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Memo to Distributors: Buy These 2017 Berlin Film Festival Movies

The 2017 Berlin International Film Festival — aka the Berlinale — has come and gone, but a number of its highlights still don't have U.S. distribution. Here's our plea to change that.

memo to distributors berlin 2017

“The Other Side of the Wind,” “On Body and Soul,” “The Misandrists,” “On the Beach at Night Alone”

“The Other Side of Hope”

Winsome, sweet, and often very funny, the second chapter of Aki Kaurismäki’s unofficial trilogy about port cities is a delightful story about the power of kindness that unfolds like a slightly more somber riff on 2011’s “Le Havre.” The Finnish auteur’s latest refugee story begins with a twentysomething Syrian man named Khaled (terrific newcomer Sherwan Haji), who escapes from Aleppo after burying most of his family and sneaks into Finland by stowing away in the cargo hold of a coal freighter. His path eventually crosses with Wikström (Sakari Kuosmanen), a newly single restauranteur who could use a helping hand. Part Roy Andersson and part Frank Capra, “The Other Side of Hope” deepens the director’s recognition of how immigrants and refugees are victimized by their invisibility, and its timeliness could help it strike a chord with domestic audiences. “Le Havre” grossed more than half a million dollars in the United States before its Criterion Collection release on home video, and there’s no reason why Kaurismäki’s follow-up couldn’t enjoy even greater success. — DE

Sales Contact: The Match Factory

“On Body and Soul”

On Body and Soul

“On Body and Soul”

Courtesy of Films Boutique

This year’s Gold Bear winner has the whimsical plot of a Michel Gondry movie, but its perspective on the alienation of the workplace and the universality of desire is completely original. Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi’s muted drama follows slaughterhouse manager Endre (Géza Morcsányi) and his shy new employee Mária (Alexandra Borbély) as they gradually discover that they share the same dreams, exploring a snowy landscape in animal form. That potentially laughable concept takes on an elevated poetic quality as both characters learn to come out of their shells through the strange phenomenon that brings them together. Carried by convincing turns by its two leads and a mesmerizing tone thick with mystery, “On Body and Soul” builds to an emotional climax that makes it one of the most original love stories in recent memory. Audiences are likely to be satisfied with the way the movie positions a love story in fresh light. It’s also littered with enough haunting and ethereal to fill many entrancing trailers; balance those off with festival laurels and the marketing potential speaks for itself. —Eric Kohn

Sales Contact: Films Boutique

“Butterfly Kisses”

Winner of the Crystal Bear award in the Berlinale’s Generation sidebar, Rafael Kapelinski’s stylish, daring “Butterfly Kisses” is a tough sell, but it’s the kind of movie that a small distributor could parlay into a modest profit on the strength of good reviews and even better word-of-mouth. Shot in high-contrast black and white along the grounds of a low-income British housing estate, this enigmatic drama follows four teen boys as they steal from their dads, pass time at the local snooker hall, and take turns flirting with the promiscuous new girl in town (a marvelous Rosie Day). Jake (Theo Stevenson), the quietest and most inscrutable of the lads, eventually begins to stand out from the lot. The more time we spend with this shy and charming kid, however, the more we begin to suspect that his blossoming sexual appetites may overwhelm his  moral code. Boasting a number of terrific performances (and a cameo from “This Is England” alum Thomas Turgoose), “Butterfly Kisses” is a disturbing film that gains confidence as it goes along, and ends with a brutal abruptness that has the power to knock the wind right out of you. — DE

Sales Contact: Raspberry & Cream

“Have a Nice Day”

If Quentin Tarantino remade “Pulp Fiction” as an animated movie set in modern day China, it might look something like “Have a Nice Day,” an ensemble drama about the criminal underworld. The second feature from Liu Jian (“Piercing I”) presents a series of interlocking tales in a pulpy display of desperate characters, all drawn together by a typical device — money — and the reckless behavior caused by it. The vivid palette of Liu’s animation conveys a comic book-like exuberance to the proceedings, but the underlying socioeconomic frustration is very real. Throw in some jarringly modern reference points — Trump, Brexit — and this exuberant, Tarantinoesque display of violence and suspense presents a deep perspective on the ripple effects of troubled times around the world. Given the genre hook and the topicality, this one is likely to find a small but dedicated audience hungry for Asian cinema off the beaten path; many will embrace its caustic perspective and hip look. —EK

Sales Contact: Memento

“The Misandrists”

“The Misandrists”

Image courtesy of Berlinale

A movie about a lesbian sex cult isn’t exactly a tough sell, and while those those drawn in by the salacious premise won’t be disappointed, “The Misandrists” has more than a few Bruce LaBruce tricks up its witchy sleeves. The Canadian provocateur’s sexually explicit and often gruesome films have earned him an adoring fan base as eclectic as his oeuvre. Those who were disappointed by LaBruce’s appeals to a more mainstream audience with “Gerontophilia” will be glad to see the punk auteur returning to his experimental roots. The simple story of forbidden love at a radical lesbian separatist terrorist cell mixes metaphors in all the right ways: Nuns, schoolgirls, pillow fights, and even castration all feature. Dialing it back up, LaBruce bears his teeth again without veering too far from an accessible narrative. As the success of Anna Biller’s “The Love Witch” indicates, moviegoers are hungry for niche fare with a feminist bent and a twisted vision. “The Misandrists” is just the film to satisfy that hunger. —Jude Dry

Sales Contact: Raspberry & Cream

“Final Portrait”

Stanley Tucci doesn’t step behind the camera very often, but it’s always something of a minor event when he does. The “Big Night” director spent years trying to convince James Lord to grant him the rights to the late author’s memoir, “A Giacometti Portrait,” and — after some last-minute intervention by James Ivory — the deal was finally done. Lord died in 2009, but the focused, slyly revealing biopic that Tucci has adapted from the art fiend’s most personal book is a fine tribute. Armie Hammer (adding another stellar performance to what’s bound to be a banner year) plays Lord, a famous voyeur of the art world, as he blows into Paris and drops in on his pal Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush) sometime in the summer of 1964. Lord jumps at the chance to be the subject of the notoriously unsatisfied iconoclast’s latest portrait, not realizing that sitting for Giacometti would prove to be the endurance test of a lifetime. A chamber piece that unfolds with the breeziness of vintage Woody Allen, “Final Portrait” is a winsome Sunday afternoon delight that appeals to older audiences who still actually go to the movies. With the right date, a boutique outfit like Sony Pictures Classics could frame this into a modest hit. — DE

Sales Contact: Hanway Films


A far cry from her 2012 debut (a Harry Potter knockoff called “The Treasure Knights and the Secret of Melusina”), Laura Schroeder’s “Barrage” is a somber and exquisitely sensitive story about three generations of women who risk bleeding out when one of them opens an old wound. Shot in a boxy 4:3 aspect-ratio and with the dreamy naturalism of Mia Hansen–Løve, the film follows thirtysomething Catherine (Lolita Chammah) as she tries to resume her relationship with her daughter after a 10-year absence. Catherine’s mother, played by Chammah’s real-life mother Isabelle Huppert, is none to happy about this development. A modestly scaled but strongly told drama that would do well to play up its family connection — Chammah and Huppert don’t share much screen time, but their overlapping minutes are electric — “Barrage” is an excellent candidate to do the modest, reliable business of previous French-language Berlinale imports like “On My Way” and “Being 17.” — DE

Sales Contact: Luxbox

“On the Beach at Night Alone”

For years now, Korean director Hong Sang-soo has been churning out some of the most reliably thought-provoking and entertaining bodies of work in world cinema. Among his recent output, “Right Now, Wrong Then” was a popular release that found favor on the arthouse circuit for its clever approach to telling the same story twice. But every Hong film offers an enticing formula in which wandering, anxiety-riddled characters deal with their problems through ongoing conversation, and eventually wind up drinking lots of Soju in the process. “On the Beach at Night Alone” offers those same pleasures, but it’s also a markedly personal work, dealing with the plight of a young actress (Kim Min-hee) who flees her country in the wake of a well-publicized affair with a popular film director. Art imitates life to a fascinating degree: Kim and Hong actually did have an affair that ruined the director’s marriage, and the scandal dominated Korean entertainment press a few years back. But even without this meta dimension to the story, “On the Beach at Night Alone” would remain an entrancing portrait of a woman at odds with her surroundings and unsure if she can ever comfortably return to them. Hong fans will be smitten, but newcomers may be intrigued enough by this quiet, graceful film to check out the rest of the director’s work. —EK

Sales Contact: Finecut

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