The festival’s political leanings and level of engagement with current events have always been on full display. From the very beginning, that was the focus of this 73rd annual festival. It’s not shocking, considering that Russia is still waging war on Ukraine and that the Iranian regime is still imprisoning and killing its own citizens in an effort to silence dissent.
Panel discussions and red carpet protests in support of the people of Ukraine and Iran are among the special events the Berlinale has already announced. The festival will honour the “catalytic and revolutionary notion of cinema which unites even when it divides,” as artistic director Carlo Chatrian put it.
During the first press conference with the jury, the subject was discussed.
At the beginning of the festival, Kristen Stewart, the president of the jury and the youngest president in the festival’s history at the age of 32, made some insightful comments about how we are living “in the most reactive, emotionally whiplashed time” and how it is the job of an artist “to take a disgusting and ugly thing and transmute it, put it through your body, and pop out something more beautiful and more helpful.”
The Iranian-French actress and co-juror Golshifteh Farahani discussed the significance of the group’s location in Berlin in light of recent events in her home country.
Being in Berlin, the city that shattered the wall in the name of freedom, equality, and unity, is very significant. Now, especially with Iran, it seems like the whole world is falling apart this year,” Farahani said.
“In a dictatorship like Iran, art is not just a theoretical consideration; it’s vital, just as necessary as air. Being an artist threatens your very existence. For this reason, being present this year is truly remarkable. With a shared appreciation for art and culture as fuel, we can keep warm by sharing our company. The actress expressed her delight at being able to “fight for freedom, in Iran and around the world,” by being present at the rally. It didn’t take long for people to start cheering.
The Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To (A Hero Never Dies, Election) echoed her thoughts on the power of film as a weapon against tyrannical governments.
Cinema is a microcosm of the larger social system. The first thing a government that wants to destroy a place does is get rid of the movies there. () If you care about freedom, the first thing you should do is go to the movies.
Later that evening, at the Berlinale Palast theatre, Stewart and Farahani went in for the double for the opening ceremony.
A great deal of pressure is put on our bodies by other people. Stewart claimed, “I am a woman, but I am the most mainstream one possible.”
According to Farahani, the Iranian government “lies and executes.”
She claimed that many innocent people are being held in Iranian prisons. As the Iranian people look to you for leadership, we urge you to take a stance on the side of history that is right. This government is doomed to fail.
This dictatorship wall is very solid. In comparison to South Africa’s eight hundred day revolution, ours has only been going on for about five months so far. This barrier is oppressive and violates people’s basic human rights. You’re all vital to our survival. Germany, France, and Europe are essential. Taking a stance on the right side and admitting that you are on it is essential to us. She even went so far as to declare it a revolution.
As is customary for him to do at such events, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy appeared via satellite to introduce Sean Penn.
Penn is in Berlin right now filming Superpower, a documentary about the strength of the Ukrainian people that includes footage from his visits to Kiev and meetings with Zelenskyy.
It’s only natural to wonder who culture and art should support. Zelenskyy questioned. Can creativity exist apart from politics? Is it appropriate for movies to stay out of politics?
Before concluding that “culture and cinema can be outside of politics, but not when it’s a policy of aggression, mass crimes, murder and terrorism,” Zelenskyy thanked the Berlinale for its decision to ban creatives with ties to Russia.
To which he added, “the showcase of the free world” describes the festival perfectly.
The disappointing introduction and the brilliant conclusion of Encounters
Next, we’ll get into the movies themselves. What follows is the icing on the cake…
One cannot deny that the Berlinale has not had the best success rate when it comes to premiering films.
The François Ozon film Peter von Kant from the previous year was a massive letdown; the François Ozon film My Salinger Year from 2020 was only bearable because Signourney Weaver is a national treasure that must be preserved at all costs; and the François Ozon film The Kindness of Strangers from 2019 still makes this critic’s spleen burst into a million fleshy bits from an overload of cringe.
Infinite more examples could be given… In addition, the writer-director Rebecca Miller’s marriage comedy She Came To Me, which had its world premiere this year, continues the trend of cheesiness.
This “magical ode to freedom of expression” (dixit Chatrian and co-festival head Mariette Rissenbeek) starring Peter Dinklage, Anne Hathaway, and Marisa Tomei is a total bomb.
In this completely ridiculous (and not in a good way) romantic comedy, Steven (Dinklage), an opera composer, is stuck in a creative rut. He is scattered, devoid of ideas, and prone to panic attacks. His wife, a therapist he still refers to as “Doc,” plans their intimate moments and has a marked obsession with keeping everything Marie Kondo spotless. She recommends that he go for a walk, take his time, and get lost in order to find himself and his muse. This would be sound advice if he hadn’t met the vivacious tugboat captain Katrina on his first mandatory outdoor excursion (Marisa Tomei). She claims to be a romance addict who will, for better or worse, help him overcome his lack of inspiration.
The film’s narrative is all over the place, so there’s not much point in elaborating on it. Subplots involving Anne Hathaway’s sudden desire to become a nun and a tyrannical and Confederate cosplay enthusiast of a stepfather are particularly laughably undercooked and convoluted.
Despite the best efforts of the cast, the film’s incomprehensibly bad script, muddled tone, and insulting mishandling of themes of addiction and creativity, as well as Miller’s clumsy direction (including some grating aspect ratio chances that add absolutely nothing on a stylistic, narrative, or thematic level) doom the movie to failure. The only survivor of this train wreck is Marisa Tomei, and the scene in which a naked Anne Hathaway screams the word “KREPLAAAAACH” — a delicious type of duuuumpling — to one of her clients is unforgettable.
One must see it to believe it. In any case, we still don’t know for sure what Miller intended.
You can have a good time watching the disaster unfold by accident, but it will be at the expense of the film itself. In the press screening, the final scene elicited audible laughter and guffaws, confirming that She Came To Me was the possible end of romance, the dooming of comedy, and the final death blow to any hopes that the Berlinale could schedule an opening film that didn’t make critics seriously rethink their career choices.
El Eco, directed by Mexican-Salvadorian Tatiana Huezo, provided much-needed relief from any feelings of existential or professional disorientation.
Huezo’s previous Berlinale film, 2016’s Tempestad, was a masterfully textured look at the repercussions of organised crime in Mexico and the lengths to which mothers will go to protect their children. Without exaggeration, it was a masterpiece.
With El Eco, the documentary filmmaker is back at the festival. The name of a small Mexican mountain town, in the state of Puebla. There, daily life is comprised of the barest necessities. The press release states, “Being a child here is an intense experience from day one, involving nature, animals, and people. Nonetheless, love, closeness, illness, and death also exist.
Using three generations of women, Huezo creates a portrait of the tender and often harsh realities of life in a remote community. We see the matriarchy of caregiving and the passing down of duties from mother to daughter, whether or not this results in an early death.
One of the most impressive aspects of El Eco is the increasingly foreboding soundscape from Leonardo Heiblum and Jacobo Lieberman; as if in tandem with stories about witches feasting on the blood of newborns, the striking score emphasises that while there may be communal joys, hardship lurks, nature can be cruel, and clinging to tradition is not a good idea.
We lack the vocabulary to adequately describe the mood that El Eco evokes. It’s a mesmerising mosaic that won’t be forgotten any time soon, and it manages to recapture the dirge-like allure and poetic power of Huezo’s earlier films.