The Berlin Film Festival has unveiled a promising competition lineup for its upcoming edition, peppered with prestige star-driven titles such as the New York-set “La Cocina” with Rooney Mara, sci-fi drama “Another End” pairing Gael García Bernal and Renate Reinsve and its opening film “Small Things Like These” starring “Oppenheimer” protagonist Cillian Murphy.
As is customary, political elements play a prominent role. But the complete Berlinale roster revealed on Monday by artistic director Carlo Chatrian and executive director Mariëtte Rissenbeek – following previous announcements in past weeks – makes for the fest’s strongest selection in recent memory in terms of heft and ensures a rich red carpet following the Hollywood strikes hiatus.
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Rissenbeek and Chatrain started the press conference with a statement on the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. “Festivals provide a space for artistic expression and enable peaceful dialogue. They are places of encounter and exchange and contribute to international understanding. We believe that through the power of films and open discussions, we can help foster empathy, awareness, understanding, even and especially in painful times like these,” Chatrian said.
“Our sympathy goes out to all the victims of the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East and elsewhere. We want everyone’s suffering to be recognized, and for our program to be open to discussing different perspectives on the complexity of the world. We are also concerned to see that antisemitism, anti-Muslim resentment and hate speech are spreading in Germany and around the world. As a cultural institution, we take a firm stand against all forms of discrimination and are committed to intercultural understanding.”
Rissenbeek said several initiatives are being planned during the fest aimed at fostering an open dialogue about the Middle East crisis.
In terms of the fest’s competition lineup, innovative Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacious (“A Cop Movie”) is back in Berlin with “La Cocina,” a love story set in the kitchen of a Manhattan restaurant where money has gone missing from the till. Mara plays an American waitress named Julia who becomes romantically entangled with the prime suspect, an undocumented Mexican cook named Pedro, played by the director’s frequent collaborator Raúl Briones.
Germany’s Andreas Dresen (“Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush”) is vying for a Golden Bear with his new work “From Hilde With Love,” a Nazi-era drama starring “Babylon Berlin’s” Liv Lisa Fries as a young woman who falls in love with an anti-Nazi resistance fighter.
Also in the running for a Golden Bear from Germany is “Sterben” (“Dying”) by Matthias Glasner, with Lars Eidinger leading a strong German cast.
Launching internationally in Berlin after making a splash at Sundance is U.S. director Aaron Schimberg’s “A Different Man” starring Sebastian Stan, Reinsve and Adam Pearson in a tale of an actor who has facial reconstruction surgery and must come to terms with the fact that a theater role based on his life is given to another actor.
As previously announced, Adam Sandler, Carey Mulligan and Paul Dano are expected on the Berlinale Palast carpet for the world premiere of Netflix’s “Spaceman,” directed by Johan Renck, in which Sandler plays an imperiled astronaut. Kristen Stewart -– who presided over last year’s Berlin jury – is back with queer crime thriller “Love Lies Bleeding” that was also at Sundance. “Euphoria” star Hunter Schafer will be making the trek for the world premiere of German-American director Tilman Singer’s horror movie “Cuckoo.”
Amanda Seyfried is coming for Atom Egoyan’s “Seven Veils,” which premiered in Toronto sans talent in tow. German filmmaker Julia von Heinz will launch “Treasure” – formerly titled “Iron Box” – with Lena Dunham and Stephen Fry and Nathan Zellner will bring “Sasquatch Sunset” starring Riley Keough and Jesse Eisenberg, which premiered at Sundance. These are among high-profile titles set for the Berlinale Special strand.
Back to the competition, “Another End” by Italian director Piero Messina (“The Wait”) toplines Garcia Bernal as Sal, a man whose wife dies, and Reinsve as Zoe, the woman who then becomes his partner after renting out her body in which the memory and consciousness of Sal’s former wife are temporarily implanted.
Berlin’s Italian competition contingent additionally comprises musical comedy “Gloria!” by first-time director Margherita Vicario. Set in an 18th century Venetian female boarding school, the film follows a young rebel who leads a group of performers to challenge classical canons and invent a precursor to pop.
Then there are Netflix series “Supersex,” which looks at the life of Italy’s global porn star Rocco Siffredi with a feminist slant, and “Dostoevskij,” an eclectic detective drama set in the Roman hinterland involving a policeman with a troubled past from twin directors Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo. The duo’s dark dramas “Boy’s Cry” and “Bad Tales” both previously launched from the Berlinale.
The Berlinale competition also boasts several French productions, notably renowned auteur Olivier Assayas’s pandemic-themed film “Suspended Time” and Bruno Dumont’s science fiction movie “The Empire.”
“The Empire” is a post-apocalyptic comedy set in a village in Northern France where a loner kills a farm girl’s violent father and is struck by a miracle. The absurdist movie, repped by Memento International, stars Lyna Koudry, Anamaria Vartolomei and Camille Cottin (“Call My Agent”).
“Suspended Time” is a COVID-era comedy about two couples spending lockdown together. Represented internationally by Playtime, the movie re-teams the key cast of Assayas’ 2018 film “Non-Fiction,” Vincent Macaigne and Nora Hamzawi.
The robust French representation also includes France-based African auteur Abderrahmane Sissako’s hotly anticipated romance drama “Black Tea” (previously titled “The Perfumed Hill”), which tells the story of Joice, who leaves the Ivory Coast to start a new life in Guangzhou, China, where she meets a man. Chatrian called “Black Tea” “probably Sissako’s most complex and fascinating work.” The movie, which marks Sissako’s follow-up to his 2015 Oscar-nominated “Timbuktu,” has already been acquired by Cohen Media Group for U.S. distribution. Gaumont is handling sales.
Nepal will have its first film in the Berlin competition with “Shambhala” by Min Bahadur Bham. The movie is set in “a mythical place” in the Himalayas, Chatrian said, who noted that the film is “deeply rooted in the Bhuddist tradition.”
South Korean Berlin regular Hong Sangsoo is back with “Yeohaengjaui pilyo” (“A Traveler’s Needs”) starring Isabelle Huppert, who in Berlin will also be receiving the honorary Golden Bear she was unable to pick up in 2022.
Ireland and Belgium are both repped by Berlin’s opening film “Small Things Like These,” which is directed by Belgian helmer Mielants (“Peaky Blinders”). Set in the 1980’, “Small Things” sees Murphy play a devoted father and coal merchant who discovers shocking truths about Ireland’s horrific Magdalene laundries, the asylums for young women run by Roman Catholic institutions from the 1820s until 1996. Eileen Walsh, Michelle Fairley and Emily Watson also star.
As previously announced, Lupita Nyong’o will preside over the main jury.
The 74th Berlinale will run Feb. 15-24.
Elsa Keslassy contributed to this report.
“Small Things Like These” by Tim Mielants
“Another End” by Piero Messina
“Architecton” by Victor Kossakovsky
“Black Tea” by Abderrahmane Sissako
“La Cocina” by Alonso Ruizpalacios
“Dahomey” by Mati Diop
“A Different Man” by Aaron Schimberg
“L’Empire (The Empire)” by Bruno Dumont
“Gloria!” by Margherita Vicario
“Hors du temps (Suspended Time)” by Olivier Assayas
“In Liebe, Eure Hilde (From Hilde, With Love)” by Andreas Dresen
“Keyke mahboobe man (My Favourite Cake)” by Behtash Sanaeeha and Maryam Moghaddam
“Langue Etrangere” by Claire Burger
“Me el Ain (Who Do I Belong to)” by Meryam Joobeur
“Pepe” by Nelson Carlos De Los Santos Arias
“Shambhala” by Min Bahadur Bham
“Sterben” by Matthias Glasner
“Des Teufels Bad (The Devil’s Bath)” by Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz
“Vogter (Sons)” by Gustav Moller
“Yeohaengjaui pilyo (A Traveler’s Needs)” by Hong Sangsoo
“Arcadia” by Yorgos Zois
“Cidade; Campo” by Juliana Rojas
“Demba” by Mamadou Dia
“Direct Action” by Guillaume Cailleau and Ben Russell
“Dormir de olhos abertos (Sleep With Your Eyes Open)” by Nele Wohlatz
“The Fable” by Raam Reddy
“Une famille (A Family)” by Christine Angot
“Favoriten” by Ruth Beckermann
“Ivo” by Eva Trobisch
“Khamyazeye bozorg (The Great Yawn)” by Aliyar Rasti
“Kong fang jian li de nv ren (Some Rain Must Fall)” by Qiu Yang
“Maos no fogo (Hands in the Fire)” by Margarida Gil
“Matt and Mara” by Kazik Radwanski
“Through the Graves the Wind Is Blowing” by Travis Wilkerson
“Tu me abrasas (You Burn Me)” by Matias Pineiro
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