Berlin Film Festival Roundup 2023 – Prestige, Politics and Ethical Stardom | berlin film festival

Berlin may not be as flashy as the other major European festivals, Cannes and Venice, but it knows how to make the most of what you might call an “ethical star”. Hence Steven Spielberg, present this year to receive the Golden Bear for Lifetime Achievement, who gave an eloquent and imposing speech about longevity, healing and – as befits the place – the weight of history. And so, serious Hollywood actress Kristen Stewart leading a jury including Iranian-French star Golshifteh Farahani and former Berlinale-winning directors Carla Simón and Radu Jude – a line-up that looks highly likely to make some bold award choices.

But there’s also that long Berlinale tradition of combining red-carpet prestige with a certain seriousness that doesn’t always flourish on screen. An excellent example this year was Golda, a solemn, slow-moving drama about Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and the Yom Kippur War, with Helen Mirren giving a solid and thoughtful performance, only to be overshadowed by her odd prosthetic makeup. And then there was Sean Penn’s documentary on Ukraine, Superpower, co-directed with Aaron Kaufman, in which an understandably starry eulogy for Volodymyr Zelenskiy was overshadowed by a lot of narcissistic hyperventilation about how awesome it was to be Sean Penn caught in the maelstrom of history. It was a phenomenally gauche and reckless piece; by contrast, Eastern Frontfrom Ukraine itself, was the real deal, a sobering, urgent, and deeply disturbing documentary by Vitaly Mansky and Yevhen Titarenko, based substantially on footage of the latter, filmed on-duty with a volunteer medical team.

Meanwhile, the festival started on a crowd-pleasing, even facetious, note. Rebecca Miller opening film she came to me was a comedy soufflé about a blocked opera composer (Peter Dinklage) who regains his mojo thanks to a romance-addicted tugboat captain (Marisa Tomei). He awkwardly mixed urban sophistication with hard-nosed silliness, but he was acerbicly played – at least by Anne Hathaway as a repressed psychiatrist – and hardly unpleasant.

Peter Dinklage in She Came to Me. Photography: 2022 AI Film Productions Inc

Berlin has always been seen as a very serious schedule, its regard for the art of cinema often eclipsed by its sense of political responsibility. Today, however, under the direction of Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek, the festival is not afraid to put cinema with a capital C at the forefront, with an eye on adventure. This year’s competition included some movies as challenging as we’ve seen here in a while, along with some extremely accessible ones. There was great audience pleasure in the form of Suzume, by Japanese anime maestro Makoto Shinkai (Your name, making out with you). Existing in a bizarre blend of YA romance and apocalyptic race against time drama, it requires a certain tolerance for visual kitsch and kawaii cuteness, but there’s no denying that the adventures of a teenage girl, a demonic cat, and a talking chair had plenty of invention.

A more low-key competition highlight came straight from its Sundance debut: past lives, debut feature by Korean-Canadian playwright Celine Song. It’s about two Korean kids who go their separate ways but are reunited years later when the boy (played as an adult by Teo Yoo) travels to New York to visit the girl, now a writer (Greta Lee, enjoying a big moment of discovery). ). This richly acted and nuanced film reflects on time, identity and a Korean concept called em-yunabout destiny and the layers of connection between people. past lives proved that a commercially appealing drama today can still combine adult intelligence and emotional delicacy. It was probably Berlin’s most admired, indeed adored, film – and whether it wins awards here or not, it’s sure to conquer the awards circuit a year from now.

Greta Lee and Teo Yoo in 'past lives' with wonderful performances and rich nuances
Greta Lee and Teo Yoo in ‘past lives’ with wonderful performances and rich nuances Photography: Courtesy of the Sundance Institute

It was certainly the most emotionally direct film in the competition, along with Thave ita family drama from Mexican director Lila Avilés, after its debut the chambermaid. This busy ensemble piece covers a day in the life of an artistic Mexico City family as they celebrate their terminally ill brother’s birthday; it’s all largely seen through the eyes of her seven-year-old daughter, beautifully played by newcomer Naíma Sentiés and, again, carries a real emotional charge without crossing the sentiment.

In general, though, the competition was defined by its head-to-head advantage. disco boy, a French premiere by Giacomo Abbruzzese, starred German actor Franz Rogowski and depicted the parallel lives of an African activist and a French Foreign Legion recruit; it’s a film of steely intelligence and stiff, displaced style that promised a lot but didn’t come to a satisfying finish line. AND manodrome, from South African director John Trengove, is the latest in what is sure to be a long cycle of “toxic men in crisis” movies. Jesse Eisenberg stars, shaking with barely suppressed rage as a cab driver who falls under the influence of a misogynistic masculinity cult led by a mildly sinister Adrien Brody. It’s intense as hell, but then again, I don’t know where to go.

Franz Rogowski in Disco Boy
Franz Rogowski in Disco Boy. Cinematography: Films Grand Huit

Other movies, though, knew exactly where they were going, but had the added confidence to keep audiences guessing. The one who entirely created his own world and his own rules was The Survival of Kindness by Australian veteran Rolf de Heer. This is a beyond-dystopian drama with no dialogue – or rather, with only mumbled speech in barely identifiable languages. A middle-aged heroine, credited as “Black Woman” and played by newcomer Mwajemi Hussein, breaks free from captivity in a metal cage, then wanders through a desert before arriving at a hellish industrial site ruled by a ruling people. wearing gas masks. that make them look like human aardvarks. Part parable of race, colonialism and resistance, part dreamlike vision with a Jorge Luis Borges twist, it was one of the most original and imposing films here, though hardly the easiest to like.

It was one of two audacious Australian films in competition: the other was Limbo from indigenous director Ivan Sen, who will certainly have no problem finding a wider audience. Set in the moonscapes of a Queensland opal mining territory and stunningly shot in black and white by the director himself, it is an existential thriller about a heroin-addicted cop (a brooding Simon Baker) reviewing the cold case of a missing Aboriginal woman. It works entirely on its own terms and at its own leisurely pace, deflating the detective genre to chillingly thrilling effect.

But no competition title has been so radically sui generis as Music, by German hardcore researcher Angela Schanelec. She was here in 2019, her gaze mesmerizing and inscrutable I was at home but, who did very strange things with pieces of Village. His new film is an almost wordless modern variation on the Oedipus myth, set initially in Greece before abruptly and inexplicably jumping to Berlin (including scenes set a stone’s throw from the center of the festival, the Palast). A young man, born in the Greek mountains during a storm, grows up with chronic pain in his ankles and is arrested for manslaughter. He forms a couple with one of the prison guards (French regular actress Agathe Bonitzer), later becoming a singer in Berlin – by which time any obvious correspondence with the original myth has become obscured by a dense web of symbols, echoes and riddles. . Music it is less like narrative cinema – even of the more artistic and Godardian variety – than conceptual art, or a cinematic form of opaque modernist poetry. It may be almost airtight, but it’s totally transfixing. It proves that Berlin selectors aren’t afraid to stick their necks out, and if Kristen Stewart’s jury follows suit, Schanelec’s film could be the boldest Golden Bear in years.

the best of berlin

best feature films Music (Angela Schanelec); Limbo (Ivan Sen); past lives (Céline Canção).

Theodora Exertzi, Odysseas Psaras, Nikolas Tsibliaris and Aliocha Schneider in Music
Theodora Exertzi, Odysseas Psaras, Nikolas Tsibliaris and Aliocha Schneider in Music. Photography: Faktura

best documentaries Eastern Front (Vitaly Mansky, Yevhen Titarenko); It is in the adamantfilm by Nicolas Philibert about a Parisian day center for psychiatric patients that offers a social – and, for some, artistic – refuge to the people who attend it.

best performances Congolese-Australian newcomer Mwajemi Hussein in Rolf de Heer’s The Survival of Kindness; Greta Lee in past lives; Mia Goth as a spoiled hedonist from hell in Brandon Cronenberg’s fresh-out-of-Sundance nightmare fantasy infinity pool.

infinity pool
Infinity pool. Photography: Neon and Topic Studios

Best music Chris Taylor and Daniel Rossen of the American band Grizzly Bear, by past lives; Doug Tielli (plus Handel, Vivaldi and company) in Music

weirdest speech Bono’s onstage tribute to Steven Spielberg, as the director was awarded the Honorary Golden Bear. The U2 singer revealed his admiration for the 1974 Spielberg film O sugarland express: “The mother is played by the great Goldie Hawn, but all I see is my own mother, as I saw her as a child, gigantic, imperfect. I cry, but my heart is full of joy, because I know that my own mother will always come looking for me. This is pure cinema. No, this is pure Spielberg.” Please God don’t nobody get him started ET.

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