The 65th Berlinale is upon us, and even though this year’s opener, Nobody Wants the Night—a Juliette Binoche-powered drama set in 1908 Greenland—isn’t as hyped as last year’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, there’s still plenty to get worked up over. Anyone hell-bent on watching Dakota Johnson get whipped by Jamie Dornan will be setting up their sleeping bags in front of the ticket desks to ensure they’re first in line to nab seats for Sam Taylor-Johnson’s R-rated (R-rated!) Fifty Shades of Grey adaptation.
Some of the greatest luminaries of the New German Cinema are here: von Trotta, Herzog, and Wenders are each premiering a film, and Fassbinder is the subject of a new doc. Jafar Panahi continues to test the boundaries of his filmmaking ban with Taxi, and Mark Christopher is screening his original cut of 1998’s 54 with all the gay-themed material lovingly restored.
We also have Ryan Reynolds and Helen Mirren suing Austria over art; Ian McKellen as an aging Sherlock Holmes; a film from the Russian state of Kalmykia; Branagh’s Cinderella; a new Alex Ross Perry drama; two films dealing with the subject of Albania’s sworn virgins; and Terrence Malick’s totally nutty Knight of Cups.
In short, there’s plenty of worthwhile movies to choose from—but here are ten of the world premieres we’re looking forward to most.
EVERY THING WILL BE FINE
dir. Wim Wenders
New German Cinema powerhouse Wenders is having a major moment: His massive two-week MoMA retrospective kicks off in March, and his documentary Salt of the Earth, which caused a sensation at last year’s Cannes, is up for an Oscar. His latest, in which James Franco plays a novelist who accidentally runs over a kid with his car, is yet another example of highbrow 3D, a category that includes Wenders’s 2012 film Pina and Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams—but this is the first time the director is using the technique with a narrative film.
dir. Laura Bispuri
Italian director Bispuri tells the story of an Albanian woman (played by the excellent Alba Rohrwacher), who, feeling bound by traditional gender roles, takes advantage of a local law that allows women to escape a servile existence: She swears off sex and lives out the rest of her life as a man. (A doc about such women, Hakie – Haki. Living as a Man, is also screening at the Berlinale.) The subject matter is fascinating, but we’re also curious about the participation of the sensational German actor Lars Eidinger, who’s been making a big muddy mess as Hamlet on Berlin’s Schaubühne for the past few years and deserves to be a household name in the U.S. (Lena Dunham, for one, is a huge fan).
dir. Radu Jude
When Romanian director Jude premiered his masterful, twisted black comedy Toata lumea din familia noastra (Everybody in Our Family)—a claustrophobic portrait of domestic chaos set in a tiny Bucharest apartment—at the Berlinale back in 2012, it was an immediate sensation. (Sadly, it never received a proper U.S. theatrical release.) With Aferim!, the director takes us out of the apartment blocks and into the past: His latest film, a black-and-white “Balkan Western” of sorts, is set in the Wallachian countryside in 1835 and follows a father and son on the hunt for an escaped slave. We’re hoping this will bring Jude the attention he deserves.
KNIGHT OF CUPS
dir. Terrence Malick
Malick wants us to know that even if we have it all—loads of money, artistic success, a big modernist house in L.A., attractive people to have sex with, the ravishing good looks of Christian Bale with his hair all slicked back—we really don’t have it all. And his romantic fantasy, which is loosely tied to some of the arcana of tarot cards (as you may have guessed from the title), is all about the collapse of that illusion into a sort of existential hell. There’s enough simulating imagery in the trailer to power a small city for days.
THE PEARL BUTTON
dir. Patricio Guzmán
Chilean filmmaker Guzmán blew us away in 2010 with Nostalgia for the Light, a nonfiction film that explores the connections among collective memory, politics, and the cosmos, and is better described as a work of cinematic poetry than a straightforward documentary. For Nostalgia, the director aimed his camera toward the stars; for The Pearl Button—the only doc in competition at the Berlinale this year—he goes searching for meaning in the dark waters off the coast of Chile.
54: THE DIRECTORS CUT
dir. Mark Christopher
After an early cut of Christopher’s 1998 ode to Studio 54 received a negative reaction from a test audience—deemed particularly offensive was a brief kiss between co-stars Ryan Phillippe and Breckin Meyer—the film’s producers demanded that the film undergo drastic alterations: Storylines were removed, entirely new scenes were added, and the ending was changed completely. The result was a film stripped of its emotional heft, and upon release, it was panned by just about everyone. Seventeen years later, and we’re extremely pleased to see that Christopher is premiering his original vision, queerness and all.
dir. Bill Condon
Competition (out of competition)
A retired, 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes (played by English stage and screen legend Ian McKellen, who isn’t nearly that old) lives in a big house in Sussex, spends his time bee-keeping, and thinks everything that’s been written about his life is total bull. (For example, he smokes cigarettes, not pipes.) The only people he can stand being around are his maid Mrs. Munro and her son Roger—fortunately for us, though, that maid is played by the amazing Laura Linney. Adapted from Mitch Cullin’s novel “A Slight Trick of the Mind.”
dir. Jafar Panahi
Though he’s only a few years into his 20-year filmmaking ban, Iranian New Wave luminary Panahi has managed to direct yet another feature (2013’s Closed Curtain was shot in secret within the director’s home; This is Not a Film, which dealt directly with his arrest, was smuggled out of Iran on a flash drive stuffed in a cake). In Taxi, Panahi mounts his camera on the dashboard and drives around Tehran, picking up various passengers and allowing a story to unfold. We’re continuously in awe of his risk-taking and dedication to art.
FASSBINDER – TO LOVE WITHOUT DEMANDS
dir. Christian Braad Thomsen
Wim Wenders, Margarethe von Trotta, and Werner Herzog are all premiering films at the 65th Berlinale, and though Fassbinder—who made 41 features before he died at 37 from a drug overdose—has been dead for over 30 years, he’s here, too Danish director Thomsen was a friend of the prolific young director, and his film is based on his own personal memories of Fassbinder, as well as interviews with Fassbinder’s family and artistic collaborators (such as Harry Baer and Irm Hermann).
QUEEN OF THE DESERT
dir. Werner Herzog
Herzog takes a break from making awesome documentaries to craft an epic narrative about Britain’s Gertrude Bell (Nicole Kidman), a hugely influential novelist, archaeologist, political officer, and spy who played a huge role in the Middle Eastern politics in the 1920s. Not only does the film center on a fascinating female figure, but it’s also beautifully shot in Morocco and Jordan, and we could spend all day staring at those smooth, shadowy sands-capes. Also stars James Franco, Robert Pattinson, and Damian Lewis.