The Berlin Film Festival is often overshadowed by Cannes Film Festival as it’s very difficult to dock a yacht in Berlin. It’s endured for 60 years, though, as an early warning system for the best of the year’s international art house fare. The Competition strand features those films vying for the Golden Bear, which in past years has gone to Jose Padilha’s The Elite Squad and Claudia Llosa’s The Milk of Sorrow. The field’s first half features Japanese war stories, the making of one of the worst films ever made, criminals old and young and the returns of Polanski, Baumbach and Popogrebsky.
Turkish director Semih Kaplanoglu’s fifth film is a father/son story set in the remote mountains. Young Yusuf is ostracized at school for his stammer, but worships his beekeeper dad, who tends to a network of precarious treetop hives. When his father is called away on business, Yusuf follows him into the forest.
Lieutenant Kurokawa returns from the front of the second Sino-Japanese War. He’s had his arms and legs blown off. Shigeko is expected to dutifully attend to her immobile war hero husband. Director Koji Wakamatsu’s previous film, the acclaimed United Red Army, still awaits release in the U.S. Based on the story by Edogawa Rampo, which was censored by the Japanese authorities in 1939.
Johannes Rettenberger is a competitive marathoner. He also robs banks. In Benjamin Heisenberg’s thriller, the real-life thief who became an Austrian media sensation is transformed into an existential figure trying to outrun the pack. Based on the novel by Martin Prinz, who once ran a race alongside the athletic hold-up artist.
Familien Rheinwald (A Family)
Silver Bear winner Pernille Fischer Christensen returns to the Berlinale with a story of an art gallery owner (Lene Maria Christensen) whose new job means moving from Denmark to New York. Then her father falls ill. Christensen says the film is made with “craving for cakes, bread and love, and the desire to live life to the fullest.” All of which we can heartily endorse.
En Ganske snill mann (A Somewhat Gentle Man)
In this Norwegian comedy from Aberdeen director Hans Petter Moland, Stellan Skarsgard plays a man jailed for a crime passionel. On his release 12 years later, he has to deal with the wife whose lover he killed and the gang who expect him to get retribution on a snitch. It’s a hard truth that time has caught up with him … and his hair line.
Teenage crook Silviu (George Pistereanu) has only days until he’s released from prison. That hasn’t stopped him from trying to bust loose on his own. His efforts are complicated by a concerned mother and the sociology student he takes a romantic interest in. The debut film from Romanian filmmaker Florin Serban.
Write up the memoirs of controversial prime minister Pierce Brosnan? Ink-stained Ewan McGregor doesn’t need to be asked twice. However, the PM has secrets to hide—secrets which threaten to surface when a colleague’s body turns up and a war crimes tribunal demands for Brosnan’s head. Director Roman Polanski tackles a political thriller, but don’t expect him in Berlin. He’s indisposed at the moment.
Feeling adrift, the unemployed Roger Greenberg (Ben Stiller) agrees to housesit for his brother in Los Angeles. There he sparks up a friendship with the brother’s assistant—not difficult as she played by the comely Greta Gerwig. Writer/director Noah Baumbach’s new comedy examines contemporary slacker-dom and the usual family troubles.
When Allen Ginsberg announced that he had seen the best minds of his generation destroyed by madness, he changed the course of poetry and, arguably, American cultural life. The gay poet also attracted the attention of the censors. James Franco plays the beat guru and Jon Hamm is his counsel in this historical drama from Oscar-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.
Jud Süß – Film ohne Gewissen (Jud Süß: A Film Without Conscience)
Austrian actor Ferdinand Marian’s performance as Iago was such a sensation that his biggest fan, Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, asked him to play a character in a anti-Semitic film called Jud Suss. Oskar Roehler’s drama looks at the Faustian deal and the high price Marian (Tobias Moretti) paid.
Kak ya provel etim letom (How I Ended This Summer)
Filmmaker Alexei Popogrebsky’s Road to Koktebel was one of the finest of the last decade and a rare triumph for contemporary Russian cinema. This two-hander looks at how a radio message puts a pair of workers stationed on a remote Arctic island at odds. Think Moon but with more ice.
The Kids Are All Right
Laurel Canyon director Lisa Cholodenko’s third film was the subject of what they like to call a “bidding war” at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Julianne Moore doesn’t so much cement her gay icon status by playing Annette Bening’s wife as carve it out in marble. The couple’s cooling relationship is threatened by the appearance of their children’s biological father, played by Mark Ruffalo.
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