The Berlin Film Festival: No Longer The Same
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
By: Amir Ganjavie
In the film Police, directed by Anne Fontaine, we encounter four main characters: a black man, a white woman, a white cop, and an immigrant from the Middle East. All four main characters in this movie have the opportunity to express themselves and show their own perspectives. The film enable us to get close to all four characters, and it provides the audience with enough information about each of them. The atmosphere that is created is similar to a democratic environment, one in which everybody has the opportunity of expressing themselves. In such an atmosphere, no one can put himself or herself above the rest, and no one can brand his/ her own unique bravery as superior, this is an atmosphere opposite of the world of aristocracy. The aristocratic worldview wasn’t democratic in its treatment of diverse ideas and views but some of the greatest works of literature in the history were created in that limited and restricted world. One can see this, in Shakespeare’s works or Victor Hugo’s stories and novels. Democracy brings certain values but it also leads to mediocracy, where many values and anti-values are left unexamined, and it leads one to pay attention to inconsequential things rather than the immediate and important issues.
Police suffers from the same influence. This film's idea is creating a cinema that pretends to be democratic in treatments of people with different backgrounds and focusing on the inconsequential things as a value. It’s a hallow film, the only important thing is that the voices of different people can be heard. There is a heroine in the film, the black man is no longer a supporting character, the white man is not a hero like the other films, instead, he is worse than the others, and the man from the Middle East is not a terrorist. If one looks at the film from a democratic point of view, might consider it to be an important film.
A film which is directed by a female director and showcases democracy and pays equal attention to all characters. However, the result is not satisfying and one does not go through a unique aesthetical experience by watching it and the audience does not feel like touching sublime or achieving a higher understanding when the end credits roll.
The Berlin Film Festival suffers from a similar problem as Police. It has become the festival of ideas. We see diversity in the line-up, as different groups now have the opportunity to present themselves. We have gotten closer to that 50-50 equality between male and female directors. Now whenever we see historical stories, we no longer encounter a white hero and a black villain (a good example of such films would be All The Dead Ones). This focus on diversity is beautiful but unfortunately less good films are found. The films shown at the festival do not take the audience through a unique experience. These days, film critics talk about controversies surrounding the films instead of analyzing these films themselves. They talk about diversity in films, or how women are treated in these films (like the articles written on Burhan Qurbani’s Berlin Alexanderplatz). Less and less critics pay attention to how relevant or irrelevant these films are, how they can be related to our everyday existence and how lucid their approach is. Only a handful of films have dealt with this idea of everyday life; films such as Eliza Hitman’s Sometimes, Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always or The Road Not Taken directed by Sally Potter. For me, these films are remarkable in and of themselves, and they make the audience involved. As it happens, both films were made by female directors but my criterion for choosing these two examples was not the directors’ genders. Only a person with an intellectual disability would think of the director’s gender first, and then decide what he or she thinks about the film. These two films are ones in which the story moves the film forward. You never feel like something is forced. The directors were not forcing any ideas on the film. Such films were few and far between this year.
This year’s Berlin Film Festival seems immeasurably forced, and this seems to have influenced the process of film selection. It is no surprise that the highest rating the Screen magazine has given to a film at Berlin is 3 and half stars which has taken a dive when compared to other festivals such as last year’s Cannes Film Festival. The Berlin festival that had introduced Asghar Farhadi to the world, that had introduced filmmakers such as Sebastián Lelio in the past, has not introduced anybody special this year. To make matters worse, just because the festival wanted to brand itself as a progressive event in which the number of female directors are high, they had to put these films (Eliza Hitman, the director of Never, Rarely, Sometimes, Always, and also Kelly Reichardt with her First Cow) in the line-up even though they were shown at other festivals before. This is a step back for the festival because such prestigious festivals are always known for their unique line-ups which include films which are being shown for the first time. They always compete with one another to bring films that the other festivals have failed to secure. Sometimes the executive directors of these festivals show up at film locations months before the festivals to talk with the producers and directors and have the films at their festival once completed.
In a conversation I had with my fellow critics at the festival, no one seemed to be satisfied with how the festival has turned out. After 18 years, the festival’s executive and artistic directors have changed as Carlo Chatrian & Mariette Rissenbeek have replaced Dieter Kosslick, but the end result has been disappointing. I was talking to my Italian film critic friend, who has come to the festival for the past 30 years, and he told me that there used to be a unity and a shared vision in the Forum section of the festival, and it was a section popular with the Cinephiles, but one cannot see this unity in this year’s Forum. Another issue is that seeing films has become more and more difficult compared to the previous editions of the festival. One of the most important cinema theatres of the district was demolished and the festival could no longer show all the good films in one part of the city. Therefore, one needed to travel a long distance, using the subway, to get to other theatres, and this stopped us from seeing some of the presumably better titles of the festival. Also, the place that used to be a spot for movie enthusiasts who would gather and talk has closed down, and there were fewer people at the festival due to the Coronavirus outbreak, and one could see a noticeable number of empty seats in theatres. All of these prove to be a step back for the festival, and it seems that the new artistic and executive directors of the festival have not been successful in their plans. Dieter Kosslick, who was the artistic director of the festival for the past 18 years, had the art of holding the festival in the coldest month of the year, in February, and he had turned Berlin into one of the top three film festivals in the world, but if the current format of the festival remains the same in the future, we will witness the downfall of Berlin soon.