A rebellion, a farewell, gold and a little less glitter: get your bearings at this year's festival here – without even being there.
By Ula Brunner
A little wistfulness is bound to set in: this 69th Berlinale will be the last edition under the aegis of Dieter Kosslick. Kosslick, an entertaining self-promoter with a signature Swabian charm, has been running the pre-eminent German film festival since 2001. His era, during which he grew the Berlinale into the world's biggest public film festival, will be definitely over in May 2019. For the first time in its history, the Berlin International Film Festival will then have two people at its helm: Carlo Chatrian, head of the Locarno Festival since 2013, will serve as artistic director and Dutch-born Mariette Rissenbeek as executive director.
Dieter Kosslick, Berlinale festival Director until 2019 | Photo (detail): Marc Ohrem Leclef@berlinale 2012
Hopes: Of regaining lost lustre
Over the past few years, the approaching change of leadership has kindled some heated debates over the organizational and curatorial shape of the upcoming reboot. The main criticisms of the status quo: too many sections with fuzzy profiles and a decline in the quality of the films. Especially in these times of increasingly keen competition from streaming services, a film fest needs to steer a new course through the headwinds and rough waters ahead. The fact that Isabel Coixet's entry, Elisa y Marcela
, was co-funded by Netflix caused no little aggravation in the run-up to the competition. Will Carlo Chatrian help the Berlinale regain some of its lost lustre? So far, the reticent Italian artistic director-designate hasn’t said a word about his plans for the festival’s post-2020 future.
Because it’s still Kosslick's baby. 17 films will be vying for the Golden and Silver Bears in February 2019. With a blend of genre and art house films and experimental storytelling, this year’s line-up explores the fine lines between privacy, self-determination, family and society.
“Yi Miao Zhong” by Zhang Yimou | Photo (detail): © Huanxi Media Group
Winners: The golden gleams of yesteryear
Due to a dearth of US productions screening in Berlin this year, Hollywood stars will be twinkling only sporadically on the red carpet this year. But a number of auteurs habitués are invited again, including former laureates. In 1981 Zhang Yimou became the first Chinese filmmaker ever to win the Golden Bear, and his winning film Hóng Gāoliang
(i.e. Red Sorghum)
caused no little controversy in his country. His latest drama, Yi miao zhong
(i.e. One Second), is about an encounter between a movie fan and a female vagabond. Wang Quan'an, who won the Berlinale in 2007 with Túyǎ de hūnshì
(i.e. Tuya's Marriage)
, tells another Mongolian love story in his latest production, Öndög
One of the German submissions is also by a former Golden Bear winner: 15 years after the unexpected success of Gegen die Wand
, Fatih Akin has come out with a horror-thriller called Der goldene Handschuh
The Golden Glove)
about the notorious serial killer in 1970s Hamburg, Fritz Honka.
“Kiz Kardesler” by Emin Alper | Photo (detail): © Liman Film, Komplizen Film, Circe Films, Horsefly Productions
Family: What it really means
What does family mean to the individual and for society as a whole? This year’s selection looks at the question from various angles. In Angela Schanelec’s German entry Ich war zuhause, aber (
i.e. I Was at Home, But), a 13-year-old boy disappears from home without a trace for a week. In Kız Kardeşler
, on the other hand, Turkish filmmaker Emin Alper tells “a tale of three sisters” sent from a poor village in Central Anatolia to foster families in hopes of a better life. In the Danish festival opener, Lone Scherfig’s The Kindness of Strangers
, which is set in the depths of a New York City winter, a handful of diverse characters find emotional shelter – a sort of substitute family – in one another. And a gang serves as ersatz family for Neapolitan youths in Claudio Giovannesi’s La paranza dei bambini
(i.e. Piranhas). Based on a bestseller by Roberto Saviano, the film follows a teenage gang spreading terror through the streets of Naples at the bidding of their mobster bosses. Saviano, who’s been under police protection ever since the publication of Gomorrah
, his investigative non-fiction novel about the Camorra mafia in Naples, will be a guest at the festival – though naturally under very tight security.
“Systemsprenger” by Nora Fingscheidt | Photo (detail): © kineo Film / Weydemann Bros. / Yunus Roy Imer
Rebellion: Why #MeToo is here to stay
The fact that men hold most of the key creative jobs in the film industry is reflected in the Berlinale’s track record: in 68 years, the festival has awarded only six Golden Bears to women, most recently in 2018 to the Romanian Adina Pintilie for Touch Me Not.
And less than a third of all the submissions to this year’s edition are by women. However, the committee’s shortlist has evened out the playing field a little: seven of the 17 handpicked entries to the competition were made by women. Incidentally, one of the German contenders, Nora Fingscheidt's directorial debut Systemsprenger
(i.e. System Crasher)
about a troubled nine-year-old boy, was made possible by public broadcaster ZDF’s fund to promote gender equality in filmmaking. In a word: where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Retrospective: On women’s perspectives
Not only that, but the focus of this year's Retrospective seems to answer this very call for gender equality: under the banner Self-Determined: Perspectives of Women Filmmakers
, the section spotlights the work of German women directors from 1968 to 1999. As different as these films by the likes of Jutta Brückner or Ula Stöckl may be, they do share an “interest in exploring their own environment” and a “search for their own cinematic idiom”. This year's official Homage and its Honorary Golden Bear also go to a woman: award-winning cult actress Charlotte Rampling. As mentioned above, the 69th Berlinale opens with a film by a woman, Lone Scherfig, and Juliette Binoche will be presiding over this year’s jury. Needless to say, a festival can’t rid the industry, much the less the world, of sexism and inequality. But it can set an example. Which is precisely what Kosslick's last Berlinale is doing.