Yesterday, the Berlin International Film Festival (February 6 through 16) completed its Competition lineup (and here are all the other previous announcements). Today, we have the full lineup for the program many of us anticipate even more, the Forum. And I want to extend special thanks to the Forum for providing English-language synopses:
The Airstrip by Heinz Emigholz, Germany. World Premiere. An architectural journey taking in structures and sculptures across Germany, Europe, South America, the USA, Japan and a group of islands in the Pacific, all of which connected by historical events, wars and geopolitical conflicts.
Al doilea joc (The Second Game) by Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania. WP. The director and his father watch a football match from the winter of 1988 which the father refereed, their commentary accompanying the original television footage in real time: grainy video images, political pressure, historical insights, driving snow.
Le beau danger by René Frölke, Germany / Italy. WP. A formally radical portrait of Romanian author and concentration camp survivor Norman Manea: intertitles with extracts of his work alongside scenes from his day-to-day life as a writer, raising questions of exile, language, identity and representation.
Butter on the Latch by Josephine Decker, USA. IP. Inspired by a Bulgarian folk song, this striking drama shows how two friends reconnect at a music festival deep in the forests of California. Sensual and euphoric to start with, the mood slowly darkens into hysteria and confusion.
Casse (Scrap Yard) by Nadège Trebal, France. International Premiere. An observational documentary that takes a scrap yard on the outskirts of Marseille in its sights: a place for people from different backgrounds to search for car parts, a helping hand or a sympathetic ear.
Castanha by Davi Pretto, Brasil. World Premiere. Reality, performance and fantasy coalesce in the life of 52-year old João, a transvestite and actor marked by his extravagant life and hounded by the shadows of his past. His days are spent at home with his mother, his nights on stage.
Cheol-ae-kum (A Dream of Iron) by Kelvin Kyung Kun Park, Republic of Korea / USA. WP. Plagued by the loss of his girlfriend after she left him to become a shaman, an unnamed narrator writes her a cinematic letter offering alternative forms of divinity: prehistoric whale petroglyphs and the vast industrial halls and shipyards of Hyundai.
Chilla (40 Days of Silence) by Saodat Ismailova, Uzbekistan / Tajikistan / Netherlands / Germany / France. WP. Bibicha takes refuge in her grandmother’s house to sit out the traditional vow of silence. Moving between the barren landscape outside and the bright colours within, the film illuminates the difficult road to self-determination.
The Darkside by Warwick Thornton, Australia. IP. Thirteen ghost stories reinterpreted by well-known Australian actors that run the gamut between sadness, absurdity and humour: a multi-faceted, mystic mosaic dedicated to the dark side of the Australian past and the treatment of the Aborigines.
L’enlèvement de Michel Houellebecq (The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq) by Guillaume Nicloux, France. WP. Controversial writer Michel Houellebecq is kidnapped by a gang of burly gangsters and held in a drab house outside Paris in the hope that a ransom will be paid. Yet rather than resisting, the author begins to take a shine to his new situation.
Forma by Ayumi Sakamoto, Japan. IP. Two former school friends bump into each other on the street, whereupon Ayako offers Yukari a job at her company. Once at work however, Ayako sets about ostracising Yukari with deliberate subtlety. An ambiguous, nuanced drama about power and friendship.
Free Range – Ballaad Maailma Heakskiitmisest (Free Range) by Veiko Õunpuu, Estonia. IP. A young man trying to find his way in life: torn between his dream of living for his art and the demands placed on him by everyday life, his goal is to find a state of true weightlessness.
Das große Museum (The Great Museum) by Johannes Holzhausen, Austria. WP. A look behind the scenes of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna: curators, technicians, restorers, taxidermists, marketing strategists and the management board at work. An institutional portrait straddling proud tradition and the economics of culture.
The Guests by Ken Jacobs, USA. WP. A one-minute early film fragment from 1896 is digitally enhanced into what is possibly the first ever black and white silent film in 3D. The congregation mounts the steps to a Paris church in slow motion, focusing the attention on the smallest detail.
Gui ri zi (Shadow Days) by Zhao Dayong, China / Hong Kong. WP. Renwei returns to his rural hometown with his pregnant girlfriend in tow, where his uncle the mayor enforces the one-child policy with violent fervour. As Renwei gets caught up in the brutal operations, his relationship runs into difficulties.
Huba (Parasite) by Anka Sasnal, Wilhelm Sasnal, Poland / United Kingdom. WP. An old man bearing the scars of a life spent in a factory. His daughter and her newborn baby who move in with him. A story of simple existence, of closeness, intimacy and different bodies, at the end of life, at its beginning and somewhere in-between.
Ich will mich nicht künstlich aufregen (Asta Upset) by Max Linz, Germany. WP. Young Berlin curator Asta Nielsen draws on all the style, charm and theory at her disposal to realise her new project, yet runs into difficulties following an overly critical interview. An amusing reflection on the absurdities of the cultural scene.
Iranien (Iranian) by Mehran Tamadon, France / Switzerland. WP. To open up a dialogue about diametrically opposed values and mental structures, a filmmaker living in exile initiates a meeting with clerics loyal to the regime in Iran. Over several days, the possibility of peaceful coexistence is explored.
Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter by David Zellner, USA. IP. The solitary Kumiko finds a videocassette allegedly showing the true story of a briefcase full of money buried in snowbound Minnesota. Driven by the hope of escaping her humdrum life, she makes the journey to far-off America.
Kumun tadı (Seaburners) by Melisa Önel, Turkey. WP. Before the austere backdrop of the Turkish Black Sea coast, a foreign botanist, a human trafficker and a relationship doomed to failure are the central coordinates of this dark, atmospheric drama.
Lajwanti (The Honour Keeper) by Pushpendra Singh, India. WP. Drawing on unadorned images of striking clarity and gleaming colors, this adaptation of a Rajastani folk tale narrates the love story between a young woman named Lajwanti and a mysterious man with an obsession for doves.
Los Ángeles (The Angels) by Damian John Harper, Germany/Mexico. WP. A young man in rural Mexico dreams of a better life in far off Los Angeles. Yet when he runs into trouble with the local gangsters whose support he was relying on, his goal recedes further and further into the distance.
La marche à suivre (Guidelines) by Jean-François Caissy, Canada. WP. A time rich in conflict and possibility: this documentary portrait of young people at a school in the Canadian provinces is a rigorously framed reflection on growing up, showing how their everyday lives are shaped by both themselves and others.
N – The Madness of Reason by Peter Krüger, Belgium / Germany / Netherlands. WP. Raymond Borremans originally came from France to West Africa as a musician, later settling there, carrying out research and compiling the first ever encyclopedia of Ivory Coast. His fascination pervades this fictional dialogue with the country of today.
Nagima by Zhanna Issabayeva, Kazakhstan. Nagima can only just make ends meet by working as a kitchen porter. When she loses her beloved friend and roommate in childbirth, her already precarious situation soon takes on unbearable dimensions.
Non-fiction Diary by Jung Yoon-suk, Republic of Korea. IP. Social and political change in South Korea of the 1990s: a period of economic boom that also saw the arrest of the infamous Jijon clan. Archive material and interviews invite reflection upon how crimes are dealt with and the death sentence employed.
Padura e ca muntele, vezi? (The Forest is Like the Mountain) by Christiane Schmidt, Didier Guillian, Romania / Germany. WP. A Roma village in the Romanian provinces, where the inhabitants live off the land, making use of all the riches it has to offer. A sensitive observation of life on the economic sidelines, where a strong sense of community is what keeps things together.
Que ta joie demeure (Joy of Man’s Desiring) by Denis Côté, Canada. WP. A piece of absurdist theatre whereby man and machine enter into a strange symbiosis: workers at different factories, their movements governed by the clattering apparatus before them, as abstract anecdotes ponder the relationship between man and machine.
Shemtkhveviti paemnebi (Blind Dates) by Levan Koguashvili, Georgia. Teacher and perennial bachelor Sandro falls for the mother of one of his pupils. When her husband is released from jail, Sandro is unwittingly drawn into his dealings, stoically going along with things instead of taking matters into his own hands.
She’s Lost Control by Anja Marquardt, USA. WP. As a sexual surrogate, Ronah works with troubled men to teach them the very thing they fear most – being intimate. After starting to work with a new patient however, her carefully delineated boundaries become increasingly blurred.
Ship Bun (10 Minutes) by Lee Yong-seung, Republic of Korea. IP. The unforgiving world of work: enticed by the prospect of a job offer following his internship, Ho-chan breaks off his studies. Yet when his hopes are dashed, Ho-chan must grin and bear it, until the humiliation becomes too much to take.
Souvenir by André Siegers, Germany. WP. Political foundation representative, politician and attention-seeker Alfred D. disappears without trace on an Arctic cruise. His amateur footage is the basis for this distinctive blend of self-dramatisation, personal portrait and historical document.
Sto spiti (At Home) by Athanasios Karanikolas, Greece / Germany. WP. For many years, Nadja has been the housekeeper and nanny for a rich couple on the Peloponnese, almost part of the family. When she falls ill and the economic crisis begins to bite, meticulously concealed class differences rear their head.
Thou Wast Mild and Lovely by Josephine Decker, USA. WP. What starts as a harmless love story gradually morphs into a dark thriller. When Akin moves to Kentucky to work on Sarah and her father’s farm, he has little idea of the turns his relationship with this strange, yet attractive woman will end up taking.
To Singapore, With Love by Tan Pin Pin, Singapore. Tan Pin Pin employs a strictly external perspective for this portrait of her hometown, the tropical economic powerhouse of Singapore, interviewing political exiles in London, Thailand and Malaysia, who are to this day unable to return home.
Töchter (Daughters) by Maria Speth, Germany. WP. Agnes is seeking her daughter with increasing desperation when a young homeless girl runs out in front of her car. Before the backdrop of the gentrified Berlin, a relationship of mutual attraction and revulsion develops of an oddly familial nature.
Top Girl oder la déformation professionnelle (Top Girl or la déformation professionnelle) by Tatjana Turanskyj, Germany. WP. The second part of the “Women and Work” trilogy shows the everyday life of Mascha, a frustrated actress who works as a high-class prostitute whilst trying to take care of her young daughter. A stylized, provocative reflection on the oldest of professions.
Und in der Mitte, da sind wir (And There We Are, in the Middle) by Sebastian Brameshuber, Austria. WP. In 2009, Ebensee in Austria hit the headlines after teenagers disrupted a concentration camp memorial ceremony. Without direct comment, the film paints a complex picture of the town’s youth: daily life, identity formation and dwindling perspectives.
Zamatoví teroristi (Velvet Terrorists) by Ivan Ostrochovský, Pavol Pekarčík, Peter Kerekes, Slovak Republic / Czech Republic / Croatia. IP. Three men tried in Czechoslovakia as enemies of the state in the present day. Each filmed by a different director, these three portraits all have one thing in common: the extent to which the men’s lives are dominated by the past.