The 68th edition of the Berlin International Film Festival kicks off today with Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs. A return to the stop-motion animation the American auteur employed in his quirky re-imagining of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, Anderson’s latest may sound like an incongruous choice to open a festival that prides itself on its socially-conscious programming, but it’s also testament to Berlinale’s dedication to promoting cinema’s various forms and modes.
The films that premier at the Berlinale are an inherently mixed bag, covering a broad spectrum of cinema; with the program often feeling like a minefield you have to navigate carefully in order to avoid the assortment of bland prestige dramas, or various well-intentioned, yet ultimately gruelling and unfocused films built around narratives of conflict, displacement and extremism. However, this sense of danger only makes scouring the program more exciting, and there’s always a handful of films that shock and inspire; and even some that challenge preconceived ideas about what constitutes cinema.
Wedged awkwardly between Sundance and Cannes, the Berlinale’s main competition might struggle to attract the same big name directors as its counterparts, yet the quality on show is always of a high standard. Last year’s competition selection was particularly notable, and the Golden Bear – awarded to Ildikó Enyedi’s Of Body and Soul – could easily have gone to Alain Gomes’ Felicite, Aki Kaurismäki’s The Other Side of Hope or Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman.
This year’s jury, headed by German director Tom Tykwer, will have to decide who to award the festival’s prestigious Bears to from an eclectic selection of critically acclaimed directors such as; Lav Diaz, Gus Van Sant, Laura Bispuri, Małgorzata Szumowska, Mani Haghighi, Christian Petzold and the Zellner brother to name a few. There will also be new works premiering out-of-competition from Elite Squad director José Padilha, promising Irish filmmaker Lance Daly and Unsane, the iPhone-shot horror from Steven Soderbergh; his second feature film since retiring in 2013.
However, If you’re looking for a challenge, It’s the festival’s Forum sidebar where the most daring and inventive work can be found. A staunchly cinephilic counterpart to the heavily commercialized main event, film’s premiering here are explicitly topical, yet often approach there subjects in unusual and interesting ways, twisting familiar genres or delving into unexpectedly new ones to transcend their chosen topics and ask wider reaching questions about where society is heading. Amongst this year’s crop of innovative films hell-bent on reframing the definition of political filmmaking are Corneliu Porumboiu’s Infinite Football, a return to the beautiful game for the Romanian director, whose documentary The Second Game also used football as a means to explore his nation’s fractious identity.
There’s also the latest offering from idiosyncratic American director Josephine Decker. Madeline’s Madeline, which is appetisingly described in the program as a probing study of the analogy between creativity and insanity. This year’s Forum also marks a return to the Berlinale for Canadian surrealist Guy Maddin, with his latest, The Green Fog using archive footage from films and television shows shot in San Francisco to create a cinematic ‘echo’ of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
Elsewhere, the festival’s Panorama strand will play host to the European premier of Ioana Uricaru’s savage dismantling of the American Dream, Lemonade, and Foreboding, the latest from Japanese master Kiyoshi Kurosawa; a dystopian sci-fi about an extraterrestrial doctor that combines elements of the horror and post-apocalyptic thriller genres to create an unnerving vision of the changing nature of family.
The festival also boasts not one, not two, but three retrospective seasons. More often than not these retro screenings result in unforgettable viewings of lost, or under-appreciated films in some of the city’s most lavish cinemas. This year the festival has dedicated its Homage strand to the films of Willem Dafoe (who will be presented with an Honorary Golden Bear) whilst the Berlinale Classics strand will showcase digitally restored versions of Ildikó Enyedi’s My 20th Century, Mikhail Kalatozov’s The Cranes are Flying and Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Twilight.
3 Days in Quiberon, dir. Emily Atef
7 Days in Entebbe, dir. José Padilha
Ága, dir. Milko Lazarov
Season of the Devil, dir. Lav Diaz
Black 47, dir. Lance Daly
Damsel, dir. David Zellner and Nathan Zellner
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, dir. Gus Van Sant
Dovlatov, dir. Alexey German Jr
Eldorado, dir. Markus Imhoof
Eva, dir. Benoit Jacquot
Daughter of Mine, dir. Laura Bispuri
The Heiresses, dir. Marcelo Martinessi
In the Aisles, dir. Thomas Stuber
Isle of Dogs, dir. Wes Anderson
Pig, dir. Mani Haghighi
My Brother’s Name Is Robert and He Is an Idiot, dir. Philip Gröning
Museum, dir. Alonso Ruizpalacios
The Prayer, dir. Cédric Kahn
The Real Estate, dir. Måns Månsson and Axel Petersén
Touch Me Not, dir. Adina Pintilie
Transit, dir. Christian Petzold
Mug, dir. Małgorzata Szumowska
Unsane, dir. Steven Soderbergh
U – July 22, dir. Erik Poppe
The Berlin Film Festival runs from 15-25 February. Follow our coverage here.
Patrick Gamble | @PatrickJGamble