No Happy-end

in 74th Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival

by Barbara Schweizerhof

The 74th Berlin film festival ended with a scandal that overshadowed the few good films in a thoroughly mediocre competition 

The Berlinale has not seen such heated discussions as those that followed this year’s award ceremony for a long time. Unfortunately, the debate was not about the films themselves, not even those that had won awards. Mati Diop’s Dahomey, the winner of the Golden Bear, not only deserved to be talked about more, but the 67-minute documentary essay needs the discussion in order to come alive and become comprehensible. The film’s ambition to combine scenes of the repatriation of 26 art objects from a Parisian museum to Benin with fantasy-elements and reflection on cultural identity and African traditions in the modern age is best revealed through debate. One could hope that the Golden Bear will bring more attention to the film once the excitement over the various political statements made during the award ceremony has died down.

All in all, this year’s competition marked an average year: there was solid French arthouse cinema such as Olivier Assayas’ lockdown dramedy Suspended Time (Hors de temps), there was Victor Kossakovsky’s strangely captivating stone-themed documentary, Architecton, another great essay film. There was a beautiful epic about a woman’s fate between several men in the Nepalese Himalayas, Shambala, and a no less fascinating portrait of a woman between the Ivory Coast and China, in Abderrahmane Sissako’s Black Tea. There were regulars like the Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo, represented in all of the last five years for which Carlo Chatrian has been responsible, who contributed one of his typical little talk-heavy dramolettes with Isabelle Huppert in A Traveler’s Needs. There wasn’t much to criticize there, except for the fact that there were too few outliers in both directions up and down.

The two German directors, Andreas Dresen with From Hilde, with Love (In Liebe, eure Hilde) and Matthias Glasner with Dying (Sterben), sent worthy candidates into the race for the Golden Bear. Dresen, with his portrait of Hilde Coppi, added a wonderfully sensitive, even tender side to the story of the German resistance against fascism, which is rather poor in real heroes. And Matthias Glasner, who drew an extremely contemporary and complex picture of relationships and bonds in his three-hour family drama. Glasner’s film was surprisingly well received by international audiences with its tone that skillfully oscillates between humor and tragedy.

However, the true darling of this year—to which the FIPRESCI promptly awarded its prize—once again came from Iran, the country that has been providing some of the most exciting festival moments for years. The film My Favourite Cake (Keyke mahboobe man) had already made headlines in the run-up to the festival because the two directors of the film, Maryam Moqadam and Behtash Sanaeeha, were not granted permission to travel. Their named seats remained empty at the premiere, but were applauded all the more enthusiastically. In their film, they tell a story that the mullah regime cannot accept: a 70-year-old widow no longer wants to accept her loneliness and decides to court a man on her own. The film is almost a chamber play, as it largely shows the two older people who, with a certain resignation but also a desire to rebel, throw the Islamist rules of decency to the wind and draw closer together. It is a film that tells of the little things of everyday life, but reflects Iranian society today in a very authentic way. A movie that makes you laugh one moment and touches you deeply the next, a movie about late happiness, but also about its fleeting nature.


Barbara Schweizerhof
Edited by Savina Petkova