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Berlinale 2022
Not a festival of unadulterated joy

“Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush“ by Andreas Dresen
“Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush“ by Andreas Dresen | Photo (detail): © Andreas Hoefer / Pandora Film

The film programme has been published; the Berlinale is ready for the off. But the fact that one of the world’s most important film festivals is going ahead as an in-presence event – despite rising infection rates and ongoing disruption to daily routine – gives rise to a certain degree of unease even amongst consummate movie buffs.

By Ula Brunner

This is the second time in a row that the Berlinale is being held while the pandemic is at a peak – and yet again Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian find themselves having to deal with a crisis situation. The two-phase approach from 2021 – a digital trade event in February and a catch-up summer Berlinale for the general public – was not an option the director duo was willing to consider for the 72nd Berlinale. That’s understandable, because it was hard to drum up a festival atmosphere the previous year. On top of that, with ticket sales at just 58,000 (for 194 films) the profit lagged far behind the pre-pandemic years, when over 300,000 movie tickets were sold, allowing the Berlinale to establish a reputation as the festival with the largest audience worldwide.

With stringent hygiene regulations – but as an in-presence event

Instead, the Berlinale is now being held in “reduced format”, as an in-presence event with a slimmed-down programme. Parts of the festival are being shifted online – the European Film Market for instance. But according to Rissenbeek it is only possible to retain the “spirit of the Berlinale” by holding an in-person festival. Extremely stringent safety measures and halving the number of seats are meant to prevent contagion in the audience. There is no mention of a parallel hybrid concept, which could be used to control crowds and therefore infection risk – which is present despite masks, tests, double and triple vaccination. Unfortunately. It means those people who can’t or don’t want to travel to Berlin during the pandemic lose out too.
 
“Peter von Kant“ by François Ozon “Peter von Kant“ by François Ozon | Photo (detail): © C. Bethuel / FOZ
Well: François Ozon’s Fassbinder remake Peter von Kant with Denis Ménochet, Isabelle Adjani and Hanna Schygulla opens the festival “lite” and the Competition on 10th February. Guests such as Golden Bear winner Isabelle Huppert bring a little international glamour to the German metropolis. There isn’t likely to be a huge amount of celebrity razzmatazz on the red carpet though, bearing in mind that ceremonial welcomes and parties are off the programme. The prize presentation by jury president M. Night Shyamalan, the horror aficionado, has been brought forward from 20th to 16th February. After that the films are shown to the public for a further four days.

Many of the films revolve around “family” and “love” 

6,755 productions were submitted for the 72nd Berlinale, of which a total of 256 short and full-length films are being screened. That’s around one-fifth fewer than 2020, the year it was just about possible to hold the festival under normal conditions. This time, 18 films produced in 17 countries are competing for the Silver and Golden Bears in the centrepiece “Competition” section, with most entrants hailing from within Europe. “Family” and “Love” are the core themes, with only two of the films specifically addressing the pandemic, explained Chatrian in his presentation of the programme. Eleven filmmakers had presented their work at the Berlinale before, he said, eight of them had entered the Competition and five were previous winners of the Bear awards.

GERMAN FILMS AND CO-PRODUCTIONS IN COMPETITION

Andreas Dresen, the greatest everyday poet in cinema today, has also been in the Berlinale Competition multiple times. In his current work, he is entering explicitly political territory for the first time. In Rabiye Kurnaz gegen George W. Bush (Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush), a housewife from Bremen with Turkish roots battles all the way to the Supreme Court in Washington for the release of her son from the prison camp at Guantanamo.
 
„A E I O U – A Quick Alphabet of Love“ by Nicolette Krebitz „A E I O U – A Quick Alphabet of Love“ by Nicolette Krebitz | Photo (detail): © Reinhold Vorschneider / Komplizen Film
AEIOU – das schnelle Alphabet der Liebe (AEIOU – a quick alphabet of love) with Sophie Rois and Udo Kier is the fourth film directed by Nicolette Krebitz and the second German competitor in the running for the Golden Bears. The actress, director and musician is entering the Berlinale Competition for the first time. She recently received multiple awards for Wild, an unsettlingly beautiful love story between a young woman and a wolf.

Three more contributions by strong directors will be launched as German co-productions: Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidel is back in the saddle with Rimini for the first time since Paradies:Hoffnung (Paradise:hope; 2013). From Switzerland we have Michael Koch with Drii Winter (A Piece of Sky) and the long-awaited new film La Ligne by Ursula Meier, who achieved a surprise hit in 2012 with Winterdieb (Sister).

Ratio of women is around 40 per cent

Ursula Meier and Nicolette Krebitz are two of the seven women film directors in the Competition. With Avec amour et acharnement , a love triangle starring Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon and Bulle Ogier in the leading roles, French female filmmaker Claire Denis occupies a space beyond the classic narrative cinema genre. The only entry from the USA is the directing debut Call Jane by top screenwriter Phyllis Nagys. The abortion drama with Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver and Kate Mara admittedly premiered back in January at the Sundance Festival in Utah.
 
“Robe of Gems“ by Natalia López Gallardo “Robe of Gems“ by Natalia López Gallardo | Photo (details): © Visit Films
Catalan film director Carla Simón, Indonesian filmmaker Kamila Andini and Natalia López Gallardo, whose Robe of Gems is about local drug dealing, round off the female directors. Around 40 per cent of entrants are women this year – that’s an additional, although by no means final, step towards gender equality in the film industry – something many people want to see, stressed Carlo Chatrian.

Unusual directing styles

Asia is represented by Chinese director Li Ruijun with Return to Dust and South Korean festival favourite and regular guest at the Berlinale Competition Hong Sangsoo with The Novelist's Film. There’s also a documentary film in the Competition, Rithy Panh’s Everything Will Be Ok. Further unusual directing styles are found in the form of Canadian filmmaker Denis Côté (Un été comme ça) and Paolo Taviani, who is directing on his own for the first time since the death of his brother Vittorio in Leonore Addio. These can also be seen away from the Competition: in the Berlinale Special Gala, much hype surrounds the joint appearance of Isabelle Huppert and Lars Eidinger in Laurent Larivière’s À propos de Joan. The spectrum is equally broad for the 15 world premieres in the Encounters series, including a feature film by eccentric writer-director Bertrand Bonello (Co­ma), as well as genre specialist Peter Strickland (Flux Gourmet).
 
“Flux Gourmet“ by Peter Strickland “Flux Gourmet“ by Peter Strickland | Photo (detail): © Flux Gourmet, Bankside Films, IFC Productions I
The 2022 event promises an attractive range of diverse film genres. So, purely from a cineaste’s perspective, there are good reasons to watch the films on the big screen. Rising rates are confronting us with a different logic. Carlo Chatrian explained from the outset that one reason they had decided on an in-presence festival was to act “as the guardian of a space that is at risk of disappearing” – cinema, in other words. Will Berlinale-Fans see it like that – and flock into the festival cinemas despite the infection risk? That remains to be seen. The last word here will go to the people for whom this ambivalent festival has been created: the public.
 

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