One of the world’s largest film festivals, the Berlinale is also one of the most important in the European calendar. With its many different strands, it can be difficult to navigate, but while its sheer scale makes it notoriously uneven in terms of the quality of the films screened, it remains sufficiently prestigious to attract film folk from around the world, not to mention very sizeable local audiences.
There are a number of UK co-productions in the programme this year, most notably, perhaps, the British-German opening night movie Isle of Dogs. Wes Anderson’s second animated film (after 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox), it’s set in a dystopian Japan of the future and tells of a 12-year-old orphan and his dog who team up with some other canine friends exiled on a garbage dump to wage war against the corruption of the adult world. The writer-director has stated, somewhat intriguing, that his stop-motion fable is influenced by the films of Akira Kurosawa – presumably Kurosawa’s own 1970 rubbish-dump saga Dodes’ka-den.
Also in the main competition is the Swedish-British The Real Estate. Måns Månsson and Axel Petersén’s film centres on a sixtysomething woman who returns to Stockholm, from a life of luxury in the sun, when her father leaves her an apartment in the city – since this legacy turns out to be something of a curse, it’s unclear at this stage whether the film is a drama or comedy.
That, at least, cannot be said of the American-British Entebbe, which screens in the main selection but out of competition. Directed by José Padilha, the Brazilian director of Bus 174 and Elite Squad (which won the Golden Bear at the 2008 Berlinale), the film apparently makes use of new research in revisiting the hijacking of an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris, and focuses both on the hostages and on the Israeli government’s efforts to resolve the situation. The cast boasts Rosamund Pike, Daniel Brühl, Eddie Marsan and Denis Menochet.
Three films with UK funding are included among the special galas. The Catalan writer-director Isabel Coixet, a Berlin favourite, returns with The Bookshop, an adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald’s novella about a young widow who scandalises a Suffolk town in the 1950s by opening a bookshop and selling controversial fiction. The cast looks promising: Emily Mortimer as the protagonist, with Bill Nighy, Patricia Clarkson and Frances Barber in support.
Rupert Everett, meanwhile, makes his debut as writer-director with The Happy Prince (a German-Belgian-Italian-British production), in which he also stars as Oscar Wilde, dealing with the trials and tribulations of his final years; the cast includes Emily Watson, Tom Wilkinson and Colin Firth. And third, the British documentary Songwriter offers a fly-on-the-wall portrait of Ed Sheeran. Since director Murray Cummings is the singer’s cousin, one shouldn’t, perhaps, expect too much of a warts-and-all approach.
Four UK funded films are playing in the Panorama section. The one with the highest profile is surely Yardie, which marks Idris Elba’s feature debut as director. Backed with National Lottery funding via the BFI Film Fund, it’s an adaptation of Victor Headley’s novel about a drug-dealer in 1980s London who’s seeking revenge for the murder of his brother in Jamaica a decade earlier. Aml Ameen, of Kidulthood, takes the lead.
Timur Bekmambetov’s intriguing-sounding Profile is a docudrama of sorts based on the experiences of journalist Anna Erelle, who went undercover for an investigative report into Isis’s methods of recruiting women. The other two British co-productions in the strand are both documentary portraits of musicians: Philipp Jedicke’s Shut Up and Play the Piano centres on Jason Charles Beck, better known as musical chameleon Chilly Gonzales, and features archive footage and interviews with Gonzalez, Peaches, Jarvis Cocker and others; while Steve Loveridge’s feature debut MATANGI/ MAYA/ M.I.A focuses on Mathangi ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam – alias iconic pop singer M.I.A. – and her sometimes controversial use of music for political purposes in support of the Tamil rebels. Again we are promised plenty of archive footage, much of it shot in Sri Lanka by the singer herself.
In Berlin’s Forum Expanded section, which screens experimental work, can be found Zach Blas’s Contra-Internet: Jubilee 2033, a time-travel fantasy about Ayn Rand in a dystopian Silicon Valley of the future; The Rare Event, a multi-faceted document, by occasional collaborators Ben Rivers and Ben Russell, of a Parisian philosophical conference about resistance; and Song for Europe, a short by much-feted veteran John Smith that celebrates Britain’s beneath-the-waves connection to Europe.
Other British shorts playing in Berlin include, in the main short-film competition, Jayisha Patel’s Circle, a documentary about violence against women in India; in the Generation 14+ section, Charlotte Regan’s Fry-Up, about a teenager preparing for a big day, and Lara Zeidan’s Three Centimetres, about four Lebanese girls facing a critical point in their friendship; and finally, in the Generation K+ section, Christopher Villiers’ Snow for Water, about a girl and her young brother caught up in the siege of Sarajevo.
Something for everyone, in other words.