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Critical conflict zones

Berlin Critics’ Week returns for its fifth edition with a daring selection of under-the-radar gems. Catch it Feb 6-14 at various venues.

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Berlin Critics’ Week returns for its fifth edition with a daring selection of under-the-radar gems.

Started as a small independent sidebar alongside Berlin’s most prestigious film festival five years ago, Woche der Kritik has established itself as a respected counterpart to Cannes’ Semaine de la Critique. This year, the German Critics’ Association focuses on risk-takers and aims to ponder “cinema as a conflict zone”, namely: Have films become too tame and politically correct in recent years?

Kicking off at Volksbühne on February 6 with a conference exploring the legacy of the late Christoph Schlingensief (photo) sets the bar high. When it comes to rabble-rousing satire and daringly provocative humour no one has filled the spot left vacant by the enfant terrible of German stage and cinema – see the screening of 1990’s Das deutsche Kettensägenmassaker (“The German Chainsaw Massacre”), his response to German reunification, that same evening if you want to know why.

The main film programme starts the following day in a more subdued manner, with part-fiction, part-documentary Nakorn-Sawan, a striking debut by the Thai HFBK Hamburg graduate Puangsoi “Rose” Aksornsawang that offers an intimate, at times mournful, look at the director’s family life in Thailand (Feb 7).

Things liven up considerably with Aaron Schimberg’s bizarre and playful indie gem Chained For Life (Feb 10), a satire on Hollywood filmmaking and how society frequently muddles pity and empathy when faced with those who are different. Featuring terrific performances, the film is an examination of disability, but also a meta-homage to Tod Browning’s Freaks and Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face – while never forgetting to be humorous.

A more enigmatic affair is Andrea Bussmann’s Fausto (Feb 8), which was shot digitally and transferred to 16mm, lending the film a textured feel that – blended with musing on spirituality and the oral tradition of ancient Mexican myths – evokes a sense of magical realism.

Elsewhere, Lucia Margarita Bauer’s French-German language short Maman, Maman, Maman is an eccentric look into family life that questions whether objective biographies are possible. Closing the festival on February 14 are two standouts, a pairing of German productions which address the filmmakers’ perspectives on feminism: Susanne Heinrich’s visually accomplished and inventive DFFB graduation film Das melancholische Mädchen, and Jovana Reisinger’s short film Pretty Girls Don’t Lie. Both craftily employ humour, as well as stagey and kitschy aesthetics to frame thought-provoking and scathing commentaries on the toxicity of the patriarchal gaze. An inspiring way to cap off the week!

Feb 6-14 Hackesche Höfe, Mitte, full programme at wochederkritik.de