Berlin Film Festival 2019: Top ten films to look out for
The bear is the symbol of Berlin, as demonstrated by the city’s coat of arms and the numerous life-size fibreglass bear statues positioned around the city (designed to promote a sense of friendliness, but also used to sell junk to tourists). The last wild bear in Germany received an unceremonious bullet in the head back in 1835, but the previous posters for the Berlin International Film Festival have imagined a Berlin where (artfully photoshopped) bears sedately prowl past the city’s landmarks. This concept has been reworked for the 2019 Berlinale, where the “bears” are depicted as humans in various states of removing their bear costumes. Twist! Of course, since this is Berlin, many might wonder if the posters are to promote a film festival, or if they’re merely photos of people coming home from a fetish party. The 2019 Berlinale marks the last outing for Dieter Kosslick, who has been head of the festival since 2001. So for Kosslick’s swansong, what are some of the cinematic highlights of the 69th Berlin International Film Festival, as chosen by your Berlinale correspondents for The Upcoming?
The new film from Adam McKay, the director of Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (and its sequel) seems unlikely festival fodder, but Vice has already attracted much acclaim (including eight Oscar nominations). Christian Bale is Dick Cheney (courtesy of weight gain and a lot of prosthetics) and Amy Adams is Lynne Cheney in this bitingly caustic look at Dick’s journey to becoming Vice President of the USA.
By the Grace of God (Grâce à Dieu)
The films of prolific French director François Ozon range from being darkly whimsical (8 Women) to gloriously soapy (Angel) to an emotional punch in the guts (Time to Leave). His latest, By the Grace of God will presumably be filed under the latter. Inspired by true events, the film depicts the struggle of a man who seeks revenge against the Catholic priest who abused him as a child. The movie has become even more topical ahead of its debut, with the Cardinal of Lyon being placed on trial for the “non-denunciation of sexual aggression” that was dramatised in Ozon’s work.
Eyebrows might be rolled when a popular actor’s child is suddenly given a leading role in a film (we’re looking at you, Jaden Smith and your dad Will in After Earth). Any ideas of nepotism should evaporate when watching Honor Swinton Byrne and her mother Tilda Swinton in director Joanna Hogg’s ravishing The Souvenir. It’s a partially autobiographical film in which Julie, a youthful film student (Honor Swinton Byrne) has to merge the reality of her life with the detached reality she views through her camera.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind
Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave, Doctor Strange, The Martian) makes his directorial debut with The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, based on the true story of William Kamkwamba, who, as a boy, in Malawi constructed a wind-powered irrigation system to offset drought, quite literally harnessing the wind. Early reports suggest that heartstrings will be tugged. Ejiofor pulls double duties on the film, also playing William’s father.
Farewell to the Night (L’adieu à la nuit)
When presenting her 2017 film The Midwife (Sage Femme) at a Berlinale press conference, Catherine Deneuve was asked if she was ever upset at the declining quality of the movies she appears in nowadays, having appeared in a number of classics in the past. The journalist who asked the question was booed by everyone in attendance before Ms Deneuve diplomatically replied that it’s difficult to determine which films will stand the test of time, and that classics are not classics until many years have gone by. Perhaps Farewell to the Night, the eighth collaboration between Deneuve and director André Téchiné, will fit the bill. What starts out as a family melodrama in which Muriel (Deneuve) is visited by her grandson Alex (Kacey Mottet Klein) turns out to have decidedly dark undertones. Also FYI: The Midwife is actually pretty good.
The Golden Glove (Der Goldene Handschuh)
In the running for the Golden Bear is Fatih Akin’s (Head On, In the Fade) Der Goldene Handschuh, which will have its world premiere at Berlinale. Set in the gritty backstreets of 1970s Hamburg’s St Pauli, the period thriller hones in on the outcasts of society and its villain wildly driven by the usual vices of a serial murderer. Der Goldene Handschuh is simultaneously based on the serial killer Fritz Honka and Heinz Strunk’s crime novel of the same name. Expect to not only be taken aback by the violence of its anti-hero but plunged into the larger context of the world that explores the intense economic and social implications of Germany post war.
Divine Love (Divino Amor)
The mind of Gabriel Mascaro (Neon Bull, August Winds) brings us Divino Amor, which is set in Brazil in the not-so-distant future and follows an ardently religious woman working in a notary’s office who uses her position to stop couples from divorcing. It’s a fun premise that sets up an inevitable crisis to come barrelling around the corner setting her life off track. The film promises to be an ephemeral and kaleidoscopic journey that strips back the implications of zealous faith and picks at a woman in crisis with her relationship with God in the balance.
The much-anticipated thriller, Monos, by Colombian director Alejandro Landes is set to be a breakout hit as it was at Sundance last week. Following eight teenagers in the Columbian wilderness who are given a mission, the beautiful thriller follows the hedonism of the young men and their relationships bubbling over and hitting their breaking points. Expect to be gripped by Monos’ intense score and stunned by its breathtaking visuals.
The Kindness of Strangers
Danish director, Lone Scherfig’s The Kindness of Strangers will open Berlinale 2019. With a star-studded cast, including indie darling Zoe Kazan, the ensemble drama set in a Russian restaurant in New York City will examine the interwoven relationships of a group of people who discover their dependence. It will be fascinating to watch the device of the restaurant, which will at once confine these characters, but with Scherfig at the helm will only serve up ample room for her.
Russian filmmaker Alexander Gorchilin brings us his debut Acid at Berlinale 2019. The film will take form as a silent manifesto of the 20-year-old generation. It follows the youths straddling the world of parties and drugs and lets us linger with them in the daze. Acid is having its international premiere at Berlinale but has already done well taking home the main prize at Russian Film Festival Kinotawr in June of 2018.
Oliver Johnston and Mary-Catherine Harvey
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.