Berlinale film festival opens

The 59th annual Berlinale kicked off on February 5, promising 11 days packed full of films, parties and red carpet star sightings. There’s no better way to while away the post-holiday winter blues in Germany than losing yourself in velvety cinema darkness.

Berlinale film festival opens
Photo: DPA

Berlin is abuzz with final preparations for jampacked festival. Join in and pick up a schedule to start working your way through the 383 film titles – of the record 6,107 submitted this year – and then make plans to grab your tickets for screenings at the 20 different venues. The main bulk of events begins on Friday, but be forewarned, tickets go quickly.

The Berlinale, second only to festivals in Cannes and Venice, opens this year with the world-premiere of German director Tom Tykwer’s finance world thriller “The International,” staring Naomi Watts and Clive Owen.

“The whole film is about this huge, faceless multi-billion-dollar bank who I believe to be corrupt and try to convince people, and try to bring them down,” Owen told news agency AFP on Thursday.

“The big questions in the movie are: do banks use our money appropriately? Can you trust them? Are they corrupt? Now the questions have been hugely to the fore in the last six months with what’s been going on.”

Festival director Dieter Kosslick said last week that when organisers chose the film to headline the Berlinale, they didn’t know it would mirror the grim reality of the global financial crisis. But he said that “film, like every art form, can act like a seismograph for societal movement.”

The movie will not screen in the festival’s feature-length competition, but a jury of seven led by Oscar-winner Tilda Swinton will pick the winner of the Golden Bear from among 18 other films on February 14. Competitors for the coveted award include “Rage,” a film about the New York fashion world starring Dame Judi Dench, Jude Law, Steve Buschemi and Dianne Wiest; “The Private Lives of Pippa Lee,” with Robin Wright Penn, Keanu Reeves, Julianne Moore and Winona Ryder; and Michelle Williams and Gael Garcia Bernal in “Mammoth.”

Among the thousands of film industry heavies, cinema lovers and hopeful young filmmakers that will descend on the German capital, Kate Winslet, Tommy Lee Jones, Steve Martin, Renee Zellweger, Michelle Pfeiffer, Aishwarya Rai, and Demi Moore, and other stars are expected to take to the red carpet.

Apart from the official Berlinale competition, the festival features nine other categories with a film to please every palate, including the kids. To mark the 20th anniversary of the peaceful revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989, the series “After Winter Comes Spring – Films Presaging the Fall of the Wall” will screen pre-revolution films from Eastern Europe and Germany.

There will also be a retrospective of films in 70-millimetre format that includes classics like Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Mutiny on the Bounty” with the legendary Marlon Brando.

Those looking to get down with the locals can beef up on their Deutsch with the 12 films in the German programme. Meanwhile there’s an oh-so-German film industry trade fair, a lecture series for aspiring filmmakers, a kids movie programme, culinary cinema events and a short film competition to round out the a world-class selection of difficult choices.

Showcase films this year include Tykwer’s opener “The International,” along with:

“Alle Anderen,” (Everyone Else), Maren Ade, Germany

“Cheri,” Stephen Frears, Britain/Germany/France

“Darbareye Elly” (About Elly), Asghar Farhadi, Iran

“Deutschland 09,” Fatih Akin, Tom Tykwer, Wolfgang Becker, Sylke Enders, Dominik Graf, Christoph Hochhaeusler, Romuald Karmakar, Dani Levy, Nicolette Krebitz, Angela Schanelec, Isabelle Stever, Hans Steinbichler and Hans Weingartner, Germany (out of competition)

“Mei Lanfang” (Forever Enthralled), Chen Kaige, China

“Gigante,” Adrian Biniez, Uruguay/Germany/Argentina/Netherlands

“Happy Tears,” Mitchell Lichtenstein, US

“In the Electric Mist,” Bertrand Tavernier, France/US

“I skoni tou chronou” (The Dust of Time), Theo Angelopoulos,

Greece/Italy/Germany/Russia (out of competition)

“Katalin Varga,” Peter Strickland, Romania/Britain/Hungary

“La Teta Asustada” (The Milk of Sorrow) Claudia Llosa, Spain/Peru

“Lille Soldat” (Little Soldier), Annette K. Olesen, Denmark

“London River,” Rachid Bouchareb, Algeria/France/Britain

“Mammoth,” Lukas Moodysson, Sweden/Germany/Denmark

“The Messenger,” Oren Moverman, US

“My One and Only,” Richard Loncraine, US

“Notorious,” George Tillman Jr, US (out of competition)

“Pink Panther 2,” Harald Zwart, US (out of competition)

“The Private Lives of Pippa Lee,” Rebecca Miller, US (out of competition)

“Rage,” Sally Potter, Britain/US

“The Reader,” Stephen Daldry, US/Germany (out of competition)

“Ricky,” Francois Ozon, France/Italy

“Sturm” (Storm), Hans-Christian Schmid, Germany/Denmark

“Tatarak” (Sweet Rush), Andrzej Wajda, Poland

Check back at The Local for our English-language film and venue picks, tips, interviews, features and more as the Berlinale kicks off this week.


German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Walk around the German Alpine village of Oberammergau, and the chances are you'll run into Jesus or one of his 12 disciples.

German town resurrects 400-year-old biblical play tradition

Of the 5,500 people living there, 1,400 — aged from three months to 85 — are participating this year in the once-a-decade staging of an elaborate “Passion Play” depicting the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Dating back to 1634, the tradition has persisted through four centuries of wars, religious turmoil and pandemics — including the most recent Covid-19 crisis which caused the show to be postponed by two years.

“I think we’re a bit stubborn,” says Frederic Mayet, 42, when asked how the village has managed to hold on to the tradition.

Mayet, who is playing Jesus for the second time this year, says the Passion Play has become a big part of the town’s identity.

Oberammergau Passion Plays

Posters for the 42nd Oberammergau Passion Play – which was originally scheduled to take place in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmth

The only prerequisite for taking part in the five-hour show, whether as an actor, chorister or backstage assistant, is that you were born in Oberammergau or have lived here for at least 20 years.

“I remember that we talked about it in kindergarten. I didn’t really know what it was about, but of course I wanted to take part,” says Cengiz Gorur, 22, who is playing Judas.

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‘Hidden talent’ 

The tradition, which dates back to the Thirty Years’ War, was born from a belief that staging the play would help keep the town safe from disease.

Legend has it that, after the first performance, the plague disappeared from the town.

In the picturesque Alpine village, Jesus and his disciples are everywhere — from paintings on the the facades of old houses to carved wooden figures in shop windows.

You also can’t help feeling that there is a higher-than-average quota of men with long hair and beards wandering the streets.

Religious figurines Oberammergau

Religious figurines adorn a shop window in Oberammergau. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

An intricate image of Jesus graces the stage of the open-air Passion Play theatre, where the latest edition of the show is being held from mid-May to October 2nd.

“What has always fascinated me is the quality of the relationship between all the participants, young and old. It’s a beautiful community, a sort of ‘Passion’ family,” says Walter Lang, 83.

He’s just sad that his wife, who died in February, will not be among the participants this year.

“My parents met at a Passion Play, and I also met my future wife at one,” says Andreas Rödl, village mayor and choir member.

Gorur, who has Turkish roots, was spotted in 2016 by Christian Stückl, the head of the Munich People’s Theatre who will direct the play for the fourth time this year.

“I didn’t really know what to do with my life. I probably would have ended up selling cars, the typical story,” he laughs.

Now, he’s due to start studying drama in Munich this autumn.

“I’ve discovered my hidden talent,” he says.

READ ALSO: Nine of the best day trips from Munich with the €9 ticket

Violence, poverty and sickness

Stückl “has done a lot for the reputation of the show, which he has revolutionised” over the past 40 years, according to Barbara Schuster, 35, a human resources manager who is playing Mary Magdalene.

“Going to the Passion Play used to be like going to mass. Now it’s a real theatrical show,” she says.

In the 1980s, Stückl cut all the parts of the text that accused the Jews of being responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, freeing the play from anti-Semitic connotations.

“Hitler had used the Passion Play for his propaganda,” Schuster points out.


Christian Stückl, the director of the Oberammergau Passion Play, holds a press conference announcing the cancellation of the play in 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Angelika Warmuth

The play’s themes of violence, poverty and sickness are reflected in today’s world through the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic, say Mayet, the actor playing Jesus.

“Apparently we have the same problems as 2,000 years ago,” he says.

For 83-year-old Lang, who is playing a peasant this year, the “Hallelujah” after Christ has risen for the final time in October will be a particularly moving moment.

“Because we don’t know if we’ll be there again next time,” he says, his eyes filling with tears.

By Isabelle Le Page