Just take a walk around Berlin; the cultural diversity laced within the city’s lifeblood is clear to see. And this year’s Berlinale was the perfect promotion of such artistic range. It wasn’t a stellar year by all accounts, there were plenty of disappointments: Alone In Berlin, War On Everyone and Já Olga Hepnarová, to name but three.
There was also, however, plenty to admire, with Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire At Sea walking away with the converted Golden Bear. Unfortunately, that was one of the films we here at Culturefly failed to catch over the 11 days of the festival. But we did manage to watch and review 18 others, so here’s our top five standout picks from this year’s programme.
1. 24 Weeks (Dir. Anne Zohra Berrached)German director Anne Zohra Berrached’s shattering sophomore effort was a rare and rewarding illustration of how to approach the sensitive subject of late-term abortion. Following Julia Jentsch’s cool-headed comedian as she wrestled with the worst of moral dilemmas after discovering her future son would be severely disabled, much of the drama hinged on whether she would decide to terminate the pregnancy. Pointedly, however, her choice was never the crux, what was crucial is that it was her decision, and her decision alone; a rare film that’s pro-choice, not pro-life!
2. Chi-Raq (Dir. Spike Lee)“This is an emergency,” read the foreword to Chi-Raq, Spike Lee’s frenetically urgent and unashamedly brazen examination of escalating gang violence on the South Side of Chicago; he wasn’t kidding. Crafting a very modern adaptation of the ancient Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, Lee’s latest once more examined race relations and urban life, utilising the backdrop of gang violence in Chicago. What stood out in Chi-Raq, however, was its committal to the story’s female characters; for all of its proclamations on violence and race, this was, at its core, like a fist pump for feminism.
3. The Commune (Dir. Thomas Vinterberg)Thomas Vinterberg’s latest was a dark and dreamy delight, which reflected on how tolerance in the face of a testing truth can bring you closer together; a collective tale of domestic intimacy shared between flatmates, which transcends the bonds of friendship. Wonderful too, to see Trine Dyrholm recognised by the Jury, taking home the Best Actress Bear for her emotionally forceful performance as Anna.
4. The Lovers And The Despot (Dir. Rob Cannan & Ross Adam)This riveting documentary exposed the bizarre story of two South Korean cinema stars who were kidnapped by Kim Jong-il and forced to make films in the North of the country. It would have been so easy for Adam and Cannan to simply spin another amusingly inflammatory case study on the deluded North Korean dictator, but crucially however, the emphasis of The Lovers And The Despot remained steadfast on its subjects, extracting from their testimony, an insightful story of companionship.
5. The Ones Below (Dir. David Farr)The first feature film of theatre director David Farr was the best surprise from this year’s Berlinale programme. A psychological thriller pinned with parental angst, it was tremendous fun, if a little far-fetched in its closing stages. The star of the show, ultimately, was Farr, who marked himself out as a talent to watch by playing with the form like a pro.
Until next year, auf wiedersehen.