Berlinale 2012: Preview – Open the doors for the bears

The festival circus of Germany‘s big A-film festival is little less then a week away and it‘s been four days since the whole programme of this year‘s Berlinale was released. With almost 400 films the list of title‘s comprises of about as many films as the studio system blasted out annually during its golden age. For ten days Berlin‘s movie theatres will host films from around the globe, and since it is an absolute impossibility to get a grip on everything that will be shown I‘ve decided to be more than happy if by the end of the festival I‘ve gotten the gist of this list.

While some might welcome the sudden start of winter in Berlin I am already dreading the freezing cold while waiting in line at the accreditation’s counter only to find out that the films I‘ve carefully selected to watch are already out. Trying to conquer the Berlinale with a student‘s accreditation is a little bit like playing roulette – at least that‘s what I‘ve been told – but I am prepared to go with where the ball lands. So instead of scheduling out the perfect mix of films every day I will let myself be surprised with what the screen has to offer and who knows maybe I am in luck and that is the proper way to finding this year‘s festival gems.

Ten different sections give somewhat of a loose structure to this Mount Everest of a programme: `Competition´  with 25 films in total and 18 of them in the running for the golden and silver bears, independent and arthouse cinema in `Panorama´,  films for the younger crowd in `Generation´, promising newcomers from home grounds in `Prespektive Deutsches Kino´, experimental and undiscovered cinematography in `Forum´,  `Berlinale Shorts´ and `Culinary Cinema´ with this year‘s theme of `Trust in Taste´; in addition to the sections focusing on contemporary film `Hommage´ and `Retrospective´revive the celluloid from the past, this year paying tribute to Meryl Streep and the legendary German-Russian film studio Mezhrabpom-Film with the theme of `The Red Dream Factory´. The bridge between old and new is `Berlinale Special´, a section that shows extraordinary productions from past and present.

Opening the festival – a film in competition – is Les adieux à la reine, a historic drama set at the verge of the french revolution, by Benoît Jacquot. Once again there is a high percentage of German productions – three in total – in the running for the golden and silver bears, while none of the competing directors are new to the scene, and have had films in the running previously; Hans-Christian Schmidt for the fourth, Christian Petzold for the third and Matthias Glasner for the second time.

Festival director Dieter Kosslick declared “change“ and “departure“ as common overall themes of the selected films and sure enough the programme reads little comedy and drama-filled; not that that is a bad thing!

However if I would have to pick what to see right now, this is the random list of titles that sprang out on first review of the programme and reading of the synopses:

Cherry (directed by Stephen Elliot)

Stephen Elliot‘s directorial debut sure attracted some big names (including James Franco, Lili Taylor, Dev Patel and Heather Graham). Admittedly, the storyline, which revolves around eighteen-year-old Angelina (Ashley Hinshaw) drifting through San Francisco‘s porn industry in order to escape her upbringing and in the search of her place in the world, does scan as intriguing, and a first glimpse at the trailer promises some great pictures filling the screen.

Keyhole (directed by Guy Maddin)

Ok, my initial interest in this director is most definitely linked to the fact that the first Canadian city I ever lived in was Winnipeg, nonetheless trailer and synopsis seem like a great homage to the surreal world in black-and-white, with Maddin taking its viewer on a journey deep into the human psyche.

Herr Wichmann aus der dritten Reihe (Henryk from the Back Row, directed by Andreas Dresen)

In 2003 Andreas Dresen‘s documentary Herr Wichmann von der CDU premiered at Berlinale. This year he returns with a followup piece on grass-roots democracy. Last year‘s golden palm winner Dresen always offers a refreshing honest and ironic take on matters of the world, so this film should shed some interesting light on the groundworks of regional politics.

Death Row (directed by Werner Herzog)

Werner Herzog takes on the subject of death penalty in four different portraits. Into the Abyss (2011), was Herzog‘s first insight to death row and to why people – including those representing the state – kill. Death Row continues this investigation and the film promises to be one of those intensely serious great films, focusing the camera on a topic scarcely present on screen.

Karaman (directed by Tamer Yigit and Branka Prlic)

Directoral debut of Branka Prlic and Tamer Yigit, who played Mehmet in Feo Aladağ award winning film Die Fremde – which roughly translates to `the Stranger´ – from 2010. The film‘s story seems to give a different take on the discussion of belief, conventions and muslim women living in the western world. Definitely reads promising!

The Story Of Film: An Odyssey 1 + 2 (directed by Mark Cousins)

I know it seems like the history of film is a never ending story, but to be honest, there is a certain kind of truth in that and what can be more fun than another take on all those directors responsible for the evolution of film – be it as a form of art or pure entertainment!

Canned Dreams (directed by Katja Gauriloff)

Admittedly what initially drew my to this one was the title (proof of how a title can make and break a film). However the quick read through revealed this film isn‘t just about the absurdity of food production in Europe. Workers – part of the production chain – tell their stories, joyous, saddening whatever they may be, alongside the development of the production process. Seems like a neat idea to can and capture the everyday reality.

Hemel (directed by Sacha Polak)

Dutch directoral debut by Sacha Polak, that tells the father-daughter story of Hemel and Gijs after the death of mother/wife. I was hooked after reading the last bit of the synopsis: “Tinged with empathy and sadness (…) The sky is not always blue in this film, whose carefully considered colour scheme registers the subtle changes in this vulnerable human being’s existence. Cloudy to overcast with occasional sunny periods, frequent thunderous showers“

Aujourd‘hui (directed by Alain Gomis)

What if this was the last day of your life? Not necessarily a new story to the screen but the film still caught my attention. Maybe it was the part about how its director Alain Gomis has a different take on the topic than what‘s dominantly dealt with in Senegalese cinema, it might also just be a fact that the story itself never gets old and if told well can always draw one in!

A moi seule (directed by Frédéric Videau)

Freedom and imprisonment, we always seem clear on which we‘d choose, but what if that choice was taken from you at a young age? How do you cope with sudden liberty when what you‘ve known is being held captive? Sounds the film is asking some an engaging disturbingly intersting questions.

Haywire (directed by Steven Soderbergh)

Who doesn‘t love a well composed, fast-paced action thriller? Don‘t think you could go wrong with Soderbergh. Following Gina Carano as Agent Mallory Kane through streets, over rooftops, across docklands on a worldwide mission; sounds like thrilling fun to me!

I am sure I left out some amazing highlights of this year‘s programme, and I am glad I have another week to work out how I can possibly watch as much as I can…

So all that‘s left to be concerned about is a masterplan of keeping hands and feet warm during the wait for tickets as the weather forecast doesn‘t seem to be on my side this year!

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