Berlin Film Festival 2017: Ten films to look out for
To see a group of eager people waiting in line is hardly a rare sight in Berlin. Generally, such lines are reserved for wide-eyed hipsters hoping to be granted admission into Berghain or another one of Berlin’s super clubs after a three-hour wait, but not in February. The 67th Berlin International Film Festival dominates the city’s cultural calendar from 9th until 19th February, and securing a spot at a screening becomes the hottest ticket in town. There will be those who will literally camp out at the ticket counters at the Potsdamer Platz Arkaden, sacrificing sleep in order to obtain a ticket to a drama about an Albanian goat farmer grappling with his sexuality. There will also be those drawn in by the dazzle of Hollywood, hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite celebrities as they emerge from a press conference at the Grand Hyatt Berlin. And if 2016 was any indicator, certain well-known faces will have to contend with fans chasing their car down the street while desperately shrieking their name, as George Clooney discovered last year (while quite possibly urging his driver to speed up). Unlike many other major film festivals, the Berlinale is one for the people, meaning that anyone can buy a ticket (if they’re quick enough). So what are going to be the hottest tickets for 2017?
Sally Potter’s films are often divisive, but never dull, and she shoots her subjects in a way that is almost sensual and yet unsentimental. In The Party a restrained celebration spirals out of control, revealing an inner ugliness that many characters didn’t even know they had. The movie also marks a welcome return for Kristin Scott Thomas, who has been absent from the big screen since 2014’s My Old Lady.
There are almost always a few mainstream nods in the Berlinale lineup. Some of these are interesting choices and some of them seem vaguely apologetic, such as the decision to screen 50 Shades of Grey at the festival in 2015. Logan should fall squarely into the interesting category, and the success of Deadpool in 2016 has allowed for the film to be R-rated in the US, promising a luscious bleakness that has been missing from mainstream superhero movies. It’s expected to be Hugh Jackman’s last stint as Wolverine, but never say never.
I Am Not Your Negro
It wouldn’t be Berlinale without a few documentaries that could be described as searing, and I Am Not Your Negro fits the bill. It has been developed from an unfinished manuscript by the late African American writer James Baldwin (best known for Giovanni’s Room), which is being used as a framework to explore the history of racism in the USA. And as an added bonus, Samuel L Jackson provides narration.
Der Gleiche Himmel (The Same Sky)
Thematically similar to the excellent TV show Deutschland 83, The Same Sky details the journey of an East German spy who is smuggled into the West with a goal to seduce an agent working for the NSA. With a glorious 70s aesthetic and an intriguing premise, this is a German film that could easily achieve arthouse success when it gains a wider release.
Many visitors to Berlin expect the city to be a veritable Disneyland of chemical and physical pleasures, so perhaps Berlin Syndrome will act as a cautionary tale. An Australian tourist is seduced and then confined by the seemingly charming Berliner she meets while exploring the city. It sounds like the premise for a humdrum horror movie, but director Cate Shortland is renowned for her subtlety, so any discomfort will be felt on multiple levels.
December 2016 saw the 20th anniversary of the death of six-year-old beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey. This anniversary led to renewed interest in the case, most notably a six hour docu-series that aired on US television (and resulted in multiple lawsuits). Casting JonBenet approaches the tragedy from an interesting angle, purporting to be about the casting process for a film based upon the incident, while interviewing people who actually knew the girl and her family. It’s a curious take on events that are almost unrelentingly dark
Terminator 2: Judgement Day (3D)
For those who were not old enough to see T2 (and how dare Trainspotting 2 try to appropriate that abbreviation!) on the big screen in 1991, this is going to be an indulgent treat. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime. Guns n’ Roses played at an eardrum-rupturing volume in Dolby surround sound. In 3D! Not much else needs to be said. And isn’t it gratifying that this film is screening in the Berlinale Classics section?
Call Me By Your Name
Armie Hammer is an intriguing talent, one whose career took a minor battering after he appeared alongside Johnny Depp in 2013’s The Lone Ranger. If that film was a school student, it would receive a firmly worded note from its teacher: “Must try harder. See me after class.” Thank goodness for Call Me By Your Name, the new feature from Luca Guadagnino (I Am Love, A Bigger Splash). This lush work set in 1980s Italy details the seductive and often tactile romance between Hammer’s character and a much younger man.
The Casa in question is an unassuming club in Mexico City where men learn to be women. It’s an understated exploration of drag culture in a way that couldn’t be further removed from the theatrics of something like Rupaul’s Drag Race. The lines between masculine and feminine become increasingly blurred as the subjects begin to embrace their new feminine selves.
Cuban artist Tania Bruguera made the mistake of conceiving a piece of performance art that was critical of her government, and spent six months in prison for her troubles. Tania Libre is a haunting documentary that showcases parts of the performance in question, along with Bruguera coming to terms with the consequences of creating such an incendiary piece of art. Tilda Swinton lends her soothing and yet scrutinising tones as the narrator.