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.