Our film editor and two other critics round up their favourite (and not-so-favourite) films that were released in German cinemas this year, as well as the cinematic trends of 2021.
MY TOP 5: David Mouriquand, Exberliner Film Editor.
1) Quo Vadis, Aida? (Jasmila Žbanić)
Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanić delivered one of the most devastating and compassionate films of 2021 with Quo Vadis, Aida?, an ode to human resilience that reminds us of the sins of institutional bodies created to protect, and how passivity in the face of conflict is always an active crime. An absolute must-see. Read the interview with Jasmila Žbanić.
2) Titane (Julia Ducournau)
French writer-director Julia Ducournau shook the Cannes Film Festival to its core with the ferociously graphic Titane, a face-meltingly sensorial, surreal and layered thriller that grabs you by the guts and refuses to let go for 108 minutes. It made her only the second female director to win Cannes’ Palme d’Or, and it was about damn time. Read the interview with Julia Ducournau.
3) First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)
This delicately transportive Western from Kelly Reichardt explores the gentler facets of masculinity and celebrates characters on the margins of society. Swapping six-shooters for cinnamon and buttermilk biscuits, First Cow is arguably the gentlest heist movie out there.
4) Herr Bachmann Und Seine Klasse (Mr. Bachmann And His Class) (Maria Speth)
2021’s Berlinale was an impressive showcase of quality German films, and nowhere was this better seen than with the winner of the Jury prize, Maria Speth’s expansive yet intimate observational documentary. Mr. Bachmann And His Class looks at the classroom as a microcosm of German society, and answers the question: “What if Frederick Wiseman had directed School Of Rock?”.
5) Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond)
The vibrancy of female-led horror has shown itself again this year and genre aficionados can champion this stylish first feature from Welsh director Prano Bailey-Bond as 2021’s most memorable debut. Set in Thatcher’s Britain during the moral panic of the Video Nasties, Censor is a playful and haunting psychological chiller that balances childhood trauma with humour. And blood baths. Read the interview with Prano Bailey-Bond.
… AND THE FLOP: Music (Sia)
Everything about this catastrophically misjudged debut from Australian pop star-turned-director Sia needs to be banished to celluloid hell. It is a vanity project gone wrong, latching onto the noble cause of giving the autistic community a voice and then using it to peddle ill-informed caricatures as a soulless vehicle to promote new songs. Off. You. Fuck.
MY TOP 5: Walter Crasshole, Exberliner’s queer columnist and critic.
1) Ich bin dein Mensch (I’m Your Man) (Maria Schrader)
As much as German cinema can misfire when it comes to dramas and/or comedies, every now and then you get a feature like this touching Philip K. Dick-goes-rom-com that lingers longer than you’d think. Read the interview with Maria Schrader.
2) Fear Street (Leigh Janiak)
As the winter lockdown wound down and summer revved up, Netflix released this bloody trilogy in weekly instalments all tied together by an overarching plot. Paired with a killer soundtrack, this horror series delivers endless references to keep genre nerds of any era entertained. Put simply: NF slayed. It may be popcorn fare, but this critic had so much fun, they watched it twice!
3. The Velvet Underground (Todd Haynes)
Director Todd Haynes (Poison, Carol) and late-1960s New York art rockers The Velvet Underground are a match made in heaven. Haynes’ sensibility, along with the generous participation of the band’s surviving members, put this music documentary a cut above the rest.
4. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Radu Jude)
There’s so much more than porn ruffling feathers in Radu Jude’s incisive and hilarious critique of Romanian bourgeois morality, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. Its multiple targets and unconventional structure more than deserved the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale. And watch out for that ending. Read the interview with Radu Jude.
5. Große Freiheit (Great Freedom) (Sebastian Meises)
Sometimes it feels like there’s been no stone unturned when it comes to portraying (male) homosexual liberation on screen, but Sebastian Meises’ film takes Germany’s perhaps only marginally known Paragraph 175 (the law prosecuting homosexual acts that the Nazis used to throw gay me in concentration camps) and creates one of the most touching prison love stories ever seen.
… AND THE FLOP: Another Round (Thomas Vinterberg)
When did the director of the first Dogme95 film lose his bite? Thomas Vinterberg went from the guttural punch and lingering squirm that was The Celebration in 1998 to this, a film depicting old white guys being, well, old white guys – drink up.
MY TOP 5: Toma Khodova, journalist and film critic.
1. The Power of the Dog (Jane Campion)
Oscar-winning director Jane Campion returns after over a decade and it was worth the wait. The combination of an enigmatic score by Jonny Greenwood, Ari Wegner’s exquisite cinematography and an unconventional performance from Benedict Cumberbatch easily makes The Power of the Dog her best movie since The Piano.
2. The Green Knight (David Lowery)
American director David Lowery delivers a witty coming of age story about lazy millennials and toxic masculinity disguised as medieval fantasy. An entrancing film filled with magic and nature’s grandeur, the lead character’s unpleasant encounters make it a sour but sobering experience for those who have lost their way.
3. Dune (Denis Villeneuve)
Dune is easily the grandest blockbuster of the year and a very pleasant watch thanks to its stellar cast and breathtaking set design. Denis Villeneuve’s adaptation of this sci-fi classic was born to amaze: he pins you to your seat with a firm grip whilst guiding you through the worlds of distant civilizations, godlike worms, and endless deserts.
4. The Lost Daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal)
It is hard to believe that The Lost Daughter is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut. Based on Elena Ferrante’s novel of the same name, this graceful drama conveys extraordinary intelligence and dry wit, revealing the ugly truth of tormented motherhood in times when honesty is a rarity.
5. Ich bin dein Mensch (I’m Your Man) (Maria Schrader)
There’s always time for good, old-fashioned romance! Maria Schrader’s delicate film is more than a rom-com with an AI twist; I’m Your Man uses the well-known tropes to talk about our ability to deal with feelings of loss and grief. The gorgeous images of melancholic Berlin are a great bonus, too.
… AND THE FLOP: Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell)
What was advertised as a “boldly provocative” “rape revenge thriller” turned out to be neither of those things. In fact, the film contradicts its own logic, squeamishly denying violence and refusing to answer the questions it so boldly poses. In the end, director Emerald Fennell attempted to use a hot topic for personal gain but misses the mark on satisfying results.
2021’S CINEMA TRENDS By David Mouriquand
TOP: WOMEN WIN BIG
It is no coincidence that 9 of our 15 top films of 2021 were made by women. This has been a banner year for female directors, who not only gave us outstanding films, but got rewarded major accolades for them. Chloé Zhao’s Nomadland and Julia Ducournau’s Titane swept the top prizes at the Oscars and Cannes respectively, becoming only the second female directors to win these awards. Meanwhile, Audrey Diwan continued the trend by bagging the Golden Lion for L’Événement (Happening). Her win was the first time a film directed by a woman nabbed Venice’s prize two years in a row (following Zhao’s 2020 win). You can bet the pattern won’t end there: Jane Campion’s gorgeously eerie neo-Western The Power of the Dog and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s The Lost Daughter (both 2021 winners in Venice and included in Toma’s list) will almost certainly scoop up major gongs during the upcoming awards season.
FLOP: WOMEN REPRESENTED SMALL
Major festivals handing out top awards to female directors is great – but what about giving them a fair representation at said festivals? Despite commitment to gender parity as part of new diversity targets, A-list festivals’ Competition selections are still falling pathetically short. This year, Cannes tallied 4 films directed by women out of 24 Competition features. Venice also fell short with just 4 out of 21, and the online Berlinale fared marginally better with 5 out of 15. We’re a far cry from the 50/50×2020 parity pledge the festivals committed to in 2018… Granted, the industry as a whole must evolve to allow fairer opportunity and funding; but such a banner year proves that embracing diversity and showcasing women’s work on major platforms – crucially in Competition sections – results in audiences rewarded with some of the year’s best cinematic experiences. Now that the global film industry is licking its pandemic wounds, it’s the perfect time for less chat and more change.