Berlinale Bloggers 2024
"Treasure" and other valuables 

© Anne Wilk

The film industry is on the move, with many films being produced internationally. A look at new English-language films by German directors - and not just at the Berlinale.

By Jutta Brendemühl 

 The film scene seems to become ever more permeable and collaborative, opening up opportunities for exciting new storytelling and cultural and linguistic crossovers. Just like the Oscar-nominated Anatomy of a Fall or The Zone of Interest that were presented at last year’s TIFF starred German actors, or Wim Wenders representing Japan in hopes for his first Oscar, younger German directors have landed prime Berlinale spots with their English-language films The Outrun, Treasure, and Cuckoo. In The Outrun, Nora Fingscheidt takes actress Saoirse Ronan to the Orkney Islands. The addiction drama won over audiences and critics alike at the Sundance Film Festival and will screen to European audiences at the Zoo Palast. In the literary adaptation, Rona attempts to come to terms with her troubled past and returns from London to her Scottish home isle, hoping to heal. The UK-German co-production again tackles fraught subject matter, after Fingscheidt‘s debut success System Crasher, a special ed film that premiered in the Berlin Competition 2019 to become Germany’s Oscar choice, and Fingscheidt’s recent sojourn into TV with Netflix’s Sandra Bullock-starrer The Unforgivable, dealing with prison rehabilitation. After the buoyant US launch of The Outrun, get ready for Ronan’s Best Actress Oscar 2025, with The Guardian praising "one of her greatest performances”.     

more politically than ever

Julia von Heinz' comedy drama Treasure, her first international feature, is premiering as a Berlinale Special Gala. The film sees American Ruth travel to Poland with her aging father Edek to visit his childhood places. Edek, a Holocaust survivor, resists reliving his trauma and sabotages the trip, creating unintentionally funny situations.  The English-language German-French co-production with British and American star leads and a Polish supporting actor—Stephen Fry, Lena Dunham, and Zbigniew Zamachowski— is part of von Heinz’s Aftermath trilogy on the effects of the Holocaust which included her Venice 2020 poltical coming-of-age drama And Tomorrow the Entire World (honoured with a parliamentary complaint by the far right). The Rosa von Praunheim mentee now co-runs the directing department of the Munich Film Academy HFF, instructing the next generation of filmmakers. Through von Heinz’ filmography, she reflects on her own anti-fascist youth, continuing to speak out against anti-democratic threats from all quarters. In what shapes up to be a more than ever politically charged Berlinale (which uninvited extreme right politicians from its opening party), it will be particularly salient to watch Fry in the role of Holocaust survivor after he made waves with a recent British TV address decrying growing anti-semitism, revealing: “One truth about myself that I never thought for one single second would ever be an issue about which I had any cause to worry in this country, was that I’m a Jew.”   

 the benefits of international co-ventures

Other German directors have semi-decamped to London before —Edward Berger with his 4-Oscar Netflix war drama All Quiet on the Western Front— or L.A. and New York —Maria Schrader with her much praised Brad Pitt-produced MeToo-drama She Said and Netflix hit series Unorthodox. At a German film festival in 2023, Schrader and Heinz were in conversation on their respective approaches as writers and directors, going against narrower counter-trends and agreeing that "everyone should be able to tell any story".  
While streamers used to chase high-quality global content, perhaps easing access to international top tier talent and facilitating the new wave of international productions, the film industry remains in flux. Toronto producer and Academy member Damon D’Oliveira, who is at the Berlinale market with a Canadian-Belgium feature, about to announce its international cast, comments on how globally thinking producers are adapting: “With streaming platforms tightening their belts, producers are looking at the benefits of international co-ventures. Which also makes it more desirable to have international creative teams and casts."   
Hunter Schafer

"Cuckoo", Germany/USA 2024 Director: Tilman Singer. Section: Berlinale Special 2024 | © NEON

Genre cinema has perhaps always been more non-nationally minded or bound—think Roland Emmerich, who is collaborating with Bavarian director Marco Kreuzpaintner (of Netflix’ Bodies) on the US gladiator blockbuster series Those About To Die with Anthony Hopkins, coming to Prime Video soon. At the Berlinale, Leipzig director Tilman Singer’s sophomore horror Cuckoo, a US production starring Hunter Schafer (Euphoria; The Hunger Games), Emma Chan (Crazy Rich Asians) and John Malkovich, is a hot commodity following in the footsteps of Singer's 2018 avant-garde psychodrama Luz, his film school thesis project and homage to 1980s European horror films that debuted at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival. In Cuckoo, 17-year old Gretchen moves with her family to a resort in the Alps where things go dark fast.   
Reading bylines like “wildly experimental demonic possession” (Screen Anarchy on Luz) might send you running for the hills or into the Berlinale Special section (and SXSW in Texas after) for Singer’s latest, with Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) opposite the 25-year-old ex-model Schafer. No further plot points, only rumours of a 35mm format with animated scenes and buzz around LGBTQIA* activist and trans actor Schafer keep fans guessing.  

I’m Off Then, the title of Julia von Heinz’s 2015 film about a soul-searching pilgrimage abroad, seems prophetic of the nomadic and blended ways the European and North American film industry is shaping up, with more to come this year: Edward Berger is working on British papal thriller Conclave with Fiennes, Tucci and Rossellini, and Robert Eggers (The Lighthouse) revisits Nosferatu as a Czech-US collaboration, with a multi-national cast consisting of Bill Skarsgård, Emma Corrin and Willem Dafoe acting in English, German, Romanian, and Russian.