Movie Review: Berlinale 2016

In February there is one unmissable thing in Berlin – the Berlinale. As usual, this film festival is about being eclectic and not all about ‘the competition.’ So the 16 films our reviewer, Sabine ‘Bee’ Koch, got to see, ranged from Japanese thrillers, Iranian ghost stories and the very first queer movie  – 1919’s silent “Anders als die anderen”, complete with live piano and everything in between.

bee's bunch - a selection berlinale 2016

bee’s bunch – tickets for the Berlinale 16

Here are the top 3, all different films, all different countries, all different styles, but all united in their excellence.

  1. Jonathan (Germany 2016, Panorama section)

This story of dying and learning to live by first time feature director Piotr J. Lewandowski, felt fresh and highly personal.  Jonathan is caring for his dying father, who refuses his kindness and treats him badly. When a stranger arrives, we find out, that the great love of the father’s life was indeed a man.

Jonathan by: Piotr J. Lewandowski André M. Hennicke, Jannis Niewo © JeremyRouse

Jonathan by: Piotr J. Lewandowski
André M. Hennicke, Jannis Niewo
© JeremyRouse

What stood out:

  1. the camera work of Jeremy Rouse, which managed to be precise and hauntingly ethereal at the same time
  2. the part of the story where we see love transcending the idea of being desirable at any age and in any physical condition
  3. actor Thomas Sarbacher as secret lover Ron, who captured the kindness and commitment of a man who’s love will not be put off by the exterior of a dying body


  1. Maggie’s Plan (USA, 2016, Panorama special)

Rebecca Miller’s new work is contemporary, highly entertaining and above all hilarious. As Maggie tries to become a single mom and live life according to her rules, she is gradually losing all control she thought she had.

Maggie's Plan by: Rebecca Miller Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore <br srcset=

Jon Pack © Hall Monitor, Inc.” width=”300″ height=”202″> Maggie’s Plan
by: Rebecca Miller
Ethan Hawke, Julianne Moore
Jon Pack © Hall Monitor, Inc.

The audience at the jam packed Friedrichstadt Palast totally got the vibe of this light-footed tale. Maybe it’s because we as Berliners could relate to the struggle of a modern woman in a big city. It certainly rang true and I credit the trio of the director and her two female leads with that.

photo by Sabine Koch

Maggie’s Plan Berlinale 2016

Rebecca Miller also wrote the script and has a profound grasp on what she is talking about. Greta Gerwig always excels at these kinds of roles, but a welcome surprise was Julianne Moore’s take on the abandoned wife. She should do comedy more often!

  1. Girl Asleep (Australia 2015, Generation 14plus)

With a producing, writing and directing team of people based in theatre, this little gem manages to transport its roots into film with great aplomb. Moving to a new city and school proves a life changing experience for young heroine Greta, who learns to be herself after entering a parallel world.

Girl Asleep Generation AUS 2015 by: Rosemary Myers Harrison Feldman, Bethany Whitmore © Andrew Commis

Girl Asleep by: Rosemary Myers Harrison Feldman, Bethany Whitmore
© Andrew Commis


My teen years are long gone, but boy, would I have loved to be as fierce and independent as Greta. With all her troubles and doubts, she knows what is important to her. And she goes for it in a film, that takes its protagonist seriously without losing the fun of the story and the characters. It is gorgeous to look at with a Down Under 80s styling of the real world and the fairytale images of the dream world. The actors, most of whom already worked on the theatre play the film is based on, are all in top form, but outshining everything are youngsters Bethany Whitmore and Harrison Feldman. While I am very happy to see movies like this at a festival, I would hope for a general cinematic release. It deserves it!

Berlinale Special Series

To be honest, my favourite film wasn’t even a film. In the Berlinale Special Series section I got to see the first two episodes of the BBC’s tent-pole production  “The Night Manager”.  Based on the novel of John le Carré and realized by Danish director Susanne Bier, it is a gripping espionage tale, which was carefully modernized and boasts a cast of great actors in great roles. It is so stunning to look at, that I would pay good money to see all 6 episodes on the big screen.

The Night Manager by: Susanne Bier Tom Hiddleston Des Willie © The Night Manager Ltd

The Night Manager
by: Susanne Bier
Des Willie © The Night Manager Ltd

And the production company seems to be quite confident about it’s excellence as well – the Q & A afterwards had the 5 main actors, 2 producers, the director and the man himself – John le Carré take the stage to collect a well-deserved ovation.

Night manager q and a

Night manager q and a

So this is my take on this year’s Berlinale. 2017 can’t come soon enough.

Drink in the Berlinale

Drink in the Berlinale!



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