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Berlinale: The bear necessities

And we’re off! Tickets went on sale for the Berlinale this morning! Not sure what to hit up at Berlin’s biggest A-List film festival? Check out our tips here. The Berlinale is on Feb 5-15 at Potsdamer Platz and beyond.

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Fassbinder – Liebe ohne zu Fordern

It’s that time again! For the 65th edition of the Berlin International Film Festival, we’ve singled out the major prize contenders and the best of the indies.

Berlinale goes big…

This year, Berlinale returns with a body of filmic work that could transcend even last year’s successes. Let’s recall: Boyhood and Grand Budapest Hotel – both currently Oscar-nominated for Best Picture and Best Director – won Silver Bears here last year. Whether this year’s jury awards the Golden Bear to a film that anyone will remember in five years’ time depends in part on jury president Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, Noah, Pi). Of this year’s competition filmmakers, master of mystic Terrence Malick (presenting Knight of Cups) and thematic maverick Peter Greenaway (with Eisenstein in Guanajuato) are obvious magnets – and will be hoping for critical validation to consolidate a return to form. Also slightly prey to inconsistency, Spanish director Isabel Coixet (My Life Without Me, Elegy) returns to Berlin to open the competition with a further variant on survival in Nobody Wants the Night. Work from Russian director Alexey German (jr.) and Poland’s Malgorzata Szumowska (whose W imie won the 2013 Teddy) could be Bear contenders with Pod electricheskimi oblakami (Under Electric Clouds) and Body respectively, whilst the host nation’s venerable traditions are represented by Werner Herzog (whose Queen of the Desert might bring Nicole Kidman to Berlin for its world premiere), Andreas Dresen (Als wir träumten – a prescient adaptation of Clemens Meyer’s pre- and post-Wende dystopias in Leipzig) and Berlinale homage honoree Wim Wenders (Every Thing Will Be Fine). Taxi from house-arrested Iranian Jafar Panahi (2013 Silver Bear for Closed Curtain) stands alone as a testament to greatness of vision and spirit, but the rocket end of blockbuster potential also airs with Ken Branagh’s all-star, big-budget “she’s not a pushover” Cinderella wisely playing out of competition.

…and small: Our picks

With a combined total of nearly 70 films, Panorama (P) and Forum (F) are the place to go for that special frisson of state-of-the art topicality and formal innovation. Berlin pioneer of queer cinema Rosa von Praunheim and Canadian arthouse regular Guy Maddin (Forum: The Forbidden Room) are back. To help you find the best of the rest, we previewed some of this year’s films and selected the wheat from the chaff.

MOT NATUREN (Out of Nature, P) Pre-middleaged Martin takes to the hills for a weekend of middle-class escapist fantasies in this tragi-comic blend of Scandinavian desperation and smalltown dissatisfactions.

LE DOS ROUGE (Portrait of the Artist, F) Filmmaker Bernard is working on a film about the “monstrous” in art in Antoine Barraud’s slyly intellectual look at the price that art exacts on those who make it.

CHORUS (P) brings together a couple sundered by the violent death of their child 10 years ago. Canadian indie-maker Delisle shows this process in stunning B&W mise-en-scène alternating between deep sorrow and the joy of overcoming it.

NED RIFLE (P) American Indie-maker Hal Hartley completes his trilogy of films on American obsessions with sex, religion and violence by confronting young Ned with his supposedly terrorist mother (Fay Grim) and pseudo-novelist father (Henry Fool) and engaging them in overdrawn dialogue, deadpan philosophy and a riotous road trip.

YOU’RE UGLY TOO (Generation K+) A man released from prison on compassionate leave picks up his niece and attempts to create a sense of family. Beautifully observed scenes of trailer-park destitution form the unusual backdrop for this study of a strange bonding process.

FASSBINDER – LIEBEN OHNE ZU FORDERN (Fassbinder – To Love Without Demands, P) investigates the intersection of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s many personal and creative lives as seen through the eyes of long-term friend and filmmaker Christian Braad Thomsen.

DORA ODER DIE SEXUELLEN NEUROSEN UNSERER ELTERN (P) Dora has Down’s Syndrome and becomes easy sexual prey for a pharmaceuticals salesman. Stina Werenfels’ look at the emotional consequences of difference liberates more than just her protagonists.

DANIELUV SVET (Daniel’s World, P) Daniel is a young paedophile trying to reconcile morality with the nature of his loving. This Czech documentary bites a hot potato without shirking any of the issues buried under its skin.

ZURICH (F) Luna is a young mother who finds out that the father of her child has other claims to his familial affection. Sacha Pollack’s portrait of a young woman dealing with a loss that can’t be voiced is a stunningly poetic vision of instability.

CHEOL WON GI HAENG (End of Winter, F) At his retirement dinner, a family father announces that he’ll be getting divorced, in a film that matches the imagery of snowbound landscapes with the consequences of non-communication in a South Korean family.

600 MILLAS (600 Miles, P) Tracking weapons runners between Arizona and Mexico, a US official is kidnapped by a young Mexican and taken on a road trip that leads us into the heart of cynicism on both sides of the border.

B MOVIE: LUST AND SOUND IN WEST BERLIN 1979- 1989 (P) If you don’t get this love song to the clubs and artists that defined Berlin during the decade before reunification, you might not ever get Berlin.

HÄRTE (Tough Love, P) Germany’s premiere gay director Rosa von Praunheim hits hard with an uncharacteristically un-queer docufiction about a Berlin-raised karate champion who fought not only opponents on the mat, but also the childhood demons of traumatic physical and sexual abuse.