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The Berlinale: Berlin’s film Olympics

Forget Sochi! In Berlin, from February 6-16, the only gold and silver that matters comes in Bear form. Slalom your way through the stars, the screenings and the hype with our exclusive preview.

Image for The Berlinale: Berlin’s film Olympics

Forget Sochi! In Berlin, from February 6-16, the only gold and silver that matters comes in Bear form. Slalom your way through the stars, the screenings and the hype with our exclusive preview.


A jury of indie heavyweights, academics and cult-fave actors.

Justly known for its democratic atmosphere, Berlin’s sashay down the red carpet comes with a wobble of industry incest as it sets out to curate this year’s selection of competition films. Presiding over the jury is James Schamus, known above all for producing indie sweetheart Ang Lee’s movies (Brokeback Mountain, The Wedding Banquet) and spearheading Focus Features, responsible for a decade of critically successful productions including Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Lost in Translation and lately, Dallas Buyer’s Club.

Eternal Sunshine director Michel Gondry is also on board, as is Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who starred in one of Gondry’s more recent films, The Green Hornet. Clearly, it’s merit and not convenience that brings two of last year’s Berlinale stars, Tony Leung (The Grandmaster) and Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha) as well as Trine Dyrholm, star of the Danish 2012 Berlinale film A Royal Affair, on board to debate the merits of this year’s offerings.

Bringing up the rear guard of academic gravitas (Schamus also teaches at Columbia) are the Iranian director of realist documentaries Mitra Farahani and the producer of recent James Bond films Barbara Broccoli (US). That makes it eight – and difficult to find a majority. But when did Berlin ever take things easy?


Serious international contenders peek out from Wes and George’s shadow.

And talking of challenges: the number of competition films has swollen from last year’s 17 to 20. An obvious and crowd-pulling choice as opening film is the latest multi-star offering from Wes Anderson: The Grand Budapest Hotel. Space on the red carpet is likely to be tight, what with Anderson himself and stars William Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Tilda Swinton, Léa Seydoux and Ralph Fiennes scheduled to appear on opening night to present this colourful mosaic of interwar Europe.

Other familiar faces include Richard Linklater, whose unusual narrative documentation of Boyhood (with Ethan Hawke) comes straight from its Sundance premiere. Striking a blow for maturity, competition films also include work from octogenarian Japanese Yoji Yamada (making his ninth appearance at the Berlinale) and nonagenarian Alain Resnais with The Little House and Aimer, boire et chanter respectively, matched at the other end of the experience spectrum by Argentinian director Benjamin Naishtat’s debut film, History of Fear. Also from Argentina comes The Third Side of the River by Celina Murga, joined by Peruvian director and 2009 Golden Bear winner Claudia Llosa, who returns to Berlin with Aloft.

Completing a South American quartet is Praia do Futuro from festival favourite Brazilian-Algerian Karim Aïnouz. Three films from China and four from Germany make for an even-handed approach to global cinema rounded off by European work: Yann Démange’s ‘71 (UK), Yannis Economides’ Stratos (Greece) and Macondo from Austrian debut female director Sudabeh Mortezai. With Bruno Ganz and Stellan Skarsgård on board for his return to the Berlinale with In Order of Disappearance, Norwegian Hans Petter Moland could be a Bear contender, as could Two Men In Town from French-Algerian Rachid Bouchareb, starring Forest Whitaker and Harvey Keitel.

Out of competition, George C. will be back in Berlin to present the mainly locally produced The Monuments Men, as director and leading actor. He’s bringing Matt and John (Goodman) too, so book your table now at Grill Royal – and maybe think about a snifter of aquavit before taking on this year’s equivalent to 2013’s Seidel trilogy: the uncut version of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac.


Audacious picks for the experimental showcase Forum and global section Panorama.

This year, the choices made by Forum and Panorama have again tended to overlap, taking selectors to the post-euro-crisis periphery. In the Forum section, Parasite from Poland is a virtually dialogue-less intertwining of three lives in which a newly retired father lives in solipsistic silence with his daughter and her newborn.

Nagima from Kazakhstan focuses uncompromisingly on a young woman going through the trauma of social and familial rejection. A lighthearted antithesis to last year’s Berlinale darling The Act of Killing, Velvet Terrorists is a docu-fictive trio of episodes featuring three men imprisoned for terrorism around 1984 in Czecho-slovakia, searching indolently for an admiring female audience for whom to re-enact their minor crimes.

In Panorama, Standing Aside Watching finds parallels to a crisis-ridden Europe in mythology, hanging Sophocles’ Antigone in a contemporary closet. Calvary locates the seven deadly sins in a post-crisis Ireland reeling from the failure of both Celtic Tiger and the Catholic Church to sustain national morality, and more than a touch of neo-realism infuses the Italian In Grazia di Dio, in which a matriarchal quartet takes a stand against capitalism by returning to nature and subsistence agriculture.


A look at the LGBT-themed films vying for this year’s teddy prize.

Chief among the contenders is a groundbreaking variation on docu-fiction from Brazil, the dark and disturbing Castanha, in which a middle-aged HIV-afflicted cross-dresser finds himself haunted both by memories of his dead lover and the scourge of an addict nephew as he seeks to outrun a fading life by re-defining himself as a performer. Surprisingly, one of our personal favourites comes from the teen-oriented Generation 14+ section: 52 Tuesdays, with a unique format chosen to reflect a young person dealing with her mother’s decision to undergo gender change.

At the celebrity end, The Dog from the US and Yves Saint Laurent from France consider two very different gay icons: the man who robbed a bank to pay for his lover’s sex change (later filmed as Dog Day Afternoon) and the man who paid a high price to redefine both reclusiveness and French fashion.

And finally, serendipitous timing could work in favour of Land of Storms, a coming-out film which follows a young football player from Germany to his native Hungary where he confronts provinciality, the Catholic Church and rampant homophobia as he wakes up to the consequences of standing up for his sexuality.


Originally published in issue #124, February 2014.