Sydney Film Festival 2017 A feast of German cinema

The Young Karl Marx
'The Young Karl Marx'. | © The Young Karl Marx via Sydney Film Festival

For the past 64 years, Sydney Film Festival has celebrated the latest and greatest in international cinema. The city’s major movie-focused showcase, it brings together an enormous program highlighting the breadth and depth of film as an art form. It’s a mammoth endeavour for just one event — but, it’s also more than just one event. Indeed, it’s easy to think of SFF as several film festivals in one.

Curated by artistic director Nashen Moodley, the festival’s thematic strands offer mini-festivals within the broader festival, touching upon topics as varied as music, feminism and First Nations filmmakers in 2017. For fans of films from specific countries, it also serves up a concentrated dose of cinema from a wealth of places. This year, those interested in German cinema can work their way through 24 features and seven shorts either made in Germany, or made as co-productions between Germany and other countries, for example.

24 German features and seven shorts

Leading the charge are five German productions united in their origins but varied in their content, beginning with hedonistic hops through Berlin, observational chronicles of concentration camp tourism, and a collaboration between a German artist and an Australian acting superstar. Axolotl Overkill proves energetic and insightful in adapting Helene Hegemann’s novel, Austerlitz holds a mirror up to humanity’s reaction to tragedy, and Manifesto brings Julian Rosefeldt and Cate Blanchett together in a multi-character art installation distilled into feature-length form. In addition, Beuys: Arts as a Weapon steps through the life and work of iconoclast artist Joseph Beuys, while In the Fade arrives straight from the Official Competition at Cannes, directed by Turkish-German filmmaker Fatih Akin and starring internationally famed actress Diane Kruger. As a snapshot of German filmmaking, they couldn’t offer audiences a more diverse trip through the country’s cinematic output.

'In the Fade'. 'In the Fade'. | © In the Fade via Sydney Film Festival Among the festival’s slate of German co-productions, variety also proves the spice of life. Five titles feature in Sydney’s Official Competition, competing for a prize of $60,000, with everything from sexually voracious aliens (in Mexican director Amat Escalante’s The Untamed) to an exploration of Georgian patriarchal society (in Nana & Simon’s My Happy Family) accounted for. They’re joined by Alain Gomis’ music-filled drama Félicité, Aki Kaurismäki's comedic look at refugee and restaurant life in The Other Side of Hope, and Michael Haneke’s latest detached yet probing exploration of the darker side of human nature, Happy End. Plus, while not in the running to win the festival’s major award, two German-linked films also rank among SFF’s late-addition slate of straight-from-Cannes picks: 2017 Palme d’Or winner The Square, an art world satire by Sweden’s Ruben Östlund, and animated Iran-set effort Tehran Taboo from debut writer/director Ali Soozandeh.

'The Square'. 'The Square'. | © The Square via Sydney Film Festival The remainder of the co-production slate jumps from The Young Karl Marx’s intellectually and emotionally fascinating portrait of the formation of a leader to A Fantastic Woman’s heart-wrenching transgender portrait, and from The Nile Hilton Incident’s Egypt-set corruption crime thriller to Polish hunter mystery Spoor as well. They have company, screening alongside the likes of Ana, Mon Amour’s Romanian relationship drama, Diamond Island’s coming-of-age tale in Phnom Penh, Ember’s psychological melodrama, and The Wound’s sensitive dip into African masculinity and sexuality. Among the documentary slate, Dries examines the titular Belgian designer, A Modern Man relates the true tale of virtuoso violinist Charlie Siem, Untitled crafts director Michael Glawogger’s final footage into his last documentary, and Risk sees Laura Poitras' follow-up to her Oscar winning Citizenfour by taking a look at Julian Assange.

Berlinale: A fertile feeding pool

And, while they may not boast production ties to Germany, a healthy contingent of SFF’s program possesses another link: screening at the 2017 Berlinale. Germany’s major film festival always proves a fertile feeding pool for Sydney, and this year is no exception. Golden Bear winner On Body and Soul is just one of the highlights of a selection that includes stunning queer romances Call Me By Your Name and God’s Own Country, pithy social satire The Party, documentary powerhouse I Am Not Your Negro, Indian black comedy Newton, all-ages animated delight My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea, the Geoffrey Rush-starring Final Portrait, artist biopic Maudie and reality-inspired Macedonian drama When the Day Had No Name. Yes, the list goes on, with SFF delivering an absolute feast of German, German co-produced and Berlin-screened cinema for eager viewers.