Berlinale: Radical Narratives

Offering the usual mix of eclectic films from around the globe, this year’s Berlin Film Festival has boasted few memorable titles to excite filmgoers venturing to the Potsdamer Platz. That said there was at least one gem in the shape of Timur Bekmambetov’s Profile, playing in the Panorama section. The Russian director, best known for his Night Watch trilogy of vampire movies, the first of which came to Berlin in 2004, returned with a fascinating adaptation of Anna Érelle’s book In The Skin of a Jihadist, an account of her terrifying attempt to make contact with an ISIS recruiter.

Radically, the film is entirely played out on a laptop screen, filling the entire frame. Amy (Valene Kane) is a freelance reporter working for a TV station. In desperate need of money to pay her rent, she takes on a story, setting herself up a fake Facebook profile that soon draws the attention of Bilel (Shazad Latif), a Londoner now living in Syria. As she records their conversations, and find out how he radicalises naïve teenage girls, it’s an increasingly tense game of cat-and-mouse that never leaves the confines of her Mac.

Two westerns also draw attention. David and Nathan Zellner’s competition entry Damsel stars Robert Pattinson as an incurable romantic who comes seeking out the girl (played by Mia Wasikowska) he believes is the love of his life, complete with a preacher in tow. With the tone very much dark comedy, it’s a fine line the Zellners walk, albeit in a meandering fashion, but for those who enjoy the humour of early Coen Brothers films, this may well be one to catch.

More impressive is Lance Daly’s out of competition entry Black 47, which plays out the tropes of the western to the backdrop of the 19th century Irish potato famine. Hugo Weaving stars as an ex-soldier on the hunt for one of his old platoon buddies, played by James Frecheville, who savaged several law enforcers after the death of his wife and child. With stark landscapes, as unforgiving as the film’s depiction of the British government’s behaviour, it’s a bleak but bold watch that gradually grows in power as the slow-burning story unfolds.

Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios’ competition entry Museum, starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Leonardo Ortizgris, was another casually gripping tale. Based on actual events, it tells of two veterinary school dropout friends who pull off one of the most audacious heists in Mexican history, stealing dozens of precious artefacts from the Anthropology Museum. It’s an odd experience, not least when Simon Russell Beale turns up as an art collector in a house apparently once owned by John Wayne. But it was beguiling enough for the Jury: they awarded Ruizpalacios and his co-writer Manuel Alcalá a Silver Bear for Best Screenplay.

Berlin Film Festival ran 15-25 February, for more information click here.

James Mottram

1. Still from Hotel Jugoslavija, as part of the Panorama series at Berlinale. Courtesy of Berlinale.