German Berlinale Competition. ‘Dark tones’ for dystopian times

Starting February 20, 18 films from 18 countries, 16 of them world premieres, will compete for the Golden and Silver Bears in Berlin. A past focus on star power will give way to darker themes that aim to “open our eyes.”

Jeremy Irons is the 2020 head of the Berlin Film Festival Jury. In 2019 Juliete Binoche was head of the Jury which awarded the Silver Bear award to “System Crasher” shown above.

Deutsche Welle 1.31.2020

On Wednesday the Berlinale International Film Festival leadership team revealed the movies that will compete for its top prizes under the “Competition” heading. The festival runs from February 20 to March 1 in the German capital.

With a new artistic director, Carlo Chatrian, and managing director, Mariette Rissenbeek, at the helm of the 70th Berlinale, films have been selected that are “part of a bigger picture,” Chatrian said at the press conference.

It is “the end of an epic and exciting journey where we have encountered more than 6,800 films from the whole world — short as well as feature-length films, documentaries and fiction films,” he added.

The Competition programme includes 18 films from 18 countries with 16 world premieres, as well as one documentary form. The selection appears to be a homage to film art rather than big names. The two US directors in the running, Kelly Reichardt (“First Cow”) and Eliza Hittman (“Never Rarely Sometimes Always”), have an indie film pedigree and have not utilized A-list stars.

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Remake of ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz’

German cinema will be very prominently represented: Christian Petzold will present his new film “Undine” starring German actors Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski. The remake of Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz by German-Afghan filmmaker Burhan Qurbani is also eagerly anticipated.

Chatrian is a film connoisseur who previously headed the renowned Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland. The selection he announced seemed to address past criticism of the Berlinale’s middling competition entries that aimed for mainstream appeal.

A number of recognized directors are taking part in the 2020 Competition, and others are Berlinale alumni, but above all the selection is marked by its global diversity.

Tsai Ming-Liang from Taiwan, Hong Sangsoo from South Korea, Rithy Panh from Cambodia, Briton Sally Potter, French director Philippe Garrel, as well as French duo Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern, are some of the better-known names. American enfant terrible Abel Ferrara is directing a co-production from Italy, Germany and Mexico called “Siberia.”

There are a number of other international co-productions in the selection, incuding “The Intruder” from Argentina/Mexico and “All the Dead Ones” from Brazil/France.

A total of five films with German production funds are running in the race for the Golden Bear, the best picture award.

The premiere of the film “DAU. Natasha” by Ilya Khrzhanovskiy and Yekatarina Oertel, which portrays the life of Soviet physicist Lev Davidovich, combines funding from Germany, Ukraine, the UK and the Russian Federation.

‘Predominance of dark tones’

“The Competition films tell intimate and earth-shattering, individual and collective stories that have an enduring effect and gain their impact from their interplay with the audience,” Chatrian said. “If there is a predominance of dark tones, this may be because the films we have selected tend to look at the present without illusion — not to cause fear, but because they want to open our eyes.”

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Opening film: “My Salinger Year”

The 70th Berlinale will open with the Canadian-Irish film “My Salinger Year.” Based on the memoir by Joanna Rakoff, director Philippe Falardeau tells the story of a young writer who works as an assistant to a successful literary agent (played by Sigourney Weaver), and who gets the job of responding to fan mail for cult author J.D. Salinger. Sigourney Weaver is expected to attend the premiere.

There will also be representation from Iran, which traditionally has a strong presence in Berlin. Director Mohammad Rasoulof presents “There is No Evil,” a story from his home country that is again caught in geopolitical crosshairs.

Chatrian said that all the directors would present their works in Berlin in person, and he hoped that Rasoulof could also do so. In the past, Tehran has repeatedly refused to allow local film directors, including banned filmmaker Jafar Panah, to travel to major festivals.

Gender balance?

In 2019, former Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick signed the 5050×2020 pledge to achieve gender equality. Of the 18 competition films for 2020, a third were directed by women. Chatrian described the “process” as ongoing.

Managing director Rissenbeek promised that an overall majority of the other festival sections would be directed by women. She added that the year’s proportion of women in the entire Berlinale programme, even behind the scenes, is relatively high.