Is there a Berlin Festival Personality?

February 7th, 2013 by Ben

The Berlinale is here! This means it’s our time to find out whether it has a distinct Entertainment Personality, if it’s any different from the Sundance Film Festival personality we’ve explored recently, or if all festivals are actually the same..? Well, the answers are yes and yes… while there are some differences in types of filmmakers and types of titles, when it comes to plots and moods, some things relatively stay the same in the festival circuit. For starters, while in Sundance a lot of filmmakers are at the start of their careers and hoping to catch a break, in Berlin many filmmakers are already famous, or notorious, and are making an attempt to add prestigious acclaim to their career. While in Sundance documentaries claim a significant portion of the titles, in Berlin they are almost non existent, at least prize-winning-wise (only 27 of over 300 Berlin winners in our catalog are documentaries). Last, and quite obviously, Sundance is about American indie titles, while in Berlin foreign titles rule. Setting aside all these external factors and examining the artistic work itself, we can see there is a consistency with Sundance – both festivals favor realistic, serious films about society and relations, over the fantastic, periodic or humorous. Though the Berlinale may have a mood that is a bit more bleak and gloomy, in comparison to Sundance, which has a more light-hearted side to it.

Here are examples of some of the common and uncommon plots and moods of the Berlinale films:

The Uncommon:

Show Me Love (Fucking Amal) – 1998

Seemed only suitable to me to start the list with the very first Berlin Festival movie that I ever came across. I remember as a kid feeling very intrigued by this story of a young school girl in a small and dull Swedish town. This is a story of self discovery, love and romance – similarly to Sundance, these are themes that don’t appear very often in the festival. Elin is known to be quite unpopular among the boys in her school, and Agnes has a secret crush on Elin. When Elin is the only guest at Agnes’s birthday party, both of them are exposed to new sides of themselves which will change their lives forever.

Welcome (2009)

Yet again, similarly to Sundance, movies that deal with hopes and coming of age are pretty scarce. Bilal is a 17 year old Kurdish teenager from Iraq that just arrived at Calais, France and is attempting to reunite with his loving girlfriend who is located in England. He can already see the shores of England in view from Calais, but the problem is that 32 kilometers of channel separate him from his love and he doesn’t know how to swim. Being an illegal immigrant isn’t making it easier for him to reunite with her, but it then happens that his swimming instructor comes to him aid, and so starts his touching and captivating story of determination.

Elite Squad (2007)

This tense, action packed police film tells the story of a special elite unit of the police force in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, which is the only line of defense against the cruel and harsh reality of drug dealers, murders and chaos. It is a detailed depiction of a rough and bleak society and youth that has lost all sense of morality. Out of the 309 Berlinale movies in our catalog, only 63 have a bleak mood, and even fewer deal with police. In the heart of all the chaos, Captain Nascimento is doing his best to find a replacement for himself so he can take care of his family and avoid the face of danger.

Central Station (1998)

Coincidentally, friendship as a plot also appears in only 63 titles tagged as Berlin festival winner, and in this case friendship can save lives. It’s a story about a bitter woman named Dora, that works in a central station in… again, Brazil. Her job is to write and mail letters for customers. She doesn’t like her job nor her customers. Josue is a 9 year old kid that never met his father, but sends him letters with his mother until one day she dies in a car accident. As a result, Josue strikes a deep connection with Dora that decides to help him in a journey to meet his father.

My Suicide (2009)

My Suicide is a very unique film as it details every second in the life of Archie, a geek and social misfit. During a discussion for a class project, Archie announces his disturbing intention to film himself performing an act of suicide on camera. Ever since the announcement, he becomes the the hottest topic of gossip. From being someone who is almost invisible, he becomes the most popular person in high school, and the beauty of it all is that he films every little detail, showing the good and the bad of being a teenager, and with that, he is able to expose much of the fakeness of being a teen. ‘High school social misfits’ is also a very scarce gene combination in our Berlin catalog, hence it’s very surprising to find such a gem here.

The Common

Good Bye, Lenin!

If there is one thing you can find plenty of in the Jinni catalog, it’s titles that deal with mind and soul. In “Goodbye, Lenin!”, there are many matters of the mind as Alex’s mother falls into a coma while watching her son being arrested in a protest against the regime in Germany. When the mother awakes after the wall has fallen, it’s instructed by the doctors that she cannot experience any great anxiety, and she must rest as much as she can to recover from the coma, and so, Alex must create an elaborate deception to make his mom believe that the GDR still exists.

A Separation (2011)

One of the defining genre’s of the Berlin festival is Foreign. Back in Sundance it was all about Americana, while over here you experience different cultures from all over the world and different defining experiences, and “A Separation” surely delivers just that. It tells the story of a married couple that is conflicted amongst themselves over moving abroad so they can grant their daughter a better chance at life or staying put and taking care of the deteriorating father of the conservative husband, who is sick with Alzheimer. As a result, they separate and this leads to a series of events which will change their lives forever.

In this World (2002)

In our world, every action gets a re-action, and this movie details the social deterioration that started back in 1979 with the Soviet Union, up to the USA bombings in Pakistan. It grants us an inside look on the harsh and rough lives of the refugees, as the main character Jamal is traveling on the road through various countries with the hope of gaining a better life if luck grants him the favor of reaching London. The Berlin festival often enables us to engage with themes of society and politics. Our catalog includes 165 of these type of titles, more than half.

Bal (2010)

This little Turkish gem deals with a young kid and the relationship he has with his parents. Yusuf’s best friend is his father, who provides for his family in the modest way that he can – by collecting honey from beehives that are located high up on tall trees in the Turkish countryside. Yusuf and his mom’s lives are turned upside down when one day his father fails to return home from work, making them question many things. Much like Sundance and a lot of different festivals around the globe, the subject of parents is a common one which appears in a great deal of movies, and Berlin is no exception.

The Messenger (2009)

I couldn’t think of a better movie to depict sincerity than “The Messenger”. The story revolves around Will, an American soldier that has to cope with a difficult new reality – instead of fighting wars abroad, he now has to inform the families of the fallen that their loved ones have been killed in action. It is a delicate, sensitive and very touching subject, that has to be dealt with much care. One day, Will gets involved with one of the widows he brings the news to, and it changes everything for him. Among other things, this movie is very stylized and atmospheric, making it a very gripping experience.

In conclusion, there are a lot of film festivals around the world and the bottom line is that movies tell stories and those stories are universal and talk about all of us, regardless of our geographic location. Every festival makes an effort to differentiate itself from the others, to try and be more prestigious or unique in some form or way, but eventually, the majority of the time, it’s the subject that isn’t different.

And with that, I wish you all hours of happy viewing, and may this year’s festival blow you away!

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