Berlin Film Festival 2021: Report

With no possibility of a physical edition during the pandemic, this year’s Berlin Film Festival went virtual. A five-day online-only event, it draws to a close today, with the jury awarding Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn awarded the coveted Golden Bear. For the moment, the festival selection is available only to buyers, press and other industry folk. But in June, Covid-19 permitting, the films will screen in Berlin to local audiences.

The official selection is smaller than usual – and lacking the Hollywood studio presence that usually makes itself known at the Berlinale. Sony’s French Exit, with Michelle Pfeiffer as a suicidal socialite, and Kevin Macdonald’s The Mauritanian, with recent Golden Globe-winner Jodie Foster, are the highest-profile titles playing. But, on the plus side, that’s left room for more esoteric filmmakers to shine online.

Probably the most outstanding film has been Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman. The director of the acclaimed Girlhood and Portrait of a Lady on Fire has once again proved what an original talent she is with this tale of a young girl Nelly (Joséphine Sanz), whose grandmother has just died. Whilst helping clear her house, Nelly wanders into the nearby woods and meets a girl who, we come to realise, is an incarnation of her mother as an 8 year-old (Joséphine’s twin, Gabrielle). It’s a bewitching fairy-tale – a 70-minute miniature-piece.

Another delight was Natalie Morales’ Language Lessons, a true movie for the pandemic era (though it never mentions it). Morales plays Cariño, a Spanish teacher who gives online instruction to Adam (Mark Duplass) after his partner buys him a 100 lessons as a gift. Essentially a two-hander, as these two get to know each other virtually, it’s a beautifully judged and frequently surprising story, one that sums up the isolation that most people are feeling at the moment.

Music fans were also given a treat with Tina, a documentary about legendary singer Tina Turner. Directed by T.J. Martin and Daniel Lindsay, it’s an engrossing account of her story – from the abused partner to Ike Turner to 1980s superstar, as she sold out football stadium concerts on the back of her Private Dancer album. Turner, Oprah Winfrey and Angela Bassett, who played Turner in 1993’s What’s Love Got To Do With It, are among the interviewees in what is an uplifting tale of triumph over much adversity.

Finally, French actor Jérémie Renier gives an impressive turn in Xavier Beauvois’ Drift Away. He plays Laurent, a French policeman in a small coastal town who has always managed to keep the bleaker aspects of his job at arm’s length. But after an altercation one night with a suicidal farmer, his entire life is uprooted. Renier, who started his career working for the Dardennes Brothers, is perhaps less internationally recognised than he should be, but he offers a considered and cultured performance here.

The Berlin Film Festival will run in public from June 9-20. For more details, click here.