Anything can happen at Berlinale
Anything can happen at a film festival. In a magical realist effort, two kindred spirits can meet in a slaughterhouse and connect through their dreams, for example. And, in the kind of turn of events that you’d expect to see in a movie, an underdog can eclipse bigger favourites to emerge a surprise winner. As the 2017 Berlinale came to a close, Ildikó Enyedi’s Golden Bear recipient On Body and Soul proved that both were possible.
Indeed, if there’s one thing that Berlin delivers each February, it’s surprises; however, when visiting the German city involves trying to wade through more than 400 movies, embracing the unknown and the sense of discovery that comes with it can provide calm amidst the hustle and bustle. No session at the ten-day event was the same. No instance of sitting in a darkened room alongside some of the festival’s 334,471 ticket holders was either. Frostier weather than usual — not that a few degrees of extra warmth would’ve made a difference to an Australian arriving from the thick of the southern hemisphere’s summer — was just the beginning of the unexpected developments that Berlinale served up.
Indeed, even the easily anticipated hits and moments refused to play out as planned. Aki Kaurismäki’s The Other Side of Hope was one of the most keenly awaited titles in the competition lineup — and in the lineup in general — and yet still unleashed a masterclass in deadpan humour, warmth and empathy that didn’t simply conform to a predictable narrative. Excitement accompanied the first Chinese animated effort to contend for the festival’s main prize, Have A Nice Day, but there’s a difference between looking forward to seeing something different and enjoying its violent philosophy and wryly amusing take on modern China firsthand. Anyone with even a passing interest in film knew that Logan would focus on a well-known blade-wielding hero, though just how deeply its musings on finding solace in an uncaring world would cut couldn’t be foreseen. And while the sumptuous Call Me By Your Name arrived in Potsdamer Platz amid Sundance fanfare as glowing as its sun-drenched frames, there’s nothing like personally falling for its full swooning, swelling impact.
Then comes the other gems hiding in plain sight, for every film festival program overflows with cinematic treasures for those willing to look. Ciao Ciao made a societal statement through its depiction of youthful malaise, while Dayveon exposed the cycle of violence surrounding a teen in a gang neighbourhood, and Summer 1993 charted a six-year-old’s entry into a new family to explore a younger age still. In Newton, the attempts to uphold the democratic process proved ripe for warm shots and dark comedy, with both remaining memorable after viewing. Polish mystery-fable Spoor offered a comparable type of humour, coupled with a moody, brooding tone and visuals to lingering effect, just like its haunting animals.
Boosted by the star power of Charlie Hunnam and Robert Pattinson, The Lost City of Z adopted a classic approach to a true adventure with rousing and thoughtful results, in no small part in thanks to the assured hands of director James Gray. At the other end of the scale, first-time British effort God’s Own Country traversed landscape as striking and emotions even more stirring in its farm-set romance, heightening the sense of intimacy. In chronicling the ups and downs of a difficult love story played out over several years, Romanian new wave entry Ana, mon amour also favoured the latter to an involving end.
As always at a film festival, the list goes on. Perhaps the least surprising aspect of attending Berlinale isn’t the efficiency with which everything is run, even when 1600 people are filing into the Berlinale Palast at 9am; nor the sigh-inducing inevitability of every session bearing intrusions from mobile phone screens; nor spotting crowds clamouring for a glimpse of the festival’s visiting high-profile talent, day in, day out; nor even eventually adjusting to the cold climes and many layers of clothing that comes with it. Instead, it’s reigniting a seemingly unquenchable thirst to keep watching more and more, despite the cravings for sunlight, vegetables, sitting somewhere other than one of the festival’s very comfortable theatre chairs and taking heed of the ever-present John Wick: Chapter 2 posters plastered all over the city that start to form. Every cinephile shares that sensation, and while it can ebb and flow, there’s no better place to nurture a love of the medium than at the world’s biggest public film festival.