The Berlin Film Festival has announced the full line-up for its 72nd event, with new films from auteurs Claire Denis, Andrew Dominik and Francois Ozon among the highlights. In what has clearly been a hugely difficult period for filmmakers and festivals owing to Covid-19, artistic director Carlo Chatrian noted that “many films have responded with the power of imagination”. Only two are set in the pandemic era; none of them – thankfully – are about the virus.
Already it had been announced that with the Omicron variant sweeping Europe and beyond, the Berlinale would be operating at a reduced capacity, with cinemas allowed to be no more than 50 per cent full and the festival running four days shorter than its usual 11 days.
But while the overall selection is 20 per cent smaller than usual, that hasn’t drastically curtailed the main competition, which has 18 films playing. All but one are world premieres, with five of the directors also being past winners of either a Golden or Silver Bear.
Among the titles of interest for Middle Eastern film fans will be See You Friday, Robinson, a documentary featuring in the Encounters strand. This non-fiction experience is co-produced by Lebanese producer Georges Schoucair via his Shortcut Films outfit and is directed by Iranian filmmaker and painter Mitra Farahani.
The focus is a conversation between the famed French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard – now 90 years old – and Iranian filmmaker and literary figure Ebrahim Golestan, which took the shape of weekly email exchanges. Godard will also feature heavily at the festival, with an exhibition devoted to him and a restored version of his 2004 film Notre Musique.
In the Forum section, the festival’s more experimental strand, this year comprises of 27 films. Mohammad Shawky Hassan, a filmmaker who lives in Cairo, will present Shall I Compare You to a Summer’s Day? Described intriguingly as a metafictional audiovisual essay, this co-production between Egypt, Lebanon and Germany is said to explore “romantic encounters, haunting memories, pop music and folktales” in Arab culture.
The Forum Special strand has also programmed Beirut the Encounter, Borhane Alaouie’s 1981 feature that feels as relevant today as it did 41 years ago. In what will be a rare opportunity to see the film on the big screen, this adaptation of the script by Ahmed Beydoun stars Nadine Acoury as Zeina, a young woman planning to leave Beirut for America, without knowing if she’ll ever come back. The night before she leaves, she and her former college lover record tapes of their innermost feelings to exchange them at the airport.
Receiving its world premiere in the Panorama section is Israeli film Concerned Citizen by director Idan Haguel. Starring Ariel Wolf and Shlomi Bertonov, this Tel Aviv-set story deals with prejudice in a local neighbourhood after a conflict arises over something as innocent as a newly planted tree. Haguel is not a first timer at the festival, with his 70-minute work Inertia playing in the Forum back in 2016.
In the Berlinale Special strand, Israeli documentary 1341 Frames of Love and War will also be unveiled. Directed by Ran Tal, this non-fiction film tells the story of Israel’s most-celebrated war photographer, Micha Bar-Am. Shifting from Berlin in 1930 to Palestine in 1936 and beyond, Tal follows Bar-Am on a journey of self-doubt across the ages.
As ever the festival has some returning favourites, and will open with Francois Ozon, hot on the heels of his Cannes 2021 entry Everything Went Fine. His latest effort, Peter Von Kant, starring Denis Menochet and Isabelle Adjani, is a take on Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant – albeit switching the gender of the main character. It's Ozon’s sixth time at the Berlinale; his first was with Water Drops on Burning Rocks back in 2000 – another Fassbinder adaptation.
Ozon’s fellow French filmmaker Claire Denis will make her first appearance in Berlin Competition, somewhat surprisingly, with Both Sides of the Blade, a love triangle drama that has her reunite with the peerless Juliette Binoche as well as team up with Vincent Lindon, who is fresh from starring in the Cannes-winning Titane.
The competition selection will also premiere Phyllis Nagy’s Call Jane. Nagy, who previously gained an Oscar nomination for her script work on Todd Haynes’ Carol, has just one other directorial credit to her name: the 2005 TV movie Mrs. Harris. This latest film stars Elizabeth Banks as a married woman who must deal with an unwanted pregnancy at a time when finding a legal abortion is nigh-on impossible.
Italian cinema fans will also be curious to see Leonora Addio by veteran filmmaker Paolo Taviani. It's his first film released since his filmmaker brother Vittorio Taviani died in 2018 – and marks a return to the Berlinale, where he and his sibling won the Golden Bear for 2012’s Caesar Must Die. This latest film centres around three surreal funerals, and the murder of a young Sicilian boy in Brooklyn.
Of the key selections away from the main competition, the UK effort Good Luck to You, Leo Grande will see Emma Thompson return to Berlin. The Oscar-winning actress was last at the festival for 2016’s WW2 drama Alone in Berlin. Here, she’s back for a contemporary comedy, directed by Sophie Hyde, in which she plays a widowed retired teacher who sets out in her twilight years to find some adventure – zeroing in on a gigolo named Leo Grande.
Another Oscar-winner Mark Rylance will front Graham Moore’s drama The Outfit, in which he plays a former Savile Row tailor who finds himself in Chicago making suits for a family of gangsters. Moore, who co-wrote the script, marks his feature debut with the film, seven years on from winning Best Adapted Screenplay at the Oscars for his drama about Enigma code cracker Alan Turing, The Imitation Game.
Australian director Andrew Dominik (Chopper, Killing Them Softly) is also back with This Much I Know To Be True. Though still putting the finishing touches to his long-awaited Marilyn Monroe biopic Blonde, he’s also been filming musician Nick Cave during lockdown, with a documentary that looks at Cave and Warren Ellis’ last two studio albums, Ghosteen and Carnage. It marks Dominik’s second Cave film after the poignant 2016 effort One More Time with Feeling – doubtless one of the must-see films of the festival.
The 72nd Berlin Film Festival runs between February 10 and February 16