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The Berlinale Blog: Ten takeaways from Episode 66

The end is nigh. What valuable lessons have been learned from the 66th installment? Here are the Top 10 takeaways from the festival, that every hardcore festival-goer this year should recognize, whether filmmaker or fan.

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Midnight Special

Berlinale cherry officially popped and now the end is nigh. So, before the curtain falls tonight with Meryl and her motley crew deciding who gets to go home with the 66th edition’s top award, here are the 10 things a Berlinale newbie learned.

1) Cannes can’t compete. Compared to the prestigious French film festival, The Berlinale feels like a walk in the park: the venues are organised, the staff lack Bette Davis eyes and the ticket counter system is comprehensible… Most of all, you won’t have to queue for hours on end without the certainty of actually getting in. While Cannes has a not-so-gentle air of lunacy about it, the Berlinale could well be one of the most user-friendly festivals around.

2) Planning is essential: what to see, where the cinemas are, when to write and where the sodding plug sockets are… As Memento’s Leonard Shelby once said: “You’ve gotta have a system.”

3) Sleep and food are luxuries. Expect moments of sleep-deprivation, malnourishment and to sweat a full transfusion of blood over chock-a-block timetables.

4) Tilda Swinton is everywhere. No wonder they call her “The Berlinale Queen”. Whether it’s for Hail, Caesar!, The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger or the tribute to David Bowie evening, the bequiffed actress is all over this festival like a pigeon on a chip. A really lovely pigeon, mind you. The chip’s not bad either.

5) The US is getting a pants-down spanking…and it makes for some bloody good cinema. From Spike Lee’s wonderful musical wake-up call Chi-Raq to Alex Gibney’s scarily thrilling Zero Days, the Land of the Free has been the Home of the Exposed this year. As for Michael Moore’s less inspiring travelogue Where To Invade Next, it’ still worth a watch if you fancy seeing the once-provocateur getting soft in his old age.

6) The FORUM and PANORAMA sections are not to be ignored. While many may choose to focus most of their time with the IN COMPETITION films, the true standouts this year were in the “lesser” categories. To name but a few: Tatiana Huezo‘s spellbinding documentary Tempestad (Forum), Robert Greene’s multifaceted Kate Plays Christine (Forum) and even Ira Sachs’ beautiful Little Men (Panorama). Granted, you’ll stumble across the odd clunker (stand up The Ones Below) and the so-painful-I’d-rather-be-subjected-to-a-24h-marathon-of-the-Crazy-Frog-song-piped-directly-into-my-ears (here’s looking at you, Starve Your Dog), but these are categories not worth neglecting.

7) Leaving early is a thing. Diehard filmgoers often need to rush from one film to the next in order to get a good seat. Many wait until the last frame before pelting it out of the Berlinale Palast but this comes at a price. In the case of Germany’s only entry in the Competition selection, Anne Zohra Berrached’s 24 Wochen, it ends on a hushed line from the main protagonist (Julia Jentsch, who stands a good chance of bagging the Silver Bear for Best Actress). Those who legged it before the film was even finished missed an ending note which not only adds a dimension to the lead character and the overall narrative, but which got my tear ducts tingling… Lesson here: the credits are an essential part of the film, you heathens!

8) PEOPLE STILL DON’T PUT. THEIR PHONES. DOWN. While I stand by point number one, some audience members lack cinema etiquette. You’d think that a film festival would attract those with a certain respectful tact towards the craft, but noooo… Some still use their phones during screenings, even continue conversations with their neighbours. If you don’t like the film, wait until the closing credits to Tweet about it. Or just leave. One peckish film-goer thought it would be fine to crack open a packed lunch, sending unsolicited whiffs of curry in unsuspecting nostrils. Who does that? There are rules people – this isn’t Vietnam! One solution to this: The Berlinale should follow the example of certain Leicester Square cinemas in London and hire ushers dressed in black bodysuits; these wannabe ninjas would stealthily navigate the crowds and prevent any curry-chomping antics. You’re welcome, Dieter.

9) Television also got a look-in this year, with special screenings at the Haus Der Berliner Festspiele. Cleverman, Better Call Saul Season 2 and a spy mini-series to look out for: The Night Manager. Directed by Susanne Bier and based on a John Le Carré novel, two episodes were presented with the cast in attendance: Tom Hiddleston (who isn’t exactly showing much range), Hugh Laurie, Olivia Coleman, the scenery-chewing Tom Hollander and even the esteemed author. What makes it so good is that even with David Farr’s often creaky dialogue, the cast manage to pull it off. Alongside his directorial debut, the aforementioned The Ones Below, Mr Farr hasn’t had the best of Berlinales… Still, keep an eye out for The Night Manager.

10) There will be stars… Many are saying that this year wasn’t the greatest (but, as I’m reliably informed, they say the same thing every year), but crickey was it star-studded. Essential tip: keep cool. Don’t shriek like a pre-pubescent teen every time you see a celeb: cowboy-up or cowgirl-down, but remain composed at all times. Certainly don’t share with jury member Clive Owen that your man ovaries started skipping when you shook his hand. What kind of list-compiling idiot would do that?

There you have it. Here’s hoping your film viewing antics were successful and hope to see you next year. I’m about to catch up on 10 days’ worth of sleep.