Berlin's Golden Ticket

10.02.2012 13:27

WSJ: The Berlinale Film Festival Lineup Challenges the Status Quo With Fresh Perspectives
The gritty streets of Berlin are a far cry from the glamour and glitz of Cannes or Venice. And that's just the way the directors of the Berlin Film Festival like it.

While the Berlinale certainly attracts its fair share of star power—this year's red carpet will include Meryl Streep, Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek—festival directors embrace the event's role as social outlier, packing the lineup of 400 films with sections exploring the problems of everyday people from around the world. Tickets, a pipe dream for tourists and locals in France and Italy, are easily accessible, sold both online and at ticket points around the city.
Even the event's opening film, Benoît Jacquot's "Farewell, My Queen," fits well within Berlin's framework of challenging the status quo while working within it. The mainstream French historical drama, starring Diane Kruger as Marie Antoinette, shows the queen forcing her maid to dress up in her clothes and sleep in her carriage in the hopes of deterring the angry French proletariat.

The festival's Panorama art-house section pushes the boundaries. Homosexuality is often a dominant theme, and this year's broad selection portrays gay cultures as varied as the countries in which they are located. The documentary "Wo men de gu shi" (Our Story) traces the decadelong wrangling between the Chinese government and organizers of Beijing's Queer Film Festival—one of a long list of films shown in the German capital that are shunned in their home countries.

The festival, which culminates Feb. 19, has also long acknowledged Berlin's youthful appeal, with two sections dedicated to films about children and teenagers. While the movies star child actors, they often carry heavy adult themes. The Turkish drama "Night of Silence" painstakingly chronicles the wedding night of a young teenager and her new husband—a man at least 30 years her senior—awkwardly juxtaposing her desire for playing games and eating candy with his urge to consummate his marriage.

"Maori Boy Genius" deals with the broader issue of indigenous minorities attempting to preserve their culture while working within established governments and education systems. The New Zealand documentary tracks 16-year-old prodigy Ngaa Rauuira Pumanawawhiti as he attends summer school at Yale and applies to study there full-time. "Ngaa carries the expectations of his people to lead them out of horrific poverty, lack of education, gangs and prisons. His family went into debt just to sponsor the summer school," says director Pietra Brettkelly. "But he's also a kid who laughs about girlfriends, or simply wants to hang out with his mates."