Unfortunately, Berlinale 2017, the 67th edition of the film festival, may be remembered as something of a letdown. Although several surprises were to be had, there were also a number of disappointments across an auteur speckled competition, which included two tedious directorial debuts. The Berlinale’s attempts to secure formatting variety with the inclusion of documentary (remember, last year’s Meryl Streep led jury selected Fire at Sea for the Golden Bear) also resulted in the unnecessary inclusion of Beuys, a monotonously one-note documentary about the German performance artist Joseph Beuys. Speaking of the German presence in the competition, this was a rather exceptionally disappointing year, including the Andres Veiel doc alongside, Austrian entry Wild Mouse, Volker Schlondorff’s Return to Montauk, and Thomas Arslan’s Bright Nights. Although Arslan’s latest title had its champions, and the rather predictable father/son relationship drama did nab Georg Friedrich a Best Actor, there were a limited number of candidates as far as strong male leads go in this year’s edition. On the other hand, there were a lot of strong performances vying for Best Actress, including Daniela Vega in A Fantastic Woman, Vero Tshanda Beya Mputu in Felicite, and Kim Min-hee in On the Beach at Night Alone, the latter of which would take the award in Hong Sangsoo’s excellent new film.
As far as awards go, I was pleased to see Paul Verhoeven’s jury award the Golden Bear to Idilko Enyedi’s On Body and Mind, a strange but enjoyable love story serving as the Hungarian auteur’s first feature since 1999’s Simon the Magician. I was predicting the award to go to Lelio’s crowd pleaser A Fantastic Woman, which did win the award for Best Screenplay. Of the awards, the biggest eyesore is Agnieszka Holland’s Spoor, which did feature a likeable lead performance from Agnieszka Mandat and took home the Alfred Bauer prize (for a film credited with opening “new perspectives”) but was otherwise a silly bit of pulp from an otherwise exceptional auteur. But Kaurismaki nabbing Best Director, along with Lelio (with co-writer Gonzalo Maza) for Screenplay were welcome announcements. Editor Dana Bunescu scored Outstanding Artistic Contribution for Netzer’s Ana, Mon Amour, although this would have been a nice category to honor something more daring (Joaquim) or substantial (Colo), or entertaining (Have a Nice Day).
While there was enough to warrant celebration, there were too many disappointments worth of disapprobation, chiefly among them Martin Provost’s The Midwife, while Sabu’s Mr. Long and Etienne Comar’s Django added to an atmosphere of tedium. Had Oren Moverman’s The Dinner been programmed towards the end of the fest I firmly believe it wouldn’t have been so lambasted and quickly dismissed.
On the other hand, despite gripes about the competition, the Berlinale program offered a wide variety of queer perspectives, featuring new titles from Bruce La Bruce and Travis Mathews alongside Sundance holdovers from Luca Guadagino, John Trengove, and Francis Lee, and a bevy of other titles, like Pieles, Dream Boat, and to a degree, Occidental. The Golden Teddy, not surprisingly, went to A Fantastic Woman, though Trengove and Guadagnino were on the shortlist.
And, somehow, I managed to make time for some of the Berlinale Classics, experiencing the soon-to-be Criterion released Canoa: A Shameful Memory, an obscure but exceptional 1976 documentary from Felipe Cazals (which was actually all the more noteworthy since I saw this directly after Raoul Peck’s The Young Karl Marx), and James Ivory’s beautiful E.M. Forester adaptation Maurice (1987), soon-to-be re-released by the Cohen Media Group.
10. Occidental – Dir. Neil Beloufa (France)
9. Colo – Dir. Teresa Villaverde (Portugal)
8. On Body and Soul – Dir. Idilko Enyedi (Hungary) (review)
7. The Lost City of Z – Dir. James Gray (US) (review)
6. On the Beach at Night Alone – Dir. Hong Sangsoo (South Korea) (review)
5. A Fantastic Woman – Dir. Sebastian Lelio (Chile) (review)
4. Have a Nice Day – Dir. Liu Jian (China)
3. The Party – Dir. Sally Potter (UK)
2. Joaquim – Dir. Marcelo Gomes (Brazil) (review)
1. The Other Side of Hope – Dir. Aki Kaurismaki (Finland)
Films Viewed List:
Requiem for Mrs. J, Barrage, Discreet, Occidental, The Lost City of Z, Dayveon, On Body and Soul, The Dinner, T2: Trainspotting, Felicite, Final Portrait, Wild Mouse, The Young Karl Marx, Canoa: A Shameful Memory, Spoor, Viceroy’s House, A Fantastic Woman, Queen of Spain, Bright Nights, The Party, Mr. Long, Maurice, The Misandrists, The Other Side of Hope, Beuys, The Midwife, Maudie, Colo, Return to Montauk, The Bar, Let the Summer Never Come Again, On the Beach at Night Alone, Joaquim, Django, Have a Nice Day, Ana Mon Amour, Logan, Dream Boat