Berlinale 2021: Top picks to look out for in the festival’s 71st edition
Ah, the bygone days of early 2020. Berlinale was the last major film festival to actually take place before cinemas, and the world in general, closed down. Last year, there was the odd face mask in the press room, festival management helpfully responded to the looming crisis by putting out a few bottles of hand sanitiser, and journalists got into the habit of body slamming doors to avoid touching the handle. One year on, and many worthy 2020 titles are still awaiting release. But onwards and upwards, and the 2021 Berlinale is here, in a manner of speaking. March sees the online portion of the festival for industry professionals, followed (hopefully) by public screenings in June. It’s still a film festival though, and 2021 features an impressive selection. The Upcoming’s festival correspondents Oliver Johnston and Joseph Owen have rounded up their top picks from the best of the fest.
Ich Bin Dein Mensch (Maria Schrader)
Best known to international audiences as a quietly calculating spy in Deutschland ‘83, actress Maria Schrader is in the director’s chair for Ich Bin Dein Mensch. In this darkly comic sci-fi tale, a researcher tentatively agrees to live with a handsome robot who is programmed to learn how to become her perfect partner. Not a bad assignment, as the robot is played by the impossibly charming Dan Stevens.
Tina (Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin)
It’s easy to forget that Tina Turner is now in her 80s. This is quite possibly because she’s timeless, and mere mortals should consider themselves blessed to share the planet with her. Turner’s life was given the biopic treatment with 1993’s What’s Love Got to Do with It, where she was played by Angela Bassett. Bassett appears in Turner’s overdue documentary, along with Oprah Winfrey, and Tina herself. Expect a celebratory exploration of a truly remarkable life and career.
Je Suis Karl (Christian Schwochow)
Berlinale continues with its unofficial directive to be the most socially aware festival, although Je Suis Karl isn’t expressly an issues-based film. A thriller in which a horrific terrorist attack triggers the social and political awakening of a young woman, Je Suis Karl promises to be both topical and compelling.
Limbo (Soi Chiang)
A hard boiled Hong Kong action thriller in which two police officers pursue a serial killer known as the hand fetish ripper – what more could anyone ask for? Intelligently subversive cinema is the hallmark of director Soi Cheang, and Limbo follows this tradition. As an added bonus, expect a great deal of bombastic, heavily-stylised violence.
Albatros (Xavier Beauvois)
The always interesting Jérémie Renier takes the lead in Albatros. Renier plays Laurent, the chief of police in an arrestingly beautiful Normandy village. While his personal life is going swimmingly, a succession of increasingly curious events in his professional duties threaten to cause the explosive unravelling of Laurent. He is a man in crisis, and this crisis is going to be fascinating to observe.
Introduction (Hong Sang-soo)
Hong Sang-soo’s films are as excellent as they are regular. The Woman Who Ran, which played in Berlin last year, contained a set of lovely, acute observations about domestic interpersonal dynamics, i.e. humans talking indoors. Familiarity breeds contentment: his latest appears to be short, spry and features the hypnotic Kim Min-hee.
The Scary of Sixty-First (Dasha Nekrasova)
Dasha Nekrasova, host of the agitating Red Scare podcast, brings her first feature film to Berlin. Synoptic snippets seem to suggest that it involves the possessive apparition of Jeffrey Epstein, who haunts two young women in a New York apartment. Shades of Rosemary’s Baby perhaps; discomfort and paranoia are likely.
Social Hygiene (Denis Côté)
Denis Côté is a beguiling, textural filmmaker. Having previously lent his hand to documentary and all manner of genres, Côté shifts the emphasis to comedy, depicting a lowlife petty thief cajoled by five women to acknowledge the error of his ways. Imagine that conventions will be upended and revel in the socially-distanced trailer.
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (Ryusuke Hamaguchi)
Consisting of three thematically linked episodes, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s ode to “coincidence and imagination” promises a great deal. His previous film, Asako I & II, appeared in the competition at Cannes 2018, and subverted traditional conceptions of love and loss. Despite an initially cool reception, Hamaguchi’s work resonated more than most entries from that year. Expect more good things.
Petite Maman (Céline Sciamma)
This is probably the most hotly anticipated work at Berlin. Céline Sciamma, on the heels of the conquering Cannes hit Portrait of a Lady on Fire, presents a 72-minute tale of childhood from the perspective of two 8-year-olds. Sciamma has form for depicting youth, after all, considering her previous features Water Lilies, Tomboy, and Girlhood. There’s plenty here to be excited about, too.
The editorial unit
For further information visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.