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The Berlinale's Leading Ladies

Juliette Binoche in her movie "Nobody Wants the Night" ("Nadie quiere la noche"). Source: DPA
Juliette Binoche in her movie "Nobody Wants the Night" ("Nadie quiere la noche").
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    • Berlin’s international film festival, the Berlinale, brings numerous political and experiemental movies to viewers from around the world.
  • Facts


    • The 65th annual Berlin film festival opens today and will show 441 films, including numerous premieres, over 10 days.
    • In 1958, the Berlinale film festival was given “A” status by the International Federation of Film Producer’s Associations, giving it the same status as Cannes and Venice.
    • The film festival was first held in 1951 and has been celebrated annually since 1978.
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One of the world’s most important film festivals opened Thursday in Berlin.

For the next 10 days, stars will rub shoulders with directors, jury members and journalists, gathering to watch hundreds of provocative new dramas and documentary movies.

The festival opens tonight with Spanish director Isabelle Coixet’s “Nobody wants the Night,” starring Juliette Binoche and set in Greenland.

Set in 1908, Ms. Coixet’s drama follows a young woman, Josephine Peary, who travels to the Arctic to find her husband, a celebrated adventurer. Along the way, she encounters another woman who also loves the same man, and is pregnant by him. The story explores tells of the courage and ambition of men and women in a frozen landscape which divides them and draws them closer together. The film, a Spanish-French-Bulgarian co-production, is based on a true story.


Video: Nobody wants the night Trailer.

Ms. Coixet’s film about exploration in a hostile landscape will run against another tale of a strong woman in tough territory by Werner Herzog. His biopic about Gertrude Bell, played by Nicole Kidman, shows her life as an explorer, archaeologist, cartographer and spy who helped to establish the state of Iraq and establish policy in the region, thanks to her extensive knowledge of the area and relations with tribal leaders in the Middle East.


Video: Queen of the Desert clip.

Cannes may be Europe’s top film festival but Berlin is attracting a growing level of talent and ever more stars. It is also the world’s largest film festival attended by the public and one of the Berlin Bears, the prizes awarded, is based on audience votes.

Of the 441 films shown in this year’s festival, 115 have been directed by women.

Past opening films have gone on to win numerous prizes, such as “Grand Budapest Hotel” which opened last year’s festival and Wong Kar Wai’s “The Grandmaster” the year before.

Competing against Ms. Coixet and Mr. Herzog for the Golden Bear are movies by international directors including Peter Greenaway, Kenneth Branagh and Terrence Malick.

Video: Cinderella (2015) trailer by Kenneth Branagh.

German film director Wim Wenders will show “Every Thing Will Be Fine,” a relationship drama featuring James Franco and Charlotte Gainsbourg. He is also to receiver a Golden Bear for his lifetime’s achievement. Other significant German productions include Andreas Dresen’s “As We Were Dreaming” about young people growing up in Leipzig after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and “Elser” by Oliver Hirschbiegel, the director of “Downfall,” about George Elser who was part of a plot to assassinate Hitler in 1939.

The competition films feature major stars, including Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Helen Mirren and Christian Bale, and all of them will be in Berlin over the coming week.

Other attendees heading up the red carpet today include Darren Aronovsky, the American director who heads the festival’s jury, and the other jury members. Mr. Aronofky is best known for his work on “The Wrestler,” “Black Swan” and “Pi.” French actress Audrey Tatou and German actor Daniel Brühl will also judge the films, along with Bong Joon-Ho, a director from South Korea; Claudia Llosa, a Peruvian producer, and a producer from the United States, Martha de Laurentiis.

The Berlinale is known for being provocative and this year’s festival offers as much as ever to talk about, starting with the premiere of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a sado-masochism drama based on the best-selling trilogy by E.L. James.

Video: Fifty Shades Of Grey Official Trailer.

The festival drew criticism from Iran this year about the featuring “Taxi,” a film by director Jafar Panahi. Mr. Panahi made a movie by filming himself driving a taxi around Tehran, using guerilla methods after he was banned from making films for 20 years for criticizing the government. “The Berlinale is one of the top three film festivals in the world but it is taking on more and more of a political character,” wrote the conservative cultural institute Aviny in Iran.

There were also threats from North Korea following the rumor that the hacker satire “The Interview” would be shown at the festival.

Mr. Greenaway’s film follows master director Sergej Eisenstein’s journey to make a movie deal in Mexico and references Soviet movie-making style. The production “Under Electric Clouds,” a dystopian sci-fi drama by Alexei German is a further Russian contender in the competition section.

Beyond the high-profile names and stories, further sections show movies from around the world in categories from documentaries to movies for children, and short films. The main two other sections are the Panorama and the Forum where viewers can see documentaries from Kenya, Chile and the Philippines.

The Berlinale is the world’s largest film festival attended by the public and one of the Berlin Bears, the prizes awarded, is based on audience votes.

There is also the Retrospective section, which this year is showing restored and reconstructed films including “Goldfinger” and “In Cold Blood”; and a celebration of 100 years of Technicolor film.

Originally, fewer stars came to a festival that has often been seen as seemed less glamorous than Cannes. It has since become known for featuring edgy, political films after organizers introduced jury panels and showed more unusual, experimental films.

The festival was originally established after the end of World War II by the allies who wanted to lend some color to post-war Berlin. The city’s first International Film Festival was held in 1951, in a town characterized by poverty and rubble. Oscar Martay, the film officer who worked with the military administration from the United States, had the idea of cheering up the city’s populace who had survived the Soviet blockade of  the city, from 1948 to 1949. Hollywood’s biggest stars came to the city, including Jayne Mansfield, Errol Flynn, Carey Grant, Sophia Loren, Shirley Maclaine and Gene Kelly.

People living in East Berlin were also able to watch films at cut prices, until 1961 when the wall was built. After that, the festival organizers hung 500 huge posters near to the wall so East Berliners could see them.

The films originally played in cinemas in the Western part of the Berlin but in 2000 shifted to the theaters at Potsdamer Platz, in the heart of the capital built on what was formerly a forbidding no-man’s land where the wall had bisected the city.

Monika Gruetters_Marc-Steffen Unger für Handelsblatt
Monika Grütters is in charge of culture and media in Germany. Source: Marc-Steffen Unger für Handelsblatt


Beyond the crush of journalists, critics and fans, there is a business aspect to the festival as buyers and producers connect to make deals over the rights to show 700 films in different countries.

The German government will provide more support to the film industry. Minister of Culture Monika Grütters is fighting to commit more funding to young filmmakers. In an interview, she told Handelsblatt she had fought to dedicate €50 million of funding annually to foundations making movies. She wanted more, she said, but negotiations with the Finance Ministry were tough.

On Saturday, February 14, the Gold and Silver Bear awards will be presented, shaped like Berlin’s patron animal.  Among all the avant-garde experiments, the show and the politics, the festival holds close to its roots – and a big place in the hearts of Berliners.


Movies in Germany-01


Allison Williams worked with filmmakers in Berlin and is deputy editor in chief of Handelsblatt Global Edition. Siobhán Dowling and Kai-Hinrich Renner contributed to this article. To contact the author: 


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