The 66th Berlin International Film Festival a.k.a Berlinale is has started, and Indieberlin offers you this daily blog with film reviews to help guide you through the biggest film festival in the world in terms of the number of films shown.
My name is Kirill Galetski. I began my film journalism career in the 1990s, and I have attended every Berlinale since 2001 as an accredited journalist. I will do my utmost to help you get the most out of the festival based on my experience.
The format of this blog is notable non-film-specific information and experiences, followed by brief reviews of the films that I’ve managed to see.
If you’re attending as general public, here are a few tips for getting to see the films that you want. Berlinale is a fairly audience-friendly festival, as opposed to Cannes, which is more industry-friendly. It is quite popular with audiences, which means that tickets for many screenings sell out quickly, even those that are not immediately obvious as desirable. Of course, buying online is the easiest way to secure admission, but sometimes screenings that are listed as sold out online do, in fact, have some limited tickets available offline. If something is listed as sold out online, always queue up and double-check with the ticket counters, located at Potsdamer Platz Arkaden, Kino International, Haus der Berliner Festspiele and Audi City Berlin. If the ticket counters don’t have the tickets you want, you can always show up on the day of the screening at the cinema box office, which sometimes have a few tickets in reserve for those who had no luck online or at the ticket counters. Failing that, you can show up holding a piece of paper that says, “Suche Ticket / Looking for a ticket,” and sometimes you get lucky that way.
If you’re attending as an industry professional who is not a film buyer (market accreditation), the best kind of accreditation to have is press accreditation. It gives you the most access to filmmakers (e.g. press conferences and interview opportunities) and of course, priority admission to press screenings, which are also open to holders of other types of accreditations once most press-accredited persons have been admitted. The festival is not too picky when deciding on which media organisations to accredit – I’ve been accredited through small and fairly localised media in the past. This is probably because accreditation is not free. There is a 60-euro fee for press accreditation, and this is cheaper than the other accreditations for industry professionals (which run from 125-425 euros) and student accreditations (80 euros). Your coverage of the festival need not be copious. In repeat applications, the festival asks you to send in the previous years’ coverage, and I’ve been able to secure approval based on a single brief articles about an annual event held on sidelines of the festival. Everything seems to be O.K. as long as the festival is mentioned in the article. So even if you’re a filmmaker and not a journalist per se, my advice would be to find a media outlet for which to produce a brief Berlinale news item and have editorial submit a letter to the press office.
And now I rate the films I saw so far.
Rating system: Excellent, Good, Average, Poor, Awful
Directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton
Running Time: 106 minutes
Festival Section: Out of Competition (Festival Opening Film)
The Coen Brothers’ latest effort is a tribute to the Hollywood heyday of the early 1950s, with some amazing performances from supporting players and throwback set-pieces, but ultimately, given its unresolved plot points and abrupt ending, the film has an unfinished feel to it. Josh Brolin, son of popular-in-the-‘70s actor James Brolin, stars as Eddie Mannix, the surprisingly sympathetic head of physical production at the Hollywood studio Capitol Pictures. The studio has a lot riding on a Jesus movie centering around a Roman soldier who observed the crucifixion. When the film’s star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) disappears from the set, it only heaps further adversity on Mannix, who is struggling with quitting smoking, finding time for his family and deciding on whether to resign from the studio in favour of a cushy job at Lockheed Martin. Brolin’s turn is charismatic, and there are other bright spots in the performances of Ralph Fiennes and Christopher Lambert as film directors, and Tilda Swinton as a celebrity-tracking hack.
Directed by Kaori Momoi
Starring Kaori Momoi, Yugo Saso, Ayako Fujitani, Chris Harrison, Brian Sturges
Running Time: 72 minutes
Festival Section: Forum
Actress-turned-director Kaori Momoi’s film is a character study about Azusa, a pyromaniac prostitute undergoing a psychiatric evaluation after being arrested for murder by fire-setting. Despite a small cast of characters, the film is basically a one-woman show with a spirited and idiosyncratic central performance by Momoi herself. The other characters are not nearly as well fleshed-out and so the film feels lopsided. Its appeal depends heavily on how much you like Momoi’s portrayal. The film also has some intriguingly weird flourishes, such as a repeated elevator scene that focuses on different sounds and dialogue with each repeat. Worth a look if you’re interested in psychology and the formation of a personality-disordered mind.
I, OLGA HEPNAROVÁ
Directed by Petr Kazda and Tomas Weinreb
Starring Michalina Olszanska, Martin Pechlat, Klara Meliskova, Marika Soposka, Juraj Nvota
Running Time: 106 minutes
Festival Section: Panorama (Panorama Opening Film)
This debut feature film (for both directors) is another character study of a personality-disordered individual, based on the true story of a twentysomething female mass murder in 1970s Czechoslovakia who ran over 20 people with a lorry and killed eight of them, and was the last woman executed in her country. Minimalistically shot in black and white and with just enough period detail to tell the story, the film glimpses inside Olga’s mind as she wallows in a woeful victim mentality that ultimately awakens the monster within her. She survives a suicide attempt, quits school, moves out to get away from her family, engages in non-committal and ultimately empty lesbian affairs and gets a job as a driver. Eventually, she writes a manifesto-like letter in which she condemns random people to death for perceived injustices perpetrated against her and others like her. The film is uncompromising in the portrayal of its main character, played to perfection by Michalina Olszanska. We are not made to pity her, but nevertheless, we are made to see her as human.