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68th Berlinale 2018 Round-Up
February 26th 2018 | Berlin

The 68th Berlinale is over. After seeing over 30+ films it is fair to say that the 2018 Berlinale has been an eye-opening experience that has offered some of the most incredible insight into the world of film and filmmaking. 


Berlinale is a special film festival because of the importance that they put in the public. Too many film festivals tend to put the public attendees at an unfair advantage by making it hard for them to get to see films during the film festival but the Berlinale makes sure that the film audience is diverse. 


One of the many highlights I had this year was walking past the huge queues of people waiting for the Box Offices to open and having conversations about the movies they hoped to see and what time they got up in the morning to get there. 


In creating this round-up it has been amazing to reflect on some of these films and seeing just how powerful they have been and how much they have remained with me after the screenings.

1. An Elephant Sitting Still 
by Hu Bo
1. An Elephant Sitting Still 
by Hu Bo

Ahead of the World Premiere screening at Berlinale, I was offered the chance to interview the cinematographer of An Elephant Sitting Still FAN Chao. It was clear in this interview that this film, director Hu Bo’s final film, was something special, moreover, it is unique. In capturing the daily life of several characters whose stories become gently intertwined Hu Bo has created a masterpiece. At over 3 hours long one might feel inclined think that at some point certain scenes could have been politely cut, certainly for a film festival screening, but any cuts to this film would have indelibly damaged it.


Hu Bo created an epic film that allows his audience to feel every ping of sadness, confusion, worry, and isolation that these characters feel.  

2. Das schweigende Klassenzimmer / The Silent Revolution 
by Lars Kraume

In 1959, in honour of one of their fallen icons, two teenage boys - Theo and Kurt, encourage their fellow classmates to stage a ‘silent protest’ during class. A Silent Revolution was one of those films that leave you shaking your head with somewhat violent disbelieve. It is always a challenge to understand why the Soviet system was so drastically controlling when it was becoming apparent that the where beginning to lose the battle. There is a good mix of ‘created history’ and real history to give this true story extra momentum.


Director Lars Kraume manages to tell a fascinating and intriguing story whilst also showing some of the greater sacrifices people might make in order to do what they believe is right.

3. Dovlatov 
by Aleksei German jr.

Not knowing anything about Sergei Dovlatov before seeing director Alexie German Jr’s biopic I really didn’t know what to expect to learn about the great ‘unknown’ Russian writer. But in Dovlatov German creates an exhilarating narrative and was able to find a great deal of material in Dovlatov’s life and times that explores rather brilliantly his family, political situation and beliefs. Literature, culture, and Russian society are very much at the core of German’s film which he keeps engaging, thoughtful and painfully realistic.


One is struck by the comparisons that we can make between Dovlatov and the value he placed on culture, and how culture was seen in his time, to the value we place on culture today. The painful restraints that are placed on our shared cultures do not only impede us but it also creates a stumbling block for us to try and grow, learn and experience the wonder of the shared creative experience.

4. Happy Prince
by Rupert Everett

The second film based on a tragic literary figure is also the second film from a debut director. I had seen Rupert Everett in David Hare’s Judas Kiss a few times and was struck by the power in which he brought to life this most tragic of literary figures. In bringing Oscar Wilde to life in the Happy Prince Everett tapped into his own insecurities, lost opportunities and wants to bring a genuine realism to his character. 


A talent that few directors seem to muster is how they relate to an actor but for actor/directors they already have a connection to the mindset of an actor which brings a whole new dimension to film. Everett proved to be a fantastic storyteller and a masterful director making the Happy Prince and wonderful, if not painful, film and a great debut feature from a inspiring director.

5. Minatomachi 
by Kazuhiro Soda

Documentary filmmaking has changed a great deal over the past 10 years and the line between fact fiction as well as the rules between interaction and observation has become very much blurred. That is why Kazuhiro Soda’s Minatomachi / Inland Sea was something of a revelation. 


Shot in stunning black and white Soda turns his camera on and lets the community and life tell their own story. few countries face the growing issues of an ageing population quite like Japan and Ushimado is a prime example of a town still brimming with life but which might now last for another 10 years. 


Though the population might be ageing the refuse to give up and they each still have a longing and belief in their town. But Soda’s black and white photography adds a wonderful sense of nostalgia to the film which he doesn’t seem to bothered about. 


During the Q&A at the end of the film Soda had some amazing insight into how the film came about. The first thing that made me sit up was that he said that all his film is self-financed the second being that he doesn’t make or follow a plan. And it is with these rules he’s been able to make such an honest and deeply enjoyable, if somewhat melancholic, film.

6. Utøya 22. juli  
by Erik Poppe

A rule I have kept for over a decade is to always aim to go into a film screening during a film festival with very little knowledge about the film I am about to watch. This not only keeps me excited and engaged but it also allows me to no prejudice a film.


The opening scenes of Erik Poppe’s Utøya – July 22 blurs two words, modernity and the wilderness. Though a fictionalised account of one of the most horrific mass murders in living memory it takes you some time to figure out what is going on. By unpacking this film in ‘real time’ a terrifying sense of realism takes over and the viewer is left somewhat helpless to try to fathom the fear that would have existed.  


In fairness, the realism that Poppe creates in this film is hard to watch. The documentary / real-time approach is intense viewing and we are perhaps aided by the fact that this film is largely a fictional account of what might have happened. The end of Utøya – July 22 is a gut punch and leaves you feeling sick but the reality of what really happened, their experiences and continuing fears, is even harder to fathom.​

7. Don’t Worry He Won’t Get Far on Foot  
by Gus van Sant

With warm and at times humorous score by Danny Elfman Don’t worry He won’t get far on foot from director Gus Van Sant is mature, honest and at times rather splendid. In showing how cartoonist John Callahan, a man who became a quadriplegic after one fateful night, found humour in the most unlikely places the film is a perfect pitch between uncomfortable sly humour, honesty and heart. 


Joaquin Phoenix puts in a stellar performance as Callahan but it is Johan Hill’s performance as Donny, the millionaire leader of the AA group, who steals the show. There is a great sense of honesty in the way he brings this complex, warm, beautiful character to life.


An unforgettable film that is as filled with humour as it is with heart.

8. Las herederas / The Heiresses  
by Marcelo Martinessi

Another debut feature film and a stunningly realised about two women - Chela & Chiquita, trying to maintain their relationship after mounting debts lands one of them in prison. 

Writer/Director Marcelo Martinessi’s Las herederas / The Heiresses is, at times, hard to watch. The relationship between Chela, Ana Brun and Chiquita, Margarita Irun is unique and on reflection it is impossible not to see how much they do, in their own way, love each other. 


Martinessi explores the declining fortunes, experiences and lives of this particular couple with care and sympathy. There is a slight documentary feel to the film during the scenes with Chela when we begin to really see and understand how her elite life is unfolding without Chiquita there to ‘pretend’ that everything is all right. 


Heartfelt and mesmerising…Martinessi has made an outstanding debut feature that is high up there with some of the best LGBTQ films of 2018.

9. Yardie  
by Idris Elba 

Unlike the Happy Prince Idris Elba's Yardie isn't as clean or enticing. Elba is fortunate to come from an acting background which serves the film brilliantly but overall the film is limp and creates a more convoluted storyline than it needs.  


However, the cast, led by Aml Ameen as D (also the film's narrator) is top notch though there is perhaps little emotionally connectivity between the core cast the work they do to bring their characters to life is wonderful. Elba and cinematographer John Conroy make a great pair and Yardie is beautifully shot and enjoyable. 


For a debut film, one can either hit it out of the part or fumble a little and though Yardie is not a perfect debut it is proof that Elba is a skilled filmmaker with a great deal of promise and potential.

10. Generation Wealth  
by Lauren Greenfield

Photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield’s latest documentary Generation Wealth follows Greenfield’s continuing obsession with wealth, the super rich and the idea of celebrity. It is really impossible not to become a voyeuristic as the core of the film gives the audience access to a community we hear a lot about but rarely see.


Some of the film is questionable - a scene with a so-called etiquette expert who is paid top dollar to show rich people how to eat fruit is irritating. At times Greenfield injects herself too much into the narrative of the film that this lack of objectivity hinders the flow of the film and damages whatever message Generation Wealth has.


However, there is something pure about Generation Wealth that keeps you engaged and intrigued. In her pursuit of cataloguing wealth in her unque way, Greenfield seems to be oblivious to what she is missing from her own family which is heartbreaking to see.

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