Berlinale 2020 - Of Berlinian mermaids, Roman suburbs and naked animals
For the 70th time the Berlinale commence, and with it, an edition that simultaneously represents an anniversary and a fresh start. This offers a lot of potential, one would assume. rbb film-expert and presenter Knut Elstermann gives insight into a festival drifting between transformation and established concepts.
It is going to be the Berlinale of transition. The new co-directors of the Berlin Film Festival, managing director Mariette Rissenbeek and art director Carlo Chatrian, were smart enough to refrain from presenting this new beginning as a revolutionary transformation. Being fully aware, that they cannot and should not reconstruct the entire Berlinale within their first year.
Berlin should initiate its own forum for indigenous cinema
The co-directors send out a clear message by removing the “Kulinarisches Kino” and the NATIVe film series. As a result, the programme will be reduced by almost 60 films. Whereas the end of the “Kulinarisches Kino” is hardly to be regretted, the removal of NATIVe casts a different shadow. This section had become a meeting point for indigenous filmmakers from across the globe and a possibility for interaction, which is now especially missed by Sorbian film artists. Berlin should set up a similarly curated, but separate festival for indigenous cinema outside of the Berlinale.
Will Encounters steal the spotlight from other sections?
The Competition has also become more clearly organised by omitting works that do not compete for an award entirely. A decision that is certainly consistent. Cutting one section out of the programme, is met with an increase in another. The new section Encounters, which is intended to “foster aesthetically and structurally daring works from independent, innovative filmmakers”, comprises of fifteen films. Among them are works from masters of their craft, like Alexander Kluge (“Orphea”) and debutants such as Potsdam-based director Melanie Waelde (“Nackte Tiere”).
It remains entirely unclear whether this section will garner enough attention for itself, or simply be overshadowed by the main Competition. I am also unsure if I will be able to take in all of the works presented within the Competition, particularly as independent and innovative films will also be shown within other segments of the programme, notably the Forum. I wonder if Encounters won’t merely steal some of the spotlight from the Forum, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year. And if these films are so innovative and daring, why not let them fight for an award within the main competitive section?
Diese Stars werden auf der Berlinale erwartet
The Competition is less of a transformation than a conservation
During his first press conference Carlo Chatrian took the time to introduce every single film of the main Competition with words of appreciation. This did incite interest and also gave a preview of what may to be expected of the Berlinale in the future. Most significantly, it pointed to a cineastic focus. However, the Competition contains less of a shift away from than the use of established concepts. The Berlin-based director Christian Petzold will participate for the fourth time this year. His film “Undine”, starring Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer (who already played the leading roles in his Berlinale-film “Transit”), transfers the romantic myth of the mermaid to a modern-day Berlin and experiments with the element of water, which is so characteristic of the city. The British Sally Potter ("The Party") has also been a part of the Berlin Competition. Her new film "The Roads Not Taken” brings sought-after stars like Salma Hayek and Javier Bardem to the red carpet of the Berlinale.
Berlin highlights collective work
Nonetheless, I am excited about the new names within the Competition. The powerful and surprisingly mature directing debut of the young Italian brothers D'Innocenzo, who presented “La terra dell'abbastSTfnza“ in the Panorama section of 2018, left me highly impressed. Returning with a closer look at Roman suburbs, their film “Favolacce” (Bad Tales) will compete for a Bear-award this year.
The two brothers belong to a strikingly high number of directing-duos this year. In doing so, the Berlinale highlights that making a film is mostly a team-based effort. Also reflecting this, is the Talent Campus’s focus on collective work. Possibly the new directors are trying to highlight this aspect of film work, which is often neglected in the public sphere, because they function as a duo themselves - a duo with different responsibilities and vastly different temperaments.
These movies could be nominees for the queer film award Teddy
The curation of the rest of the programme looks to be similarly familiar. Experimental and very courageous works can be found within the Forum, under the new guidance of Cristina Nord, whereas the rather crowd-pleasing approach of arthouse cinema is part of the Panorama section. Here, many queer films can be found that are well worth visiting, be it the Argentinian opening film “One in a Thousand” (Las Mil y Una) from Clarisa Navas or “Minyan”, a story of Eric Steel’s gay coming out in the Jewish Brooklyn of the 1980s. Both films are sure to be nominees for the queer film award Teddy, which continues to be one of the sought-after awards this year.
History could change the impression of the Film Festival
Now, of all times, for the 70th anniversary, the Berlinale had to face the suppressed Nazi past of its founding father, Alfred Bauer. The new management had reacted quickly and suspended the prize for innovative cinema, which had borne Bauer’s name. It is likely that this award will not return, particularly as the new competition “Encounters” makes it unnecessary. Presumably the scandal will only be part of intermission conversations at this year’s festival. Nonetheless, Chatrian has promised a comprehensive reappraisal, that naturally takes time. The Film Festival will then have to accept an entirely different perspective on their history, which had always been that of a gateway to the free, Western world.