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CULTURE

Germany holds virtual Berlinale film festival

With theatres shuttered due to the coronavirus outbreak, Europe’s first major cinema showcase of the year begins in Berlin on Monday.

Germany holds virtual Berlinale film festival
German actress Paula Beer poses with the trophy "Silver Bear for Best Actress" during the awarding ceremony of the 70th Berlinale film festival in Berlin on February 29, 2020. Photo: Tobias Schwarz / AFP

Due to the pandemic The Berlinale has been pushed back by a month, put online and divided into two parts as the movie industry struggles to find its feet. Now in its 71st year, The Berlinale will hold the competition virtually for critics, reporters and rights buyers from 1st-5th March. 

For the second stage, organisers hope to invite stars and screen the films for the general public in June, mainly at open-air cinemas. Last year’s event, one of the last before the pandemic, sold more than 330,000 tickets.

The festival has also gone “gender neutral” with its acting awards — best actress and best actor prizes are history, replaced with best lead and supporting performance.

Industry watchers say that despite severe restrictions on making and screening movies, the Berlinale has managed to pull together an exciting lineup.

“I’m pleasantly surprised that they were able to get what looks like a pretty impressive collection of solid movies together for this festival,” Scott Roxborough, European bureau chief for The Hollywood Reporter, told AFP.

The world premiere of a documentary about music legend Tina Turner and an “impressive” pack of pandemic-era movies will take the spotlight at an all-virtual Berlin film festival starting on March 1, 2021. Photo: by Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

‘Uncertain times’

One of the hottest titles is “Tina”, a star-studded HBO documentary about the queen of rock’n’roll by Oscar winners Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin (“Undefeated”) to be released on March 27.

The film features never-before-seen concert footage, interviews with the 81-year-old superstar and recollections from the likes of Angela Bassett and Oprah Winfrey.

Directors including Emmy winner Maria Schrader (“Unorthodox”), German-Spanish actor Daniel Bruehl (“Rush”) and France’s Celine Sciamma (“Portrait of a Lady on Fire”) will be premiering new work in competition.

All 15 contenders for the top prizes to be awarded on Friday are films that were made or in post-production during the pandemic.

Berlinale artistic director Carlo Chatrian said the selection captures “the uncertain times we are experiencing”.

Bruehl, who starred in the bittersweet German comedy “Good Bye, Lenin” and is now part of the Captain America franchise, will make his directorial debut with “Next Door”, a black comedy about gentrification.

Schrader will unveil “I’m Your Man”, a sci-fi comedy about a woman falling for a custom-made Mr Right, played by British actor Dan Stevens (“Beauty and the Beast”) while Sciamma offers up “Petite Maman”, a magical realist look at girlhood.

One of Romania’s top filmmakers, Radu Jude, is back with the intriguingly titled “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” about a teacher whose sex tape winds up on the internet.

Hong Sang-soo of South Korea, who won best director in Berlin last year for “The Woman Who Ran”, will show “Introduction”, vying against titles from Japan, Mexico and Lebanon.

 
Bear trophies for the upcoming 71st Berlinale film festival are displayed during a media tour at the Noack foundry in Berlin. Photo: Hannibal Hanschke/AFP)

Watching under house arrest

The Berlinale comes at a complicated time for the industry.

With the glamour of the red carpet and the magic of the big-screen experience sorely lacking, Roxborough said festivals were still “experimenting” with formats as the pandemic drags on.

“A danger of these virtual festivals is that even critics can’t get super excited about watching films at home,” he said.

“They have to have some kind of communal experience to go crazy for the movie that nobody’s heard about but that now everybody just has to see.”

Cannes hopes to hold its festival in July after being cancelled last year.

Venice managed to benefit from a break in high infection levels to take place last September with a range of special precautions.

But this winter, with the second wave raging, Sundance was held online.

The Berlinale jury will be made up of six previous Golden Bear winners including last year’s laureate, dissident Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, who claimed the prize for “There Is No Evil” about capital punishment.

Five of the members will all stay at the same hotel and sit, physically distanced, in a Berlin cinema made specially available under lockdown, while Rasoulof will watch from Tehran under house arrest.

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CULTURE

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.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: The best events and festivals in Germany this July

‘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.

Stückl

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

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