By Peter Knegt and Eric Kohn | Indiewire February 5, 2014 at 12:26PM
The 64th Berlin International Film Festival kicks off tomorrow, offering dozens (and dozens) of world premieres across multiple 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 couple years have collectively offered the likes of Călin Peter Netzer's "Child's Pose," Bruno Dumont's "Camille Claudel 1915," Sebastián Lelio's "Gloria," Asghar Farhadi's "A Separation," Wim Wenders' "Pina," Paolo & Vittorio Taviani's "Caesar Must Die," Michael R. Roskham's "Bullhead," Benoit Jacquot's "Farewell My Queen," Bela Tarr's "The Turin Horse," Kim Ngyuen's "War Witch," Ulrich Kohler's "Sleeping Sickness," and Ralph Fiennes' "Coriolanus." 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, for example. Nonetheless, as we board our flights, here's 10 of our best bets:
Previous Golden Bear winner Claudia Llosa ("Milk of Sorrow," 2009) constructs a bizarre tale involving a man with healing powers in search of his long-lost mother in a frosty climate. Co-starring Cillian Murphy and Jennifer Connelly, Llosa's film promises a quiet, strange tone heavier on mood than plot, which is always a welcome approach from a seasoned filmmaker in control of the medium's powers. It doesn't hurt that the premise has a fairy tale-like quality: Connelly plays the aforementioned mother, helped by a journalist (Melanie Laurent) to reunite with her son Ivan (Murphy) at a frozen lake. The mystery of how things got that way makes this latest effort from a proven director well worth the anticipation.
Chinese director Lou Ye has been known to challenge audiences with experimental and uncensored storytelling methods in the past, and his latest feature sounds like no exception: The story of a man at a massage parlor who lost his sight, "Blind Massage" was apparently shot with real blind performers woven into an alternately tender and bleak drama involving the main character's love life and other complications. Ever the formalist, Lou's techniques are said to evoke the experiences of his blind characters, hopefully yielding a thoroughly unique cinematic experience.
"Butter on the Latch"/"Thou Mast Wild and Lovely"
When Josephine Decker's "Butter on the Latch" premiered at the Maryland Film Festival last year, Indiewire deemed it "a sexy, wild romp you have to see to believe." In addition to bringing her experimental, nightmarish and sensual psychodrama to Berlin with a slightly longer cut, Decker is also unveiling another dark feature, "Thou Mast Wild and Lovely," starring Joe Swanberg as a farm hand who falls for the cryptically seductive daughter of his employer. Decker's subjective camerawork, jittery editing technique and haunting atmosphere echoes David Lynch, but has its own poetic strengths. With two clear-cut illustrations of her filmmaking voice, Decker is poised to receive attention as a daring artist on the international stage.
"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
It’s hard to say Wes Anderson is on a roll since he never really slowed down, but "The Grand Budapest Hotel" looks like another capricious delight from America’s great chronicler of whimsical personalities. Set in the Europe of the 1920’s, the movie features Ralph Fiennes as a noted hotel concierge framed for murder and hiding from the police; meanwhile, Bill Murray naturally finds his way into the story as the manager of a rival hotel. Early buzz and trailers indicate an elegant, snappy comedy, confirming Anderson’s claims that he’s working in the tradition of great screwball director Ernst Lubitsch. While Anderson’s style might be easy to parody and sometimes too precious for its own good, there’s no doubting that he ranks among the more enjoyably inventive entertainers working in film today. And we'll get more proof of why when "Budapest" opens Berlin tomorrow night.
"History of Fear"
This competition entry from first-time Argentinian director Benjamin Naishtat promises a quasi-post-apocalyptic tale about a society on the verge of collapse. Four years in the making, the drama promises a dark, murky exploration of socio-economic problems rendered in complex allegorical terms. The prominent slot given to the film and its alluring trailer suggest a unique experience bound to generate conversation in the wake of its premiere. Watch the trailer here.
"Nymphomaniac, Part 1: Long Version"
The first part of Lars Von Trier's epic is already out in some countries, and played a secret screening at Sundance. But in Berlin, we get the first look at Lars' true vision. His longer director's cut is having its world premiere at the fest, and we couldn't be more excited. Especially since early reviews of the edited version already suggest that Von Trier’s film, which features a cast that includes Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgaard, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman and Shia LaBeouf among many other familiar faces, brings an enticing literary and philosophical sensibility to its lewd subject matter. It'll likely be another reminder that no matter how much people like to characterize Von Trier as a provocateur, the ideas embedded in his work resonate even louder than the shocks.
"She's Lost Control"
Also recently announced as a selection for this year's SXSW Film Festival, first-timer Anja Marquardt's drama stars Brooke Bloom (last seen in 2013's sleeper festival hit "Swim Little Fish Swim") as a sex surrogate who falls in love with her client. In a recent coversation with Indiewire, SXSW head Janet Pierson called the film "really beautifully done," and the official synopsis refers to the film's "stylistically precocious" feel. Set in New York City, "She's Lost Control" has the aura of a real discovery -- a story of eroticism that isn't purely designed to titillate, focused on the emotional forces behind those who choose sexuality as their profession.
"The Two Faces of January"
Viggo Mortensen, Kirsten Dunst and Oscar Isaac star in this adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel of the same name (directed by Hossein Amini, who adapted the screenplay for "Drive"), with Mortensen and Dunst starring as a couple who have fled to Greece after the con-artist husband killed a police officer. Oscar Isaac joins them a stranger who weasels his way into their lives, causing unexpected repercussions. Seeing as the author of the source material also penned "The Talented Mr. Ripley" (as well as Todd Haynes' upcoming "Carol"), we can expect plenty of globe-trotting characters hanging out in luxurious locations cloaked in a tinge of intrigue and tension when "January" debuts in Berlin.
"Yves Saint Laurent"
Jalil Lespert is bringing the story of famed fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent to the big screen in this biopic. On paper, his definitely makes for a cinematic story. The film begins in late 1950s Paris, when Saint Laurent takes up a position as assistant to couturier Christian Dior and then is suddenly made artistic director of one of the world’s most renowned fashion houses when Dior abruptly dies. Starring Pierre Niney as Saint Laurent, the film continues chronologically as the designer navigates the intense rise of his fame and the self-destructive nature of his social life. We're very curious to see how this translates onto the screen.
Indiewire will be offering full coverage from the 64th Berlin International Film Festival beginning tomorrow.