The Best of Berlinale 2017: Ten New Films We Can't Wait to Hit Australian Cinemas

We hopped over to the Berlin International Film Festival to get the jump on what's coming soon to cinemas.
Sarah Ward
March 03, 2017

One moment, you're watching Diego Luna sit down two rows in front of you in a cinema that seats 1600 people. The next, you're spotting Maggie Gyllenhaal and Patrick Stewart on the street. That's life at the Berlinale, or Berlin International Film Festival, which took place from February 9 to 19 — and it matches all of that star power with a massive, jam-packed program of movies.

In its 67th year, Berlinale had everything in its 400-title-plus program, and we mean everything. Want big, mainstream efforts such as T2 Transpotting and Logan? Indie Aussie flicks like Emo the Musical and Monsieur Mayonnaise? A sci-fi retrospective and the world premiere of the 3D version of that other T2 — that is, Terminator 2, not the Aussie tea company or Trainspotting sequel? Geoffrey Rush getting an award? Charlie Hunnam traipsing around the jungle? Two movies filled with famous faces arguing over a meal? A flick about utopian world without men? A 1993-set Spanish coming-of-age effort that makes an impact? Another great entry in Romania's new wave? Yes, the festival delivered on all of the above and then some. Yes, you already know that the list goes on.

Of course, not everyone can be there to experience films galore, below freezing temperatures, mulled wine aplenty and a newfound pretzel addiction. Don't worry, that's where we come in. We went, we watched, and we're excited about all of the movies that'll hopefully make their way to Australia at festivals or in general release. In fact, we can't wait to watch these ten again.


If this film sounds more than a little familiar, that's because we were already mighty excited about it when it screened at Sundance. Oh boy, did Luca Guadagnino's (A Bigger Splash) latest and best feature to date more than deliver. Let us put it this way: when you're watching a 17-year-old become infatuated with his father's handsome research assistant, played by Armie Hammer, you're feeling every single emotion he's feeling. And, you're falling head over heels for everything about this masterpiece as well. Call Me By Your Name is the kind of effort that couldn't be more seductive, from the sumptuous sights of its scenic Italian setting to the summertime heat — and sizzling sentiments to match — that radiate from the screen. Keep an eye on Timothée Chalamet, too, who plays the teenager in question. If this movie is any guide, he should become one of cinema's next big things.


A Fantastic Woman? Yes, this sensitive drama and Berlinale best screenplay winner places one front and centre. A fantastic film? You bet. After using a compassionate gaze to explore the world of an older lady trying to find happiness in Gloria, Chilean filmmaker Sebastián Lelio turns his attention to Marina (Daniela Vega), a waitress and singer whose life is thrown into disarray when tragedy strikes. The family of her much older lover are horrified, judging her transgender status rather than daring to let her into their lives — or let her mourn. The movie doesn't make the same mistake, in an effort that proves empathetic and engaging from start to finish, complete with an exceptional lead performance and one perfect song cue.


No one makes films like Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki. Sure, that's true of many directors, however the balance of deadpan humour and heartfelt drama he cultivates time and again isn't an easy one, even if he makes it seem otherwise. In this year's Berlinale Best Director winner The Other Side of Hope, Kaurismäki tackles the subject of refugees in Europe as Syrian Khaled (Sherwan Haji) finds himself in Helsinki, applies to stay and is forced to pursue other options when he's hardly given a hearty welcome. The tale of an unhappy salesman turned unlikely restaurant owner intersects with Khaled's plight, and so does absurdity, but in the filmmaker's warm but insightful way.


It all seems so simple: gather a group of excellent actors together, stick them in a few rooms, give their characters plenty to argue about and watch what happens. At its most basic, that's what The Party does over 71 entertaining, black-and-white-shot minutes — of course, it does more than that as well. The scenario sees Kristin Scott Thomas' Janet securing a plum political appointment, with her friends and family — played by Timothy Spall, Patricia Clarkson, Emily Mortimer, Cillian Murphy and more — all gathering around to celebrate. As something other than joy starts seeping through their get-together, writer/director Sally Potter crafts a lively and hilarious comedy filled with sparkling dialogue and intent on unpacking the political climate in Britain.


When On Body and Soul took home Berlinale's top award, the Golden Bear for Best Film, the Hungarian feature caught everyone by surprise. That's the beauty of film festivals, though — little turns out as expected, including a contemplative, surreal romantic drama set in a Budapest slaughterhouse. Writer/director Ildikó Enyedi takes her time to spin a tale of austere lives and vivid dreams, letting the emotion build at a slow and steady pace, as well as glimmers of humour. While it won't be for everyone, two things other than its accolade and its filmmaker make it stand out: just how it brings its absurd yet ultimately still relatable story to a close, and its corresponding performances.


Good news and bad news, everyone keen to watch the second full-length effort from Australian filmmaker Kitty Green. On the one hand, it's headed to Netflix in April. On the other, the film really does provide an astonishing viewing experience if you ever get the chance to see it in a cinema. As the name gives away, murdered six-year-old beauty pageant queen JonBenet Ramsay sits at the centre of this documentary — however, a regular true crime offering, this most certainly isn't. Instead, in an approach that results in disarmingly revealing insights about how we filter the events of the world through our own experiences, Green asks the people of Ramsay's home town of Boulder, Colorado to audition for a film about her case, then captures their responses.


Even if you don't know it, you're already familiar with the work of Polish filmmaking great Agnieszka Holland. Over the past decade or so, she has helmed episodes of everything from The Wire to The Killing to House of Cards — and while we can say that the flavour of all three can be glimpsed in her latest feature, Berlinale Silver Bear winner Spoor, don't go expecting something as straightforward or obvious as that may sound. A series of deaths, an investigation in an insular community and the political fallout provide the storyline for this moody and sometimes amusing feature that flits between mystery, thriller, black comedy and even fairy tale elements. Another Agnieszka also deserves acclaim, this time lead actress Agnieszka Mandat who puts in a more than memorable performance.


In I Am Not Your Negro, Samuel L. Jackson lends his voice to the words of American essayist James Baldwin. He does an outstanding job at capturing the tone and passion required, but it's the text itself, rather than the star uttering it, that's truly remarkable. Stepping through the state of race relations in the U.S. by focusing on the lives and deaths of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., every syllable spoken couldn't be more perceptive — or, even though they were written decades ago, still relevant today. It's little wonder that the film was nominated for best documentary at this year's Oscars, with director Raoul Peck matching the verbal content with an illuminating compilation of footage from the '50s and '60s. 


Last year, South Korean director Hong Sang-soo's two most recent films (Right Now, Wrong Then and Yourself and Yours) played at various Australian film festivals. Yes, he's prolific. Expect his latest, On the Beach at Night Alone, to pop up this year — and, amazingly, he has two other features due out in 2017. That might mean that he returns to the same themes of love, identity and fulfilment again and again, and plays with the same kinds of structural devices, but every one of his efforts has their delights. Here, one of them is the fact that he riffs on his own rumoured real-life circumstances, relaying a narrative about the fallout of an affair between an actress and a director. Another is the leading lady herself, Kim Min-hee, who both sits at the centre of his own scandal and puts in a revelatory, Berlinale best actress-winning turn.


The words "Yorkshire-set Brokeback Mountain" have been bandied about with frequency regarding God's Own Country; however, thankfully they're accurate in the very best way. Set on a struggling farm, it's a film of sprawling landscapes and surging urges — with both weathering hardships but proving rich and resonant. Forced to take care of everything due to his father's ailing health, to say that scowling, constantly booze-soaked Johnny (Josh O'Connor) is frustrated is an understatement, but, slowly and tentatively, the arrival of handsome Romanian farm-hand Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu) helps brighten his unhappy days. First-time writer/director Francis Lee takes a raw, realistic approach to everything from the animals scenes to the feature's underlying emotions, with heart-swelling results.

Published on March 03, 2017 by Sarah Ward
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