The Berlinale Experience

Berlinale is back! After last year’s online festival, the Berlinale community decided to hold the film festival in person again this year. A report of the highlights in the opening week.  

By Seda Saygili

Picture: © Daniel Seiffert / Berlinale

Each film’s tickets went on sale three days before the screening on the official website. All the tickets were sold out in seconds. Not even minutes. I was lucky enough to get tickets for the opening week. This was going to be my first Berlinale experience. Berlinale, one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, along with Cannes and Venice, has always been on my bucket list.

The 72nd Berlin International Film Festival took place this year from February 10 to February 20, 2022. It was a virtual event last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. This year it has been decided that the event would be held in person under Covid restrictions. Even though we were wearing masks everywhere, the red-carpet-experience at the Berlinale Palast was magical. It was amazing to see myself on the big screen while cameras followed us. Friedrichstadt-Palast with its huge cinema halls had a perfect atmosphere as well. The films that were going to be shown during the festival were announced on the official website of the Berlinale at the end of January. I started to check out the movies that I would like to see and put them on the »My Favourites« section.

Every year the Berlinale features hundreds of movies in different genres, sections, and formats. »Competition movies« are the ones competing for Golden and Silver Bears. »Encounters« is a section dedicated to more daring and independent films. »Generation Kplus« and »Generation 14plus« are two competition programs that show cutting-edge international cinema. These movies are especially interesting for a young audience but also for everyone else. There are also: Forum, Berlinale Shorts, Berlinale Special & Berlinale Series…

M. Night Shyamalan, an Indian-American filmmaker best known for The Sixth Sense (1999), was this year’s jury president. Another interesting jury member for me was Ryusuke Hamaguchi whose film (Drive my Car) is nominated for the category of »Best Film« and »Best International Film« at this year’s Academy Awards. Peter Von Kant, directed by François Ozon, was the festival’s opening film. Isabelle Huppert received an Honorary Golden Bear for her lifetime achievement at the Berlinale Palast award ceremony. The Golden Bear was awarded to Spanish director Carla Simon’s family drama Alcarràs.

Movies and short notes

Friday, February 11

Robe of Gems (2022):
The Mexican-Bolivian film-maker Natalia López Gallardo and starring actress Nailea Norvind were at the movie theatre with us to watch the movie. I found the movie very experimental because of the use of the camera (zooms in and out throughout the movie). It was daring because it reflects Mexico’s gang-violence out of the perspective of the victims. Thus, it demonstrates the background of Mexican gangs and portrays the impact on the lives of ordinary people who suffer from this violence. I think the cinematic technique was better than the narration.  It was very nice to see it, but this is not my favourite movie of the Berlinale. Robe of Gems received the Silver Bear Jury Prize.

Saturday, February 12

La Ligne (2022):
La Ligne (The Line) by Ursula Meier was without a doubt my favorite film at this year’s Berlinale. In contrast to her previous film, Sister (2012), which received the Special Award – Silver Bear at the 62nd Berlin Film Festival, this one did not receive any award.

La Ligne is a family story that made most of the viewers at the Friedrichstadt-Palast theatre laugh and cry. Margaret, the story’s protagonist, has a violent personality which leads her to hit her mother Christina during an argument. She is then forbidden from contacting her mother or being within 100 meters of their home.

Meier depicts unusual families and redefines what it means to be together. Margaret’s younger sister draws a white line around their house, making the division visible.The line in the movie represents the distance between the people in it, even if they are from the same family. Including music in the middle of the story is also a plus, especially seeing Stéphanie Blanchoud and Benjamin Biolay sing together. Music plays a calming role the movie’s chaos and lets the furious characters become more peaceful.

Sonne (2022):
Seeing Kurdwin Ayub’s debut feature film was a last-minute opportunity for me. This was another premiere night where the director and cast of the film were present at the theatre. The plot revolves around three girls who went viral on YouTube with their cover of »Losing My Religion« by R.E.M. as well as their socio-cultural backgrounds, being teenagers with different religions, and their sense of belonging in the context of immigrant families.

As an Austrian citizen with Iraqi ancestors, Ayub understands Iraqi families and their culture intimately. I really enjoyed the film because it includes smart phone video clips of the actors. The film is very fresh and new. Following the screening, there was a Q&A session during which I asked Kurdwin Ayub a question about the representation of the father figure in the film which I found both interesting and absurd, because the father in the movie is very supportive of his daughter instead of his son which is not very common in Muslim families. She stated that she purposefully created the character in this manner to challenge family values. Sonne won the award for Best First Feature.

Sunday, February 13

Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush (2022):
Andreas Dresen’s Rabiye was the only film by a male director I saw at the festival. The plot is based on the true story of Rabiye Kurnaz and her legal battle for her son Murat who is accused of terrorism and detained at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after 9/11. The film is tragic but Meltem Kaptan who plays Rabiye transforms it into a comedy from time to time with her great performance which earned her the Berlinale Award for Best Leading Performance (rather than Best Actress because the Berlinale no longer gives gendered awards). Meltem Kaptan was already familiar to me from the Turkish comedy film Ölümlü Dünya (2018). In Rabiye Kurnaz she perfectly balances drama and comedy which is a transition from her previous roles as a comedy actress. A mother’s fight for justice is brilliantly depicted and the film’s scriptwriter, Laila Stieler, was awarded the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay.

Avec Amour et acharnement (2021):
Another fantastic film from incredible French director Claire Denis, best known for her work Chocolat (1988) and Beau Travail (1999). Denis’s movie started with her own video introducing the film and thanking the audience for coming to see it. The film is a success thanks to Juliette Binoche’s and Vincent Lindon’s outstanding performances. The story is basically a love triangle between Sara, Jean and François who are old friends.

The fact that the characters in the film wore masks because of Covid was one of my favourite aspects of it. I’ve seen a lot of movies and TV-shows since the pandemic began but this was the first time that characters weren’t acting as if it didn’t happen. With this film, Claire Denis won the award for Best Director.

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