Willkommen in Berlin!

Friday February 10th 2012

Greetings from my very first Berlin Film Festival, or ‘Berlinale’ as the locals like to call it. I don’t know what they’re on about: I’ve been here since Wednesday and haven’t had any ale whatsoever.

Instead, I’ve settled in for ten days of freezing temperatures, oversized beer tankards and more arthouse movies about the terrifying dislocation of mankind than you could shake a golden bear at. Here’s what I’ve learnt thus far:

With a few notable exceptions, the majority of the films on offer aren’t exactly bursting with A-list names, or even their arthouse equivalents. There are no Malicks, von Triers or Hanekes here, just Jacquots, Mendozas and Schmids. If you’re really up on your world cinema then the latter three are probably no less recognisable than the others, but if — like me — you boast a more limited, UK-theatrical-release kind of arthouse knowledge, then the Berlinale programme is liable to read a little like a foreign language. And not just because it’s in German.

There are of course a few better-known titles doing the rounds in Berlin, not least Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, or as it’s know here, Extrem Laut & Unglaublich Nah (the ‘nah’ doubles as a critical evaluation). Other noteworthy contenders include Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut In the Land of Blood and Honey, Zhang Yimou’s Christian Bale-starring war epic The Flowers of War and Bel Ami, the Robert Pattinson movie where he’s all French and shit.

While not present in any of the selected films (as far as I know) Scarlet Johansson is also becoming something of a ubiquitous presence at the festival, thanks to the glut of Moët & Chandon ads dotted around the festival site in which she features. Look how much she’s fucking enjoying that champagne! It’s like Christmas come early.

Back in the bustling surroundings of the press room (which is inexplicably decorated like some kind of low-rent medieval theme park) there’s free WiFi and an extraordinary number of available plug sockets. Hitrate-hungry journalists flock to the room in their hundreds, eager to get that all-important news piece out to the masses before anybody else: “Billy Bob Thornton’s directorial debut isn’t very good!” — “The quality of Portuguese output is surprisingly high this year!” — “I just saw Mike Leigh in McDonalds!”

So far I’ve seen a grand total of one film(s) at the festival: opening night selection Farewell My Queen, or — to give it its English title — Two Hours of Lingering Glimpses Down the Blouse of the Woman Who Played the Busty Assassin in Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol. I didn’t like it much but don’t worry because I also watched The Notebook for the first time last night and that, my friends, is fucking awesome movie.

And to think, it didn’t get so much as a FIPRESCI prize.