Berlinale Bloggers 2021
Once Upon a Time … there were human beings

Dan Stevens, Sandra Hüller
I’m Your Man, director Maria Schrader, with Sandra Hüller and Dan Stevens | Photo (detail): © Christine Fenzl

From science fiction to historical film: the Berlinale competition's reduced selection nevertheless offers an astonishing range of German films.

By Philipp Bühler

Films are supposed to be contemporary, but they must not disregard the past and, if possible, point to the future. No problem, in the competition alone this year German film is delivering the whole range, at least judging by the scant information provided by the Berlinale. With her Ich bin dein Mensch / I’m Your Man, for instance, Maria Schrader presents a sci-fi comedy in which the female protagonist is provided with her digitally designed dream partner. A future scenario that is by no means implausible, indeed fits quite well with a Berlinale that even for large parts of the industry is taking place only online. There isn't even any internet left in the Berlinale special feature Tides by Swiss eco-dystopia specialist Tim Fehlbaum (Hell). A global catastrophe has wiped out almost all of humanity.

Pub vs. Classrooom

Daniel Brühl's directorial debut Nebenan / Next Door takes us to present-day Berlin, still quite well populated. In a pub that is, however, largely empty, the actor and ex-pub owner allegedly wrangles with celebrity hype and gentrification, and of course plays himself. Conceited navel-gazing, ambitious Corona project or something else entirely? We'll see. In any event, Maria Speth's long-term documentary Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse / Mr Bachmann and his Class – about an unconventional comprehensive school teacher in central Hessen – is pedagogically valuable. We know Speth from her splendid women's drama Madonnen. There, too, the topic was education in the broadest sense.


Most eagerly awaited is likely Dominik Graf's Fabian, based on the 1931 novel by Erich Kästner. In Berlin, shaken by the Great Depression, the protagonist, a copywriter in a cigarette factory played by Tom Schilling, is also slipping down into the abyss. What reads like a felicitous mix of Babylon Berlin and Schilling's performance in Oh Boy is new territory for the ever-present director Graf (Im Angesicht des Verbrechens / In Face of the Crime). In an interview he underscored the material’s topicality and made a great secret of its length – the true spirit of a novel can only be conveyed through its length! Much talk about a rather short book, but with a good film any length is fine with me.