A Bear Hunt to Savour

The 2017 Berlin Competition promises to be wide open and, therefore, hugely exciting. Given the depth and range of the contenders, Paul Verhoeven and his jury will have no easy golden and silver picks By Saibal Chatterjee

Testrol es lelekrol ( On Body and Soul )

The 24 films that constitute the main program of Berlinale 2017 – 18 of which make up the Competition lineup – represent an exciting gamut of cinematic voices from around the world, including several that belong to celebrated auteurs with a global fan following.

Among the names vying for the Golden and Silver Bears in Berlin this year are Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki, Poland’s Agnieszka Holland, South Korea’s Hong Sang-soo and Germany’s Volker Schlondorff.

Standing alongside these big guns of world cinema, one director who is likely to receive more critical attention than usual is Calin Peter Netzer. The Romanian’s third feature Child’s Pose won the Berlin Film Festival’s Golden Bear in 2013.

Four years on, Netzer is heading back to the Potsdamer- Platz with his latest fi lm, Ana, Mon Amour, the story of a couple whose relationship is put under severe strain by mental illness. Will he pull off another surprise?

While Europe dominates the Competition selection, it does have four women directors and three fi lms from Asia. Also in the 2017 Berlinale Competition are two fi rst-time directors, Austrian actor Josef Hader and veteran French screenwriter and producer Etienne Comar.

Pokot (spoor)

Comar is on a Bear hunt with the festival’s opening fi lm Django, a biopic of jazz legend Django Reinhardt, the father of ‘Gypsy Swing’ who fled Nazi persecution in German-occupied Paris in the 1940s. The film stars French- Algerian actor Reda Kateb in the title role. Django, co-written by Comar, also has Cecile de France playing a stellar role.

Hader will seek to tame the Golden Bear with Wilde Maus (Wild Mouse), which has him in a pivotal onscreen role as well. Wild Mouse is the story of a renowned music critic who plots revenge on his boss after he loses his job in a Vienna newspaper.

Oscar and Palme d’Or-winning Volker Schlondorff, a key figure in the New German Cinema of the 1960s and 1970s, is in the running for the Golden Bear with Return to Montauk, starring StellanSkarsgard and Nina Hoss.

Based on a story by Swiss writer Max Frisch, Return to Montauk is about a married writer who visits New York for a book release and falls in love with a young woman. Many years later, he, now in his 60s, returns to the city and reestablishes contact with her.

Another German director, Thomas Arslan,is in the reckoning with HelleNachte (Bright Nights), in which a father tries to reconnect with a son he has not communicated with for a long time and takes the latter for a car trip across Norway.

Arslan’s films have figured in the Berlinale Forum and Panorama in the past. Helle Nachte is, however, only his second film to make the Berlin Competition cut after 2013’s Nina Hoss-starrer Gold.

Toivon tuolla puolen (The Other Side of Hope)

Two other widely lauded European auteurs – Holland and Kaurismaki – are expected to be strong contenders in this field.

Holland’s Spoor, adapted from a bestselling ‘moral thriller’ by contemporary Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk (Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead), is about a woman who settles down in a small mountain village on the Czech-Polish border after retiring as a construction engineer.

She becomes a murder suspect as a series of unexplained deaths take place in the village after her beloved dogs go missing without a trace.

In The Other Side of Hope, Kaurismaki’s first film since 2011’s Le Havre, the path of a Finnish restaurateur and former itinerant salesman crosses that of a Syrian refugee in Helsinki.

The Other Side of Hope is the second part of a trilogy of stories that the director proposes to set in port cities. It began with Le Havre. The refugee crisis that Europe – and the world – is currently in the grip of makes Kaurismaki’s new film especially topical.

Prolific Korean master Hong Sangsoo, winner of the Locarno Golden Leopard in 2015 (for Right Now, Wrong Then) and the Cannes Prix Un Certain Regard in 2010 (for Hahaha),will be a strong presence in the Berlinale Competition with On the Beach at Night Alone…

Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja (on the Beach at Night Alone)

British director Sally Potter’s Competition entry The Partyis a "political fable” described by the producers as "a comedy wrapped around a tragedy”.The cast of the film is bound to attract attention: it includes Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Kristin Scott Thomas and Timothy Spall. Hungarian director IldikoEnyedi, winner of the Camera d’Or in Cannes in 1989 for My 20th Century, returns to cinema with her fi fth fi ction feature On Body and Soul. She is a veteran of sorts on the festival circuit having had two films figure in the Venice Competition (The Magic Hunter, 1994; Tamas and Juli, 1997).

On Body and Soul tells an unusual love story that revolves around the dualities of sleeping and waking,of mind and matter. The film poses several questions: "What would happen if you met someone who dreamt the same as you or, to be more precise, had been meeting you in the same world every night for years? Would you be pleased? Or would you feel that you had been in some way robbed? And what if this specific individual didn’t exactly appeal to you? What if you actually hated that person?”

Israeli-American director Oren Moverman’s The Dinner, based on a novel of the same name by Dutch writer Herman Koch, explores contemporary urban morality and familial compulsions through the story of two couples who meet to discuss what is to be done about a crime that has ostensibly been committed by their children.

Helle Nachte (Bright Nights)

The Dinner comes to Berlin with considerable star power. Richard Gere leads a cast that includes Steve Coogan, Laura Linney, Rebecca Hall and Chloe Sevigny. Berlinale, which last year gave its top prize to a documentary fi lm (Gianfranco Rosi’s Fire at Sea), has once again included a non-fiction feature in the Competition – German fi lm and theatre director Andres Veiel’sBeuys, which is about the life and times of the controversial performance artist Joseph Beuys.

The Competition also has an animated feature film – the first-ever from China to make it to the Golden Bear race. Titled Have a Nice Day and directed by Liu Jian, it hinges on the adventures of a man on the run after stealing a huge amount of money from his gangland boss in order to save his relationship with his girlfriend. Another man on the run is at the heart of the Japanese entry Mr. Long, directed by Sabu. A Taiwanese killer, after a failed mission in Tokyo, takes refuge in a small town to keep the underworld off his back. But this is a town where the people are meddlesome and it doesn’t take the pursuing thugs to figure out the fugitive’s whereabouts.

Felicite

The other Golden Bear contenders this year are Portuguese filmmaker Teresa Villaverde’s Colo; Chilean director Sebastian Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman; Fernando Perez’s Cuban fi lm Last Days in Havana; and Senegalese helmer Alain Gomis’ Felicite.

Berlinale 2017’s main program is completed by six Out of Competition films – Danny Boyle’s T2 Trainspotting, a sequel to his 1996 cult hit; Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait; Gurinder Chadha’s Viceroy’s House; James Mangold’s Logan; French director Martin Provost’s The Midwife; and The Bar, a Spanish film directed by Alex de la Iglesia.

Two of the Berlinale Special screenings are expected to be become talking points: The Queen of Spain, Spanish director Fernando Trueba’s follow-up to The Girl of Your Dreams (1998) starring Penelope Cruz, and Haitian-born Raoul Peck’s historical drama The Young Karl Marx, which revolves around Marx’s friendship with Communist Manifesto co-author with Friedrich Engels in their youth

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