a young Gen-Z filmmaker who bet his entire post-secondary tuition on a singular self-directed coming-of-age odyssey entitled Therapy Dogs (2022). Johnson's text is distinctly confrontational; foreboding an essential warning about the country's dependence on America's manic commercial obsession. Its a race against the clock for many young artists in Ontario; as tax-funds and other financial resources are green-lit in favour of supporting corporate productions. In the film's dramatic context, Research in Motion's movie nights are penalised for the manufactured sanctity of a rushed prototype. As their traditions are broken, and their celebrations of media are repressed, Johnson's self-referential comedy sours within its purposefully laborious third-act. What does the future hold for the young entrepreneurs of the 21st century, as they are forced into a commercial prison of capitalist greed?

The film's grim final scene only flags a darker warning. The narrative at the core of Blackberry isn't just a cautionary tale. It's an urgent reminder of our doomed path for failure; unless filmmakers, producers, and financiers in Canada's ever-growing film industry finally acknowledge our instability. With Johnson's film now acquired for global distribution via Paramount Pictures, his cinematic insight on the importance of media consumption and preservation will finally flourish in a new limelight. A new era is in-store for new generations of Canadian artists. Blackberry is a quintessential Ontarian comedy and the most unabashedly Canadian cinematic endeavour since Matthew Rankin's The Twentieth Century (2019).

Still Courtesy – Elevation Pictures
Blackberry premiered in the  Competition as part of the 73rd Berlin Film Festival. Paramount will release the film in the coming months.