Love in the time of corona in focus at Berlin festival

The Berlin film festival has delivered on a promise of "crazy, intoxicating" love stories at its 72nd edition, with diverse movies exploring infatuation and loss around the pandemic-racked world.

Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack during a Berlinale photo call.
Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack during a Berlinale photo call. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Gerald Matzka

In time for Valentine’s Day, Europe’s first major cinema showcase of the year has rolled out a programme telling the kind of intimate tales perfectly suited to lockdown-era filmmaking.

Acclaimed French director Claire Denis unveiled “Both Sides of the Blade”, a powerful drama about mature romance and sudden betrayal starring Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon of last year’s Cannes winner “Titane”.

The two play Sara and Jean, a Parisian couple who become ensnared in a love triangle when her former boyfriend resurfaces as Jean’s new business partner.

READ ALSO: In-person Berlin fest stands up to pandemic and streaming

Although Sara and Jean still share deep love and an active sex life, she starts to find his presence suffocating — not least while cooped up due to Covid — and begins meeting her ex for secret trysts.

“When you are yourself torn between a past and a present or between two loves, this impossibility to go back once desire is set in motion — that’s a complex situation,” Binoche told AFP.

“There is no right or wrong solution… you just have to get through it as dignified and honestly as possible.”

Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon attend the premier of their film 'Both sides of the blade' at Berlinale.

Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon attend the premier of their film ‘Both Sides of the Blade’ at Berlinale. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Gerald Matzka

Shedding ‘shame’

Younger men awakening passion in older women takes centre stage in “A E I O U – A Quick Alphabet of Love”, starring Austrian theatre star Sophie Rois, and “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” with Emma Thompson.

While Rois tutors a purse snatcher who ends up seducing her during diction lessons in her flat, Thompson’s widow character seeks instruction from a charming sex worker, having never had an orgasm in her long marriage.

The British actress said the comedy, which was rapturously received at its live premiere after screening online at Sundance last month, felt radical
because it showed an ageing woman shedding “shame” about her body.

“I don’t think that female pleasure’s ever been at the top of the list of things that the world wants to make sure (women) have,” she told reporters.

“I think if you went into the British countryside and the German countryside and the French countryside and asked all the old ladies who were sitting on their stoops in the sun, ‘How many orgasms have you had?’ you’d be surprised.”

A Berlinale employee sorts through the festival's bum bags.

A Berlinale employee sorts through the festival’s bum bags. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Jens Kalaene

In one of the festival’s highlight performances, French actor Denis Menochet in “Peter von Kant” plays a successful director waylaid by his passion for a capricious young actor.

Director Francois Ozon said the performance worked because Menochet showed the humbling nature of love.

“I was trying to bring out the suffering of Peter von Kant — he’s not very lovable until you see him suffering.”

‘Against the odds’

Tragic loss has also preoccupied many of the world’s directors during the pandemic, with the tender Chinese drama “Return to Dust” and “A Piece of Sky”, set in majestic Alpine vistas, moving Berlin audiences to tears.

Chinese director Li Ruijun, 39, tells the tale of Cao, the timid fourth son of a rural family, and the disabled Ma, who are cast off by their clans and pushed into an arranged marriage.

Despite their isolation and grinding poverty in remote Gansu Province, an unexpected love blossoms between them.

Li, unable to attend the festival due to coronavirus restrictions, wrote that he wanted to tell a story of “eternal love, against the odds”.

“A Piece of Sky” shows a young waitress and a farmhand who stay devoted to each other even as his personality changes drastically due to a brain tumour.

Their battle with illness plays out against the backdrop of stunning mountain landscapes, something Swiss director Michael Koch said reminded people that much in life is beyond their control.

“From time to time nature reveals its destructive potential and anyone who grows up in the mountains has an awareness that in the end nature is always stronger than you,” Koch, also 39, told AFP.

He said love, too, had a way of reminding people of their powerlessness.

“Love is bigger than you and if you have it, it’s so strong that doesn’t matter what happens, it will remain.”

By Deborah COLE

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Berlin weighs up free public transport ticket for summer

Just a few weeks before the €9 ticket is due to be released, the Berlin Senate is mulling a new idea to offer free summer travel for people who sign up to subscriptions.

Berlin weighs up free public transport ticket for summer

According to reports in regional newspaper Tagesspiegel, the transport administration has pitched a three-month €0 ticket for customers that would run alongside the €9 ticket with the aim of pulling in new long-term customers.

In a letter obtained by Tagesschau and regional broadcaster RBB, the transport administration department told parliament that the free ticket would be exclusively available for new and existing season-ticket and subscription holders. 

“It is currently being discussed in Berlin to lower the prices for season tickets to €0 in the campaign months as an alternative to the €9 monthly ticket,” they wrote.

This could win over new customers and encourage them to start rolling subscriptions, they argued.  

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to get hold of the €9 travel ticket in Berlin

The free ticket would run from the start of June until the end of August – just like the national €9 ticket – though it’s unclear if it would only be usable for local public transport in Berlin or if, like its €9 counterpart, regional and local routes nationwide would also be included in the offer. 

Pandemic effect

Since the Covid-19 pandemic, Berlin and Brandenburg’s transport operators have lost a number of their original customers. Some have switched to cars or bicycles while others are simply travelling less due to continued home office or less post-pandemic socialising. 

Fewer subscriptions – known as Abos – have been sold by S-Bahn and BVG this year. The operators are concerned that this could lead to significant revenue losses over time.

By dangling the carrot of free transport, the Senate is hoping that it can encourage some of these customers to return over summer and start paying for subscriptions when autumn rolls around.

However, the transport administration has pointed out that talks with the federal government, other federal states, transport associations and the companies involved have not yet been concluded.

“There are different models and therefore many parties to be involved,” transport administration spokesman Jan Thomsen told RBB. “A decision is still open.”

According to the Senate’s estimates, the €0 scheme would cost Berlin around €22 million. 

READ ALSO: What tourists visiting Germany need to know about the €9 ticket