Berlinale-Blogger 2017
Journeying through the Competition

Bright Nights showcases the physical and emotional journey of a father-son duo.
Bright Nights showcases the physical and emotional journey of a father-son duo. | © Schramm Film / Marco Krüger

Since its formation in 1951, the films in Berlinale's official competition have taken viewers on a journey that ranges much further than the trip from their home to the cinema. From the courtroom drama of "12 Angry Men" to the rural life of "Red Sorghum" to the animated wonder of "Spirited Away", each winner and contender has sent audiences far and wide — including "Taxi’s" ride around modern-day Tehran and "Fire at the Sea’s" intimate look at refugees crossing the Mediterranean, the festival’s two most recent winners.

These jaunts manifest in many ways: taking viewers to a place they've never been or into a way of life they've never seen; allowing them to watch someone else's trek; charting a physical, external trip; or navigating an internalised state of change, for example. Indeed, 2017’s slate of competitors traverse a multitude of adventures, but remain united in whisking away the Berlinale masses along with them. In three of the films to screen thus far, viewers are transported to an outlandish attempt to escape a mundane life, a fight for acceptance and dignity, and a place where the sun blazes through the evening.

Naked runs through snow

In Wild Mouse, Georg (Josef Hader) scurries like the creature that gives the movie its name — and, while he's always moving, he never gets far. As a music critic happy to have worked at the same newspaper for decades, then finding himself lost when he's let go as a cost cutting measure, his restlessness and listlessness quickly come to epitomise his broader problems. Instead of confronting his new situation, he hangs out in a fairground all day. Rather than talk to his wife Johanna (Pia Hierzegger) regarding their efforts to start a family, he avoids coming home. Revenge and suicide plots, miniature train rides and naked runs through the snow all eventuate. Turned comedian, turned writer, director and star Hader ensures his portrait of a man in disarray is haunted by the paths both taken and ignored.

There's a difference between running away from reality and responsibility as a method of distraction, of course, and circling the life you're fighting to call your own due to circumstances out of your control. It's the latter that the titular figure in Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman, Marina (Daniela Vega), experiences when her older boyfriend dies suddenly, leaving her open to intensive scrutiny about her transgender status and their love. The hospital, the police, the ex-wife, grown son and broader family: all remain suspicious and flaunt their narrow-mindedness. Embarking upon a journey to claim her space in the world free from marginalisation, Marina is forced not only to grieve, but battle to do so while being subjected to — and striving to subvert — traditional societal prejudices.

Exploration via cinema

The protagonists in Wild Mouse and A Fantastic Woman may roam more figuratively than literally; however Bright Nights takes the concept to its more obvious opposite extreme. An adventure through the soul features once more, but here, it’s accompanied by a lengthy trip from Berlin to a remote part of Norway in the thick of the perennially sunny summer. When his father dies, Michael (Georg Friedrich) takes his teenage son (Tristan Göbel) to pack up his belongings. This proves an opportunity for them to bond as much as it is a chance to farewell a family member. Their emotional journey may be obvious, but the physical trek they embark upon puts the entire notion of exploration via cinema into focus — including a striking, mesmerising late sequence offering a first-person perspective of their drive into the woods. It also provides a visual depiction of the ups and downs of their strained father-son relationship.