The 63rd Berlin International Film Festival kicks off tomorrow, offering dozens (and dozens) of world premieres across mutliple sections. By the time the festival's Golden and Silver Bears are handed out next weekend, we'll have a good idea as to some of the best world cinema coming to theaters near you (eventually, that is -- some of last year's program is just coming out Stateside now).
In the past few years, the festival has proven itself -- perhaps more than it has in some time -- as an excellent platform for emerging and proven talent in world cinema to debut their work.
The past two years have collectively offered the likes of Miguel Gomes' "Tabu," Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation," Wim Wenders' "Pina," Christian Petzold's "Barbara," Paolo & Vittorio Taviani's "Caesar Must Die," Michael R. Roskham's "Bullhead," Benoit Jacquot's "Farewell My Queen," Bela Tarr's "The Turin Horse," Ursala Meier's "Sister," Kim Ngyuen's "War Witch," Ulrich Kohler's "Sleeping Sickness," Ralph Fiennes' "Coriolanus," and Celine Sciamma's "Tomboy." Not bad for a festival that many felt had found itself in a threatening slump a few years prior.
So what's likely to follow in those films' collective footsteps this year? Hard to say. Berlin has become a festival of unexpected discovery. Few would have ever foreseen going into 2011's event that "A Separation" would end up an Oscar winner. Nonetheless, as we board our flights, here's 10 of our best bets (and note they only include world premieres, even though we're also excited to give "Before Midnight" a second spin):
It was suspected Bruno Dumont would turn up in Cannes for his follow-up to "Hors Satan" (itself a Cannes title), but instead he opted for the Berlinale with his "Camille Claudel 1915." The film stars Juliette Binoche as the titular sculptor and schizophrenic, at a time in her life where she is confined by her family to an asylum in the south of France, where she is to never sculpt again. Here she hopes more than anything for a visit from her beloved brother, the writer Paul Claudel (the film was inspired by the correspondence between the Camille and Paul). It should be interesting to see how Dumont and Binoche mix together. The film marks the first time the director has teamed up with a famous actor or actress (he's mostly worked with non-professionals or somewhat unknown actors -- which he does so again here in many of the roles, though clearly not Binoche). [Peter Knegt]
Closed Curtain (Jafar Panahi, Kamboziya Partovi; Iran)
When Jafar Panahi's first-person documentary "This Is Not a Film" surfaced at Cannes in 2011, many thought it was a miracle. Allegedly smuggled into the festival hidden inside a cake, the movie was the ultimate case of an artist risking his neck for the sake of his art, since the Iranian government outlawed the director from making movies for 20 years and placed him under house arrest. Now it appears Panahi has achieved the impossible once more with "Closed Curtain," a quasi-narrative about a secluded man on the run with his trusty dog. Brechtian devices apparently prevail in the story, which promises something more than a cameo by the director himself. How did Panahi pull it off and what will come off his involvement? The answer is almost as tantalizing as whether Panahi (working with co-director Kamboziya Partovi) can pull off aesthetic mastery on par with the finesse of the production, but we have high hopes. [Eric Kohn]
Chilean director Sebastián Lelio's last feature, "The Year of the Tiger," was a fascinating documentary-fiction hybrid about a prisoner on the lam after the real-life devastation of a massive earthquake. For "Gloria," Lelio returns to a more conventional narrative format with this small tale of a lonely, middle-aged divorcée who falls in love with a mysterious ex-naval officer. Described in the festival catalog as "a tragicomedy of fragile hopes and painful truths," the movie also promises to connect its contained plot to larger themes associated with the country history. On paper it sounds like a somber, provocative character study, and Lelio's track record suggests he might be able to pull that off. [Eric Kohn]