For its 69th edition of the festival, Berlin presents a varied and unpredictable lineup of international auteurs. Plenty of returning luminaries are present, including some of Germany’s most noted directors (Fatih Akin, Angela Schanelec), while Canada, Poland, Turkey, Italy, Mongolia, Macedonia, Spain, France, Austria and Norway all have bids for the 2019 Golden Bear. Notably, the Berlinale features three new features from Chinese directors, including Zhang Yimou’s One Second (who won the Golden Bear in 1988 with Red Sorghum, not to mention a Silver Bear in 1999 for The Road Home and the Alfred Bauer at the 2003 fest for Hero), Wang Quan’an with Öndög (who won the Golden Bear in 2006 for Tuya’s Marriage and a Silver Bear in 2010 for Apart Together), and Wang Xiaoshuai with So Long, My Son (who won Silver Bears for 2001’s Beijing Bicycle and 2008’s In Love We Trust).
The 69th Berlinale also features an exceptional number of women directors in the competition (seven of the seventeen competitors), including its opener (Lone Scherfig’s The Kindness of Strangers). Women took home the Golden Bear at the last two editions of the festival (Ildiko Enyedi with On Body and Soul in 2017 and Adina Pintilie with her debut Touch Me Not in 2018).
Here’s a look at five of my most anticipated offerings in the program:
#5. By the Grace of God – Francois Ozon
While not every offering from the prolific French auteur may resonate, his stark melodramas tend to be standouts in his filmography (particularly his early Charlotte Rampling titles, herself being honored with a retrospective at the fest, with titles like Under the Sand and Swimming Pool). Blending the uncomfortable mix of sexuality and religion in his latest, which is based on a true story, Ozon reunites with Melvil Poupaud, who headlined one of the director’s best non-Rampling titles, 2005’s Time to Leave.
#4. The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea – Syllas Tzoumerkas
Landing in the Panorama sidebar, Greek director Syllas Tzoumerkas reteams with Angeliki Papoulia (the Lanthimos regular who starred in his previous title, 2014’s A Blast), who plays a disgraced alcoholic police chief unwillingly reassigned to rural climes, suddenly embroiled in a violent murder mystery when a villager turns up dead.
#3. Tremors – Jayro Bustamante
Also arriving in Panorama is the sophomore film from Jayro Bustamante, Tremors. Bustamante was notably the first Guatemalan director to compete in Berlin with his 2015 debut Ixcanul. His latest concerns a family man who decides to explore his true identity when he falls in love with another man, only to be convinced he could potentially be cured of this desire.
#2. Synonyms – Nadav Lapid
It’s been a long time coming (considering his last film was 2014’s The Kindergarten Teacher, which has since been remade in English starring Maggie Gyllenhaal) but Israel’s Nadav Lapid is finally ready with his third feature, Synonyms, a French language film produced by Said Ben Said, partially based on his own experiences upon first coming to Paris.
#1. I Was at Home, But… – Angela Schanelec
The most exciting addition to the Berlin lineup is German native Angela Schanelec, whose moody, existentialist inclined filmography has heretofore been most appreciated in Cannes (programmed in Un Certain Regard with 1998’s Places in Cities and 2004 with Marseille) and Locarno (competing in 2016 with The Dreamed Path). In her latest, a Berlin-based family begins to disintegrate and come together in new ways following the reappearance of a mother’s thirteen-year-old son after a having disappeared mysteriously for a week.