“Let’s get together” Berlinale 2023

Bee takes another bite of the Berlinale – her informed and inimitable take on the 73rd annual Berlin International Film Festival in 2023.

Zoo Palast cinema is the heart and soul of the Berlinale.

After being very successful last year, this year’s Berlinale upped the ante and went to 100% capacity. The audiences lapped it up with most screenings selling out and people congregating just like in old times.

The interest was overwhelming with around 20,000 accredited professionals from 132 countries, including 2,800 media representatives coming to Berlin. In total, 320,000 tickets were sold to the public, close to the Berlinale’s pre-pandemic audience figures.

The fact, that numerous screenings had the film makers in attendance who took the the time for a Q&A afterwards, was greatly appreciated – special shout out to Antonio Carlos da Fontoura, the 84-year old auteur who presented his 1973 masterpiece THE DEVIL QUEEN.

Quite a few of the traditional locations weren’t available this year and that left the usually buzzing Potsdamer Platz an empty shell. The Cine Star at the Sony Centre closed some years back, but even last year, one could visit 22 screens within walking distance. This year it was just two.

The various sections of the festival – CompetitionEncountersBerlinale Special & Berlinale SeriesBerlinale ShortsPanoramaForum & Forum ExpandedGenerationPerspektive Deutsches KinoRetrospective and Homage – offered viewers a diverse film programme and numerous audience discussions with the film teams.

And for once I had to switch allegiance, giving preference to a section, that usually is not on top of my list. For years now, I have been a champion of the excellent GENERATION section. This year their offering, while good, wasn’t as convincing over all. It was the PANORAMA section, that offered a beautifully varied program, that felt like a film festival within the Berlinale.

Here are my top 3 (in no particular order), all made by first time feature directors:

MUTT (Generation) https://www.berlinale.de/en/2023/programme/202309562.html

The one entry of the GENERATIONS totally entertaining and engaging. A very assured Vuk Lungulov-Klotz tells the story of trans man Feña or rather 24 hours in their life. Refreshingly, the film doesn’t revolve around the transition, but life after. Feña meets a still shell-shocked ex-boyfriend (beautifully played by Cole Doman), a feisty little sister and a father trying to reconnect. During these encounters they try to navigate their new presentation with old feelings and new. And the spectacular Lio Mihiel makes their body available to our gazes without sensationalism. A really special look at how life changes and then again doesn’t, even if you made one of the biggest leaps imaginable.

THE BRIDE (Forum) https://www.berlinale.de/en/2023/programme/202305569.html

Ruandan Myriam U. Birara highlights an event in her country in the years after the Tutsi genocide. Eva, an aspiring medical student, gets abducted one day to be forced into a marriage with the perpetrator. A then legal practise leaves her in a new house with new relatives. She strikes up an unlikely friendship with her husband’s cousin, herself a traumatised woman still suffering the effects from the murder of her whole family. The developing tenderness between these two women who both are not the masters of their fate, is beautifully portrayed and left me caring about both women. In the end Eva walks towards freedom and self control and I would be first in line to see a sequel about this strong, modern heroine.

EL CASTILLO (Panorama) https://www.berlinale.de/en/2023/programme/202304616.html

A fabulous Docu-hybrid about real life mother and daughter duo Justina and Alexia Olivo navigating an inheritance they received from a former employer. The titular castle is huge, old and costly. And the relatives of the former employer still treat the estate as a beck and call retreat without consideration. The film has a fairytale quality with beautiful imagery of the enchanted building in foggy landscape. But it is very much of this time in showing the problems of indigineous people being casually treated as second class citizens. Alexia follows her dream to become a race car driver and maybe start a life as a homosexual woman. But Justina stays and continues to wait for a change that might never come.

Honourable mentions:

LA SIRÉNE (Panorama) https://www.berlinale.de/en/2023/programme/202306311.html

A compelling story brought to life in exceptional animation. The music becomes it’s own character and gives the film another dimension.

KOKOMO CITY (Panorama) https://www.berlinale.de/en/2023/programme/202311280.html

The most entertaining documentary you’ll find! It opens with a bang and never lets up. D Smith giving voice to some extraordinary women.

LIMBO (Competition) https://www.berlinale.de/en/2023/programme/202304831.html

During the screening I couldn’t connect with the tempo but it‘s melancholy stayed with me for the longest time. A scorching slow burn rendered in beautiful black and white.

The most successful films where the ones made by directors who told stories of their own experiences.

I hope that next year’s Berlinale will continue to give those film makers the chance to connect with the eager Berlin audience.

The Berlinale Mug – yours for €15.90!