If you judge a festival by the wider impact it had on the cinema scene, then last year’s bed-bound Berlinale seemed to break through its digital confines and become an unmitigated success. Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging, or Loony Porn (2021) had a fairly decent American release, Petite Maman (Céline Sciamma, 2021) was a petite, tear-provoking miracle, What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? (Alexandre Koberidze, 2021) became the unofficial film of Euro 2020, and I’m Your Man (Maria Schrader, 2021) was a rare cross-cultural German hit. It’s a reminder that good films are still good no matter how you watch them.
This year the organisers seem keen to repeat their success, so an all-star Berlinale competition team have arrived. There’s Denis Côté with That Kind of Summer, perhaps promising something substantial after his last few amusing trifles. There’s Claire Denis with Both Sides of The Blade (pictured above), probably poised for a hit by reuniting with Juliette Binoche. François Ozon is gender-flipping Fassbinder with Peter Von Kant. Ulrich Seidl is returning to Austria with Rimini. And Hong Sangsoo is, well, making a Hong Sang-soo film with The Novelist’s Film.
While Claire Denis is actually a newcomer, there’s a whole host of repeat offenders in the competition, with editor Natalia Lopez Gallardo the only debutant in competition with Robe of Gems. France is well-represented with seven films; Germany with four; and there’s an American entry in the 60s feminist drama Call Jane (Phyllis Nagy). Further afield, there’s Dark Glasses from Dario Argento in the Berlinale Special, Peter Strickland’s Flux Gourmet in Encounters, and Alain Guiraudie is opening Panorama with Nobody’s Hero.
With a coronavirus-prevention regime that the Chinese Olympic committee would appreciate — three vaccinations, full FFP2 masking, daily tests, no parties (at least, I got no invites), booking your tickets in advance, and 50% capacity screenings — the Berlinale is actually going beyond the requirements of the QR code-happy Berlin state to promise a truly virus-free Festival. If your phone dies, it’s basically game over, so I’m bringing two charger packs.
The time has probably passed to write something like “cinema is back” — it actually never went away, it just got smaller. But Germany’s biggest festival is brave to mount anything in-person at all, especially as Sundance and Rotterdam succumbed to Omicron-inspired digital editions. I’m hoping for cinematic excellence, a dozen negative tests and a return to the kind of buzz and vibe that only a physical festival can bring.
The Berlinale Film Festival runs from 10-20th February. Follow DMovies for all the coverage you need.