Every year Unknown Pleasures at the Babylon presents an excellent selection of recent gems of US independent cinema. Living up to the festival’s name, the entries in the programme are always films that, despite earning widespread critical acclaim at home, are still very difficult if not impossible to get a hold of over here.
The fourth edition fully lives up to its past standard, offering 44 screenings of films from the last two years, as well as the German premiere of the newly restored version of Nicholas Ray’s experimental swansong We Can’t Go Home Again (Jan 7, 19:00, with Susan Ray, the late director’s wife, in attendance).
Though you can quibble about the ‘indie’ in HBO productions directed by Todd Haynes and Martin Scorsese, cutting short the interminable wait for German release is always a bonus.
Many will therefore rejoice at being able to see the first two episodes of Haynes’ excellent five-part miniseries Mildred Pierce, a more faithful adaptation than its Joan Crawford predecessor, featuring characteristically lush production design and a sensational Kate Winslet in the titular role (Jan 10, 19:30).
A special section is dedicated to three Scorsese documentaries, including Public Speaking, his portrait of author and outspoken social critic Fran Lebowitz, which delivers like an intellectual 90-minute stand-up act by the endlessly quotable motormouth as she tears apart four decades’ worth of American history (Jan 3, 19:30).
Adhering more strictly to the indie label in both production and content is Aaron Katz’s Cold Weather (Jan 8, 21:45), which explores the relationship between two siblings by involving them in an offbeat detective story somewhere between Sherlock Holmes and the Hardy Boys. For the first time working with a budget exceeding four digits, Katz lives up to the promise of his first two features, transcending his early work’s categorisation as ‘mumblecore’, all the while retaining his sensibility for keen characterisations and underplayed, realist dialogues.
Unknown Pleasures #4 – American Independent Film Fest, Jan 1-15 | Babylon Mitte, www.babylonberlin.de