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Around The World In 14 Films: The Best Of 2021

Around The World In 14 Films returns to the KulturBrauerei and two other cinemas this year to wave goodbye to 2021 in style.

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This year’s Venice winner L’Evenement (Happening) is screening at ATWI14F Film Festival. (Photo: Wild Bunch)

Usually for film festival previews, it’s relatively easy to single out a select few recommendations from a line-up, but the Around The World In 14 Films has made it a blissful nightmare this year: to say their 16th edition spoils us for choice is an insult to being spoiled.

The “Festival of festivals”, which each year curates a dizzyingly strong line-up of films that have premiered in the past year’s film festivals, continues to offer German premieres from Dec 2-11 and have outdone themselves by doubling down: it’s 2×14 films this year. So, 14 films in competition, supported by another 14-strong programme to cast an even wider cinematic net, not only in Kino in der KulturBrauerei, but now also in Delphi Lux and Neues Off.

Seriously, who said we can’t have nice things in 2021?

The diverse programme is Cannes-heavy, and no one’s complaining: the likes of Sean Baker’s Red Rocket, about a washed-up porn star who feels unwelcome when he returns to his small Texas hometown, Asghar Farhadi’s thrilling A Hero, Luàna Bajrami’s sublime The Hill Where Lionesses Roar and Joachim Trier’s exuberantly witty and disarmingly sincere The Worst Person in the World, all represent the very best La Croisette had to offer this year. As a sizeable bonus, lead actress Renate Reinsve – who won the Best Actress award in Cannes – will make the trip to present the film to Berlin audiences.

There are also two must-sees from Berlinale laureates: Ahed’s Knee, Nadav Lapid’s first film since his Golden Bear-winning 2019 film Synonyms, and Drive My Car, the second 2021 offering from Japanese filmmaker Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, whose superb Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy won this year’s Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize. Don’t miss these, and whatever you do, don’t skip a Tilda Swinton double-bill – a Swintravaganza, if you will – of Joanna Hogg’s The Souvenir Part II, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s utterly mesmeric Memoria (which shared Cannes’ Jury Prize with Ahed’s Knee).

Also of note are several Venice alumni, including Pedro Almodóvar’s Madres Paralelas (Parallel Mothers) and 2021’s Golden Lion winner, Audrey Diwan’s L’Événement (Happening).

Parallel Mothers is the Spanish maestro’s most political film to date, as he draws a parallel between the fates of two soon-to-be mothers and the lingering scars of the Spanish civil war. While the two thematic strands never quite convincingly mesh, the trauma of loss is explored in a heartfelt way, and it’s worth watching for the performances, with Penélope Cruz having won the coveted Volpi Cup for Best Actress.

As for Happening, its win marked the second consecutive year a film directed by a woman has won Venice’s top prize, following Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland in 2020. Beyond this historic win, the film is an outstanding achievement in and of itself, a gripping story featuring a note-perfect performance by Anamaria Vartolomei. Adapted from the best-selling autobiographical novel by Annie Ernaux, this drama focuses on a student’s determination to find a way to terminate her pregnancy in order to continue with her studies and her life. The thing is that the story is set in France in 1963: abortion is illegal and those who seek a clandestine abortion risk it all in a “lottery”: if caught, it’s either a prison term or death. While the film doesn’t use the right to choose as a political football or a partisan issue, and never stumbles into didacticism, it remains a depressingly timely film and a must-see. Both Audrey Diwan and Anamaria Vartolomei will be in attendance to present the film.

The festival takes its bow on the 11th with two stunners: Pablo Larraín’s unconventional (and mildly overhyped) tragi-fable Spencer, which already has Oscar pundits chomping at the bit – Kristen Stewart currently stands as the frontrunner when it comes to Best Actress for her turn as doomed royal Diana – and Compartment No.6, Juho Kuosmanen’s wonderfully evocative train-bound love story which shared the Grand Prix with Asghar Farhadi’s previously mentioned A Hero.

Make your picks, get tickets as fast as you can – they’re already on sale here – and feel free to follow my example by over-excitedly booking one film for every evening of the festival. This is the cinematic farewell to 2021 we deserve. 

And if you’re still not convinced, here’s the full programme lowdown: 

Opening Night:

  • The Worst Person In The World (Joachim Trier)

Almodóvar Night:

  • Parallel Mothers

14 Film Competition:

  • El Gran Movimiento (Kiro Russo) (Bolivia)
  • Red Rocket (Sean Baker) (USA)
  • Faya Dayi (Jessica Beshir) (Ethiopia / USA)
  • Lingui (Mahamat-Saleh Haroun) (Chad)
  • The Tsugua Diaries (Maureen Fazendeiro, Miguel Gomes) (Portugal)
  • The Souvenir Part II (Joanna Hogg) (Great Britain)
  • Happening (Audrey Diwan) (France)
  • Murina (Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović) (Croatia)
  • The Hill Where Lionesses Roar (Luàna Bajrami) (Kosovo)
  • Ahed’s Knee (Nadav Lapid) (Israel); Hit The Road (Panah Panahi) (Iran)
  • One Second (Zhang Yimou) (China)
  • Aloners (Hong Seong-eun) (Korea)
  • Drive My Car (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi) (Japan)


  • Cow (Andrea Arnold)
  • Memoria (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
  • Vortex (Gaspar Noé)
  • A Hero (Asghar Farhadi)

Berlinale Spotlight – World Cinema Fund programme:

  • Clara Sola (Nathalie Alvarez Mesén) (Costa Rica)
  • Feathers (Omar El Zohairy) (Egypt)
  • Anatomy of Time (Jakrawal Nilthamrong) (Thailand)
  • Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash (Edwin) (Indonesia)
  • Zama (Lucrecia Martel homage)

German Discovery: 

  • No One’s with the Calves (Sabrina Sarabi)

Closing Night:

  • Spencer (Pablo Larraín)
  • Compartment No. 6 (Juho Kuosmanen)

Around The World In 14 Films / Dec 2 – 11, Kino in der KulturBrauerei, Delphi Lux & Neues Off.