Berlin Film Festival: A Preview

This week, the 68th Berlin Film Festival – or the Berlinale as its known – gets under way. Always a festival known for its political and social concerns, this year the press conferences and public forums will undoubtedly be dominated by the #MeToo movement and debates about abuse of power within the industry.

The festival will also be coming under scrutiny. Last year, a published open letter signed by 79 German filmmakers including Maren Ade (Tony Erdmann) and Fatih Akin (In The Fade) called for a “new start” to the selection committee when current artistic director Dieter Kosslick’s contract expires in 2019.

Berlin has always slightly suffered, with many filmmakers holding their movies back in the hope of qualifying for Cannes in May. This year, however, there are some impressive auteurs in the main competition. Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated film Isle of Dogs – with a voice cast including Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and Greta Gerwig – opens the festival. A story about canines being banished to a Japanese island, political connections to Trump’s America are bound to be made.

On a different note, José Padilha, the Brazilian director who started his career with the hijack documentary Bus 174, returns to this universe with Entebbe, a film about the real-life 1976 capture of a plane full of mainly Israeli passengers by pro-Palestinian revolutionaries. With the aircraft flown to Entebbe, Uganda, the film promises grim realism as those on board face a week-long ordeal.

Also playing is Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot – which actually premiered in Sundance last month. Joaquin Phoenix plays cartoonist John Callahan, an alcoholic who is trying to get sober as he goes through an AA programme. It’s not the only competition movie to deal with addiction: Cédric Kahn’s The Prayer stars Anthony Bajon as a 22 year-old who, in trying to kick his drug habit, joins a remote community in the French mountains supervised by a Catholic priest.

British talent will also be represented by Rupert Everett, who will be making his directorial debut with The Happy Prince, which plays out of competition. Everett, who also wrote the script, plays the leading role – the celebrated writer and wit Oscar Wilde (perfect casting, it seems). Colin Firth and Emily Watson co-star in what looks set to be a fascinating look at the final years of Wilde’s life.

The 68th Berlin Film Festival runs from 15 February to 24 February. For more information click here.

James Mottram

1. Still from Cédric Kahn’s The Prayer.