A Changing of the Guard?

in 70th Berlinale – Berlin International Film Festival

by Michel Ciment

After the 18-year-reign of Dieter Kosslick at the head of the Berlinale, the former director of the Locarno film festival Carlo Chatrian took over. Many observers thought that there would be a change of direction coming from a man of a new generation. In fact, the machine has been stronger than the individual and it is more or less the same landscape that the international critics looked at.

There were nevertheless two changes in the program: the suppression of the culinary film section so dear to Koslick, which ironically coincided with the closing of several restaurants in the neighborhood of Potsdamer Platz, which were also gathering places for the filmgoers. Another change was the creation of a new section called Encounters. The films to be screened there should exemplify “a search for a new language”.

In the sixties, Berlin, Cannes and Venice would show works in competition like Last year at Marienbad, The Servant, Pierrot le fou, Cul de sac, L’Avventura, La Dolce vita, Salvatore Giuliano or Antonio das Mortes. It seemed obvious then that “the search for a new language” would be the prerequisite for any festival competition. Though Encounters provided some satisfaction, a number of the films shown there were exactly what you did not want to encounter. With more than 350 feature length films, the program was, as usual, plethoric – making it impossible for the critic to do his job properly by viewing 30 films a day. Arguably, in Cannes, the most important film festival in the world, the selection is the most restricted with 3 times less films to view.

Chatrian has chosen a particularly prestigious jury, headed by Jeremy Irons and including actress Berenice Bejo, actor Luca Martinelli, the German producer Bettina Brokemper and three directors, the Palestinian Annemarie Jacir , the Brazilian Kleber Mendonça  Filho and the American Kenneth Lonergan. Out the18 films in competition, their list of awards included most of the best features they had viewed. The last work to be shown There Is No Evil by the Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof won the golden bear – and rightly so. It is made of four middle length films, all connected by the themes of moral strength and the death penalty, two taking place in an urban setting and two in the country. There Is No Evil impresses with its visual style, its right tempo and its unsparing look at the contemporary Iranian society. One of the favorites of the international press Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always by the American director Eliza Hittman, about two cousins from Pennsylvania going to New-York for an abortion received the grand prize of the jury for its quasi-documentary style and its narrative freedom . The Silver Lion for best director went to Hong Sang Soo’s The Woman Who Ran, another delightful conversation piece between a married woman and three of their friends while her husband is away.

Paula Beer in Undine and Elio Germano in Volevo Nascondermi both deserve their respective best acting awards. We should also praise the jury for their decision to give the Siver Lion to a comedy, Effacer l’historique, which is also a comment on modern society and to single out the photography of Jürgen Jürges for the astonishing Russian film Dau. Natasha. We missed the inclusion of Philippe Garrel’s Le sel des larmes , a sentimental education shot in black and white with a minimalist style and of Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow, a postmodern western with a female viewpoint and a work by a real talent. The lucidity of the jury was confirmed by their refusal to honor directors unworthy of their past efforts: Abel Ferrara, Sally Potter and Tsai Ming Liang.

Strangely, the parity that was almost achieved last year did not make it this year with 5 films out of 18. A new phenomenon was the presence of several films codirected as an echo to the new leadership of the festival Carlo Chatrian, artistic director, and Marietta Rissenbeek , executive director .

Dau. Natasha, Effacer l’historique, My Little Sisters, Todos os mortos and Favolacce were all directed in partnership – as if to direct a film all by oneself was too much of an effort!

Michel Ciment
© FIPRESCI 2020
Edited by Karsten Kastelan