Berlinale 2019: From the Juliette Binoche-led jury, to Gully Boy's premiere — all you need to know
The high woman representation is a shot in the arm for Berlinale, whose contemporaries in Cannes and Venice could only dream of matching this statistic.
As the frosty days of later winter descend upon Central Europe’s hipster city, it is also that season when Berlin prepares to host one of the biggest film festivals in the world. The red carpet will soon be rolled out to luminaries in the film world from both sides of the Atlantic for Berlinale this February. While the festival’s schedule is brimming with quality movies, there is also no dearth of the presence of glitterati on its rolls. Berlinale 2019 also promises to raise the clarion call for diversity and gender representation.
In his last year as the festival director, the erudite festival director Dieter Kosslick has ensured a better lineup of women directors, perhaps as a parting shot. With seven films helmed by women directors out of the total 17 films in competition this year, it is a shot in the arm for the festival whose contemporaries in Cannes and Venice could only dream of matching this statistic. On the subject, Kosslick told The Hollywood Reporter,“If you make an effort, you can make progress, you can do things differently.”
The representation is apparent even in the selection of jury. Of the six jury members, three of them are women – acclaimed French actor Juliette Binoche is the president of the jury with British actor-director Trudie Styler and the German theatre actor-turned-movie star Sandra Hüller, completing the squad. Binoche’s film Celle que vous croyez (Who You Think I Am), a love story between an older woman and a man half her age (strictly with no reference to the France’s first couple), will have its premiere at the Berlinale Special gala section.
Other jury members include the Chilean director Sebastián Lelio (whose groundbreaking transgender film A Fantastic Woman made an international star out of Daniela Vega), MoMA’s long serving Chief Curator of Film Rajendra Roy, and the Los Angeles Times film critic and NPR’s fresh air movie critic Justin Chang.
The festival offers a fascinating potpourri of gala premieres and classics in various languages, representing everything from art house to mainstream cinema and documentaries to short forms. Recent additions to categories include Culinary Cinema, a section that melds both gastronomic and cinematic experiences. Under this category, the festival not only screens movies that take a deeper look into the politics of food, but also often serves a dinner menu of the specific region’s food featured in the film, right after the screening. The section NATIVe – A Journey into Indigenous Cinema serves as a nod to the films that feature indigenous people from around the world.
In the competition section, some notable films include the Austrian director Marie Kreutzer’s sisterhood drama The Ground Beneath My Feet, that dissects mental health issues. Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai, twice the winner of Berlinale competition prizes (Jury Grand Prix in 2001 and the Silver Bear for Best Script in 2008), returns with a family saga of a couple and their displacement and heartbreak, tangled in the changing Chinese society fueled by brutal capitalistic ambitions. Spanish director Isabel Coixet’s lesbian romance Elisa Y Marcela set in the early 1900s, will also be the first Netflix film at the competition. German director Fatih Akin’s gritty thriller The Golden Glove is about a psychopathic killer who picks up older women. It is based on the novel by author Heinz Strunk.
But all eyes are on the premiere of The Kindness of Strangers, a tale of domestic abuse, urban poverty and love set in New York, directed by Lone Scherfig, and staring Zoe Kazan and Andrea Riseborough. Scherfig’s earlier intense tearjerker dramas include An Education (2009) and One Day (2011). The Kindness of Strangers will also be the opening film of the festival.
Another Golden Bear hopeful is the Macedonian film God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya by director Teona Strugar Mitevska, a Berlinale regular. It is a satire set in Macedonia that challenges archaic patriarchal traditions of the Catholic church and asks what happens when a woman who is determined to trample all over them, encounters them. The catholic church is also the subject of the French film By the Grace of God by François Ozon that details on how the church deals with sexual abuse of minors.
Other notable films include Angela Schanelec’s German movie I Was at Home, the Mongolian murder mystery Öndög by the Chinese director Wang Quan'an and the polish director Agnieszka Holland’s drama about the Welsh journalist Gareth Jones’s attempts to cover the famine in Ukraine in 1933, titled Mr. Jones.
This year, Hollywood will be conspicuous with its absence as not many major talents appear in the lineup. Fans will get their share of Hollywood in two major movies; the political drama Vice with Christian Bale playing former Vice President Dick Cheney, directed by Adam McKay, and the thriller The Operative, directed by Yuval Adler with Diane Kruger and Martin Freeman in lead roles. Casey Affleck, seemingly undeterred by Hollywood’s ignorance of sexual allegations against him, will have the premiere of his post-apocalyptic drama Light of My Life at the festival in the Panorama section, a section known for screening radical films.
There are at least two big ticket Bollywood films being screened out of competition at the Berlinale Gala section. The Zoya Akhtar-directed Gully Boy, starring Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt, premieres at the festival and it is described by the committee as, “Bollywood meets hip-hop.” The Lunchbox director Ritesh Batra’s modern love story Photograph, with Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Sanya Malhotra, will have its European premiere.
Indian representation at the festival also includes Rima Das’s festival darling Bulbul Can Sing in its European premiere. She is fresh off the heels of the announcement of her earlier movie Village Rockstars having been selected as India’s official entry for Oscars. The short film Rang Mahal by Prantik Basu on the Santal tribe of West Bengal will vie for trophies at the competition section. World premiere of Udita Bhargava’s Dust, a tale of conflict ridden lives set in rural India, will be part of the Perspective Deutsches Kino section.
The Forum Expanded section is further enriched by the presence of short film and documentary filmmaker Ruchir Joshi’s 1991 documentary Egaro Mile (Eleven Miles) about Baul musicians alongside his experimental documentary Tales from Planet Kolkata (1983). Two shorts by the film collective Yugantar, Tambaku Chaakila Oob Ali (Tobacco Ember) and Idhi Katha Matramena (Is This Just a Story?), will further seek to boost India’s artistic presence.
Alongside screenings that often involve Q&A sessions with directors, there are also numerous discourses involving decorated talking heads on the art of filmmaking. Berlinale also has one too many Bears statues to give out in honor of the best of films and their makers. With more than 300 films, short films and documentaries to pick from, there will not be dearth of quality cinematic entertainment at the Berlinale. The only worry is to get hold of the tickets that tend to fly as fast as the train tickets on IRCTC online.
The 69th Berlinale will be held in Berlin from 7 to 17 February.
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