On February 15, the Berlin Film Festival’s 68th edition takes over the city for 10 days of movies, politics and glamour, bringing a splash of “carpet red” to our winter grey. Here’s our insider’s guide to the controversies, the celebrities and the hidden treasures in the 350-film programme.
The Berlinale tends to generate more handwringing than flag-waving among jaded critics and hard-to-please industry insiders. No matter where you side on last November’s big scandal – 79 high-profile directors publicly rebuking the festival leadership and calling for a new start – there’s a sense among professionals that director Dieter Kosslick is heading into this 2018 edition, his second to last, with something to prove.
The rest of us, meanwhile, can still count on the Berlinale to have us glowing with civic pride at the bleakest time of year. Those who dismiss it as Cannes’ poor cousin often overlook the fact that the festivals operate on entirely different terms – Berlin hosts audiences 10 times as large as those of its elitist, glamour-obsessed rival. Kosslick has been criticised for his seemingly scattershot approach to curation, but Berliners continue to lap up what the festival has to offer – a smattering of red-carpet glitz and afterhours hedonism, a healthy dose of politics and a vast, thematically and geographically diverse programme.
At the very least, it looks like this year’s festival, which boasts Berlin’s own Tom Tykwer as jury president, will get off to a more auspicious start than in 2017, when pedestrian biopic Django hit a resounding bum note on opening night. This year, Berlinale veteran Wes Anderson returns with Isle of Dogs, his second foray into stopmotion animation after 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. Aside from looking rather delightful, the film delivers in terms of raw star power, something conspicuously lacking last year, with a stellar voice cast including Bryan Cranston, Ed Norton, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.
While this hotly anticipated world premiere is undoubtedly a coup, some of the other buzziest English-language titles will be old news by the time they hit Potsdamer Platz, having received world premieres at Sundance a month earlier. This year’s batch of sloppy seconds includes Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (C), Gus Van Sant’s biopic of quadriplegic cartoonist John Callahan, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara; the Zellner brothers’ Damsel (C), an off-beat comedy Western fronted by Robert Pattinson and Mia Wasikowska; and Matangi/Maya/M.I.A. (P), a years-in-gestation doc about trailblazing musician and activist M.I.A. which has been mired in mystery and controversy since 2013, when director Stephen Loveridge proclaimed he’d “rather die” than complete the film.
Barring any last-minute surprises, Hollywood hits seem thin on the ground this year. However, hardcore cinephiles will find plenty to get excited about. The Green Fog (F) is a reportedly great pastiche of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, stitched together from clips of other San Francisco-set films and TV shows by Canadian iconoclast Guy Maddin and his regular collaborators Evan and Galen Johnson. It wouldn’t be a major festival without wildly prolific Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo – Grass (F), a melancholy, monochrome tale of an aspiring writer eavesdropping on others in a café, is his third film unveiled since On the Beach at Night Alone premiered here in Competition last year. And our inside sources have warned us that Kim Ki- duk’s Human, Space, Time and Human (P), a harsh morality tale set on a warship, is among the most harrowing and provocative things we’ll see all year.
Just as provocative is Kim’s very inclusion in the line-up, following the charges of sexual abuse and violence pressed against the Korean director by an anonymous actress, and his subsequent indictment for assault. When we asked Generation section head Maryanne Redpath about a potential heightened awareness of gender issues this year, she answered: “We’ve been talking a lot across the Berlinale about the Time’s Up movement and #MeToo. We’d be stupid and blind if we didn’t take it into consideration.” So, is the Panorama blind or stupid? Is this a free pass for an established big name from a festival that frequently pats itself on the back for its progressive politics, or just a chance to bring collateral politics onto the festival stage?
Either way, this shouldn’t overshadow the strides towards gender parity that the Berlinale has made in recent years. While the Competition line-up remains incomplete at the time of writing, 36 of the 71 filmmakers showcasing work in Generation this year are female, while 19 of the 41 features premiering in Panorama are directed by women. Female-helmed films we’re particularly looking forward to include Madeline’s Madeline (F) by New York indie filmmaker and critical darling Josephine Decker. We’ve also heard great things about Young Solitude (F), an intimate portrait of Parisian teens by the great Claire Simon; and Generation Wealth (P), the first feature-length doc from acclaimed photographer and artist Lauren Greenfield since 2012’s gorgeous, wildly entertaining The Queen of Versailles.
C: Competition The 24 international contenders for the coveted Golden Bear award.
P: Panorama Arthouse gems by international auteurs, curated by a brand new team of three headed up by Paz Lázaro.
F: Forum Experimental, avant-garde and otherwise risky flicks from little-known up-and-comers.
G: Generation Films that might be youth-centric, but definitely aren’t just for kids.