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Seven ways to make the most of Berlinale 2016

The 66th Berlinale, Europe's first major film festival of the year, starts Thursday. With the festival open to all, here are seven reasons to get excited.

Seven ways to make the most of Berlinale 2016
George and Amal Clooney will be on the red carpet. Photo: DPA

Clooney in a miniskirt

Germany harbours a special love for Hollywood charmer George Clooney, a frequent and honoured guest at the Berlinale.

The festival will open with a gala screening of his new movie, Joel and Ethan Coen's “Hail, Caesar!”, and Clooney is expected on the red carpet with his wife Amal along with co-stars Channing Tatum, Tilda Swinton and this year's jury president Meryl Streep.

In what the Coens have called the third in a “Numbskull Trilogy” with Clooney, the actor plays a dimwitted 1950s movie star appearing in a swords-and-sandals epic.

The German papers say hearts are already aflutter at the prospect of Gorgeous George in a Roman soldier's metal miniskirt.

Masterclass with Meryl

Meryl Streep. Photo: DPA

Streep will be doing her first stint at film festival jury duty.

But on February 14, Valentine's Day no less, she will take a break from sizing up the 18 contenders for the Golden Bear top prize to give a master class to a few hundred lucky young actors.

The festival's Talent Campus says the three-time Oscar winner, master of accents and feminist icon will impart “her experience from decades at the top of the acting profession”.

Cinema as endurance sport

The German language, of course, has a word to describe the patience and perseverance required to sit through something extremely long: Sitzfleisch.

A Filipino contender by director Lav Diaz weighs in at more than eight hours long, with an hour's break scheduled around the halfway mark.

It is the longest entry ever to vie for the Golden Bear in the festival's 66-year history.

“A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery” is described as a tableau of the tumultuous political history of the Philippines and will occupy the Berlinale Palast main venue for an entire day.

Streep may be pronouncing Sitzfleisch with an impeccable German accent before the screening is out.

Fallada returns

Vincent Perez and Emma Thompson on set in July 2015. Photo: DPA

Many call Hans Fallada's 1947 novel “Alone in Berlin” the greatest work of fiction ever set in the German capital.

The Nazi-era thriller, based on a true story, depicts German parents whose only son falls in battle, prompting them to mount a daring resistance campaign against Hitler.

The first English-language film adaptation of the international bestseller stars two-time Oscar winner Emma Thompson and Irish actor Brendan Gleeson as the pair who risk everything to take a principled stand.

One-two Punch

Two of the most outspoken voices in US filmmaking, Spike Lee and Michael Moore, will give back-to-back press conferences on February 16 after the European premieres of their latest films.

Lee will sit down with reporters to discuss “Chi-Raq”, a music-infused satire of gun violence in Chicago.

But no prizes for guessing that the conversation will also hit the Oscars race controversy, gun violence and the US presidential race.

And while Moore will be plugging his documentary “Where to Invade Next”, expect him to hold forth on the Syrian refugees he has taken in to his Michigan home and the Flint water contamination scandal, to name just two issues.

Personal stories

Miles Davis. Photo: DPA

Biopics are all the rage this year so expect long queues for these high-profile releases:

Don Cheadle, perhaps best known as Robert Downey Jr's sidekick in the “Iron Man” films, will appear in his own passion project about jazz icon Miles Davis, “Miles Ahead”, for which he raised a large chunk of the financing on crowdfunding website Indiegogo.

In “A Quiet Passion”, “Sex and the City” star Cynthia Nixon takes an unlikely turn as mysterious 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson.

Meanwhile Germany's first feature on the Jewish teenage diarist Anne Frank, who died at Bergen-Belsen, will have its world premiere.

And Oscar winner Colin Firth leads an all-star cast in “Genius” portraying American literary editor Max Perkins who polished the manuscripts of Thomas Wolfe (played by Jude Law), Ernest Hemingway (Dominic West) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (Guy Pearce).

The Local Lingo

The main competition offers up a global smorgasbord of cinema to delight the most fervent of movie lovers, with contestants from Portugal, China, Canada, and Bosnia to name a few.

Disappointingly, there is only one German language film fighting to win the Golden Bear.

But it promises to be a good one, with Bjarne Mädel – one of Germany’s brightest comedic talents – in a lead role alongside Berlin actress Julia Jentsch.

The film tells the story of how the couple’s life is turned upside down by the discovery that their unborn child is seriously ill. With Jentsch playing a professional comedian, the film promises tears and laughs in equal measure.

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WOMEN

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers

To celebrate the works of women in the German film industry, and at the conclusion of this year's special outdoor Berlinale, we have compiled a list of seven must-watch German films directed by women. 

7 ground-breaking German movies made by female filmmakers
A scene from System Crasher. credit: picture alliance/dpa/ZDF | Peter Hartwig

This year’s Oscars marked the first time in its almost 100-year history that two female filmmakers – Chloé Zhao and Emerald Fennell – were nominated in the Best Director category. Only five women have ever been nominated for this award. Zhao took home the gong, becoming just the second woman ever to do so.

In 2021’s Berlinale Festival, 60 percent of the films in the Generation category were directed by women — with 75 percent of female filmmakers making up the Kplus selection (a category for younger audiences).

Here is a look at seven films by some of the most influential female directors in German cinema.

Never Sleep Again (1992) — Pia Frankenberg

Featured in Berlinale’s Retrospective series, meant to showcase female filmmakers, this film is written, directed and produced by Cologne-born filmmaker, Pia Frankenberg.

The film follows three female friends through post-unification Berlin, who are making their way to a wedding when their car breaks down. They wander through the streets of former East Berlin, roaming in and out of bars meeting men. 

The dilapidated sites of the former Cold War frontier city, still scarred by World War II, become a place for sheer endless personal experimentation where the women begin to reconfigure their lives and loves.

Frankenberg’s impressionistic portrait of three women in the city reflects on the state of the newly unified Germany, where for a moment all possibilities seemed radically open. (Available on Mubi, Binged)

The German Sisters (1981) — Margarethe Von Trotta 

Considered one of the classics of the New German Cinema movement, The German Sisters tells an intimate story of Germany. 

Based on the real-life story of the Enslein sisters, it is an expression of director Margarethe Von Trotta’s combination of the personal and the political. It’s the story of Juliane, a feminist journalist and her sister, Marianne, who is a terrorist revolutionary. The film, which won six awards at the Venice Film Festival including the Golden Lion, was Margarethe Von Trotta’s third film and first collaboration with Barbara Sukowa. The director-actor duo went on to do six more films together. (Available on Mubi, Prime)

Margarethe Von Trotta on set in 1975. Photo: dpa | Bertram

Toni Erdmann (2016) — Maren Ade 

Toni Erdmann is a German-Austrian comedy which was directed, written and co-produced by Maren Ade. The film, which premiered in competition at the Cannes Film Festival, was named the best film of 2016. 

Meant to showcase the intricacies of a father-daughter relationship, the film pairs carefully constructed, three-dimensional characters in a tenderly funny character study. A hard-working woman reluctantly agrees to spend time with her estranged father when he unexpectedly arrives.

As a practical joker, the father does his best to reconnect by pretending to be her CEO’s life coach. (Available on Mubi, Kanopy, Prime, Vudu)

I Was at Home, But (2019) — Angela Schanelec 

I was at home, but (Ich war zuhause, aber) is a 2019 German drama film directed by Angela Schanelec. At the Berlinale that year, Schanelec won the Silver Bear for Best Director. 

The film is a story about a 13-year-old student, Phillip, who disappears without a trace for a week and suddenly reappears. 

It maps the existential crises his mother and teachers are confronted with that change their whole view of life. The film features several plots, which tell the stories of several people who are all connected to Phillip in some way. It has scenes with long silences, to contrast ones with heavy dialogue, which critics believe makes this film a cinematic masterpiece. (Available on Apple iTunes, Google Play Movies, Vudu, or rent on YouTube).

The Audition (2019) — Ina Weisse

This film has been described as a symphonic study of human behaviour. It’s the story of a violin teacher, who takes great interest in mentoring a student for an audition. Anna, the violinist and teacher played by Nina Hoss, shows plenty of compassion toward the boy at first, but their relationship becomes much more strained as the date of Alexander’s audition nears and Anna begins to put him through musical torture. Come the day of the exam, events take a tragic turn. (Available on Amazon Prime Video)

Pelican Blood (2019) — Katrin Gebbe 

Pelican Blood is written and directed by Katrin Gebbe, who won the 2014 Preis der Deutschen Filmkritik (German Film Critics’ Prize) for her first film.

It tells the story of a woman who trains police horses. She adopts her second child, a severely traumatised five-year-old girl. When the girl shows violent and anti-social behaviour, her new mother becomes determined to help her.

The film has been described as raising fascinating questions – how do you draw boundaries for a child who seems to ignore them or even takes a perverse pleasure in overstepping them? What can you do as a parent when you realize that your love and protection aren’t enough? (Available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime)

System Crasher (2019) — Nora Fingscheidt

Another film about a rebellious child, System Crasher picked up a whopping eight German Film Awards after its release in 2019.

The film has a powerful political message about the inadequacies of the universal child care system. The protagonist, Benni, is a violent nine-year-old girl who suffers from psychotic episodes. Her key social worker, Frau Bafané, tries to get Benni into special schools or facilities; dozens turn her down and Benni is too young to be effectively sectioned as an inpatient.

In an interview with The Guardian, Fingscheidt says, “There’s a very German dimension to the film in the obsession with bureaucracy, with rules that need to be adhered to. Rules like, ‘this child cannot stay in this home because they are getting too emotionally attached,’ when that institution may be the first place where a child has begun to open up.”

The film has received an incredible amount of international recognition, garnering 45 international awards. (Available on Netflix)

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