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Unknown Pleasures: The whole nine yards

The ninth Unknown Pleasures film festival brings the best of the US to Berlin. Catch it Jan 12-28 at Kino Arsenal and Wolf.

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Princess Cyd

The ninth Unknown Pleasures film festival brings the best of the US to Berlin.

This smartly programmed showcase of recent American indie cinematic highlights includes Oscar hopefuls, festival darlings and under-the-radar gems. It kicks off on January 12 with charming teen lesbian drama Princess Cyd, which sees writer-director Stephen Cone strike a deft balance between coming-of-age tale and coming-out story.

Giving it a serious run for its money as the programme’s most empathetic film is Sean Baker’s unmissable The Florida Project, an exuberant and profoundly moving portrait of American poverty which proves that 2015’s Tangerine was no fluke.

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The Florida Project

Having presented The Experimenter at Unknown Pleasures in 2016, Michael Almereyda returns this year with two films: Escapes, a documentary about the life of actor and Blade Runner screenwriter Hampton Fancher; and Marjorie Prime, a meditative, Black Mirror-esque sci-fi story based on Jordan Harrison’s Pulitzer-nominated play about an old woman (an excellent late-career turn by Lois Smith) who speaks to a holographic projection of her late husband (Jon Hamm). Almereyda imbues it with poignant musings on mortality, exploring how we dissolve and bend memories in order to better deal with the tragedies that befall us.

Also making a repeat appearance is actor John Cho, who stars in both Aaron Katz’s mystery thriller Gemini and Kogonada’s formally striking feature debut Columbus. Set against the impressive architectural backdrop of Columbus, Indiana, the latter film takes a familiar, Garden State-like premise and steers it away from maudlin territory. The languorous pace may frustrate those looking for a wordier, more upbeat boy-meets-girl encounter, but this artfully shot story of two souls caught between obligation and desire is well worth a look.

Tonsler Park, a 16mm black-and-white doc filmed at Charlottesville polling stations on Nov 8, 2016, sees filmmaker Kevin Jerome Everson observe the African American men and women working in the stations before Trump’s unexpected presidential victory, allowing viewers to project their bittersweet hindsight onto proceedings.

And receiving its belated German premiere is Voyage of Time: Life’s Journey, Terrence Malick’s 2016 experimental doc which sets itself the lofty goal of recounting the history of the known universe in 90 minutes. Predictably for Malick, it’s both narratively baffling and visually sumptuous.

Unknown Pleasures, Jan 12-28 | Arsenal and Wolf Kino, full programme at unknownpleasures.de