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by Betty Stojnić

Big, commercial film festivals – where do I begin? Complaining about being able to attend one of the most popular film festivals in the world as a student would probably be an unbearably egregious case of staring an accreditation-discount horse in the mouth. So instead of complaining, I have decided to merely express a series of gentle reprimands.

If you’re a film student lucky enough to receive student accreditation for the Berlin International Film Festival, chances are that you’ll be warned: “queue for tickets early”. How early? Maybe pack a sleeping bag and a fold-up chair, as many do, and literally set up camp in front of the ticket office at Potsdamer Platz mall, moving only to let the janitorial staff through with their cleaning trolleys. That chair will also prove mighty useful when you need to queue all over again in front of one of the many (stunning) screening venues for which you’ve already acquired tickets. Anyway, what is this blog about again? Ah, right, films.

The 70th Berlinale opened with the world premiere of Philippe Falardeau’s My Salinger Year, a rather lukewarm and uninspired comedy-drama about an up-and-coming writer turned literary agent turned writer again, played by Margaret Qualley. The very next day, the premiere of Minamata in the enormous Friedrichstadt-Palast saw Johnny Depp in a film that was at least socially engaged, but no less deflated and occasionally awkward in tone and performance style.

Though I sadly missed the Golden Bear-winning Sheitan vojud nadarad (There Is No Evil), what I saw of the actual competition section presented an even distribution of good, bad, and underwhelming. Your humble narrator’s personal favourites? First Cow by Kelly Reichardt, an Ozu-esque tale about male camaraderie and a good-natured parody of early American entrepreneurship, and Volevo nascondermi (Hidden Away) by Giorgio Diritti, a conventional but moving biopic about Italian naïve painter Antonio Ligabue. For his role as the artist, Elio Germano was awarded a well-deserved Silver Bear for Best Actor.

His female award-counterpart, Paula Beer, received the Best Actress accolade for her role in Christian Petzold’s Undine, a decision I found less obvious given the film’s inability to provide especially imaginative writing to its otherwise truly talented cast. A number of actresses (most notably Mawusi Tulani) from the nearly all-female ensemble piece Todos os mortos (All the Dead Ones) by Caetano Gotardo and Marco Dutra displayed far more energy and individuality in their (often chaotic) parts.

Outside of the competition, I was pleased to see that post-Yugoslav family dramas were still alive and well with Mare by Andrea Štaka and Otac (Father) by Srđan Golubović, closing off the 2010s with productions that seemed to draw on the successes of films like Ne gledaj mi u pijat (Quit Staring at My Plate, 2016, dir. Hana Jušić) and Dobra žena (A Good Wife, 2016, dir. Mirjana Karanović).

While I may have transitioned into talking about the films I saw in a sarcastically obtuse manner, there’s something to be said about whether large-scale festivals are entirely about the films themselves. There’s usually very little actual exclusivity involved, with most of the films (particularly those widely celebrated) becoming available internationally quickly enough for anyone to catch up.

The Berlinale especially appears to advertise Berlin to the same degree as it advertises its own film selection, with the dispersion of its festival locations prompting any newcomers to get well-acquainted with the city’s most glamorous sights, as well as its public transport system – the magnificent Bahn. The remarkable popularity of the festival was sometimes overwhelming as a first-time attendee, but seemed to expose a simple truth about these kinds of events: they’re attractive because they’re popular.

To sum up: was the queueing and commuting worth the films I got to see? This question only really becomes relevant (and unanswerable) if one takes the viewing experience out of the broader context of being submerged into the dynamic and occasionally surreal affair of navigating between the most impressive locations of one of Europe’s largest and most populous cities. Maybe I loved First Cow because it was a masterfully crafted work of art, or maybe because I was finally comfortably seated alongside 15-1600 other sleep-deprived cinema-goers. 

For my part, I’d argue that the sincerest way to confront post-festival ennui is to accept that what you’ve seen and how you’ve seen it eventually coalesces in your memory as one and the same waking dream.

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