Berlinale 2019 – Film festival of the women?
Berlinale 2019 – Seven films by female directors compete at the 69th Berlin Film Festival. Not a bad result on the way to 50/50. Strong female characters are set in focus of many contributions to the important German film festival. But it could also be the Horse Film Festival. Rarely have there been so many films showing horses like this year.
While Lone Scherfig’s The Kindness of Strangers opens the competition of the Berlinale 2019 comparatively inoffensive, Flatland, as the Panorama 2019 opening film, appears more provocative and cheekier. Two girls flee on a horse through the South African hinterland, pursued by a police-woman with a preference for pink velvet jogging suits.
Women and horses in film. The image of riding horses often symbolizes freedom: chasing away, breaking bonds. Liberating women, decisive women, fighting women and girls – as a central theme, it seems to be the leitmotif of this years’ festival.
Night is falling. Two men talking to each other. They are apparently sitting in a car, a jeep presumably, policemen. We see what they see: grassland illuminated by car headlights, nothing more. The men are jerking their jeep through the Mongolian steppe. No wonder that suddenly a herd of horses gallops past them. They stop, because there is a dead person in front of them. Öndög tells the story of a criminal case in the Mongolian steppe. Those who now expect fast action cinema will be disappointed. Those who get involved in the slowness of Mongolian cinema can indulge in the extraordinarily beautiful Cinemascope pictures that director and cinematographer have composed from light and the landscape of Mongolia. In the centre of this story is an independent female nomad. The feature film Öndög is about relationships, about the survival of mankind and – dinosaurs. In the Mongolian language the word for Dinosaur is Öndög. With this film the Chinese director Wang Quan’an shows his love for the impressive Mongolian landscape – with a sense of humour he staged the actors in the infinite landscape. The central female figure follows her own decisions. An original, cheerful film. Visually captivating.
Own decisions are also made by The Agent, Rachel – played by Diane Kruger in the Israeli-German-French production, which is based on stories by a former Mossad agent. It is quite easy to get into the exciting, star-studded agent story that takes Rachel to Tehran, where she observed the Iranian businessman Farhad and begins a dangerous love affair with him.
The Spanish Netflix-produced feature film Elisa y Marcela (cover picture) tells, in aesthetic black and white pictures, the story of a lesbian couple who have to follow unusual paths in Spain around 1900 in order to be able to seal their partnership. The feature film debut by Nora Fingscheidt, on the other hand, is shrill. The film, with the concise title Systemcrasher is a furious touching story about a repeatedly erupting little girl. The film has already inspired critics at the beginning of the competition and is considered one of the award favourites. Energetic, Systemcrasher reveals a child’s inner conflict and his longing for motherly love.
The literary adaptation of the novel Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, with Stellan Skarsgard in the role of the elder Trond, manages to project the poetry of the novel onto the cinema screen. This is done in a way that appeals to all senses. Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland depicts nature almost in macro shots – showing how close the young Trond and his father come to the forest, where they both together experience an intense summer. Spectators can literally smell the scent of the forest. In this competition entry, the selection of the music and the sound editing, which by the way was not finished until 3 a.m. before the premiere at the Berlinale, as director Moland revealed in the press conference, exerts a considerable influence on the dramaturgy. Like a conductor’s baton, the audio element of the film leads us through the various time levels and the course of history around the father-son relationship. A very nice film about love, friendship, loss and disappointment with convincingly played main characters, but not necessarily a favourite for the main prize.
The competition’s very strong French entry doesn’t focus on women, but on strong men who dare to make themselves public as victims, despite a predominant male image. “By the grace of God, most cases are statute-barred…”, this statement by Cardinal Barbarin of Lyon is the title of the feature film Grâce à Dieu. The competition entry by the French director François Ozon deals with cases of child abuse in the Catholic Church that are currently under trial in France. The perfidious deeds of the priest Preynat were long shrouded in silence. The committed film tells the story of how the word breaks through under the rage and desperation of the victims, and how a framework of silence is shaken by men their families joining forces. A subtle visual language accompanies the main characters which lets the audience come close to them, on one hand. On the other hand it repeatedly creates a documentary distance with intermediate images of colossal architectures which express the powerlessness against the institution of the church. The unmasking of this institution through the decision of the victims to talk about the priest’s deeds and its system of silence, is strongly pointed out in Grâce à Dieu. The priest was allowed to continue working with children for so long. He is currently trying, with the help of his lawyer, to stop the film from appearing in cinemas. This is despite the fact that he has admitted his actions.
Hollywood glamour is not quite as present at the Berlinale 2019 as in previous years. But no worries, the atmosphere on the red carpet of Dieter Kosslick’s last Berlinale is magnificent, anyway. Numerous films and film makers from all over the world inspire the audience. There is an ongoing meet and greet of European film stars in front of the Berlinale Palast. The Grand Dame of French cinema Catherine Deneuve is in Berlin to present the film L’adieu à la Nuit (out of competition). La Deneuve plays a horse breeder whose grandson wants to join the IS in Syria. This film shows how a grandmother fights with all her power against the impending disaster in order to save her grandson to prevent the worst.
As a festival for the public, the Berlin International Film Festival offers a huge selection of films. The spectators can explore the art of filmmaking in numerous sections and discover trends, such as this year’s granular retro film images – Bait in the Forum, Ghost Town Anthology in the Competition – 16mm is back. Films about photographers, such as the film Beauty & Decay and Shooting the Mafia, which was awarded the Heiner Carow Prize 2019 by the DEFA Foundation, inspire the film enthusiasts. Through the eyes of Laetizia Battaglia, a photographer who had been working for an Italian daily newspaper, the documentary illustrates the ubiquitous horror of mafia atrocities in Sicily. The panorama contribution Shooting the Mafia is an extraordinarily convincing emotional film with substance and at the same time it is an illustrious homage to the Sicilian photographer’s work.
A comparatively young Berlinale Series section is a Drama series platform for elaborately produced series such as M – Eine Stadt sucht einen Mörder (M – A City Hunts a Murderer). The grotesque series, set in Vienna, reinterprets Fritz Lang’s film classic is worth seeing. Streaming services blur the boundaries between cinema and TV, film and series. The film landscape is changing. German-language productions in the field of serial narration can certainly keep pace with the market. Babylon Berlin and Germany 83, for example, are internationally distributed. Under the direction of Dieter Kosslick the Berlinale has not only developed into a successful public festival with a valued competition, the film festival is today one of the most important industry summits in the world. EFM European Film Market, Talent Campus, Perspektive Deutsches Kino – the Berlinale director Kosslick has achieved a lot, especially for German film and the next generation of filmmakers. Criticism can also be voiced. Not every section – culinary cinema, for example – seems to be necessary. Certainly not every film in the entire festival programme is an absolute masterpiece or later a great success at the box office. But an international film festival should also show the cross-section of a year’s global filmmaking and should provide a space for films that doesn’t make it onto the screens of the major cinema companies.
The Berlinale 2019 is a women’s film festival. Not only there are more competition entries been made by women than ever before, the jury is chaired by a woman – Juliette Binoche – and the homage is dedicated to the actress Charlotte Rampling, Dieter Kosslick signed the so-called 50/50 Pledge during the festival, “5050 x 2020” should contribute to more gender equality at the festival and in the market. The international initiative is committed to justice and equality between women and men by 2020.
Women make high-quality films and should therefore be allowed to step into the shining lights, their films should compete equally.
The 70th Berlin International Film Festival will take place from 20 February to 1 March 2020 under the new dual leadership consisting of Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek.6 Likes