Berlinale 2017: Final Thoughts

By Sascha Krieger

Two lonely people meet as a pair of deer in their dreams, they shyly explore each other and reluctantly fall in love, slowly beginning to crack their shells they’ve constructed to keep a hostile world out. Testről és lélekről, this year’s deserved Golden Bear winner is a fragile, poetic, deeply intimate celebration of the right to even the tiniest measure of private happiness. How do film makers respond to a world in crisis, to a rise in nationalism, hatred, racism, an erosion in fundamental democratic values all over the world, a shifting of certainties, a crumbling of foundations in liberal societies? If this year’s Berlinale is any indicator, the answer is two-fold: first, by focusing on the private, the individual fight for themselves, their happiness, their sanity. The best films in this edition’s competition belong to this category and find the political in the private: in a woman’s struggle for her son and her soul (Félicité), in the crisis of society’s cradle, the family (The PartyThe Dinner), in individual fights for dignity in which even the so-called „refugee crisis“ finds place (Toivon tuolla puolen) or in a trans woman’s journey past hat and abuse (Una mujer fantástica). Others such as the only remarkable German entry Helle Nächte refuse the political sphere altogether.

Winner of the Golden Bear: Testről és lélekről (Image: Berlinale)

Winner of the Golden Bear: Testről és lélekről (Image: Berlinale)

The most political of all A festivals – it was never as private this year. This might be regarded as escapism – or as a reset,  a return to home base to ask the basic questions. Who are we? What do we live for? And who? The reset of the individual as a starting point to reconsider their place in the world? Maybe? The other answer: focusing on their own art, on film as a medium through which to see and interprete the world. In Casting, a Forum film that would have fit into Competition, Nicolas Wackerbarth re-tells a story about love, hate, identity and betrayal through a reflection on the film making process. Competition (and not only this section, look at Ceux qui font les révolutions à moitié n’ont fait que se creuser un tombeau in Generation, for example) was full of films that questioned traditional forms of story-telling, broke up convervative narrative concepts, tried to go new ways. Occasionally that failed (PokotColo), at other times it offered exciting insights as in – in addition to the Golden Bear winner – in FélicitéHelle Nächte or Mr. Long, all films that play with genres, unsettle expectations, lead the viewer down roads they didn’t see coming. Film, it seems, is in retreat mode, going back to reacquaint itself with itself, its powers, its source of strength.

And being the biological source of life, it is no surprise that this was the festival of strong women. While the jury had to look hard for a male actor worthy of a Silver Bear (in Georg Friedrich, they certainly found one, though), women dominated not only the competition. They were the fighters and dreamers and changers, representing a long line of female revolutionaries who in the process of making lives for their own and their children, have succeeded in shaking up a paralysed, patriarchal, hostile world. If there was hope in this festival and its films, it lay in women. This was one of the harder Berlinales to grasp. Often it seemed as confused, uncertain, even scared as many of us are right now as we look at our world.For a festival that’s always trying to catch the pulse of this planet in its entirety, that’s not a bad thing. 2017 has been the Berlinale of questioning and searching for identity, of resetting values, of asking questions. In 2018, we’ll be ready for some answers.

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