The panorama of the Berlinale: new beginnings, revenge and lots of queer things

“Everyone comes and everyone wants everything,” says Michael Stütz with a laugh in his office on Potsdamer Platz, summing up the spirit of optimism in the panorama section he heads. He and his team noticed early on during the viewings that the filmmakers* of the Berlinale are looking forward to the Berlinale with high expectations and a lot of hope after the years of corona restrictions – and above all want to come to the festival in person.

The selection has rarely been so difficult, says Stütz. And the Panorama has seldom invited so many films in early summer. “There were a lot of tough decisions and longer discussions than usual.” The idea of ​​limiting the program to 30 works was quickly discarded, and now 35 feature and documentary films can be seen in the Panorama, with almost parity among the directors can be recorded: 19 women and 21 men are there.

At the opening of the Animated film “La Sirene” France-based Iranian Sepideh Farsi, set in 1980 at the start of the Iran-Iraq War. From the point of view of 14-year-old Omid, who is waiting for his older brother to return from the front in the besieged Iranian oil metropolis of Abadan, Farsi tells of humanity and resistance in the face of violence – current topics in Iran today. Certainly one of the most important Berlinale contributions with a view to Iran “And Towards Happy Alleys” by Indian director Sreemoyee Singh. She not only looks at the poetry of the feminist poet Forugh Farrokhzad, but has also visited prominent critics of the regime, including Jafar Panahi and the human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh – both of whom were recently back in prison.

Panorama director Michael Stütz.
© Ali Ghandchi

An Iranian exile stands in Milad Alamis “Opponent” in the centre: Iman fled to Sweden with his wife and two daughters for fear of persecution. When her whereabouts are threatened, he resumes his old job as a wrestler in order to get a special residence permit for athletes. Which, however, takes him further away from his wife, because the training also arouses suppressed longings in him.

Some panorama films focus on war and crisis regions. The documentation “Iron Butterflies” deals with the downing of the Malaysian passenger plane MH17 by separatists in 2014 over the Donbass, the Indian feature film “ambush” addresses the civil war between the communist Naxalites and the Indian central government, which has been completely ignored in the West “The Burdened” looks at the needs of a family in the civil war country Yemen, which threatens to become unmanageable due to an unwanted pregnancy. As he says, Stütz put a lot of effort into this work by Amr Gamal. Because it is important to him to keep drawing attention to areas of the world that are not well known in this country.

This also includes the West African country of Burkina Faso, where Apolline Traoré’s feature film “Sira” is located. The eponymous heroine is a nomad who is kidnapped and abused by a group of Islamist terrorists on the way to her wedding. But she does not remain in the victim role – on the contrary.

Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) in the revenge thriller Femme.
Jules (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett) in the revenge thriller Femme.
© Agile Films

People who fight back or even take revenge appear in several Panorama works. This is also the case in the mentioned “Ambush” as well as in the Korean thriller “Green Night” and especially in “femme” by Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping, who in their directorial debut tell of the drag queen Jules, who one night – she goes to get cigarettes in her outfit – is brutally beaten up. Months later, Jules meets the perpetrator again in a gay sauna and hatches a plan to get back at him.

“Femme” is one of the 16 works with queer references in the Panorama, with gay perspectives being represented somewhat more than the rest of the LGBTIQ spectrum. This is how Hannes Hirschs draws “drifter” the path of a 22-year-old newcomer to Berlin into the gay club scene “All the Colors of the World Are Between Black and White” by Babatunde Apalowo the difficult approach of two young men in Lagos, Nigeria. Go with some star power “Passages” by Berlinale regular Ira Sachs: Franz Rogowski plays a film director who has been married to an artist (Ben Whishaw) for 15 years and suddenly begins an affair with a woman (Adèle Exarchopoulos). In doing so, he pulls all three into his maelstrom of selfishness, sex and longing.

Sisi (Susanne Wolff, left) with the ladies-in-waiting Irma (Sandra Hüller, middle) and Fritzi (Sophie Hutter).
Sisi (Susanne Wolff, left) with the ladies-in-waiting Irma (Sandra Hüller, middle) and Fritzi (Sophie Hutter).
© Walker+Worm Film GmbH & Co. KG/Bernd Spauke

“Silver Haze” by Sacha Polak is a tough British social drama about a nurse and a patient who falls in love. Which also creates a fatal undertow, in which the topic of elective affinities is dealt with more hopefully than in “Passages”. Two documentaries focus on trans women: “Transfariana” by Joris Lachaise follows the love story of a former sex worker and a FARC rebel that begins in a Colombian prison. And D. Smith portrays in her black-and-white directorial debut “Kokomo City” four sex workers from New York and Georgia.

Maite Alberdis is one of the quietest and at the same time most moving panorama documentaries “The Eternal Memory” from Chile. The focus is on the journalist Augusto Góngora, who reported on the atrocities of the Pinochet regime for many years and wrote against the forgetting of political violence. Now he’s forgetting himself, his Alzheimer’s disease is progressing. Day after day, his wife Paulina Urrutia, an actress and the country’s Minister of Culture for a few years, snatched him, his work, their common struggle and their love from amnesia. Political and private memory work: “The Eternal Memory” is above all a homage to the power of love.

Frauke Finsterwalder fits into the current Sissi hype with her second feature film “Sisi and I”, with her view of the Austro-Hungarian Empress possessing a constant queer undercurrent. A visit to the cinema is worthwhile just because of Susanne Wolff and Sandra Hüller. And Georg Friedrich as a gay brother-in-law is a show all of its own.

The third German-language production in Panorama is “The teacher’s room”. Completely set in a modern school building, the Berlin director İlker Çatak tells the story of a motivated teacher who comes to a school and a little later is at the center of an inexorably escalating theft affair. At some point, she has almost all students, teachers and parents against her, although she tries to treat the children well-meaning all the time. A film with thriller quality, which will also be released in cinemas in May.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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