Berlin is a fantastic city. A Mecca of modern history, known for its nightlife and culture. It is one of the most artistic cities I’ve visited. The pinnacle of all this artistic expression for the city is Berlinale or, more commonly, the Berlin Film Festival. If you find yourself in Berlin for a few days look here for activities. However, if you want to immerse yourself in some lesser known, but quality, film titles, keep on reading.
Germany has a distinguished film history. Starting, most notably with the Expressionist movement which reached its peak in the 1920’s. Nosferatu and the films of Fritz Lang are usually the most famous. I recommend M and Metropolis if you have a thing for the classics. Goebbels was a big fan of films and used his stature as Propaganda Minister to produce many, many pro-regime films during the Nazi period. After their fall and the rise of the wall East Germany continued production (because most facilities lay on their side of the wall) but productions began to wain by the 1970’s there. In West Germany, there were many notable names that began to rise out of the New German Cinema movement. Most notably: Werner Herzog, Michael Rainier Fassbinder, and Wim Wenders. While these along with other people revitalized the country’s cinema, it too began to run into issues with funding by the 80’s and a lot of the big names began to take their productions international by that period. Since the fall of the wall a reunited Germany has once again seen a resurgence with much international acclaim (Run, Lola, Run; The Lives of Others and The Counterfeiters, The White Ribbon, Funny Games). Wenders and Herzog both have new films at the festival this year. Wenders also lent some of his classics for screenings throughout the week.
This year’s jury for the largest publicly attended film festival in the world was headed by Darren Aronofsky whose films have ranged from the mainstream (Noah) to the abstract (The Fountain) to somewhere in between (Requiem for a Dream). When compared to Cannes, Europe’s most well known festival, the complaints are often that it is more about the stars than the films themselves these days, especially compared to Berlinale.
Films were taken from all over the world that were meant to illustrate societies from an authentic point of view. There were many spectacular films that screened, and others that were less so. Below are a few of the most notable films that premiered at the festival this year.
Al-Hob wa Al-Sariqa wa Mashakel Ukhra (Love, Theft, and Other Entanglements)
A Palestinian film that is supposed to be an homage to the French New Wave about a man, Mousa, who steals car parts on the Israeli side of Jerusalem and sells them to the Palestinian side until one day he discovers something in the trunk of one of these cars. This takes Mousa away from his detached existence in the divided city into the middle of the conflict.
A beautifully shot film with a unique perspective on the present day conflict in a commonly talked about region that is a callback to one of the biggest movements in film history.
Knight of Cups
The enigmatic Terrence Malick follow up to To the Wonder stars Christian Bale as a man coasting through a hedonistic existence in Hollywood with little meaning. An abstract film that seemed to be very polarizing at the festival. It leaves a lot of people satisfied with its lack of a cohesive narrative. Others enjoy the cinematography from Emmanuel Lubezki (Birdman, Gravity, Children of Men) that hovers smoothly. Will definitely get a wide release in the US and is a good one if you’re a fan of Malick and his works like Tree of Life.
A Chilean film that was mentioned to be seeing a lot of awards this upcoming year walked away with the Silver Bear in Berlin. A reserved thriller about a group of Catholic Priests that welcome a newcomer and immediately begin to face accusations. An investigator comes in, but is he really there to investigate the truth? A telling film about hypocrisies within the Church and man himself.
Another film purporting to be a look into the culture of Nations not seen often (never been to Guatemala, so can’t speak to the authenticity). When Maria, a Maya, living on a plantation at the base of a volcano is getting ready to marry the farm foreman she seduces another coffee harvester who plans on running away to the USA. Director Jayro Bustamante went to villages of current day Maya living in Guatemala and asked about their daily lives and stories to get an idea of their experience and routines to create a film that was not about Mayan life, but rather a film that actually springs from the Mayan existence.
Finally, winner of the Golden Bear (also the coolest award for a film festival) for best film. It was directed by Jafar Panahi of Iran. The director/star of this film (who is currently an outlaw for his refusal to abide by Iranian censorship policies) gives an inside look into everyday life through conversations with everyday people. An honest and funny portrait that uses Panahi’s charisma to carry a one location film to the festival’s highest honor.
There are tons of other notable titles including: Cobain: Montage of Heck and Bloodline. Also, there an array of classics from the 60’s and 70’s, not only from German cinema, but Hollywood as well. The lineup also included numerous selections from France, Italy, Senegal, Argentina, Thailand, Russia, and many others. All in all, it has a TON of films that are worth checking out if you’re into festival films, but also like things that are a little mainstream as well.