The Berlinale, Berlin’s spectacular film festival.
The Berlinale screens films ranging from traditional Hollywood blockbusters (Les Miserables, this year) to small documentaries. Tickets can be rather cumbersome to acquire – they’re only available three days in advance of each screening and the online allotments sell out in literally minutes.
Thanks to a tip from our German tutor, I ventured off to one of the three official box offices where I could compare the list of films with tickets still available against the list of films we wanted to see, then plot the possibilities on a calendar to avoid overlaps. While this entire process took more than an hour, it was an exciting hour and I left the theater with tickets to five films showing over the next few days.
The first we attended was for director Felix van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown. Remember my post about the hardiness of German tissues? This film is what cemented my fervent admiration for these Taschentücher. I ended up needing almost an entire pocket pack of tissues thanks to the high emotions and tragic happenings in this beautifully acted film from Belgium. I suspect American tissues would have had a hard time keeping up with the multitude of my tears.
Despite how splotchy my face looked as we left the theater, I highly recommend this film to anyone who doesn’t mind a heartbreaking story. I didn’t read the plot synopsis beforehand in an attempt to avoid spoilers but instead bought the tickets solely because the film features bluegrass music (something we don’t hear a lot of here in Berlin). Apparently the film’s soundtrack is a huge bestseller in Belgium, which makes sense since the music is not just spectacular on its own but also highly integrated into the story’s most important moments.
If The Broken Circle Breakdown (YouTube trailer here) ever comes to a theater near you, go see it right away. Just be warned that if you’re as susceptible to cinematic catharsis as I am, you’ll want to bring plenty of Taschentücher of your own.
My other favorite was the fanciful, thoughtful, bittersweet Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow, a Taiwanese film by Taiwanese-American writer/director Arvin Chen. (This review in the Wall Street Journal summarizes the plot if you’re interested.)
I loved this film so much I’d watch it again in a second if it were playing nearby (you can watch the trailer on YouTube here), and I’m looking forward to seeing Chen’s earlier film, Au Revoir Taipei, as soon as I can. As an added bonus, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow scores a Big Fat Zero on my just-now-invented Taschentücher scale. (By comparison, The Broken Circle Breakdown would score The Entire Pocket Pack Plus One, which is the highest score on this soon-to-be-patented personal metric.)
We saw three other Berlinale films, two that were just fine and one that we didn’t care for at all.
That last one was Fynbos, a beautifully-filmed movie with lush settings and very creative sound but a plot I just couldn’t get into and characters whose motivations were not just confusing but entirely absent much of the time.
In a discussion after the film (one we left after only a few minutes), the director and producer proudly declared they’d looked for as many opportunities as possible to strip away answers and explanations from the film because what they really wanted to create was a vacuum (their word, not mine, and boy, were they successful in doing so).
While I’m all for open endings and unresolved actions when they serve the story and respect the audience, the plot of this film seemed to be specifically created to confuse and frustrate its viewers, which means it’s just not the film for me.
Honestly, I’d only recommend Fynbos to fans of unique houses (the Fynbos House in South Africa designed by architect Sarah Calburn) and sweeping landscapes. If forced to score this film on my still-evolving personal Taschentücher scale, I’d probably give it a Qualified Three for the number of tissues I crumpled and/or shredded while trying to suppress my feelings of angst towards the film’s creators.
The other two films we saw were, as I mentioned above, just fine. This means I’d say go see them if you really like those involved in making the films or if the plots sound at all interesting, but don’t go out of your way otherwise.
In case you’re curious, these films were the Argentian movie Habi, La Extranjera (Habi the Foreigner) by writer/director María Florencia Álvarez and David Gordon Green’s Prince Avalanche, starring Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch (the only American movie we saw).
Though neither of these films turned out to be huge favorites, our Berlinale experience was a definite highlight of our time here in Berlin so far and has made us all the more eager to visit even more of this city’s beautiful cinemas, tissues required or not.