As the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival starts this Thursday, the first big European festival of year will unleash almost 400 movies of all shapes and sizes. From high-profile premieres like Wes Anderson’s opening night entry “Isle of Dogs,” to bold offerings from bright European directors like Christian Petzold and Corneliu Porumboiu, and a wide array of work by emerging filmmakers from all over the world, the Berlinale is an incredibly eclectic (and almost overwhelmingly large) cornucopia of new cinema.
IndieWire will be on the ground in Germany, bringing you the latest from Potsdamer Platz. Here are the 10 features that we’re most excited to see at this year’s festival.
“Eva” (Benoit Jacquot)
If it’s Huppert, we’re there. No decent European film festival is complete without at least one appearance by Isabelle Huppert, and we’re pleased to report that the 2018 Berlinale offers the great French actress another starring role, playing the titular character in the latest erotic drama from “Farewell My Queen” director Benoit Jacquot. Adapted from the book by James Hadley Chase, “Eva” tells the story of an opportunistic young man named Bertrand (Gaspard Ulliel) who steals a dead playwright’s final manuscript and stages the work under his own name. Suddenly famous and tasked with creating another work of similar wonderfulness, Bertrand starts seeing a mysterious and manipulative older woman named Eva, whom he fancies as something of a muse. Needless to say, she introduces a few kinks into his plan. Pitched as a loquacious chamber piece that’s puffed up with all manner of eros, “Eva” is poised to be one of the most reliable delights of the festival. — DE
“Grass” (Hong Sang-soo)
After releasing three separate features last year, impossibly prolific Korean auteur Hong Sang-soo is back at the Berlinale with his first film of 2018. Running a scant 66 minutes, “Grass” is one of the shortest movies that Hong has ever made, but it also promises to be one of the most seismic, as the director hunkers down on a single location in order to escalate the narrative playfulness that has always been at the heart of his work. Hong’s superfans can expect to see a number of his usual signatures (Kim Min-hee, black-and-white cinematography, enough soju to kill an elephant, etc.), but this new comedy of manners mixes up those elements in a variety of unexpected ways, as a woman sitting in a traditional Seoul cafe begins writing the other customers into a series of nested vignettes about the combustible dynamics between the sexes. Best case scenario: “Grass” reminds us of all the reasons we love Hong so much, while also leaving us with a small handful of new ones. — DE
“Isle of Dogs” (Wes Anderson)
Even though “Fantastic Mr. Fox” was an unambiguous success (and one of the very best animated films of the 21st century), it was unclear if Wes Anderson would ever return to the sensational world of stop-motion. On one hand, the form is perfectly suited to the director’s signature punctiliousness. On the other hand, stop-motion is a huge pain in the ass. Fortunately for us, Anderson’s instincts triumphed in the end, and his second animation is set to open the Berlinale. Another droll creature feature that finds Anderson adapting his refined sensibilities for the animal kingdom, “Isle of Dogs” is set in a dystopian future where a wayward Japanese boy named Atari Kobayashi sets out to find his missing pup, only to crash-land on an island that’s overrun with canines (and lots of industrial waste). Supposedly inspired by Akira Kurosawa, the film is full of familiar voices, with the dogs played by a mixed breed of Anderson regulars (Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, etc.) and exciting newcomers (Greta Gerwig, Ken Watanabe). — DE
“Museo” (Alonso Ruizpalacios)
“Transit” (Christian Petzold)
Fresh off the best film of his career, “Phoenix” director Christian Petzold returns with a time-bending drama that folds one of the great refugee crises of the 20th century into the great refugee crisis of the 21st. “Transit” is set in contemporary Marseilles, but the story — adapted from Anna Seghers’ novel of the same name — is equally populated by characters from the present and characters from the past. People trying to escape modern troubles encounter people who are trying to flee the Nazis, the two camps reaching through the years to compare notes and offer each other advice in a nebulous space that ultimately belongs to neither of them, and perhaps nobody else as well. Nina Hoss (Petzold’s usual partner in crime) is nowhere to be found, but the film boasts a strong cast even without the great German actress, as Petzold tries his luck with “Frantz” ingenue Paula Beer and “Happy End” breakout star Franz Rogowski. — DE
“U — July 22” (Erik Poppe)
It was only a matter of time before somebody made a movie about Anders Breivik, the far-right Norwegian terrorist who killed eight people in a bomb attack on Oslo before slaughtering 69 people at a summer camp on the island of Utøya. Director Erik Poppe (who was at the Berlinale last year with “The King’s Choice”), has accepted that grim task, reframing the Utøya massacre through the eyes of a 19-year-old girl (Elli Rhiannon Müller Osbourne) who finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Promising to prioritize the humanity of Breivik’s young victims over the psychology of the maniac who gunned them down, “U — July 22” will likely cleave far closer to the disquieting ambiguity of Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” than the visceral terror of Paul Greengrass’ “United 93.” It will be extremely harrowing either way. — DE
“Unsane” (Steven Soderbergh)
Steven Soderbergh is at it again! After coming out of “retirement” with a heist movie that flaunted the theatrical distribution model and then creating a choose-your-own adventure video app, the restless innovator has gone and secretly shot a psychological thriller on his iPhone. Well, somebody’s iPhone, anyway. Lending further credibility to the camera that was used to such great effect in Sean Baker’s “Tangerine,” Soderbergh’s “Unsane” follows a young woman (Claire Foy) who’s involuntarily committed to a mental institution and then starts to question her reality. Sure, it sounds a little too much like “Gothika,” but we’re happy to follow Soderbergh wherever he wanders off the beaten path. –DE