The 74th Berlinale

The International Flm Festival in Berlin

By: - Feb 26, 2024

The 74th Berlinale  ~~  The International Film Festival in Berlin

The 74th Berlinale is Europe's first international film festival of the year. Always a glamorous happening with stars galore, this year's events from February 15-25th,  2024 have drawn to a close. Potsdamer Platz and its surrounding film theaters, where the epicenter of this Berlin festival and its film fair is always located, will return to normalcy again.

It was a physical impossibility to see all of the selected 199 films in ten days. In thirteen different series films were clustered around specific themes like Berlinale Specials that dealt with glamorous and extraordinary situations. Or Encounters specialized in films that dare to enter new venues aesthetically and structurally. Panorama was similar with a focus on daring and contemporary issues. Forum claimed to center on independent ways breaking film taboos.

The most important series though remains the Wettbewerb (Competition). Out of its 20 movies, the Golden and Silver Bears are selected. They are the highest prizes of the film festival.

This year's competition turned into a surprise for many since political aspects were not in focus. Usually the Berlinale prides itself as a political film festival, but political statements had to be sought out within the remaining twelve series.

Almost all of the films here centered around human relations and compassion. The opening film Small Things Like This, an Irish/Belgian co-production directed by Tim Mielants, sheds light on the small town coal dealer Bill Furlong (Cillian Murphy known for his Oppenheimer presentation). He is a non entity against the power of the local cloister but finds the courage to save one of the mal-treated girls at their institution for fallen girls. It is a quiet film but emotionally moving. It landed a Silver Bear for Best Supporting Performance by Emily Watson.

Not so moving, since it is too obvious, is the only US contribution to the competition, namely Aaron Schiffberg's A Different Man. The disfigured actor Edward (Sebastian Stan) undergoes a major surgical operation to make his face beautiful. Unfortunately, this tranformation costs him the film part that he desperately desired. A little less of the ugly mask would have worked better as the film progressed. But it got Sebastian Stern the Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance.

Pepe, a film about a hippopotamus that voices its philosophies about life is an almost irreverent film by Nelson Carlos De Los Santo Arias. Co-produced by the Dominican Republic, Germany, and France, it was rewarded the Silver Bear for Best Director. The Silver Bear for the Jury Prize went to Bruno Dumont's L'Empire for another oddity, an almost fairy tale about a baby causing a secret war between extra-terrestrial forces.

Quite touching is Maryam Moghaddan and Sehtash Sanaeetha movie Keyke Mahboobe Man (My Favorite Cake). This Iranian/French/Swedish and German co-production follows the 70-year old Mahin (Lily Farhadpoor) finding a date. She finds him in the equally lonely taxi-driver (Esmail Merabi). Their only rendezvous in her house ends with his unexpected death as she bakes him her favorite cake.

Another German film In Liebe, Eure Hilde (With Love, your Hilde) by famed German director Andreas Dresen depicts the short lived marriage between German resistance fighters Hilde Coppi (Liv Lisa Fries) and her Hans (Johannes Hegemann) in 1942. She has to pay the ultimate price of execution for being involved.

It seems that Germany supplied the strongest movies for the Competition. The German director Matthias Glasner focused with his work Sterben (To Die) on the dysfunctional family life of the Lunies. He was rewarded with the Silver Bear for best Screenplay. The conductor's son, Tom (Lars Eidinger), survives the deaths of father, Gerd, and his ice cold mother, Lissie (Corinna Harfouch),  by going about his business. It is a very good movie with brilliant character studies by Eidinger and Harfouch but not for the faint-hearted.

A little less troublesome but by no means cheerful is the US/Mexico co-production La Cocina  by Alonso Ruizpalacios. It focuses on the insane activities in the huge kitchen of the New York City restaurant The Grill. Most of the staff is illegal, including foreman Pedro (Rael Briones) and the server Julia (Rooney Mara). Pedro has fallen in love with her but she flirts with another one. Pedro goes crazy and destroys part of the interior of the kitchen and his own potential for becoming a legal citizen.

The movies of the Competitions are and were the ones 'competing' for the highest honors of the festival, the one Golden and seven Silver Bears. Many times the selections of the International Jury are surprising. This happened again this year. The six jurors and the jury president Lupita Nyong'O from Kenya/Mexico decided on the highest prize, The Golden Bear, to go to Dahomey, a documentary by Mati Diop. It is a co-production between France, Senegal and Benin. Twenty-six items from the former kingdom of Dahomey are filmed as they are returned from Paris to the present day Benin. The film tediously follows the repatriation of the objects. It must have been a political decision since there would have been many better choices. The Berlinale always prides itself of being a political film festival and most other films of this section were artistically much more subtle and humanly touching.

It was a strange conglomerate of movies at the Competition. It was also the final, the fifth year for Marietta Rissenbeek as executive director and Carlos Chatrian as artistic director. They honored the American Martin Scorsese and The German Edgar Reitz for their immense contributions to film-making, before they presented the 'keys' of the 75th Berlinale to Tricia Tuttle, arriving from London.