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FILM

Star-packed Berlin film fest promises laughs in dark times

Penelope Cruz, Hugh Jackman, Catherine Deneuve, Richard Gere and Robert Pattinson are among the high-wattage stars due on the red carpet at February's Berlin film festival, organisers said Tuesday as they unveiled the line-up.

Star-packed Berlin film fest promises laughs in dark times
The Berlinale's famous bear trophies. Photo: DPA

The 67th Berlinale is the first major cinema showcase in Europe each year and presents nearly 400 productions from around the world.

The 11-day event will kick off in the German capital on February 9th with the world premiere of the French biopic “Django” about Gypsy-jazz great Django Reinhardt and his family's persecution in Nazi-occupied Paris.

Eighteen films will vie for the Golden Bear top prize, which last year went to harrowing Italian refugee documentary “Fire at Sea” from a jury led by Meryl Streep.

This year Dutch director Paul Verhoeven (“Basic Instinct”, “Elle”) will lead the seven-member jury including US actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson and Mexican actor and director Diego Luna (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”).

Berlinale chief Dieter Kosslick told reporters that the event, known as the most politically minded of Europe's top festivals, would shine a light on what he called dark times in the West.

“The programme we have put together features films that deal with themes of courage and confidence and do it with a whole lot of humour,” he said.

“You never know what is going to be happening in the world when you start assembling the line-up but it's as if the filmmakers were able to look into the future and see current developments. But despite all the turmoil in the world, it's an upbeat programme.”

Veterans and popcorn fare

In keeping with its long post-war tradition, the festival will mix arthouse cinema from European veterans including Poland's Agnieszka Holland (“Europa Europa”), Britain's Sally Potter, Germany's Volker Schloendorff, previous Golden Bear winner Calin Peter Netzer of Romania and Aki Kaurismaki of Finland with popcorn fare.

The latest Wolverine instalment of the X-Men superhero series “Logan” starring Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Richard E. Grant will have its world premiere in Berlin and “T2: Trainspotting”, the sequel to the drug-fuelled Scottish cult classic will get a gala screening.

Potter (“Orlando”), one of four women directors in competition, has pulled together a cast including Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Kristin Scott Thomas and Timothy Spall for the comedy “The Party” set in a house in present-day London.

Gere stars with Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall and Chloe Sevigny in the thriller “The Dinner” by US director Oren Moverman (“Love & Mercy”), an adaptation of the Dutch novel by Herman Koch.

Cruz joins Mandy Patinkin (“Homeland”) in the Spanish production “The Queen of Spain” set in the 1950s under Franco, screening in the Berlinale Special sidebar section.

French production “The Midwife” by Martin Provost stars Deneuve as the mysterious former mistress of the title character's father.

And Pattinson is due in Berlin for a screening of James Gray's “The Lost City of Z” an adaptation of a bestseller by David Grann of the New Yorker.

 

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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