For the knowing cinephile, there’s no better way to kick off the year than with the shrewdly curated US indie showcase Unknown Pleasures. From January 1–16, the festival brings under-the-radar gems and critical darlings to Berlin audiences. Its 11th edition kicks off on the first of the month with Kirill Mikhanovsky’s Give Me Liberty, a freewheeling dark comedy about a medical transport driver who drives people with disabilities around Milwaukee. Taking place over the course of one day, he meets a group of elderly braying Russians, a young woman with ALS and a tetchy boxer. Written by Mikhanovsky and playwright Alice Austen, and with a cast of mostly non-professional actors, it’s an exuberant ensemble piece with some great needle-drops.
Other hot tickets this year include Alex Ross Perry’s excellent punk rock journey Her Smell, starring Elizabeth Moss as a self-destructive rocker, and Ty Taormina’s Ham on Rye, which explores the torments of adolescence through rites of passage and emancipation from rigid suburban structures in a unique and compelling way. Whatever you do though, don’t miss Boots Riley’s Sorry To Bother You, a fantastically bonkers and radical satire about the ills of capitalism and code-switching. It brings to mind the inventive DIY aesthetic of Michel Gondry, mixed with surprising dystopian leanings and Spike Lee-levels of righteous anger. You won’t see anything else like it all year.
As if that wasn’t enough to tide you over before the Berlinale begins, this year’s programme includes a special Elaine May retrospective. The legendary 87-year-old American filmmaker is experiencing something of a career comeback, with the recent announcement she will return to directing 32 years after her last directing credit. The timely retrospective features 35mm screenings of four of her films made between 1971 and 1987, including her black comedy A New Leaf and the brilliantly dark romcom The Heartbreak Kid.
Unknown Pleasures | Arsenal and Wolf Kino, Jan 1 through Jan 16.