Berlinale rolls out red carpet for women trailblazers
'Kız Kardeşler' by Emin Alper
Europe’s first major film festival of the year, the Berlinale, kicked off Feb. 7. The festival made a statement against entertainment industry sexism by welcoming an unprecedented line-up of female directors.
The 11-day event prides itself on being the most politically engaged of the A-list cinema showcases, presenting 400 movies from around the world, most on hard-hitting topical themes including rising extremism and economic exploitation.
But its red carpet promises a steady stream of glamour too with Christian Bale, Diane Kruger, Tilda Swinton, Catherine Deneuve, Jonah Hill, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck and Juliette Binoche, this year’s jury president, all awaited in the frosty German capital.
Binoche, 54, leads a six-member panel choosing the winner of the prestigious Golden and Silver Bear prizes, to be awarded at a gala ceremony on Feb. 16.
Last year, with the #MeToo movement roiling the industry, the innovative docudrama “Touch Me Not” about sexual intimacy by Romania’s Adina Pintilie clinched top honors.
For the first time this year, seven out of the 17 contenders will be women, a more than 40-percent share that eclipses rivals such as Cannes and Venice, which have come under fire as chummy men’s clubs.
The top festivals have long faced pressure to boost their female representation as they serve as gatekeepers to international distribution, awards and box office cash.
Binoche welcomed the more diverse selection, saying it was long overdue and sent a message beyond the world of cinema.
“I think a lot of men don’t get how women for generations have had to take a backseat,” she told this week’s Der Spiegel magazine. “But [Berlinale chief] Dieter Kosslick assured me that he made his choices because they’re good films, not just because women directed them.”
The bittersweet drama stars Zoe Kazan as a mother of two who has to rely on her fellow New Yorkers for help, in a cast including Andrea Riseborough and Bill Nighy.
Polish veteran Agnieszka Holland will unveil the Stalin-era thriller “Mr. Jones” starring James Norton (“Happy Valley”) while France’s Agnes Varda will premiere a new autobiographical documentary out of competition.
Acclaimed French director Francois Ozon will present his controversial new drama “By the Grace of God” based on real-life cases of sex abuse allegedly committed by a French priest.
A cardinal, Philippe Barbarin, is currently on trial in Lyon on charges he covered up the assaults, allegations he denies.
Kosslick will be handing over the reins at a time of growing competition from streaming services but said he saw scope for cinemas to “co-exist” and thrive.
After winning the Golden Lion top prize at the Venice film festival in September with “Roma,” Netflix enters the Berlin race for the first time with gay marriage drama “Elisa and Marcela” by Spain’s Isabel Coixet, based on a true story.
In June, Kosslick will be succeeded by Carlo Chatrian, the current head of the Locarno film festival, and Mariette Rissenbeek, the Dutch director of German Film, which promotes homegrown movies abroad.
For his last edition Kosslick has opted to make a parting political statement, offering to buy tickets for leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany party to a screening of “Who Will Write Our History?” a documentary about the Warsaw Ghetto.
“Kız Kardeşler” (A Tale of Three Sisters) will premiere at the festival, which opened last night and will run through Feb. 17.
The film focuses on three sisters from a central Anatolian village and their story after they are given to “affluent families as foster children in the hope of improving their lives,” according to the producer.
The film, a co-production of Turkey, Germany, the Netherlands and Greece, is starring Cemre Ebüzziya, Ece Yüksel, Helin Kandemir, Kayhan Açıkgöz, Müfit Kayacan and Kubilay Tunçer.
Alper’s film “Abluka” (Frenzy) received the Special Jury Prize at the Venice International Film Festival in 2015. The dystopian movie centers on two brothers who are struggling to survive under “heavy political violence.”
Turkey will also open a stand at the European Film Market which is co-organized with Berlinale between Feb. 7 and 15.