The busy queue for the press screening of Django was buzzing with anticipation. The opening film of the Berlinale wasn’t what was causing the chatter – few people knew what to expect from this low-key feature. Instead, people were talking about the festival as a whole. What have you seen? What are you excited about? Some critics reminisced about years gone by, others tried to guess what would be the big hit of this 67th Berlinale.
In the middle of it all was me, trying not to look too wide-eyed at my first time at the fest.
I’ve been to festivals before in my home country, Scotland, so I knew a little bit of what to expect, but the Berlinale is a totally different beast to anything hosted in Edinburgh or Glasgow. After picking up my pass I tried to navigate the bustling press space in the Grand Hyatt. Hundreds of critics gave the area an animated, palpably international atmosphere. A TV screen streamed the International Jury press conference, where Paul Verhoeven declared that he was looking for something controversial, angry and creative.
Safe to say, Django is not that film. It’s difficult to see why the straightforward drama was picked to open the festival – fine performances and thrilling music are undercut by pedestrian direction. Django Reinhardt’s hybrid style of gypsy, jazz and blues music is vibrant and lively, but that energy isn’t reflected in the film itself. Perhaps Dieter Kosslick, the festival director, put Django in a prominent position to make a political statement. This is, after all, about the role of artists facing autocratic, philistine rulers.
The slightly underwhelming opener did little to quash the atmosphere or my enthusiasm. A festival of this size and prestige carries a certain level of expectation, which is tangible before every film begins. The following two films I saw, On Body and Soul (a magical realist drama) and Barrage (an inter-generational family tale) showed more daring and creativity, promising great things for the rest of the fest. Dozens more films await and I’m quickly getting used to the thrilling, non-stop pace of life at the Berlinale.