The first major European movie festival in the cinematic calender, the 2011 Berlin Film Festival will be running from 10 to 20 February next year. The first significant chunk of the line-up has just been revealed, with new movies from Wim Wenders and Miranda July playing alongside Corialanus, the directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes, and the Coen Brothers' True Grit.
It had already been announced that True Grit would open the festival as an out-of-competition screening, a revelation to get very few UK and US-based film fans too excited – not because they are not looking forward to that flick, but because it will have been on general release in both of those territories for a month to six weeks by the time it unspools in the German capital. However today has brought with it the announcement of a further seven movies to play at Berlin 2011, including the first five that will be competing for the love and affection of the Isabella Rossellini-led jury, and by extension the grand prize of the 2011 Golden Bear.
But before we get on to those, let's kick off with the pair of further named out-of-competition premieres.
Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes)
An adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy of the same name, this is the first feature film to be directed by Fiennes, the man who has spent this year playing blockbuster bad guys in Clash of the Titans and episode one of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The British actor also stars, taking the title role of the great military leader, while Gerard Butler plays arch-nemesis Tullis Aufidius, Brian Cox is Menenius, and Vanessa Redgrave gets to play mom to Fiennes, in the role of Volumnia. The ancient Roman action of the play has been updated to a modern day combat setting, with shooting having taken place in Belgrade, capital of Serbia. Which reminds us, have you watched this year's most controversial film, A Serbian Film, yet? Remember, it's exclusively available to rent online in the UK from Indie Movies Online. Anyway, back to Berlin business and we find Coriolanus joined by...
Pina (Wim Wenders)
From the director of Paris, Texas and Wings of Desire, comes a 3D movie about German choreographer and dancer Pina Bausch, who passed away last year. Excerpts of Bausch's work previously appeared on-screen in Almodóvar's Talk to Her, and she herself appeared in Fellini's And the Ship Sails On, although it did look as if her death from cancer might derail Wenders' plans to document her craft for the big screen. However, speaking the month after she passed away, he underlined his determination to make the project happen: “We will not let the opportunity and privilege pass to record in 3D the choreographies and dance compositions rehearsed and overseen by Pina Bausch.” And he has proved as good as his word, with the crowd at Berlin in 2011 being given the first chance to see the fruits of his labours.
Okay, so now here are the quintet of pictures which will be playing in-competition, fighting for the gilded forestry-pooper which was last year awarded by Werner Herzog's jury to Bal, a Turkish drama from director Semih Kaplanoğlu.
The Future (Miranda July)
The Future is the second film from actress, writer, director and artist Miranda July, following on from her 2005 quirk-fest Me and You and Everyone We Know, and will be making its debut out-of-competition at Sundance in January, before proceeding to Berlin in the hope of landing a prize – the same route taken last year by Michael Winterbottom's The Killer Inside Me. In the Berlin press release today, festival director Dieter Kosslick is quoted as saying about the relationship between the two events, “We'll once again be cooperating closely with the Sundance Film Festival not only at the European Film Market [which runs alongside the artistic strand of the Berlin Film Festival] but also on the Official Programme, to offer independent films an opportunity to be perceived on a grand scale.” Which makes him sound a little bit like a particularly windy elephant tooting his own trumpet, but there you go.
The official press release for The Future describes it as telling 'the story of a thirty-something couple who, on deciding to adopt a stray cat, change their perspectives on life, literally altering the course of time and testing their faith in each other and themselves.' The full synopsis goes as follows:
'Sophie and Jason are strange the way all couples are strange when they're alone. They live in a small LA apartment, have jobs they hate, and in one month they'll adopt a stray cat named Paw Paw. Like a newborn baby, he'll around-the-clock – he may die in six months, or it may take five years. Despite their good intentions, Sophie and Jason are terrified of their looming loss of freedom. So with just one month left, they quit their jobs, and the internet, to pursue their dreams – Sophie wants to create a dance, Jason wants simply to be guided by fate.'
'But as the month slips away, Sophie becomes increasingly, humiliatingly paralyzed. In a moment of desperation, she calls a stranger, Marshall – a square, fifty-year-old man who lives in the Valley. In his suburban world she doesn't have to be herself; as long as she stays there, she'll never have to try (and fail) again. Living in two terrifyingly vacant and different realities, Sophie and Jason must reunite with time, space and their own souls in order to come home.'
'Using elements of magical realism – a talking cat who narrates his own sad tale, a living T-shirt, and a strangely familiar Moon – the film bravely creates its own universe. With pathos and humor, it invites us to recognize the bittersweetness of this very moment.'
July plays Sophie, and Hamish Linklater (one of the stars of Universal's $200m Battleship) fills the role of Jason, while also featuring are David Warshofsky (as Marshall) and Isabella Acres. The Playlist reports that the movie will be scored by Jon Brion, composer on the indie-by-sensibility-if-not-necessarily-cast-list likes of Eternal Sunshine, Punch Drunk Love and I Heart Huckabees.
Indie Movies Online users based in the UK, US, Canada and Australia can find out a bit more about Miranda July herself by watching her short film in the Pretty Cool People series of interviews.
Yelling to the Sky (Victoria Mahoney)
Forget the Coens' cowboys, the true grit of Berlin 2011 could be lurking in Yelling to the Sky. Another movie with links to Uncle Bob Redford's Park City shindig, this writing-directing debut from actress Mahoney was developed at the Sundance Institute. Mahoney grew up in Brooklyn and her movie is set there, with the first-time feature filmmaker apparently having received guidance on her writing from a famed chronicler of that particular Big Apple enclave, Requiem for a Dream author Hubert Selby, Jr., before he passed away earlier in the decade.
Apparently shot in just 18 days and using a maximum of (David Fincher, look away now) two takes for each set-up, Yelling to the Sky deals with the tough family life of an NYC teenager, with that youngster being played by Zoë Kravitz. The daughter of Lenny and Lisa Bonet, 22-year-old Kravitz' role her is in contrast to the parts she has landed in upcoming mega-budget action extravaganzas X-Men: First Class (in which she is Angel Salvadore, aka Tempest) and Mad Max: Fury Road (she having been cast in that now-delayed film as the intriguingly-named Five Wives). Starring alongside her are Tim Blake Nelson and Gabourey Sidibe, the latter of whom of course played opposite Kravitz' famous dad in Precious, her breakthrough feature.
Lipstikka (Jonathan Sagall)
And on to a film from another screen performer-turned-director. Sagall the actor is best known for appearing in Schindler's List in 1993, as Poldek Pfefferberg, the employee of Oskar Schindler who inspired Thomas Keneally to pen the book that would later serve as foundation for the Spielberg Oscar-magnet. Lipstikka has been described as a low-budget psychological thriller, with the plot synopsis on IMDb reading as follows: 'Two women reunite in London, where they go over details of a life-changing event which occurred when they were teenagers in Jerusalem.'
Sagall's movie has already caused controversy in Israel, with the Israel Film Fund withdrawing funding for the picture because – in the words of The Jerusalem Post – it 'reportedly compares the occupation of the West Bank to the Holocaust'. The project had apparently initially been about a woman's experiences of the Holocaust (based on what Sagall's own mother went through), before the director decided to change his subject matter to be about two Palestinian girls in Ramallah.
Our Grand Despair (Seyfi Teoman)
A project singled out for promotion by the Cannes Film Festival, Our Grand Despair is based on the book of the same name by Baris Bicaki. Here is the synopsis:
'Ender and Cetin, two men in their late thirties, have been close friends since high school. After being away for many years, Cetin returns to Ankara, moves in with Ender, and as such, the two realize their childhood dream. While on holiday in Turkey, Fikret, their close friend who lives abroad, has a car accident in which his parents are killed. Since he has to go back, Fikret asks whether his sister, Nihal, can stay with them until she graduates from university.'
'At first, Ender and Cetin are annoyed with the presence of a third party just when their dream to live together has come true. Nihal cannot get over the trauma of losing her parents and she does not want to communicate with them. After a while, however, sharing the same house draws the three together and they soon enjoy spending time with each other. Eventually, the inevitable happens: Ender and Cetin, who act like caring and protective substitute parents for Nihal, fall in love with her; each unaware of the other's love.'
The Turkish director is quoted as talking about how a sense of melancholy and sorrow single this love triangle scenario out from the norm, so those heading for Berlin 2011 would be advised to expect misery and lots of it.
If not us, who? (Andres Veiel)
Director Veiel delves into an area of German history which has been visited a few times in recent years, as he tells the story of Gudrun Ensslin, the model student and daughter of a priest who became one of the pivotal figures in 1970s terrorist outfit, the Red Army Faction, before dying in prison in mysterious circumstances in 1977. The world of the RAF and German radicals was touched upon in Oliver Assayas's Carlos this year, and the group itself were the focus of 2008 movie, The Baader Meinhoff Complex, in which Ensslin was played by Johanna Wokalek. In If not us, who? that role has been handed to Lena Lauzemis.
Alexander Fehling stars in Veiel's film, as Ensslin's lover, Andreas Baader, and the Inglourious Basterds actor has also just been named as one of the 'Shooting Stars' of Berlin 2011 – ten young European actors and actresses who have been picked by a jury as destined for greatness. Previous recipients of this label include Carey Mulligan, Melanie Laurent and the aforementioned Wokalek.
Danish director Ole Christian Madsen was one of the jurors this time round (his movies Prague and Pizza King can be watched here on Indie Movies Online by UK, US and Canadian-based users) and he and the others on the panel chose to single out Fehling from Germany, Spain's Clara Lago, Albania's Nik Xhelilaj, Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks, Natasha Petrovic from Macedonia and Croatian actress Marija Skaricic (who can be seen by UK and Australian-based Indie Movies users in A Wonderful Night in Split). Also chosen were Ireland's Domhnall Gleeson and Brighton Rock actress Andrea Riseborough, who both feature in Mark Romanek's Never Let Me Go.
There will be further films added to the competition line-up, with the final roster expected to number around the 20 mark. One of those tipped to feature by Ion Cinema is Footnote, the new film from Joseph Cedar, director of the excellent Israeli military drama Beaufort, and apparently all about two rival professors butting heads when they are both nominated for a prestigious award. We will bring you more on the further additions to the line-up as we hear about them.
But it is not all about the new films at Berlin, with the 2011 edition of the festival also paying tribute to one of the legends of international cinema, Ingmar Bergman. A Golden Bear-winner himself for Wild Strawberries in 1957, there will apparently be a complete retrospective of all 60-plus of the Swedish director's feature films, including The Seventh Seal and The Virgin Spring, as well as screenings of some of the films he penned the scripts for and documentaries about the late, great man himself.
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