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Two Indian films make waves at Berlin festival

The movie palette across categories was screened in packed theatres across the city.
Last Updated : 12 April 2024, 21:50 IST
Last Updated : 12 April 2024, 21:50 IST

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Come February, the Berlin Film Festival (Berlinale) unspools in its home base Berlin. A cool city, its vibe layered with an artistic and equally gritty side.

There is nothing static about Berlin, its moodscapes accommodate for varied streams of thought — traditional and contemporary, mainstream and avant-garde. In fact it’s often said that no city packs a punch for the offbeat better than Berlin.

Berlinale with its sharp identity is inextricably woven with the fabric and energy of Berlin.

Curatorial frameworks

In its 74th edition, the heartbeat of Berlinale was composed around the central themes of art, cinema, and the power of sharing stories. Historically, the festival was created for the Berlin public in 1951. It extended to a larger audience at the beginning of the Cold War as a showcase of ‘a free world’.

The curatorial arc sought to include stories of love, hope, human suffering, global turmoil, widespread grief and pain, holocaust, protests against religion, and climate change.

Mariette Rissenbeek, executive director, in her editorial statement said “the Berlinale is a place for dialogue and exchanging ideas. As a festival, we have to keep the conversation going and strengthen society’s ability to talk about conflicts”. Elaborating, artistic director Carlo Chatrian said, “the films of the 74th Berlinale demand our attention… as they do remind us that we are beings made of flesh and blood. That is what Edgar Reitz and Martin Scorsese, the two masters whom this year’s festival was paying homage to tell us — to film a character is to be a guarantor of his or her story and this is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly”. 

There has been unsparing exegesis of the festival. Critics have opined about lack of star power (Cannes festival is criticised for its overt glamour), not enough representation of local films, the divide between art and commercial cinema is too wide. This year also marked the last festival of the duo at the helm, Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian as they pass the baton on to their successor. Legacy evaluation and debates of their contribution are inevitable as in all artistic processes and platforms.

Cinematic smorgabord 

Notwithstanding the critique, the mood board of the over 200 films screened across 1,000 plus screenings at the 74th Berlinale stayed the course of its path of eclectic programming. Navigating the machinations of the art and entertainment world, its associated hard dynamics, the festival platform did offer the rare latitude for stories to be told that may not have found home in the commercial arena.

Berlinale 74 jury (a diverse group of members presided by Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o — the first black jury president) awarded the festival’s top honour, the Golden Bear to Matt Diop’s documentary film Dahomey. Berlinale and the jury revealed its less populist ideology in selecting a film that follows the return journey of 26 artefacts from Paris to Benin, from where they were looted by France almost a century ago. What stands out as unique is the narration in the imagined voice of one of the art works.

On another note, the Berlinale opened with the world premiere of ‘Small Things Like These’, a sensitive drama about institutional abuse of women in Ireland. Cillian Murphy who plays the lead was present adding to the star power along with producer Matt Damon. Balancing a holistic programming roster of matching elements of “art and mart” is always fragile and tenuous. 

Berlinale expanse and cinephile buzz 

The movie palette across categories was screened in packed theatres across the city. It’s estimated that over three lakh tickets were sold. The main Berlinale Palast rolled out its first ever completely recyclable ‘green’ red carpet. ‘The Fable’ in the Encounters category (starring Manoj Bajpayee) and ‘Kottukaali — The Adamant Girl’ in the Forum category (a Tamil language film) were screened over five days in five different venues. The tales landed with resounding impact. Watching a Retrospective category film ‘Angels of Iron’ (an East German movie set in post war Berlin during Soviet Blockade) at Titania Palast, the theatre where the first Berlinale commenced in 1951 was a telling moment. The movie goers stayed up late to view a Berlinale Special Film ‘Treasure’ — a saga of a daughter (starring Lena Dunham) and her father (starring Stephen Fry) a holocaust survivor travelling through Poland. The crew, the writer, the cast then shared the film making experience. The hours just slipped by as the mood of cinema was all pervasive.

Berlinale 74 awarded the honorary Golden Bear to director, screenwriter, producer Martin Scorsese. In turn, Martin Scorsese as the narrator in David Hinston’s documentary film ‘Made In England: The Films of Powell and Pressburger’, paid homage to the British filmmaking duo. It was a 131 minute narration, a quasi master class on Cinema and its influences on its makers … The conversation post the screening was an insightful intersection point between the director, the narrators and the audiences.

A clever connection was to knit Berlinale 74 with football as Germany gears up to host the Euro 2024. The Berlinale commissioned the production of documentary shorts about 11 youth football teams. The young people involved with this project were invited to participate at the festival. It was instances like these which made the microcosm of the festival. the embroidery of hindsight gives you the objective distance to critique or praise the festival. However, in the moment, one only witnesses the magic of the marquee and the art form of cinema.

As the Berlinale baton passes to Tricia Tuttle (previously Director of the London Film Festival) another artistic journey commences for the Berlinale. 

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Published 12 April 2024, 21:50 IST

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