Berlinale Blogger 2017
Truffle Hunting at the Berlinale

The Match Factory
© The Match Factory

As a Berlinale Blogger, it's not all about the competition entries - here we look at the art of looking for hidden gems in the programme. 

I remember, several years ago, reading an article about the art of film criticism – or I may have imagined it as I can’t seem to find the piece any more. It said that the role of critics today should be like pigs hunting for truffles. The cinematic schedule is oversaturated; with so much being released, critics should be seeking out the smaller films, the wonders that are hidden, and bring them to the attention of everyone else.

I took that message to heart and while I queued up eagerly for screenings of Logan and the Lost City of Z, I also made sure that I was looking out for titles that may not have any hype, budget or established name to them. The kind of films that make The Other Side of Hope seem like a mainstream hit. I’m glad I did – while digging around through the programme for truffles, I found some of the Berlinale’s best films. 

Adriana’s Pact, from Chile, is probably the best thing I’ve seen at the festival. The documentary starts poorly, with an innocuous, badly filmed skype conversation. There’s an almost lazy, observational feeling to its form. Then the first revelation comes and suddenly that observational tone makes it like watching a family crisis. What emerges after that is searingly honest and politically essential, taking a raw, vital look at difficult family histories and Chile’s violent past. Think of a cross between Joshua Oppenheimer and Patricio Guzmán, as directed by a millennial with no budget. 

Also in the Panorama strand, I watched Centaur, a film from Kyrgyzstan about a horse thief. Aktan Arym Kubat’s film is a beautiful paean to local tradition and mythology, with gorgeous cinematography and heartfelt, naturalistic central performances. I was also immensely moved by the narrative doc For Ahkeem and intrigued by the mystery of somniloquies, an experimental film about sleep-talking. 
These smaller films don’t have any name recognition and may never receive distribution in the UK – but they’ve rescued the Berlinale for me after the competition has been resolutely underwhelming. Rummaging around outside of the competition led to some very tasty truffles indeed.