My Berlinale A Very Good Year

Under the sign of the bear: a look outside the Berlinale palace
Under the sign of the bear: a look outside the Berlinale palace | Photo: Maren Niemeyer

500,000 visitors, 441 films, 72 countries, 11 days and a few bears. Filmmaker and Goethe associate Maren Niemeyer was there and draws her own personal conclusions of the Berlinale.

These days, if you catch sight of young, well-dressed individuals with rings under their eyes, runny noses and a beer bottle in their hands somewhere on the subway in Tokyo, São Paulo, Johannesburg or New York, there’s a good possibility they just arrived home from the Berlinale.

For eleven days, 500,000 cinemagoers had their pick of 441 films from 72 countries. It was my 25th time at a Berlinale, so I trust I can say that it was a particularly good year, a particularly exciting and especially political Berlinale with thoroughly reasonable jury choices.

This year, though, the hurdles for cineastes from around the world were raised a good bit. The chances of getting one’s hands on the decisive tickets were like the probability of a win in the lottery. Since the main S-Bahn line was closed, travelling to the Berlinale cinemas distributed across the city proved to be a daily hand-to-hand battle on the subway against Berlin flu viruses.

So it was no wonder that even diminutive female Japanese film critics imitated the Berlin style of carrying a beer bottle as their constant companion on the overcrowded U2 line. It led directly to Alexanderplatz and the Kino International, where one of my favourite films of this year’s Berlinale was running on the wide screen. B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West-Berlin, 1979 – 1989, by Jörg A. Hoppe, Klaus Maeck and Heiko Lange dives into the mad and blurry isle of the blessed that the West Berlin music and arts scene was in those years, the final phase of which I was able to experience myself as a student at the FU.

They all came to the overcrowded cinema, Blixa Bargeld, Gudrun Gut, Campino, only Nick Cave and Christiane F. cannot be seen. It is a class reunion of the underground superlative. Anyone who survived the frenzies of the legendary Bar Risiko and the druggy nights in the world-famous Dschungel is here this first Berlinale Sunday, somewhat greyed and sometimes with kith and kin. The film is a maelstrom-like collage. Brilliant sound, exciting protagonists and breath-taking archival material bring this exceptional West Berlin era back to life for 90 minutes. Later, the youths of today emptying their beer bottles in the subway look like a gathering of overachievers compared to this film of former Berlin excesses.

Far from it. My next film disabuses me of that notion. Sebastian Schipper’s competing film Victoria, shows how four tough Kreuzberg boys and a Spanish girl party on frenzied Berlin morning hours in 2014, including a bank heist. 140 minutes in a single shot; I haven’t seen such a powerful German film since Run Lola Run, tremendous performers, splendid direction and in the end the young Norwegian cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovien rightfully receives the Silver Bear for his camera work.

Dominik Graf’s Forum entry about German film critic Michael Althen, who died at the young age of 48 in 2011, is a far quieter film. It is one of five Berlinale films supported by the Goethe-Institut so I am all the more keen to learn the result. Then is It the End? is a moving and melancholy film that gets very close to its protagonist but is also a wonderfully informative documentary about the difficult profession of the film critic.

The Berlinale Breakfast held by the Goethe-Institut at the beginning of the festival was also dedicated to the film world and film in the world. The awards conferred there were in keeping with the trend of this political Berlinale. They come from film festivals in two countries that are still blank spots for the international community of filmmakers: North Korea and Albania.

The Goethe-Institut’s Secretary-General Johannes Ebert and President Klaus-Dieter Lehmann personally presented the impressive statues from the festivals supported by the Goethe-Institut to the makers of the winning German films: My Beautiful Country by Michaela Kezele and Forget Me Not by David Sieveking were the winners in Pyongyang, West by Christian Schwochow and Silent Summer by Nana Neul in Saranda, Albania. I wonder whether the rebellious thriller Victoria would have a chance at the next film festival in Pyongyang; it would be a consolation, as Sebastian Schipper did not receive a Golden Bear for direction this time around.

It was right that the Berlinale jury eventually awarded Iranian Jafar Panahi, who has been banned from working, for his film Taxi. Not only was it a good decision based on the film itself, but in these eventful days under the threat of fundamentalism, it was also a strong signal on behalf of the freedom of the film art.