It’s official: the Berlinale Summer Special will take place from June 9-20. Hooray for falling coronavirus infection rates and rising vaccine numbers! It’s no hyperbole to say that the 2021 lineup is one of the strongest in recent memory.
The event will be held at 16 venues across the city, with a custom-built outdoor cinema on Museum Island as the main venue – where the awards ceremony honouring this year’s winners will take place on June 13.
This year, there are no big surprises: the winners have already been announced and we know what’s worth seeing. The plus side is that we can confidently point you towards the must-sees, and – thankfully – Berliners will be treated to a significant chunk of the original programme.
So, it’s off to the Freiluft-Berlinale we go! Tickets go on sale on June 3. Book your seats to watch these films in the way their creators intended them to be seen: not from home with your attention diverted by texts, tweets and dodgy WiFi, but as a shared cinematic experience. Let’s hope the weather is also in a celebratory mood. Here’s our roundup of what to see.
Our top Berlinale Competition picks
You can’t go far wrong when it comes to booking tickets for this year’s especially strong Competition. That said, here are our top recommendations: four Bear winners and two overlooked gems you absolutely shouldn’t miss.
BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN
A well-deserved Golden Bear
The Berlinale has always been fond of radical filmmaking that leads audiences to confront their prejudices, and this year was no exception: the Golden Bear for Best Film went to Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude for his biting satire Babardeala cu bucluc sau porno balamuc (Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn). Described as a “sociological sex film”, it’s a trenchant – if messy – critique of contemporary Romanian society through the story of a schoolteacher (Katia Pascariu) who lands in hot water after her sex tape inadvertently leaks online. Unpredictably constructed like a triptych, the film touches upon the social hypocrisy societies continue to have against women, and is to be applauded for going beyond mere provocation and actually providing scathing food for thought. The jury stated that the film has “a rare and essential quality of a lasting art work”, and it’s hard to argue; it’s also one of those films that needs to be seen with an audience, as live reactions to the risqué content and its humorous beats will be a vital factor when it comes to fully appreciating this year’s frequently outrageous winner.
June 13 @ Freiluftkino Museumsinsel & ARTE Sommerkino Schloss Charlottenburg
June 15 @ [email protected]
June 18 @ Freilichtbühne Weißensee
WHEEL OF FORTUNE AND FANTASY
The must-see Competition title
Our favourite film of the Competition is without a doubt Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Guzen To Sozo (Wheel Of Fortune And Fantasy), and if Radu Jude hadn’t provoked with Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn, this surely would have taken the Golden Bear. Instead, it was awarded the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize. Billed as a collection of “short films about coincidence and imagination”, this superbly executed Japanese film is split into three unique chapters: a tortuous love triangle, a ‘honey trap’ seduction that backfires, and a chance encounter set in a world where a computer virus has disabled most of the internet and sclerosed virtual lives. Equal parts Rohmerian and Murakamian, with all three dialogue-driven stories revolving around women, the overall tapestry it weaves brims with understated poetry and explores human dynamics with recurring motifs of chance, doubles and regret that echo and flow into each other in a remarkable way. It’s unpredictable, oddly tender and nothing short of an absorbing masterpiece, one which will be tough to dethrone when it comes to end of year Best Film lists.
June 15 @ Freiluftkino Museumsinsel
June 16 @ ARTE Sommerkino Schloss Charlottenburg
June 17 @ [email protected]
MR. BACHMANN AND HIS CLASS
German documentary filmmaking at its best
This year’s Competition selection was an impressive showcase of quality German films, and nowhere is this better seen than with the winner of the Jury prize, Maria Speth’s Herr Bachman Und Seine Klasse (Mr. Bachmann And His Class). It is an expansive yet intimate observational documentary that will delight fans of Laurent Cantet’s Palme d’Or-winning Entre Les Murs, and answers the question “What if Frederick Wiseman had directed School Of Rock?” It looks at the classroom as a microcosm of German society, following a defiant 65-year-old teacher, Dieter Bachmann, in the small German city of Stadtallendorf in the state of Hesse, and his work with first- and second-generation immigrant pre-teen pupils. It’s a window into the German educational system, as well as a powerfully moving exercise in empathy that addresses the essential place of multi-ethnicism in the face of nationalist oppression. Don’t be discouraged by its runtime (it clocks in at nearly four hours): the journey is full of heart and humanity, and is worth every minute.
June 17 @ Freiluftkino Museumsinsel
June 18 @ Freiluftkino Friedrichshain
June 20 @ Freiluftkino Pompeji
I’M YOUR MAN
The German crowd-pleaser to beat
While Mr. Bachmann… might not to be everyone’s taste, Ich Bin Dein Mensch (I’m Your Man) stands as the German crowd-pleaser to beat this year. Maria Schrader, best known for her Netflix series Unorthodox, gives a twist on the traditional romcom; the results are delightful, sincere and yet cheekily wry. Her Berlin-set, high-concept romantic comedy can be loosely described as a gender-flipped Weird Science. It sees Alma (Maren Eggert) enter into a trial relationship with an android, Tom (Dan Stevens). The chipper latter has been designed to be her ideal partner; the resistant former sees the experiment as a means to professional ends. The script is sharp, its meditations on longing, satisfaction and individuality ring true, and both central performances are excellent. British actor Dan Stevens embraces his role with an uncanny verve, impressing with his physicality and delivery (in perfect German, no less) and places the viewer in a worrying crawlspace between “Hmmm, powerful manly eyebrows” and “Stranger danger, stranger danger”. As for Eggert, she was awarded the first gender-neutral acting award for Leading Performance, and deservedly so.
June 12 @ Freiluftkino Friedrichshain
June 14 @ Freiluftkino Museumsinsel
June 15 @ Freiluftkino Biesdorfer Parkbühne
The Bear that got away
The Silver Bear for Best Director may have been awarded to Dénes Nagy for his absorbing Hungarian WWII drama Natural Light, but many felt that French filmmaker Céline Sciamma should have nabbed the prize for the follow-up to her stunning Portrait Of A Lady On Fire. Petite Maman is a transportive autumnal reverie that steals your heart in the space of a lean 72 minutes. It tells the story of an eight-year-old girl (Joséphine Sanz), whose grandmother has just passed away, and who encounters a young version of her mother (Gabrielle Sanz) in the woods outside of her adult mother’s childhood home. Its fantastical premise has hints of magical realism and translates into a timeless fable that toys with classic fairy-tale imagery to beautifully explore the grieving process and articulate the importance of the fleeting moment. Sciamma described it as a “time-travelling film without the time-travelling machine”, and while it’s undoubtedly a more low-stakes affair within her filmography (it was filmed towards the end of 2020 following the lifting of France’s lockdown restrictions), it’s by no means less affecting than her previous films. It certainly deserved better than to leave the Berlinale empty handed.
June 15 @ Freiluftkino Museumsinsel
June 16 @ Freiluftkino Friedrichshain & Freiluftkino Biesdorfer Parkbühne
WHAT DO WE SEE WHEN WE LOOK AT THE SKY?
The other uncrowned gem of the Competition
Alongside Petite Maman, another snub by the main awards jury was DFFB-alumnus Aleksandre Koberidze’s stunning Ras vkhedavt rodesac cas vukurebt? (What Do We See When We Look At The Sky?). The Georgian-German co-production is a gorgeous fairytale which explores the magic of chance encounters… and the World Cup. We witness a Bressonian meet-cute between pharmacist Lisa and footballer Giorgi, who arrange a date. Disaster strikes when the Evil Eye casts a spell on them and transforms their physical appearance, meaning that when the two cursed would-be lovers show up to the rendezvous the next day, they no longer recognise each other. The lush and transportive cinematography by Iranian DP Faraz Fesharaki makes the Georgian town of Kutaisi feel like a timeless bubble through his mix of digital and soft-grained 16mm camerawork, creating a dream-like haze which unblurs in a gently poetic resolution that can be interpreted as an ode to cinema and its transformative effects. All in all, it’s a beautifully romantic, warm and at times mischievous folktale whose ruminations on identity, perception and the magic of the everyday strike an invigorating chord. Miss out on letting its magic wash over you on a summer evening and you too will be deserving of the Evil Eye’s dastardly ways.
June 16 @ Freiluftkino Museumsinsel
June 18 @ [email protected]
June 19 @ ARTE Sommerkino Schloss Charlottenburg
The Top 10 Sidebar gems
Here are the 10 films in the sidebar sections that should be on your radar.
TINA (Berlinale Special)
Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin’s terrific Tina Turner documentary is an empowering ride that’s tailor-made for outdoor viewing. The film doesn’t only dwell on the cursed shadow that abuse casts on a life; it celebrates determination and love. Whether you’re a card-carrying Tinaholic or just up for a rollickingly good and frequently emotional music doc, Tina is… excuse us… simply the best.
June 10 @ Freiluftkino Friedrichshain
June 12 @ Freiluftkino Biesdorfer Parkbühne & Freiluftkino Friedrichshagen
NORTH BY CURRENT (Panorama)
Angelo Madsen Minax’s skilfully constructed essay follows the trans filmmaker returning to his Michigan home town after the mysterious death of his two-year-old niece and the subsequent arrest of his brother-in-law as the culprit. By grappling with the fact that “when you speak the pain’s name, it dissipates”, Madsen Minax movingly delves into themes of childhood, grief, addiction and transgender masculinity.
June 17 @ Freiluftkino Kreuzberg
Prano Bailey-Bond’s stylish debut feature is a valentine to Video Nasties. Set in Thatcher’s Britain, it follows a film censor who becomes obsessed with uncovering the secrets behind her sister’s disappearance. At times reminiscent of Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio, it ingeniously injects some timely social commentary by addressing Britain’s then tabloid-fuelled moral panic. Censor is an addictive watch, a must-see for horror aficionados, who can champion Bailey-Bond as a thrilling new voice in female-led horror, alongside Relic’s Natalie Erika James and Saint Maud’s Rose Glass.
June 14 @ Freiluftkino Friedrichshain
June 16 @ Freilichtbühne Weißensee
NIGHT RAIDERS (Panorama)
Executively produced by Taika Waititi, Danis Goulet’s feature debut Night Raiders is a Canadian film which would make for a fine double bill with Beans (see next pick). It’s a dystopian, Children Of Men-echoing feminist parable that sees Canada grapple with its attitude towards First Nations. Goulet manages to sustain a gripping mood throughout her mother-daughter story, crafting a clever narrative about ethnic cleansing and the destruction of pluralism while avoiding clumsy exposition dumps and upending tired ‘chosen-one’ tropes.
June 15 @ Freiluftkino Friedrichshain
The Berlinale made a point of announcing that younger audiences would be catered to during the Summer Special, but you don’t need to be a young’un to enjoy some of Generation’s excellent lineup. With this in mind, everyone should rush to watch Tracy Deer’s debut feature, Beans. Based on true events of the Oka crisis – the 78-day standoff between Mohawk communities and government forces that took place in 1990’s Quebec – Beans is a big-hearted and beautifully acted coming-of-age masterpiece. It recently won the Crystal Bear for Best Film in the Generation KPlus Competition and stands as one of our favourite films of this year’s impressive sidebar.
June 15 @ Neue Bühne Hasenheide
American animator Dash Shaw returns to the Berlinale following his wonderfully idiosyncratic My Entire High School Sinking Into The Sea. Co-directed by Jane Samborski, this latest animation adventure sees a veterinarian rescuing fantastical creatures. Trouble arises when the military form a plan to capture the greatest cryptid, a dream-devouring chimera named Baku, in order to destroy the dreams of the ever-growing alternative culture. Inspired by the psychedelic underground comics of the 60s, this is a vibrant animation film that questions ideas of preservation and humanity in a trippy and wonderfully oneiric way.
June 11 @ Freiluftkino Rehberge
June 12 @ Freiluftkino Pompeji
THE SCARY OF SIXTY-FIRST (Encounters)
We weren’t entirely convinced by the newest Berlinale section’s maiden voyage in 2020, but this year’s Encounters selection has us convinced. Part of 2021’s treasure trove is The Scary of Sixty-First, a daring gem directed by Dasha Nekrasova, best known as the co-host of the Red Scare podcast. It is a giallo pastiche set in the aftermath of Jeffery Epstein’s suicide (or was it murder?), which embraces conspiracy theories, anti-Royal Family sentiment and tips its hat to early Polanski and Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. It sounds like a messy hodgepodge but ends up as an invigorating breath of fresh air.
June 19 @ ARTE Sommerkino Kulturforum
June 20 @ [email protected]
THE GIRL AND THE SPIDER (Encounters)
Swiss directing duo Ramon and Silvan Zürcher won the Best Director award for The Girl And The Spider, a window into the comings and goings of lonely souls who stare at each other like lunatics across the corridors of a shared flat. It is a beautifully filmed claustrophobic gem that will either strike you as deceptively profound or exasperatingly hollow. Love it or loath it, it’s the kind of unusual work Encounters should be championing.
June 9 @ Sommerkino Kulturforum
June 11 @ Freiluftkino vom Filmrauschpalast
The Forum section can be a bit of an acquired taste, with its lineup of challenging and experimental filmmaking often testing the boundaries of convention. But patience is rewarded, especially with Manque La Banca’s ambitious feature-length debut, Esquí (Ski), which won this year’s FIPRESCI Award. Initially a documentary on Bariloche, whose snowy mountains have made it Argentina’s go-to destination for ski tourism in the Andes, the film morphs into a multi-layered thriller of sorts that blurs fact and fiction. Its breathtaking landscapes and palpably disturbing atmosphere make this a captivating watch.
June 11 @ Atelier Gardens [email protected]
June 14 @ Silent Green
MY UNCLE TUDOR (Berlinale Shorts)
One of our main tips during this Summer Berlinale is to embrace the festival’s oft-overlooked section by heading to a night of short films, with four separate shorts programmes. Special mention goes to Olga Lucovnicova’s devastating Golden Bear winner My Uncle Tudor (Shorts I), which combines observational filmmaking with a focus on the warped poetry of human emotions. It sees the filmmaker take an initially idyllic trip back in time through her childhood in order to question the past and eventually confront a family member who is responsible for her trauma.
Shorts I – June11 @ Freiluftkino Hasenheide
June 12 @ Freiluftkino vom Filmrauschpalast
There we have it. Book your tickets on June 3 here and see you outdoors for what’s gearing up to be an unforgettable Berlinale.