Against all odds, it’s happening.
After rumours that the 2022 Berlin Film Festival would have to be pushed back to June or forced online because of the rise in Covid cases, the festival will go ahead this year and, mostly, as an in-person event. Morale was low following Sundance’s decision to go digital for a second year running, so an in-person Berlinale is what Berlin’s Minister for Culture Claudia Roth has described as “a signal to the entire film industry, to cinemas and moviegoers, and to culture as a whole.” Granted, the EFM (European Film Market) remains online for the second consecutive year alongside the Berlinale Co-Production Market (12-16 Feb) and Berlinale Talents (12-17 Feb); but the big film fest is set to move ahead as planned, with 256 films shown at multiple screenings in brick and mortar cinemas across the capital.
Not that it’s all rosy and back to normal: this 72nd edition will be organised as a 2G-plus event, with audiences required to wear FFP2 masks and show a negative same-day test. There’ll be no decadent film parties this year, but just enough people on the red carpet to help conjure up a bit of that pre-pandemic Berlinale magic. And the big novelty: a six-day edition instead of the usual 10. With seating capacity reduced by half, the Berlinale has had to make some drastic cuts.
The festival kicks off on 10 February with the customary – albeit smaller-scale – opening gala at the Berlinale Palast and closes six days later with the awards ceremony. This year, the Publikumstag event, usually scheduled for the last day of the festival, will be extended to four days in order to make up for the downsized number of available seats.
Bafflingly, the downsizing of the festival from 10 days to six does not extend to the programme. A shorter festival should mean fewer films premiering, but the line-up of festival flicks remains as expansive as last year’s edition. Berlinale boss Carlo Chatrian’s holy mission of “acting as the guardian of a space that is at risk of disappearing” has been translated into a stacked line-up of 256 films, spread over 12 sections: from Panorama to Forum all the way to a Competition selection that includes 12 directors who’ve already shown their films at the Berlinale, with five of them having previously won a Golden or Silver Bear. With the number of available seats reduced by 50 percent, good luck securing tickets to the films on your own-must see list!
SPOTLIGHT ON THE FRENCH
Isabelle Huppert, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Juliette Binoche, Claire Denis, Quentin Dupieux and François Ozon – there’s much Gallic goodness to be expected this year. In a Competition programme that should steal our hearts – “Never before has [the Berlinale] welcomed so many love stories”, says Carlo Chatrian – exactly half of the selected films are French productions or co-productions.
The festival opens this year with festival veteran François Ozon’s Peter von Kant, a free interpretation of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s masterpiece ‘The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant’, with the lead character now a male filmmaker. The French auteur has always been a Berlinale darling, even when the selection usually snubbed French productions under Dieter Kosslick. It’s Ozon’s sixth entry in the main competition, his first since his Jury Grand Prix win in 2019 for Grâce à Dieu (By The Grace of God), a drama which tackled abuse in the French Catholic Church. Unafraid to delve into difficult topics, Ozon also seems unconcerned with the industry’s current contortions when it comes to gender-swapping roles for the feminine – who these days would dare replace ‘Petra’ with ‘Peter’ ?
Also back to the Berlinale – and for the first time in Competition – is Claire Denis, the celebrated doyenne of French cinema behind Trouble Every Day and High Life. She is one of the biggest names in the low-key but promising Competition selection. Her new film, originally titled Fire, is Avec Amour Et Acharnement (Both Sides of the Blade). It anchors itself in the line-up’s romance thematic, exploring the darker sides of love; Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon star as a couple whose marriage is marred by infidelity.
Other French films and co-productions in Competition include Mikhael Hers’ Les Passagers de la Nuit (The Passengers of the Night), with Charlotte Gainsbourg; Everything Will Be OK by Cambodian documentary filmmaker Rithy Panh, whose previous film Irradiés (Irradiated) competed in Competition at the 70th Berlinale and whose new film, which utilizes Claymation, has been described as a dive into “totalitarianism, democracy, and a new way of communication”; Ursula Meier’s La Ligne (The Line), with Stéphanie Blanchoud and Valeria Bruni Tedeschi; and the Franco-German production A E I O U – Das schnelle Alphabet der Liebe (A E I O U – A Quick Alphabet of Love) by Nicolette Krebitz (2016’s Wild).
Both the Panorama and Generation 14plus sections also kick off with French productions. There are high expectations for Alain Guiraudie’s Panorama opener Viens Je T’emmène (Nobody’s Hero). A regular at Cannes, Guiraudie is best known for his 2013 queer gem Stranger By The Lake, which won the Queer Palm and Best Director in the Un Certain Regard section. His new film, his first to be presented at the Berlinale, is billed as a political satire “full of empathy for its flawed heroines and heroes” that sees a motley crew interact in the streets of Clermont-Ferrand following a terrorist attack.
As for the Generation 14plus opening film, the honour goes to Thierry Demaizière’s Allons Enfants (Rookies). A former journalist for RTL, Demaizière has made a name for himself as a documentary filmmaker, especially with his Netflix dance documentary series Move in 2020. Rookies continues this focus by centring on a prestigious Parisian high school and its aim to integrate students from working-class districts through hip hop classes.
And it goes without saying that all eyes will be on the French master of the eccentric Quentin Dupieux, who will present Incroyable Mais Vrai (Strange But True), his most recent film since last year’s delirious Mandibules. Screening in the Berlinale Special section, the film stars renowned French comedians Alain Chabat and Léa Drucker as a couple who move to a quiet suburb and discover a mysterious tunnel in the cellar of their new home, a discovery which turns their lives upside down. Considering Dupieux’ unparalleled capacity to toy with the surreal, all the signs indicate we’re in for a treat.
Let’s not forget that French national treasure Isabelle Huppert is this year’s Honorary Golden Bear recipient. Having starred in seven Competition films to date – including Ozon’s macabre musical comedy 8 Femmes, for which the ensemble cast was awarded a Silver Bear for outstanding artistic accomplishment – Huppert’s latest film, À propos de Joan (About Joan), directed by Laurent Larivière and co-starring Lars Eidinger, will also be screened as part of the Berlinale Special. Audiences will be able to see seven of her films in the Homage section, including Michael Haneke’s La Pianiste, Mia Hansen-Løve’s L’Avenir and Paul Verhoeven’s Elle.
The Berlinale has always had a better track record in terms of representation compared to its European festival neighbours, and this year is no exception. Out of 18 films in competition, seven are directed by women: Nicolette Krebitz (A E I O U – Das schnelle Alphabet der Liebe – Germany), Carla Simón (Alcarràs – Spain), French Claire Denis (Avec amour et acharnement – France), Phyllis Nagy (Call Jane – US), Ursula Meier (La Ligne – France / Switzerland), Kamila Andini (Nana – Indonesia) and Natalia López Gallardo (Robe of Gems – Bolivia) make up the 39 percent. It’s a step up from 2021 and 2020, but still shy of the 50/50×2020 gender parity goals committed to by major festivals. But let’s face it: Berlin still does much better than fellow A-listers Cannes (4 out of 24 films directed by women last year) and Venice (4 out of 21). Baby steps and all…
HOT TICKETS IN SPECIAL AND GALA
It’s worth noting that the Berlinale Special and Gala sections are chockablock with goodness this year. Lucrecia Martel’s Terminal Norte (North Terminal) featuring Argentine singer Julieta Laso, and Andrew Dominik’s This Much I Know To Be True, a documentary following Nick Cave during the pandemic, will be in attendance.
Then there’s the return of legendary horror maestro Dario Argento with Dark Glasses, a Rome-set giallo that marks his return to the genre after 2009’s aptly-named Giallo and the director’s first outing behind the camera in a decade.
Lastly, keep an eye out for A German Party by Simon Brückner, which shows inside views of the AfD party and was described by Chatrian at this year’s press conference as “a film (the Berlinale) believe needs to be seen and to be discussed”. It once again shows that the Berlinale hasn’t forsaken its desire to explore politically-charged and topical issues, despite its desire this year to highlight “crazy, improbable, unexpected and intoxicating love”.
The Encounters section showcasing aesthetically and structurally more experimental productions looks really promising this year, featuring new films by Bertrand Bonello (Coma) and Peter Strickland (Flux Gourmet), but it’s the Panorama sidebar that really has our attention. It is opening its selection with Alain Guiraudie’s aforementioned new film, Viens Je T’emmène (Nobody’s Hero). Also in the Panorama line-up is a documentary that is already grabbing some headlines, having already premiered at Sundance’s online-only edition this year: Nina Menkes’ Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power. Expanding on her own 2019 lecture ‘The Visual Language of Oppression’, Menkes uses examples from over 120 years of film history to explore the male gaze in cinema and to question to what extent the objectification of women is ingrained in the language of film.
For our full rundown of what tickets to book in the sidebar sections, check out of top tips of the standouts here.
A FESTIVAL OF UNKNOWNS
All in all, the programme – stacked though it is – looks promising. But questions still linger regarding this year’s “new concept”. How many people – critics and audiences – can and will attend this shortened version festival? Will all the film delegations make it? Are the security protocols and a reduced number of premiering days enough to avoid sites become Covid hotspots? And what is the price tag linked to the additional costs of running the Berlinale in 2022, especially when taking into consideration added costs of setting up testing facilities at close proximity to the cinemas and the potential loss of income due to fewer tickets and sponsors?
More than any year, this 72nd Berlinale is an unpredictable one, to say the least. What’s certain is that above all years, this 2022 edition is going to have to be a well-oiled machine if it is to pull off its ambitious desire to reclaim a sense of pre-pandemic normalcy.
Still, let’s not shun the pleasure of a returning IRL festival – Happy Berlinale everyone, get booking those tickets online now, and stay turned to Exberliner for our daily coverage of the festival, including insider tips, fresh reviews of the Competition and awards predictions.