The Berlin Festival unearthed an intriguing selection of films this year, and here are some of the best, including the major prize-winners.
(Fox, March 2)
If IMDB’s rating of 9.6 is any indication, Logan will blow Hugh Jackman’s previous Wolverine movies, 2013’s The Wolverine and 2009’s Origins: Wolverine, out of the water. With his powers in decline, the character shows his tender side in a film that is as high on drama as it is on action. According to Oscar pundits – and there are a lot of them working overtime at the moment – the film may even figure in the 2018 awards season.
(Transmission, probable Sydney or Melbourne Festival launch)
Geoffrey Rush may have only briefly been in Berlin, but he made his presence felt on screen in his portrayal as eccentric Swiss painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti in Stanley Tucci’s playful movie. The film follows American writer and art collector James Lord (Armie Hammer) who comes to the artist’s Paris studio to sit for a portrait and it takes far longer than Lord expected.
The Other Side of Hope
For anyone who appreciates Finnish enfant terrible Aki Kaurismaki’s sense of humour, this was the best film in the festival competition. Hilarious when he’s sober and displaying even more of his dry wit when he’s not, Kaurismaki is more political than usual with this story of a Syrian asylum seeker who is shielded and protected by some Kaurismaki-style outsiders in Helsinki. Kaurismaki won the Silver Bear for best director.
On Body and Soul
While many critics believed that jury head Paul Verhoeven would favour Sebastián Lelio’s daring A Fantastic Woman (which won the Silver Bear for Best screenplay), The Golden Bear went to Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi for On Body and Soul, a romance between a man and a woman (Géza Morcsányi and Alexandra Borbély) working in an abattoir. The film had been winning other accolades, like the critics prize, so it was not a complete surprise.
Agnieszka Holland’s film, a kind of Polish Fargo, had likewise been generating momentum since it screened early in the programme. Her first true crime thriller took out the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize for a feature film that “opens new perspectives”. The Polish director has long been working on classy dramas in Europe and in Hollywood and most recently on television series for NBC, HBO and Netflix, including House of Cards and clearly relished her return to feature filmmaking.
An all-star cast couldn’t save Oren Moverman’s film from being mauled by Berlin critics. The only American entry in the competition follows two troubled brothers, Richard Gere who is running for Governor and a mentally ill Steve Coogan as they have a fiery restaurant dinner with their wives, Laura Linney and Rebecca Hall. It’s the kind of dinner you wouldn't want to be at, let alone watch on screen. Dutch author Herman Koch certainly was unimpressed with this third film based on his 2009 bestseller as he left the festival as fast as he could. (Menno Meyjes directed a Dutch version in 2013, and Ivano De Matteo an Italian version that screened in Venice in 2014.)
Patricia Clarkson and Kristin Scott Thomas can do no wrong in my book and British director Sally Potter gives two of the grand dames of cinema a fun, meaty movie to chew on. Now this is a party I’d love to be at, on the other side of the Atlantic. As with Gere, Scott Thomas is a politician, who is celebrating her promotion to Shadow Minister for Health in the UK’s opposition party. Yet here we also have a surprising thriller plot. It’s probably best not to read reviews for that reason.
Ana, Mon Amour
(distributors are interested)
After being impressed with the smoldering intensity of Romanian actor Alec Secareanu in God’s Own Country, I made the last moment decision to briefly check out Ana, Mon Amour, Romanian director Călin Peter Netzer’s follow-up to his 2013 Golden Bear winner, Child’s Pose, and found I couldn't drag myself away. The film deservedly won a prize for its unconventional editing as the film zoomed forward and back in time; you really could only tell the stage of the co-dependent love affair by the changing hairstyles. It kept you on your toes but was essentially a gut-wrenching romance about a drug-addicted woman and the man who risks everything to look after her – until she recovers and he finds himself lost. Romanian theatre actors Mircea Postelnic and Diana Cavallioti are superb. Romanian actors rock!
Return to Montauk
(releasing later in the year)
Critics praised Volker Schlöndorff’s Return to Montauk as his best film in years. In the story even if he has a loving younger wife, Stellan Skarsgård’s successful author is determined to look up the love of his life played by Nina Hoss. It’s worth the price of a ticket just to see these two actors together on screen.
Other Prize Winners
Austrian actor Georg Friedrich won the best actor Silver Bear for German director Thomas Arslan’s film, his follow-up to 2013’s Gold, a western starring Nina Hoss. Again we’re in the outdoors in pristine Norway and again not a lot happens. The film is all about mood and like Gold will make it to Australian festivals only.
On the Beach at Night Alone
Kim Min-hee (The Handmaiden) won the best actress Silver Bear for Hong Sang-soo’s film where she plays a young actress recovering from a failed relationship. Hong, who made 2012’s In Another Country with Isabelle Huppert, essentially crafts a character study displaying his gentle unfussy style while re-visiting his familiar themes of loneliness, regret and exploring the value of love in life and art.
Franco-Senegalese director Alain Gomis won the Jury Prize for this character study of a struggling single mother in Kinshasa. An independent woman, Félicité sings on stage to escape her everyday worries and her audiences are quickly infected by the rhythm of her music and her powerful, melancholy melodies. When her son has a terrible accident, she must raise money for his operation and a breathless tour ensues through the impoverished streets and the wealthier districts of the Congolese capital.
“Gripping from start to finish” writes The Hollywood Reporter, as the inimitable Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass “holds together a household under siege in Philippe Van Leeuw's drama about ordinary people in wartime Syria.” It’s the second film starring Abbass that has won the Panorama Audience Award (she also played the lead in Eran Riklis’s Lemon Tree in 2008).