An important fixture on the annual film festival circuit, the Berlinale Film Festival remains one of the film industry’s most prestigious events. Known for its international program, this year’s 68th edition had a particular focus on new talents from Latin America and Eastern Europe, seeing emerging independent directors make their world debut alongside established names including Wes Anderson, Gus Van Sant, and Steven Soderbergh. If you didn’t make it to Berlin this year, here are ten of the festival’s best films to catch over the coming year...
1. Isle of Dogs
The festival opened with Isle of Dogs, a beautifully animated film by cult American director Wes Anderson. Set in future Japan, the story follows a group of talking dogs forced to leave the fictional city of Megasaki when its villainous mayor exiles all canine pets to Trash Island. Heartbroken by his father’s harsh policy, 12-year-old boy Atari sets off alone in search of his dog Spots, befriending a band of exiled dogs help him along the way. Anderson’s quirky animated film encourages audiences to contemplate serious questions, namely: what kind of society do we want to live in, and how far will we go to make our ideals a reality?
Alexey German Jr. tells the story of 20th-century Russian-Jewish writer Sergei Dovlatov whose brilliant texts were forbidden from being printed in the Soviet Union. Played by the excellent Milan Maric, Dovlatov tells the story of the highly acclaimed Russian intellectual still relatively unknown in the West. The film feels like a portrait of a now extinct period in Russian culture, when creating literature and art was a risk and standing up for artistic integrity meant being forced into exile.
3. Figlia Mia
Set in a scenic Sardinian village, Figlia mia tells the story of ten year old Vittoria and the adult women she looks up to. She meets Angelica – played by the wonderful Alba Rohrwacher – whose fearlessness and independent lifestyle contrast the example set by her own mother, Tina. Little does she know, Angelica and Tina are connected by a secret. As in her debut film Vergine giurata, Laura Bispuri follows her young female protagonist as she meets, mimics, and questions various female role models in an attempt to figure out who she is.
Alonso Ruizpalacios’ Museo added a touch of enthusiasm and humor to this year’s completion section. Set in Mexico in 1985, the film tells the true story of Juan and Wilson, two students who planned a heist at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. After they successfully steal a few sacred Mayan artefacts, they see the incident described in the news as an attack on the nation and immediately realise the gravity of what they’ve done. Beyond the theft scenes, this comedic drama sheds light on life in Mexico, the flaws of the archaeology trade, and family pressures.
5. The Green Fog
The Green Fog could be shown as easily in a contemporary art gallery as a in cinema. As a kind of ‘remake’ of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, directors Guy Maddin and the Johnson brothers cut and paste together scenes from different films and TV series shot in San Francisco. As a result, Kim Novak’s character is played by Joan Crawford in one scene, and Sharon Stone in another. As funny as it is unique, this inventive film stands out from the rest.
Shot entirely on an iPhone, Steven Soderbergh’s new thriller tells the story of a woman involuntarily committed to a mental hospital. Best known for her leading role in The Crown, lead actress Claire Foy is anything but royal as she does her best to escape her situation and a stalker who continues to haunt her. The film points to larger issues at play: incentives and problems inherent to the privatised American healthcare system, the harassment women face at work and in relationships, and the stigma around mental health.
Posing as a British convert named Melody, a British journalist creates fake social media accounts and contacts an ISIS fighter in Syria. The film takes place entirely on her screen, as she bounces from professional conversations with her commissioning editor, planning a move with her boyfriend in London, and her interactions with the ISIS recruiter who awaits her Syria. As the conversation continues with her source in Syria, she becomes increasingly drawn to him.
8. Generation Wealth
Los Angeles-based filmmaker and photographer Lauren Greenfield looks back at her career-long preoccupation with consumerism and beauty. After interviewing people about their various addictions and insecurities – be they money, plastic surgery, or fitness – she turns the camera on her own life. Funny, sad, and bizarre all at the same time, Generation Wealth is a must-see for anyone hoping to better understand our appearance-obsessed culture.
9. The Silence of Others
Spain’s 1977 amnesty law – written to prevent prosecution of any crimes committed by Franco’s dictatorship – has yet to be overturned. Co-directors Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar follow a group of activists determined to bring justice and improve awareness around Spain’s past. If we don’t learn about history, we’ll be doomed to repeat it.
10. Madeleine’s Madeleine
Josephine Decker’s Madeleine’s Madeleine was the talk of the Berlinale. Young protagonist Madeleine doesn’t enjoy spending time with her mother, and instead prefers the freedom she experiences in theatre classes. As she gets more into acting, the line between her own personality and the role she’s playing becomes blurry.