This Thursday, filmmakers, critics and artists from every part of the world (20,000 professionals from over 130 countries, 3,700 film critics from 100 countries) will descend on the German capital to witness the inauguration of the 60th edition of the Berlin International Film Festival, the world’s second largest film extravaganza.
The 2010 Berlin installment offers no dearth of stars; new films by Martin Scorsese, Roman Polanski and Ben Stiller will have their world premiere next week alongside new works by some of Europe and Asia’s most feted filmmakers.
The caliber of participating talents this year is a hopeful sign of a strong edition, though not everyone I’ve spoken to seems wholeheartedly buoyant about BIFF; skepticism is running quite deep.
Over the past decade, Berlin was forced to play second fiddle to both Cannes and Venice, the premier destination for the world’s preeminent filmmakers. But although there has been no shortage of great works screened in Berlin over the past 10 years, in terms of both importance and publicity though, Cannes and Venice maintained the upper hand.
A number of filmmakers I’ve spoken to blamed this drop on the film selections that have grown increasingly tame. Case in point is last year’s selection.
While the 59th edition did produce some truly remarkable films such as Claudia Llosa’s Golden Bear winner “Milk of Sorrow, Asghar Farhadi’s “About Elly, Peter Strickland’s “Katalin Varga and especially Maren Ade’s “Everyone Else, the list pales in comparison to the daring films shown last year in Cannes (“Antichrist, “The White Ribbon, “Inglourious Basterds, “Un prophète ) and Venice (“Lebanon, “A Single Man, “White Material, “Women Without Men ).
According to one Egyptian film executive, the market, meanwhile, was a bust, failing to attract buyers. The larger part of last year’s competition films remains unsold.
Although several major films currently in post-production have probably been reserved for Cannes and Venice (Terrence Malick’s “Tree of Life, Godard’s “Socialism, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Biutiful, , Julian Schnabel’s “Miral, Abbas Kiarostami’s “The Certified Copy and Lee Chang-dong’s “Poetry to name a few), Berlin has managed to snag an exceptional line-up composed of new productions by both established filmmakers and new talents.
The official competition is loaded with anticipated works from recent past winners. Chief among them is “Apart Together by Chinese filmmaker Wang Quanan, winner of the 2007 Golden Bear for “Tuya’s Marriage. The film centers on a Chinese war veteran returning to Shanghai to claim his lost wife.
Another past winner back with new work is Bosnian filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic, winner of the 2007 Golden Bear for “Grbavica. “On the Path centers on the crumbling relationship of a Bosnian couple triggered by the husband’s involvement with a Wahabi Muslim community.
Feted Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, winner of the 1988’s Golden Bear for “Red Sorghum brings to Berlin his 2009 box-office smash “A Woman, a Gun and a Noodle Shop. Better known for his epic blockbusters “Hero and “House of Flying Daggers and art-house masterpieces “Raise the Red Lantern and “To Live, “Noodle Shop marks a radical change of direction for Yimou who dabbles with comedy for the first time in a reworking of the Coen Brothers’ 1984 noir debut “Blood Simple.
British maverick Michael Winterbottom, another Golden Bear winner, unleashes his neo-noir “The Killer Inside Me starring Casey Affleck, Kate Hudson and Jessica Alba. Affleck plays a corrupt deputy sheriff who goes on a killing spree in a small Texan town. The film has already attracted considerable hype last month in Sundance for its graphic violence.
Danish filmmaker Pernille Fischer Christensen, winner of the Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear for “A Soap, presents “A Family, the follow-up to 2008’s sublime “Dancers. A domestic drama, “A Family follows a gallery owner torn between moving to New York and staying at the Rheinwalds to reclaim her ailing father’s bakery.
Dogma co-founder Thomas Vinterberg arrives to Berlin for the first time with “Submarino, an adaptation of Jonas T. Bengtsson’s realist novel about two stranded brothers seeking redemption in a downtrodden Copenhagen. “Submarino could be the comeback film for Vinterberg who hasn’t had a hit since his debut feature “The Celebration in 1998.
After scoring a sizable hit with 2008’s comedy “Louise-Michel, French duo Benoit Delépine, Gustave de Kervern are back with the much-touted “Mammuth, a road movie about a slaughterhouse worker examining his past. The impressive cast features Gérard Depardieu, Isabelle Adjani and last year’s César winner Yolande Moreau.
Legendary Japanese director Koji Wakamatsu follows 2007’s highly acclaimed “United Red Army with “Caterpillar, another wartime drama about a woman attempting to accept her deformed soldier husband.
The most notable German entry in the competition is Oskar Roehler’s period drama “Jew Süss – Rise And Fall. Based on a true story, the film chronicles the trials and tribulations of German thespian Ferdinand Marian who was forced by the Nazi army to star in a notorious anti-Semitic propaganda film.
British graffiti artist Banksy turns his camera on a peculiar French shop owner who’s been trying to film him for years in “Exit through the Gift Shop, one of the best reviewed films in Sundance.
The US is represented by a host of mostly independent films, the most notable of which is Noah “The Squid and the Whale Baumbach’s “Greenbug starring Ben Stiller and Mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig. The offbeat comedy revolves around a down-on-his-luck carpenter who falls for his brother’s caring assistant.
“The Times of Harvey Milk documentarians Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman enter the world of fiction narrative with “Howl, a chronicle of gay poet Allen Ginsberg’s groundbreaking poem “Howl and the subsequent obscenity trial. The film premiered in Sundance to mixed reviews.
Another Sundance success that has made its way to the main competition is Lisa “Laurel Canyon Cholodenko’s quirky relationship comedy “The Kids Are All Right. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore play a lesbian couple whose children decide to seek their sperm-donor father (Mark Ruffalo).
The most buzzed-about film this year is Roman Polanski’s political thriller “The Ghost Writer starring Pierce Brosnan and Ewan McGregor. McGregor plays the eponyms character hired to pen the memoirs of former British Prime Minister (Brosnan) before he’s drawn into a web of lies and conspiracies. Polanski, now under house arrest, edited the film from prison and will not make any video appearances.
Outside the competition, Berlin will host Martin Scorsese’s pulp noir “Shutter Island starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley and Michelle Williams. Set in the 50s, DiCaprio plays a US Marshal investigating the disappearance of a murderess in a remote insane asylum.
Elsewhere, Gérard Depardieu channels Alexandre Dumas in Safy Nebbou’s biopic of the “The Three Musketeers author; German director Doris Dörrie follows her 2008 international smash “Cherry Blossoms with “The Hairdresser, a comedy about a middle-aged woman fighting to save her beauty salon; Debra Granik (“Down to the Bone ) showcases her Sundance Grand Jury prize winner “Winter’s Bone, a gritty family drama about a 17-year-old girl perusing her drug-dealing father.
Catherine Keener, Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall star in Nicole “Lovely & Amazing Holofcener’s “Please Give, a comedy about a New York couple waiting for their elderly neighbor to pass on in order to expand their flat. Carlos Reygadas, Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo García are among 10 Mexican filmmakers examining the Mexican revolution in “Revolución.
On a personal level, the two movies I’m most excited to watch are Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis and Sylvain Chomet’s second animated feature, “The Illusionist. The former is a newly restored version of Lang’s 1927 sc-fi classic with a never-seen 30 minutes added from a 16mm negati
ve found in Buenos Aires in 2008. The result should make for the most complete version of one of the greatest films of motion picture history. Tickets for the first screening have already sold out.
“The Illusionist, on the other hand, is based on an unfilmed script by iconic French filmmaker Jacques Tati about a friendship between an aging magician and his young admirer. Tati’s script was based on his own relationship with his estranged daughter. Perhaps more than any other film in the festival, expectations for “The Illusionist are exceptionally high. The Berlin International Film Festival opens runs from February 11 till 21. The festival opens with Quanan Wang’s “Apart Together and closes with Yoji Yamada’s “About Her Brother. For more information, visit the festival’s website at http://www.berlinale.de/en/HomePage.html