Updated: Mar 13, 2021
Berlin’s annual international film festival has revealed its selections for best picture - and all projects were made during the COVID-19 pandemic, artistic director Carlo Chatrian stated last week. Films will be screened online for film industry insiders at the beginning of March, while content will be made available in cinemas for general audiences in June providing COVID-19 restrictions have been eased.
The Berlinale is currently in its 71st year, having been founded in West Berlin in 1951. It is among the ‘Big Three’ alongside the Venice and Cannes film festivals, and this year’s lineup does not disappoint.
A star-studded selection
Directors in the running for the Golden Bear Prize for best picture include Emmy Award winner Maria Schrader - best known for the Netflix hit ‘Unorthodox’ - who will unveil her sci-fi comedy ‘I Am Your Man’, which details a love affair with a robot. The cast includes Maren Eggert and Sandra Hüller, who won the Silver Bear award for best actress at the Berlinale in 2006 for ‘Requiem’, and also starred in the 2016 comedy ‘Toni Erdmann’.
Another candidate is French director Celine Sciamma, whose work includes ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’, winner of best screenplay at the Cannes film festival in 2019. German-Spanish actor Daniel Brühl - who portrayed Niki Lauder in the biographical film ‘Rush’, and appeared in tragicomedy ‘Goodbye Lenin’ and Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglourious Basterds’ - will present his directorial debut ‘Next Door’ at the Berlinale, a film examining the effects of gentrification in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin.
Others competing for best picture include Lebanese directors Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, with ‘Memory Box’, which tells the story of an immigrant mother in Montreal struggling with flashbacks of her country's civil war. Popular Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude, recipient of the Berlinale’s Silver Bear prize for best director in 2015, is also in the running.
Bavarian filmmaker Maria Speth will present her project ‘Herr Bachmann und seine Klasse’ (Herr Bachmann and his Class), while South Korean director Hong Sang-soo is a contender with ‘Introduction’, featuring Kim Min-hee, who won best actress at the Berlinale for Sang-soo’s ‘On the Beach at Night Alone’ in 2017.
Alonso Ruizpalacios will screen ‘A Cop Movie’, a documentary exploring the Mexican police force, and other titles include ‘Natural Light’ by Hungarian filmmaker Dénes Nagy and ‘Ballad of a White Cow’ by Iranian directors Behtash Sanaeeha and Maryam Moghaddam.
The official trailer of ‘Ballad of a White Cow’. Video: berlinale via Instagram.
Last year’s Golden Bear was won by fellow Iranian Mohammad Rasoulof, who will serve on the judging panel this year. All judges are directors and former winners of the Golden Bear: alongside Rasoulof will be Israeli filmmaker, Nadav Lapid, Adina Pintilie, representing Romania, Hungarian director Ildiko Enyedi, Gianfranco Rosi, hailing from Italy, and Jasmila Zbanic, representing Bosnia and Herzegovina.
What’s on offer - despite COVID-19 restrictions
Although it may be online, the Berlinale still boasts its usual categories, such as Berlinale Shorts, Berlinale Series, Generation, which explores coming-of-age stories, and Perspektive Deutsches Kino, which showcases the changing landscape of German film. The Encounters section is also a part of the program, with an impressive lineup consisting of 12 titles from 16 countries. Introduced last year, it aims to “support new voices in cinema and to give more room to diverse narrative and documentary forms.”
The Berlinale Special category, announced on Thursday, features the Tina Turner documentary ‘Tina’, as well as the comedy ‘French Exit’, starring Michelle Pfeiffer. Other big names include Jodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch in ‘The Mauritanian’ and Michael Caine in ‘Best Sellers’.
As is tradition at the Berlinale, the lineup also spotlights films with a political focus, such as ‘Courage’, which details the political events in Belarus. The established Retrospective section, centred on film history, this year explores the genre of screwball comedy, which arose under Hollywood’s 1930 Motion Picture Production Code when portrayals of promiscuity, profanity, and sex were banned in cinema.
In such uncertain times, it is brilliant to see that the Berlinale will still provide filmmakers with the opportunity to share their work. Films will be screened from March 1st to March 5th for industry professionals and will be made available for the public in June.