Is there a safe way to still host in-person screenings at a film festival in the middle of a pandemic? That's the question that has been on the mind of every last film festival all over the world. But there is one solution – hosting outdoor "open air" screenings with social distanced seating (or drive-in screenings in places where most people have cars). The Berlin Film Festival usually takes place in February every year, but this year they had to cancel their main event, as the third wave of the COVID-19 was taking over the city at the time. However, the festival eventually came up with an interesting plan: allow the press and industry access to a simple digital screening system in February to watch most of the line-up. Then follow-up in June during the summer with outdoor screenings of ALL of the films for the public. This worked like a charm. I caught two films during the Berlinale-in-summer series and found myself wondering why I didn't get even more tickets.
As the world changes, and as society evolves, so must teaching, and so must teachers. But how, exactly, and where is there an example of a teacher that can best educate (and handle) youngsters as they're growing up? This exceptional documentary brings us into the classroom of one extraordinary teacher who offers a near perfect example of how to teach and deal with rowdy adolescents. Mr. Bachmann and His Class, also known as Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse in German, has premiered at the 2021 Berlin Film Festival and is one of the documentary highlights of the fest this year. Directed by German filmmaker Maria Speth, the film runs a grand total of 3 hours and 37 minutes. However, it properly and proudly earns its "Frederick Wiseman from Germany" comparison because it seriously comes close to matching the quality of his films.
"The Golden Bear goes to a film which has that rare and essential quality of a lasting art work. It captures on screen the very content and essence, the mind and body, the values and the raw flesh of our present moment in time." The 71st Berlin Film Festival (also known as just Berlinale) has wrapped up, and the small set of prizes were revealed this weekend, including the winner of the coveted Golden Bear for Best Film. That top prize was given to a Romanian dark comedy film called (in English) Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, directed by Radu Jude. The festival, usually held in February, transitioned to a virtual press + industry only event this past week, showing premieres online and in the cinema for the jury only. Jude's film is a clever, wacky, made-during-the-pandemic-so-everyone-wears-masks critical commentary about sex and society. It's a good win for originality, though not my fave film of the fest. Full list of 2021 prizes below.
Be afraid, be very afraid. There's something going on out there, something stirring in the shadows, and it's something we need to be worried about. Fascism is back. It's reared its ugly head too many times in too many countries recently. And filmmakers definitely have something to say about this, especially German filmmakers. Je Suis Karl just premiered at the 2021 Berlin Film Festival, the latest feature from German filmmaker Christian Schwochow (of November Child, Cracks in the Shell, West, Paula) and screenwriter Thomas Wendrich, and it's an unnerving, frightening, realistic portrayal of the rise of fascism. From the moment it started, I immediately had knots in my stomach, knowing what was coming. Much like watching Titanic or United 93, you know what's about to happen and I felt that intense dread watching it all play out.
How well do you really know your friends? Perhaps you know them better than they want to admit. Perhaps you don't know all of their secrets. But whatever it is that connects you, that's what matters. And that's what this beautiful film is all about. Language Lessons is something really special. I feel honored to be witness to the start of a whole new indie subgenre - mumblezoom. (Or maybe zoomumble? Zoomcore?) It doesn't surprise me that Mark Duplass is involved in the next evolution of mumblecore, but this really is Natalie Morales' film above all. This film is like a big warm hug of pure, perfect goodness that we all so need right now. Just patient and lovely in its heartfelt reminder that friendship is vitally important and we need to stop being so against anyone who tries to care. Let love glow, let it shine, let it heal us, let it take us on journeys.
Love is hard. While it seems like it should be easy, once that feeling overtakes us and embraces us, the act of loving is not as easy as it seems. We all know this, at least we've heard it said before, yet we all long for love and wish we'll find someone to make us less lonely. But how can we achieve that if we've lived for so long on our own, establishing an entirely independent life. Is there even an answer to that question? One of my all-time favorite romances, Spike Jonze's Her, digs into this question and the fabric of love and how it works. I'm Your Man is another new sci-fi romance film that also digs into this question, and presents us with a peculiar yet fascinating story of love and its impossibly complex dynamics. It's a sweet, low key story about a robot lover created to be the "perfect" partner and how he changes one woman in ways she wasn't expecting.
Cinema lives on! "This is a very special tribe of people. Workers? Yes. But also believers: in the magic & the power of storytelling." -Helen Mirren. The 70th Berlin Film Festival (aka Berlinale) has wrapped up in Berlin, offering a bevy of fine films for cinephiles to enjoy and analyze. To recap the festival this year, I've put together a quick list of my six favorite films at Berlinale 2020 - a mix of documentaries and features. Last year, I only wrote about my favorite docs because everything else wasn't good, but this year I was happy to come across some marvelous narrative films that left a strong impression on me. And I have to mention these, along with my favorite docs, because I hope these films will break out of the festival circuit and reach audiences worldwide. They deserve that chance, and they deserve to be seen, give them a look when you can.
"'She is an enchantress!' cried Bertalda; 'a witch, that has intercourse with evil spirits. She acknowledges it herself.'" We can always trust in German filmmaker Christian Petzold to make an interesting film no matter what. Undine is his latest feature film, following his acclaimed film Transit from two years ago. It is indeed based on the classic fairy tale of the same name, originally a German novella written by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué in the early 1800s. The story is about a water spirit named Undine, who marries a knight named Huldebrand in order to gain a soul. The classic romance has been updated in modern times (see: Colin Farrell in Ondine) about a water spirit who must return to the water at some point in her life, usually related to being in love. And in Christian Petzold's Undine, her story also involves a great deal of romance.
Doesn't matter if it's man or machine, you can fall in love with anything. And that's okay. Jumbo has one of those crazy weird concepts that either shouldn't work at all, or seemingly fits right in with the rest of The Asylum's ridiculous filmography. But, somehow, it works. Which ultimately is a testament to writer/director Zoé Wittock and her skills as a filmmaker. Jumbo originally premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year, and also played at the Berlin Film Festival. And it damn well deserves to be in both of the fests because it's a uniquely original, surprisingly serious, and impressive feature about a French woman who falls in love with a theme park ride she calls "Jumbo". It's yet another new fresh twist on the classic 80s coming-of-age romance, with a few cliche moments that end up being fun because it's not any human partner she's chasing.
As another film festival comes to an end, it's time to celebrate and commemorate with the announcement of the awards. The 70th Berlin Film Festival is finishing up, and the winners were revealed at the Closing Ceremony, including the winner of the coveted Golden Bear for Best Film. That top prize was given to a film called There Is No Evil, directed by Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof, who was not allowed to leave his country to attend the festival. Hence the cell phone photo of him with the award seen above. The film explores themes of moral strength and the death penalty that ask to what extent individual freedom can be expressed under a despotic regime. It was the very last film to screen after everything else. Full list below.
This is one of the most beautiful documentaries I have ever seen. Without a doubt. I need to start with that statement. Everyone's personal definition of what is "beautiful" is different, but I think this is one time we can all agree that this film is objectively beautiful. Little Girl is yet another festival film that I can't get out of my head, and will likely never forget, for a number of beguiling reasons. The way the filmmakers tell this story so sensitively, with so much care and with so much integrity and so much reassurance, is part of it. But it's also just a staggering film about one young girl who is beautiful inside and out. And the filmmakers are telling her story so that we can learn from her, so that we can push society forward by learning to evolve our compassion. And push us to step away from toxic stereotypes that have plagued this planet for far too long.
"It's a sad and stupid thing to have to proclaim yourself a revolutionary just to be a decent man." What kind of world do we live in where being decent is an impossibility? That's the question this film answers. I had a good feeling about this beforehand, but it still exceeded my expectations in every possible way. I will never forget watching this at a packed press screening at 8 o'clock in the morning at the 2020 Berlin Film Festival. Burhan Qurbani's Berlin Alexanderplatz is an utterly phenomenal film, an astonishing work of profound cinema and empathetic storytelling that hit me deep in my gut. It is an epic saga in the life of one man, and one of the best examinations of modern Berlin and the way the city treats immigrants. It may be three hours long, but all of it is vital. There is not a single frame or any specific scene in this I would change.