By Saibal Chatterjee
With a line-up of films as diverse and deep as the one it has assembled, the 72nd Berlin International Film Festival clearly has the cinematic riches to whet our appetite. Alongside newer directors, the festival includes such world cinema favourites as Claire Denis, Hong Sangsoo and Ulrich Seidl, Bertrand Bonello, Lucrecia Martel, Paolo Taviani and RithyPanh. Drawing up a list of films to watch in Berlin is, therefore, a tough ask.
What one can be absolutely certain of is that a treat awaits us in the form of performances by seven seasoned actresseswe love – Isabelle Huppert, Isabelle Adjani, Hanna Schygulla, Sigourney Weaver, Emma Thompson, Sophie Rois and Juliette Binoche. These incredible screen performers feature in half a dozen highly anticipated titles in the 2022 Berlin official selection. It is noteworthy that four of these films have been directed by women, led by the redoubtable Claire Denis:
PETER VON KANT
Francois Ozon’s Peter von Kant is the opening film of the 72ndBerlin Film Festival. The French director’s sixth film in the Berlin Competition has Isabelle Adjani, 66, and Hanna Schygulla, 78, in the cast. Schygulla’s presence in the film is no coincidence: Peter von Kant is a freewheeling take on German maverick Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, which was released exactly 50 years ago. Ozon turns the protagonist into a male filmmaker played by Denis Menochet, making way for not only a self-portrait but also a commentary on the contemporary culture of cultivated fame. Another Ozon film, 8 Women, which won a Silver Bear at the Berlinale 20 years ago, is screening as part of a tribute to French actress Isabelle Huppert, who, too, has a new film playing in the Berlinale Special Galasthis year.
The new Isabelle Huppert starrer in Berlin this year is About Joan, French director Laurent Lariviere’s sophomore effort. Cast alongside German actor Lars Eidinger and SwannArlaud (who was in Ozon’s 2019 film By the Grace of God), the iconic French actress plays a successful publisher whose life is thrown into turmoil when a man she loved many years ago returns. She leaves Paris and heads out to the countryside along with her son, who, too, has just made his way back to France from Montreal. Lariviere, whose first film, I Am a Soldier, was in the Cannes Un Certain Regard in 2015, presents the story (filmed in France, Ireland and Germany) in the form of “one liberated woman’s nostalgic, fragmented and dreamlike”reminiscences. Who better to play that woman than Huppert, the 2022 Berlinale Honorary Golden Bear winner?
Call Jane, directed by playwright and Oscar-nominated Carol screenwriter Phyllis Nagy from a script by Hayley Schore and Indian-origin doctor and film/TVwriter Roshan Sethi, is headlined by Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver.Banks plays a 1960s American suburban housewife and motherwho is stonewalled by an all-male, anti-abortion hospital board despite her plea that her pregnancy could be a threat to her life. Pushed to the wall, she stumbles upon the “Janes”, an underground outfitthat helps women denied reproductive freedom. The film, which premiered in Sundance last month, has the 72-year-old Sigourney Weaver in the role of the head of an ‘illegal’ abortion facilitation service. The Alien and Gorillas in the Mist actress has earned glowing reviews for her performance as the feisty and charismatic rebel.
GOOD LUCK TO YOU, LEO GRANDE
The British film by Australian director Sophie Hyde has the 62-year-old two-time Academy Award-winning Emma Thompson, one of the finest actresses of her generation, as a retired teacher who has had a routine, loveless marriage. Her husband is now dead and she decides to discover the real pleasures of physical desire. She hires the services of a young sex worker named Leo Grande. The film, written by English comedienne Katy Brand,also features Daryl McCormack. Good Luck to You, Leo Grande premiered at the Sundance Film Festival before making the Berlinale Special Gala cut.
A E I O U – A QUICK ALPHABET OF LOVE
The Austrian Sophie Rois, 60, one of the most feted screen performers of the German-speaking region, plays the female lead role in German actress-director-musician Nicolette Krebitz’s second directorial venture, A E I O U – A Quick Alphabet of Love. The veteran star of theatre, film and television plays a past-her-prime actress who is exactly her real-life age – 60. With her career floundering, she reluctantly takes up a job as a language coach for a 17-year-old social misfit with a speech impediment. But she recognizes the boy as the thief who recently snatched her bag in the street. A E I O U competes for the Golden Bear. Rois’ acting credits include Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Enemy at the Gates, Tom Tykwer’s Threeand Terrence Malick’sA Hidden Life.
BOTH SIDES OF THE BLADE
Both Sides of the Blade (original French title: Avec Amour et Acharnement, which literally translates to “With love and fury”) reunites director Claire Denis with star Juliette Binoche after their critically lauded collaboration on the 2017 film Let the Sunshine In. The story of a passionate love triangle, the film has the 57-year-old actress playing a woman caught between two men. Sarah has been in a long and loving relationship with Jean (Vincent Lindon). One morning she runs into Francois, the boyfriend she dumped years ago for Jean. Life begins to unravel as the past intrudes into the cosy world of Sarah and Jean, whose love has stood firm all these years. The last time Denis and Binoche, two luminaries of French cinema, teamed up they created magic. Will it be any less this time around?
The young Spanish director Carla Simon earned critical plaudits with her self-reflexive debut feature Summer 1993 (2017). Alcarras, her second film, has made it to the Berlinale Competition. Summer 1993 screened in Berlin as part of the festival’s Generation section. Her return to the Potsdamer Platz is understandably piqued widespread interest. The film revolves around a family of peach farmers who work in an orchard in Alcarras, a small village in Catalonia. The owner of the estate dies and the inheritor decides to replace the peach trees with solar panels, a more lucrative business. The livelihood of the family is threatened.
Another young female director making waves is Indonesia’s Kamila Andini who earned critical acclaim for her debut, The Mirror Never Lies (2011). Last year, her third film Yuni (2021) won the Platform Prize at the Toronto International Film Festival. Andini makes her first appearance in the Berlinale Competition with Nana, set in 1960s Indonesia. The titular character who, after losing her family to the conflicts that rocked the country, has built a new life with a wealthy Sudanese man. In spite of the love that has for her children, Nana increasingly feels out of place as memories of the past haunt her. Nana looks like another gem from the maker of the haunting Seen and Unseen.
THE NOVELIST’S FILM
If there is a film by the prolific Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo in any selection, is it even possible for it to not be on pre-festival must-watch list. The 61-year-old director, for whom this is the third successive year in berlin, has toted up nearly 20 films in the past decade. He the Silver Bear for Best Director for his 2020 Berlinale Competition entry The Woman Who Ran. In 2021, his film Introduction bagged the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay. The characters in The Novelist’s Film relocate from Seoul to the periphery of the city to reconnect with themselves and others. The black and white film, reportedly shot in two weeks outside Seoul in March last year, celebrates the beauty of chance meetings and the importance of being honest and truthful when surrounded by perfidy.
Ulrich Seidl is another filmmaker who cannot but be on this list. The Austrian director’s new film Rimini is in the Golden Bear Competition with a more than a fair chance of a shot at award glory. The synopsis of the film reads: Richie Bravo, once upon a time a successful pop star, chases after his faded fame in wintry Rimini. Trapped between permanent intoxication and concerts for busloads of tourists, his world starts to collapse when his adult daughter breaks into his life. She demands money from his that he doesn’t have.” The last part of Seidl’s Paradise trilogy, Paradise: Hope premiered in the Berlinale Competition in 2013. A film produced by Seidl, KurdwinAyub’sSonne, is in the Encounters section of Berlinale 2022.