Elena Lazic, our Berlinale correspondent, takes a look at the most exciting films in the festival, including films directed by and about women, and films from Canada, France, and ex-Yugoslavia countries.
When Hail, Caesar opened the Berlin film festival yesterday, I was still in London, putting the final touches on a busy and exciting schedule for the days to come. With more than 200 films screening over the course of ten days, the selection had to be informed and precise. As I head to the festival today, I’m looking forward to watching films directed by women and about women while exploring my roots: I’m a French citizen, but my family hails from ex-Yugoslavia. I also recently spent a semester abroad in Toronto, Canada, and am looking forward to catching up with the latest in Canadian cinema.
With only two films directed by women in the Competition, the Berlinale doesn’t seem at first glance to fare any better than last year’s Cannes festival for showcasing female filmmakers. However, there are nineteen female-directed films throughout other sections of the Festival — nearly four times Cannes’ five. In addition, twelve other films directed by men focus on female protagonists or women’s experiences.
The two female-directed films in the Competition are in fact some of the ones I anticipate the most. Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come, starring Isabelle Huppert, marks the director’s return to a female-centric story after her engrossing but male-focused Eden. Although I haven’t seen Zohra Berrached’s directorial debut, her second feature, 24 Weeks, has an intriguing premise: learning that her future child will be disabled, an expectant mother must make the most difficult choice about her pregnancy.
Of the 200+ films of the festival that are directed by men, about 12 of them are concerned with the female experience — a small proportion that is nonetheless encouraging. I’m most looking forward to Canadian auteur Denis Côté’s Boris without Beatrice, which screens in competition. The story follows an arrogant husband forced to face the consequences that his behaviour has on his depressive wife. After his film Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, which offered a sensitive yet playful portrait of romantic relationships between women, it will be interesting to see his take on a heterosexual couple.
Canada is particularly well represented at this year’s Berlinale. In the Forum section, I’m looking forward to the drama How Heavy This Hammer and the experimental film Tales of Two Who Dreamt. Both are produced by Toronto company MDFF who regularly put on great screenings of new films in the city when I lived there, and they continue to do so. Meanwhile, the Generation section features Before the Streets, the first narrative feature by director Chloé Leriche, which sounds like a promising First Nations coming-of-age story.
At the Berlinale — and I suspect in the film industry in general, too — most of the films directed by women are documentaries. I plan to see all six feature-length docs at the festival. I’m particularly looking forward to Sara Jordenö’s Kiki, which premiered at Sundance in January, and Reijer Zwaan’s and Ester Gould’s Strike a Pose. Each focuses on a particular group of dancers: the communities still voguing years after Paris is Burning, and the performers who accompanied Madonna on her world tour in 1990.
This year’s lineup of French cinema finds a welcome balance between tradition and modernity, showcasing fresh French blood as well as established artists. Two films star the legendary Gérard Depardieu: in the Competition film Saint Amour, the actor reunites with Delepine and Kervern (of Mammuth fame), while in Guillaume Nicloux’s The End, he goes solo as a lonely hunter. André Téchiné’s Being 17 not only stars the consistently amazing Sandrine Kiberlain, but was also written by Girlhood director Celine Sciamma, a Seventh Row favourite. Vincent Macaigne, a frequent new face in France’s most innovative independent films, stars in Dominik Moll’s News From Planet Mars. With the new film by art-house favourite Eugène Green, Le Fils de Joseph, the French slate appears open to new and more obscure talents.
I was most surprised by the range of films from countries of the ex-Yugoslavia, the country where my parents are from. I am anticipating Depth Two and Four Corners of a Circle with some anguish, as they both concern the war and its consequences — a sensitive subject I barely know anything about.
The 2016 Berlinale appears full of promises, especially for female-directed and female-centric cinema. This is mostly thanks to its focus on films from non-English-speaking countries, where the film industries might be more amenable to funding female-led films. Right before the tidal wave of machismo of this year’s Oscars comes crashing down on us, the Berlinale could offer ten days of respite to consider the female-driven future of cinema.