Berlinale: A Preview

Lacking the A-List auteur appeal of Cannes and the awards-season glitz of Venice and Toronto, the Berlin Film Festival has gone in a different direction. This year, the competition line-up – 17 titles in all – is more esoteric. Although, selected by festival director Dieter Kosslick in his eighteenth and final year, that’s not to say that there aren’t some major directors unveiling their latest works.

Opening the festival is Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig – one of seven female directors lining up – with her new film The Kindness of Strangers. A New York-set story, it’s a multi-tiered love story starring Tahar Rahim, Zoe Kazan, Andrea Riseborough and Bill Nighy. Scherfig has previously brought several of her key movies to Berlin, including Italian for Beginnersand An Education

Another occasional visitor to the Berlinale is prolific French director François Ozon, whose films Water Drops On Burning Rocks, Ricky and Angel have all played. His new film By The Grace of God concerns sexual abuse in the clergy; Melvil Poupaud plays Alexandre, a young man who discovers that the priest who abused him as a child is still working with kids today. He and two others join forces to “lift the burden of silence.”

Berlin favourite Fatih Akin also returns to the festival, after his 2004 film Head-On(arguably the best work of his career) won the Golden Bear. Adapted from Heinz Strunk’s novel, his latest, The Golden Glove, is inspired by a real-life serial killer who stalked Hamburg’s red-light district in the 1970s, killing four prostitutes. Marc Hosemann stars. 

Another former Golden Bear winner, Chinese director Zhang Yimou, is also back. A regular at the festival ever since his 1988 debut Red Sorghumwon the top prize, he returns with One Second, just six months after his martial arts drama Shadow wowed crowds in Venice. Starring Zhang Yi, the story is reputedly Zhang’s love letter to cinema, as a film reel inspires an unlikely friendship between a fugitive and a homeless girl. 

Away from the competition, the Panorama holds some excellent titles, including Jonah Hill’s directorial debut Mid 90s, a coming-of-age skateboarder tale which is released in the UK in April. Casey Affleck also returns with his second film as director, Light of My Life, in which he stars alongside Elisabeth Moss. His first movie since his mock-doc I’m Still Herewith Joaquin Phoenix, it should be quite an event. 

The Berlin Film Festival runs until 16 February. For more details, click here.

James Mottram

Lead Image: Still from
The Kindness of Strangers.