Movie Review: Berlinale 2019 Top 3 Picks – Bee’s Bunch of the Best

This year’s Berlinale marked the swan song for Dieter Kosslick, the outspoken and celebrity-friendly festival director. After 18 years he is giving up his reigns and although he has been criticised by some over the last years, his contribution in making the Berlinale one of the top 5 film festivals of the world and the one with the largest audience, can not be overstated writes our Cultural Correspondent Bee.

This year 400 films were shown and while it is impossible to see all of them, I managed to attend 25. As per usual I tried to spread the love in choosing films from different sections of the festival and avoid the usual fair of Hollywood blockbusters. You can see those all year round, but when will you be able to watch a Brazilian documentary about current student revolts or a Japanese movie about a Chinese man trying to find his luck as an illegal immigrant in rural Japan?

My selection ranged from infuriatingly vile to mesmerising and these are my top 3, all ‘coming of age’ stories in very different circumstances:

Light Of My Life

Q & A for Light Of My Life

Casey Affleck wrote and directed this intimate portrait of a father (played by Affleck) trying to shield his young daughter from the perils of living in an apocalyptic America, where almost all women have been killed by a virus and the surviving females are in danger of every male around them.

The focus lies firmly on the father and young Rag (future star Anna Pniowsky), who have a relationship that begins to shift, when we meet them. Rag is growing up and although it is evident, that her father loves her and only wants the best for her, she wants to spread her wings. It is an intimate portrait of a strong, young girl, that will have to find her own way of living and becoming a woman and the man who is protecting her under the worst of circumstances.

At the Q & A Affleck spoke about his own two sons being the inspiration for this story and how he had to adjust to tell it with a female child as a protagonist. His struggles are mirrored in the struggles of the nameless father to bring up a daughter. A brilliant imitation of art v life, reflected in some little details of the movie.

The heart of the movie are the performances by Affleck and Pniowsky. There is not a false note and you will feel for both of them as if they were your family.

37 seconds

Q & A for 37 Seconds

1st time feature film writer / director Hikari tackles another coming of age story, that of disabled Yuma. Smothered by the care and attention of her mother and disregarded by everyone else, the young woman sets out to carve a life and a career against all odds.  Mei Kayama is a first time actor, found after an extensive search for a real life disabled person to take the role and the story has been adjusted to her personal struggles. Her presence elevates this film to a palpable realness, no other person could have conveyed.  On top of that – this is a movie by a female director with her eye on the female perspective. Rarely have I seen a film, where women drive the story in every aspect and in a way that is totally natural. You never question the editor of sex mangas being a woman!

The story takes several turns and not all of them are really relevant or  totally believable, but the tone oft he film is so true to the subject and the life she leads, that you can overlook this very easy. And the ensemble of actors (a special shout out to the excellent Mizusu Kanno, who gives the mother a warmth and inner life, that elevates the role above the cookie cutter idea of an overbearing parent) give their performances all the heart and emotion they need to engage the viewer till the end and beyond.


Q & A for Monos

This depiction of a modern tribe-of-war youngsters who must come to terms with growing up when left to their own devices in a country full of violence. A group of 8 teenage “soldiers“ are trained to take care of an American hostage and a cow. When failing to do so, the structure that binds them together evaporates and with that, all balance and order. What remains is a new, visceral power struggle and a brutal fight to stay alive.

This movie has it all: breathtaking cinematography in never before seen locations in Colombia, that are beyond beautiful and scary at the same time. The music and sound design elevate the experience of seeing this film to a whole new level and the actors seem so real, it is unbelievable.

The director Alejandro Landes talked in the Q & A about not only finding the right actors, but the right group – since he considers the group a character in itself. After a long period of dramatic and physical training with 20-25 actors, he picked the final 8 because of their chemistry as a group.

I was blown away by this film. It transported me into the world of these kids, feeling their dread, their anguish and their despair. I only hope that Monos will be released widely and more people will have a chance to see it!

Thanks Berlinale  – see you next year!