This week at the kino: What’s opening in Berlin from December 16 until the end of 2021
Welcome to this bumper edition of This Week At The Kino, your weekly film column which this week guides you through all the major end of year releases.
Don’t know what to watch during the holidays and looking to have break from the silly season? I’ve got you covered. Some great films like West Side Story, House of Gucci, The Power of the Dog and The French Dispatch are still showing, and adding themselves to this already excellent line-up are new releases from Leos Carrax, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi and Joel Cohen. All of which end 2021 on a cinematic high.
And no, before you ask, I haven’t seen The Matrix Resurrections yet – no one has. It’s the only 2021 film release that hasn’t been screened for the press, so you’ll have to wait until the 23rd for that standalone review…
That said, let’s proceed chronologically.
SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME (15/12)
The new Marvel film jumped the usual release queue and is already out in kinos since yesterday. Following something of a delicate year for the MCU, with countless streaming shows that have varied in quality and some big screen outings that have proven to be underwhelming or even divisive (Black Widow, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, Eternals), it’s all down to the friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man to redeem 2021’s vintage. Spider-Man: No Way Home does just that, even if it’s a tough film to talk about without revealing some major spoilers. Read the full – spoiler-free – review to find out what works and what doesn’t with this thoroughly entertaining (if occasionally muddled) third chapter in the Tom Holland era.
Today marks the release of French director Leos Carrax’s English-language debut, Annette. Carrax rightfully won Best Director in Cannes this year for this audacious musical psychodrama, starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard. Scored by Ron and Russell Mael of the band Sparks (who provide one of the best soundtracks of 2021), this is a bizarre Greek tragedy that is unlike anything you’ve seen or heard before. Read on.
THE LOST DAUGHTER (16/12)
Heading to select cinemas before its Netflix release on Dec 31 is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s excellent directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, which premiered in Venice this year and won Best Screenplay on the Lido. Starring Olivia Coleman, Dakota Johnson and Ed Harris, it’s an engrossing adaptation of Elena Ferrante’s novel that invites you to witness human nature in all of its complexities and shines as a meditative drama about parenthood in crisis. Read the full review, and here’s hoping it isn’t the last time Gyllenhaal gets behind the camera. I doubt she’ll leave the upcoming awards season empty-handed…
DRIVE MY CAR (23/12)
To say that Ryûsuke Hamaguchi has had an annus mirabilis is putting it mildly. The Japanese filmmaker’s first film of 2021 was the Berlinale-premiering Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, which won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize. Not satisfied with bringing one of the best films of the year to audiences (even if it hasn’t yet made its way onto German screens), Hamaguchi went to Cannes later in the year to present Drive My Car, out in kinos on the 23rd. Having won the Best Screenplay award on the Croisette, this epic adaptation of the novella by Haruki Murakami has since made the Oscar shortlist for Best International Picture (for which it is the favourite), as well as top spots on most End of Year Top Film lists. It’s without a doubt one of the most memorable releases of the year – here’s why.
ALINE (ALINE, THE VOICE OF LOVE) (23/12)
One film you shouldn’t sleep on is Valérie Lemercier’s Aline (Aline, The Voice of Love). The famed French stand-up comedian, writer, director, actor has crafted a unique faux-biopic of celebrated singer Céline Dion. Essentially a heightened fairytale, which chronicles Dion’s career from her humble beginnings in her native Quebec to a Vegas residency by the way of her Oscars performance of ‘My Heart Will Go On’, Aline laudably avoids dipping into hagiography by not being afraid to lean into more eccentrically offbeat and humorous moments. If you’re a Céline Dion fan, rush to see it. And if you’re tired of the same old sanitised musician biopics, don’t miss out.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Valérie Lermercier, who spoke about she went about avoiding the typical biopic format, and how the film functions as both a whimsically comedic fantasy and loving homage of Dion’s life. Read the full interview here.
THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH (25/12)
Joel Cohen goes solo to adapt The Scottish Play. The Tragedy of Macbeth may be the umpteenth reimagining of ‘Macbeth’, but this stripped down, horror-inflected reimagining is well worth your time. Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand shine as the leads, as does Kathryn Hunter, who plays all three of the “weird sisters”. To misquote the Bard, “This is (not) a sorry sight”. Catch it early in select kinos from the 25th onwards, before it heads online mid-January.
FILM EVENTS & FESTIVALS
I’ve selected a handful of events and festivals worth putting in your calendar, all of which should keep you cinematically satiated until the end of the year. Again, we proceed chronologically…
The first is Creepy Crypt’s screening of Memento on Saturday (18th) at Rollberg (22:30). Christopher Nolan may have disappeared up himself in recent years, especially with the sluggish and, let’s face facts, nose-bleedingly annoying Tenet… But it’s worth reminding yourself that he really was masterful on a smaller budget, especially with Memento. Arguably his best film to date, it was even selected by the United States Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry. Don’t say I don’t treat you to a few stellar facts. (Also, keep in mind that if you’re hungry for horror on the 25th – the Christmas period can be emotionally taxing after all – Creepy Crypt are doing a midnight screening of Krampus, the 2015 Christmas horror comedy that’s all kinds of fun, especially if you’re nostalgic for Joe Dante-esque B-movie leanings.)
Next up is the Ozu in Colour retrospective at Arsenal, celebrating Yasujiro Ozu’s late work from Dec 21 – 30. It is a rare treat to watch the colour films of one of Japan’s most famous directors on the big screen; from Higanbana (1958) to Samma No Aji (An Autumn Afternoon – 1962) via a personal favourite of mine, Ohayo (Good Morning, Japan – 1959), about two brothers who take an oath of silence that can only be broken if their parents buy them a television, this fantastic selection of films are really worth trekking to Potsdamer Platz for.
Mongay have some excellent screenings coming your way. First up is the screening of the aforementioned Aline on the 22nd at 22:00, at Kino International. Not to sound like a scratched record, but it really is worth seeing, and on the biggest screen possible. Kino International is a solid option. Mongay are also showing Pedro Almodóvar’s latest film, Madres Paralelas (Parallel Mothers), on the 27th (also at 22:00). Fresh from its screening at Around The World In 14 Films, Parallel Mothers is the Spanish maestro’s most political film to date, as he draws a parallel between the fates of two soon-to-be mothers and the lingering scars of the Spanish civil war. While the two thematic strands never quite convincingly meshed for me, the trauma of loss is explored in a heartfelt way. Plus, it’s worth watching for the performances alone, with Penélope Cruz having won the coveted Volpi Cup for Best Actress in Venice this year.
If none of these recommendations sound particularly seasonal, fear not: there’s Weinhnachtsfilm Festival. Berlin’s very own Christmas Film Festival starts on the 22nd and celebrates its 5th year with 5 days of surprising short and feature films. The selection includes many German premieres, so check out the programme here and head to Moviemento Kino for some festive cheer.
My penultimate pick is our very own EXBLICKS series. As per tradition, our final EXBlicks of the year closes things off with a happy ending at Lichtblick Kino on the 27th (20:00), with one of our favourite porn titles, fresh from Pornfilmfestival Berlin. This year, it’s the aptly named Pleasure, Ninja Thyberg’s penetrating look at the LA porn industry, seen through the eyes of a young Swedish woman (Sofia Kappel) hoping to become porn’s next big star. It’s a thought-provoking, sexually explicit and frequently funny debut that sees the Swedish filmmaker reverse the male gaze and offer a multi-facetted exploration of still-stigmatized world. It comes out in kinos on Jan 13, so catch it early and keep your eyes peeled for my interview with Ninja Thyberg, which will be in the January issue of the magazine.
Finally, keep an eye out for Unknown Pleasures at the very start of the new year. From Jan 1 until 19, the 12th edition of the American Independent Film Festival comes to Arsenal to present a selection of current independent films from the US, with a focus on socio-political tensions told from an autobiographical perspective. It kicks off with Mona Fastvold’s award-winning The World To Come on Jan 1 at 19:30 (with a repeat screening on the 12th at 19:00), and whatever you do, don’t miss out on watching Frederick Wiseman’s City Hall on the 9th (18:00) and 13th (19:00). It’s an absorbing portrait of Boston’s City Hall which shows Wiseman once again peeking behind the curtain of civic life: his observational documentary takes us where policies are made and we are privy to the seemingly mundane meetings and one-on-ones that shape people’s lives. It is a humanist and at times quietly heartbreaking mosaic that’s unmissable.
There we have it.
Happy screenings all, see you next year for the January edition of This Week At The Kino, and keep an eye out for The Matrix Resurrections review and Exberliner’s Top 5 Films of 2021 lists, already published in our December issue of the magazine and heading online soon…
This week at the kino: What’s opening in Berlin from December 09
There’s only one release everyone will be talking about this week…
Steven Spielberg’s remake of classic musical West Side Story. Delayed by a year due to Covid, this reimagining gets a lot right, with a minor shake-up and a wonderful cast. It’s great fun, but one particular element downgrades it from a five-star triumph to… well, read on.
THIS WEEK’S FILM EVENTS & FESTIVALS
It’s the last days of stellar festival Around The World In 14 Films, and there are still tickets left. I recommend booking for tonight’s screening of L’Événement (Happening), Audrey Diwan’s Golden Lion-winner (22:00). It’s an outstanding achievement that features a note-perfect performance by Anamaria Vartolomei. Adapted from the best-selling autobiographical novel by Annie Ernaux, this drama focuses on a student’s determination to terminate her pregnancy in order to continue with her studies and her life. The thing is that the story is set in 1963 France: abortion is illegal and those who seek a clandestine termination risk it all in a “lottery”: if caught, it’s either a prison term or death.
There’s also Friday evening’s The Hill Where Lionesses Roar (19:45), Red Rocket (20:45), and Memoria (21:45), before the closing night on Saturday with a double-bill of Pablo Larraín’s unconventional (and mildly overhyped) tragi-fable Spencer, which already has Oscar pundits chomping at the bit – Kristen Stewart currently stands as the frontrunner when it comes to Best Actress for her turn as doomed royal Diana – and Compartment No.6, Juho Kuosmanen’s wonderfully evocative train-bound love story which shared the Grand Prix in Cannes with Asghar Farhadi’s A Hero (also screening at the festival).
My main tip is to not skip Hit The Road on the final night (19:30) – it’s a tender road trip movie that sees an Iranian family make a run for the border. Panah Panahi (son of Jafar)’s debut film is a flat-out masterpiece, both heartbreaking and surprisingly hilarious in its anarchic energy. If it had been released in German cinemas this year, it would have taken the top spot of my favourite films of 2021, without a doubt. Check out my full festival preview and don’t miss out on seeing the very best of 2021’s festival-premiering films.
Also on Saturday is the Creepy Crypt screening of Jack Clayton’s 1961 psychological horror The Innocents. Based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, and with William Archibald and Truman Capote on screenplay duties, this chilling and beautifully made gothic is bolstered by psychosexual subtext and brilliantly eerie sound design. It screens at 22:30 at Rollberg.
Looking ahead to next week, Babylon are helming Doc.Berlin, the documentary film festival that gives a platform to up-and-coming artists (from Dec 13 – 16). It’s part of Doc.World, a global network of Documentary Film Festivals, and this year’s edition focuses on facts, “alternative facts” and various perspectives on social media. Check out their programme here.
Finally, keep an eye out for the exclusive preview on Tuesday evening of Japanese director Ryūsuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car, screening at Lichtblick kino (19:30). It’s his second 2021 offering – after the superb Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, which won this year’s Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize – and it’s very much 2 for 2: inspired by the short story by Haruki Murakami, Drive My Car explores grief through Chekhov, theatre castings, and an old red Saab 900. It’s an arresting cinematic experience that’s rich in emotional subtext and posits that hope will triumph over life’s hurt. Cannes rewarded it with Best Screenplay, it’s been nominated as Japan’s Oscar submission, and the New York Film Critics Circle recently named it their best film of the year. It comes out in kinos on Dec 23, so don’t miss out on seeing early and, crucially, in OV with those precious English subs.
That’s it for this week. See you soon, with upcoming reviews of Leos Carrax’s Annette and the latest Marvel outing, Spider-Man: No Way Home.
This week at the kino: What’s opening in Berlin from December 02
It’s a very busy week for new releases, so strap in.
There’s something for everyone: a Lady Gaga-starring dynasty melodrama, a new Paul Verhoeven film about sapphic nuns, a hybrid doc you don’t want to miss, an all-female kiss-ass assassination squad, Italy’s Oscar submission, and a Gallic blast from the past…
First up is Father, Son and
Hamaguchi the House of Gucci. Ridley Scott’s second film of the year after The Last Duel is a messy, excessive and overlong soap opera… And I loved every melodramatic minute. From the ridiculous accents to the perfectly timed needle-drops all the way to some of the most scenery-chewing performances you’ll have seen all year, House of Gucci’s main register is not one of subtlety but it is damn entertaining.
Having screened in Cannes this year and fresh from its showings at French Film Week, Benedetta is Paul Verhoeven’s latest film about a clout-chasing novice nun in 17th century Italy, inspired by the nonfiction book ‘Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun in Renaissance Italy’ by historian Judith C. Brown. While many have championed it as a subversive and powerfully erotic melodrama, with some even declaring it as Showgirls meets Sapphic Holy Orders, I had a different experience watching the film.
As fun as House of Gucci is, this is my top pick of the week. Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets is finally out on screens, after its premiere at the Berlinale in 2020. Directorial duo Bill and Turner Ross chronicle the last night of service in a dingy Las Vegas dive bar; it’s a soulful barfly tableau that thrillingly blurs the lines between documentary and fiction. The hybrid end result beautifully questions what locations and communities mean to us, as well as the people we choose to surround ourselves with. It’s empathetic, surprisingly touching, and nothing short of essential.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Bill and Turner Ross, who talked to me about the themes they grapple with, the categorisation of Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets, and the Spice Girls. Yep, you read that right. Don’t miss out on this minor masterpiece.
Much like with Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog, German audiences get lucky this month with a limited big-screen release of Paolo Sorrentino’s È Stata La Mano Di Dio (The Hand of God) before it hits Netflix mid-December. It premiered in Venice this year (where it won several awards) and was recently selected as the Italian entry for the Best International Feature Film at next year’s Oscars. It’s a transportive coming-of-age story that’s exuberantly sentimental and disarmingly autobiographical. Don’t miss out on seeing it in kinos.
Less successful is Gunpowder Milkshake, a John Wick knockoff that isn’t an outright disaster but still fails to convince. It does boast two very strong and expertly choreographed shootout sequences, but even these can’t dispel the impression that a kick-ass cast were underserved by a derivative script.
LE FABULEUX DESTIN D’AMELIE POULAIN
Finally, keep your eyes peeled for the rerelease of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (Amélie), which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. It’s back in cinemas as part of the nationwide, monthly cinema event Best Of Cinema, which brings cult films back to the screen every 1st Tuesday of the month.
The years have not been too kind to the Parisian whimsy: some have reappraised Amélie as a sickly-sweet style-over-substance affair and others feel that its lasting legacy has been the nose-bleedingly annoying Disneyfication of Montmartre. And it’s true that Yann Tiersen’s ubiquitous soundtrack has been played to death. However, this dreamy and life-affirming fantasia will always have a special place in my heart: 16-year-old me went to see it in France when it opened and it was the first film (outside of a film festival context) where a paying and unprompted audience unanimously stood up and clapped as soon as the end credits started rolling. They did so until the curtains were pulled. Yes, it was a French audience – and therefore prone to post-screening cheers and boos – and Amélie feels like it was tailor-made for them, as it’s essentially as French as a chain-smoking snail bathing in garlic… But this heartwarming moment of communion is what cinema is all about. I can’t wait to revisit it on the big screen once more, and hopefully my sentimental tales haven’t made you cringe into resisting Amélie’s lasting charms.
THIS WEEK’S FILM EVENTS & FESTIVALS
On the events / film festival front, I’ve got two cracking recommendations for you this week.
First up is Around The World In 14 Films, which starts tonight with the screening of Joachim Trier’s fantastic The Worst Person In The World. The festival has pulled out all the stops this year with a bumper edition consisting of twice the number of films. And what a line-up they’ve concocted: Cannes favourites, new films from Berlinale laureates, and a handful of Venice alumni, including Pedro Almodóvar’s Parallel Mothers, Pablo Larraín’s Spencer and 2021’s Golden Lion winner, Audrey Diwan’s essential L’Événement. Book your tickets if you haven’t already and head to Kino in der KulturBrauerei, Delphi Lux and Neues Off for the cinematic farewell to 2021 we deserve. Check out my full festival breakdown if you’re looking for further recommendations.
If you’ve missed out on getting tickets for Around The World, then my second recommendation has got your covered. Arsenal are bringing together the cinematic worlds of Dario Argento and David Lynch to explore The Depths of the Uncanny from this Friday until Dec 19. Curated by Gary Vanasian, the programme creates a dialogue between the selected films by both artists, delving into the bottomless pits of the human psyche. It’s by far the most comprehensive retrospective to Argento’s filmography to be presented in Germany, and I recommend you rush to book tickets to… well, as many films as your giallo-starved eyeballs can take. My top pick does remain L’Uccello Dalle Piume Di Cristallo (The Bird With The Crystal Plumage), screening on Dec 4 & 10. This 1970 masterpiece is Argento’s directorial debut and one of my favourite films of all time, a dizzyingly feverish murder investigation that is the most essential entry in giallo cinema: it established the genre’s trademark coda (black gloves, fetishist POVs, crimson blood splatters), features a creepily jittery score from Ennio Morricone, and paved the way not only for Argento’s more fantastical Suspiria and Inferno, but also for everything David Fincher did two decades later.
As for Lynch, from Blue Velvet to Inland Empire, via Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me and the underrated Lost Highway, you can’t go far wrong. However, why you’d miss out on the opportunity to celebrate Mulholland Drive’s 20th anniversary with screenings on Dec 5 & 15 is beyond me.
There we have it. Happy screenings and see you next week for Spielberg’s West Side Story remake…
This week at the kino: What’s opening in Berlin from November 25
After last week’s banner release slate – Ghostbusters: Afterlife, The Power of the Dog and First Cow (all still showing and worth your time and pennies) – this week is a comparatively more mellow affair.
Still, there are some gems worth seeking out, so here goes.
DÉLICIEUX (À LA CARTE)
Hungry? French director Éric Besnard is banking on it. He sets his historical piece, Délicieux (À la Carte), in pre-Revolutionary France, in which food becomes something of a proxy for societal change. We follow a talented head chef who, with the help of a mysterious woman, creates France’s very first restaurant. It’s a tasty confection that doesn’t do for food what Patrice Leconte’s Ridicule did for bon mots, but remains a gentle, warm and yes, delicious feast for the eyes. Read the full review for more.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Besnard, who talked to me about the aesthetic of the film, the link between cooking and filmmaking, and his thoughts on the various translated titles of the film. Stayed tuned for the interview, which will be published in the coming days.
Another high profile release this week is Respect, the Aretha Franklin biopic that only half works. As I mention in the full review, Jennifer Hudson delivers a powerhouse performance that’s lost in an estate-approved project that tends to play things a bit too safe. It’s miles ahead of the sanitised dreck that was Bohemian Rhapsody or the clunky The United States Vs Billie Holiday, but it still pales compared to the 2018 concert film / documentary feature Amazing Grace.
As a cheeky plug, check out my interview with music producer / director Alan Elliott, who brought Amazing Grace to the screen following the death of original director Sidney Pollack.
A PURE PLACE
Finally this week is the Greek-German production A Pure Place. I was giddy about watching this one, considering the WTF thrills of Nikias Chryssos’ 2015 film, Der Bunker (The Bunker). Sadly, this film about a mysterious cult located on a remote Greek island delivers visually but falls prey to some of the genre’s trappings. It’s not a complete disaster but the tone is all over the place and the ending feels a bit too neat compared to its more outré ambitions. Read on for more.
FILM EVENTS AND FESTIVALS
Französische Filmwoche (French Film Week) has kicked off this week. Celebrating French and Francophone cinema, the festival runs until Dec 1 and is well worth checking out. The excellent line-up includes some of this year’s Cannes titles, including Bruno Dumont’s thrilling and thought-provoking France, François Ozon’s brilliantly acted Tout S’est Bien Passé and Leos Carax’s unmissable new film (and English-language debut) Annette, which won the controversial director the award for Best Director earlier this year. Bonnes projections and read my full festival preview for more info on the festival’s hottest tickets. There are still some left, so don’t sleep on it.
Speaking of Leos Carax and because of the upcoming December release of Annette, Arsenal are doing a retrospective of the filmmaker’s oeuvre, in tandem with the Institut Français Berlin. From Mauvais Sang (1986) to Les Amants du Pont-Neuf (1991) via the divisive Holy Motors (2012), featuring Monsieur Oscar in his stretch limousine, now’s the time to revisit some classics.
If you’re not keen on Carax and French cinema isn’t you thing,
then there’s very little anyone can do for you there are alternatives…
Like films? Enjoy poetry? Well, Zebra, the world’s first – and largest – international platform for short films inspired by poetry has got you covered. The Zebra Poetry Film Festival kicks off today (until the 28th) with its characteristically impressive innovative spirit. This year, audiences can look forward to a programme that shines a light on France. The festival takes place at Urania – check out the line-up here.
My main recommendation is to book tickets as quick as you can for Around The World In 14 Films. Starting on Dec 2 (until 11th), Berlin’s “festival of festivals” is treating audiences to a blissful nightmare, having programmed twice the number of films for their 16th edition… And they’re all so damn good it makes me want to cry. New films from Pedro Almodóvar, Pablo Larraín, Joanna Hogg, Andrea Arnold, Ryūsuke Hamaguchi and 2021’s Venice Golden Lion winning film, L’Événement by Audrey Diwan, are all vying for your attention… And in order to accommodate such a wide cinematic net, the festival is taking place not only at its regular haunt Kino in der KulturBrauerei but also at Delphi Lux and Neues Off. Here’s my full lowdown on the festival and for the love of all that’s good and pure, nab tickets while you can!
Lastly, don’t forget our monthly EXBlicks evening on Monday 29th. This month’s pick is Chasing Paper Birds, the debut film by Canadian-Croatian Berlinerin Mariana Jukica, which features Systemsprenger and Berlin Alexanderplatz’ standout performer Albrecht Schuh. Join us at Lichtblick Kino and stick around after the film for a Q&A with the director. And come say hello to the Exberliner gang – we don’t bite. Hard.
That’s it for this week. Enjoy the screenings, head to the festivals and say hello if you catch me at Cinéma Paris or the KulturBrauerei – the amount of tickets I’ve bought is making my head spin!
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