By Sascha Krieger
And they’re off: The 2012 Berlinale, the world’s largest audience film festival – and together with Cannes and Venice one of the big three, started with a – more or less glamorous – opening gala last night. 10 more days of hundreds of film lie ahead – only a small number will be reviewed here. The start of the festival always brings with it the question how this year’s edition will turn out. The Berlinale has always been a political and contemporary festival – and it has become even more so under current festival director Dieter Kosslick. Naming Mike Leigh as jury president can be regarded as a sign that this year will be no different. The competition features films about the current situation in Hungary and a recent hostage crisis in the Philippines, several films deal with Fukushima and the uprisings in the Arab world. As always, the Berlinale will try and take the world’s pulse.
The big picture matters but so do the private effects changes in the world have. The Berlinale has a long tradition of showing films that explore how social issues affect the private sphere and the lives of people. Cannes has the glamour, Berlin the real life. The two opening films are symptomatic: In Les Adieux à la reine, Benoit Jaquot shows a world at the brink of a major upheaval, the French Revolution, while Umut Dag’s Kuma which opens the Panorama section follows two Turkish women in Vienna – between tradition and modernity. Big themes, ordinary lives – the stuff the Berlinale is made of.
Yes, Berlin is less glamorous than Cannes or Venice though there will be no shortage of red carpet moments either. After the Oscars were rescheduled to an earlier date a few years ago, the Berlinale has lost its function as an Oscar test run. Instead, it has become more of what it has always been: a working festival and an audience festival. And a place where not only the big names matters but where small films from often forgotten regions surface and find an audience. With the Oscar pressure gone, the world has found a welcoming place in the Berlinale’s screening rooms.
In a way, the Berlinale has already gone through its fourth day: When the first screening starts, thousands of film enthusiasts, some coming from far away, will have queued, often for hours in the freezing Berlin winter, to get those desired tickets. many old acquaintances from earlier Berlinale’s have been renewed, new ones made and many experiences exchanged. This, too, is what makes the Berlinale different from Cannes or Venice: it is a festival for the ordinary film enthusiast. So let’s sit back and roll the films. Enjoy the ride!