10 Films To Look Forward to at Berlinale 2020

The Assistant

From February 20th to March 1st, Berlin will once again be the centre of the world as it lays host to the Berlin Film Festival, an international celebration of the best films from Germany, Europe and the wider world. Now boasting new leadership in the form of Locarno alumni Carlo Chatrian, there are high hopes for him to reinvigorate the flagging festival.

For first-time attendees, the sheer amount of films on offer – spanning over 250 new features across several different sections, tens of shorts and a variety of retrospective screenings – can be overwhelming. While it’s impossible to see everything, it is possible to see the films that matter: to help you keep an eye on what’s important, we have a list of ten key films to look forward to. Spanning from established auteur works to fiercely political tomes, read our complete guide to see what’s worth checking out.

The Woman Who Ran

Section: Competition

Hong Sangsoo is a notoriously prolific filmmaker. In the last decade alone he created over 13 features, spanning from enjoyable doodles such as Grass to flat out masterpieces like On the beach at night alone, both of which played at Berlinale. It could be an either/or situation for his latest feature: The Women Who Ran, playing in competition, once again stars his muse Kim Min-hee, and is sure to feature his signature conversational style as well as an oddly enigmatic tone. 

The Exit of The Trains/Uppercase Print

Section: Forum

This year’s Berlinale sees a double helping of Radu Jude, whose spectacular I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians won Crystal Globe at Karlovy Vary in 2018. Both films continue his interrogation of Romanian history, with Uppercase Print telling the story of a teenager who writes graffiti protesting the dictatorial regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, while The Exit of the Trains is a montage consisting solely of archive photos relating to the IaÈ™i pogrom of 1941.

The Assistant

Section: Panorama

Already out in the USA after premiering at Telluride and Sundance, The Assistant promises to be a fascinating look at the day of a life of an assistant dealing with a Weinstein-like figure. Hailed by Vulture as The First Great Movie about Me Too, it will be interesting to see if the film, written and directed by Kitty Green, will be as rapturously received when it arrives in Berlin.  Either way, expect it to start a lot of conversations about abuses in the workplace.

Undine

Section: Competition

Perhaps the most high-profile director to come out of the Berliner Schule, Christian Petzold’s genre-bending films such as Phoenix and Transit have established him as a major force in world cinema. He returns to the Berlinale once again with Undine, which will play in the main competition. Telling the story of a museum guide in Berlin who vows to kill her cheating boyfriend before meeting another man, expect it to be one of the key frontrunners for the Golden Bear.

Berlin Alexanderplatz

Section: Competition

The classic Weimar-Era novel by Alfred Döblin, famously made into a 14 and a half hour TV series by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, gets a modern update by Afghan-German director Burhan Qurbani. This time it tells the story of an African migrant who, unable to work in the city legally, is sucked into Berlin’s seductive underworld. Estimated to be over three hours long, it could be the epic state-of-the-nation address that contemporary German cinema so desperately needs.

Days

Section: Competition

For fans of slow cinema, Days is the most exciting film on the Berlinale ticket. It marks the return of Taiwanese auteur Tsai Ming-Liang, known for his long takes and attention to detail and considered one of the key figures of the second Taiwan new wave. Coming seven long years after Stray Dogs, Days appears to be a languorously-told same sex romance. Judging from the early stills, it looks gorgeous: perhaps it will be this year’s Call Me By Your Name?

Siberia

Section: Competition

Willem Dafoe and Abel Ferrara are close friends, having worked together on movies such as Pasolini, Go Go Tales and 4:44 Last Day on Earth. Both attracted to the weirder sides of life, they make for a fascinating director-actor duo. They return once again with Siberia, a non-narrative film about a broken man fleeing the world and finding himself in a cave. Expect hallucinations, darkness and a go-for-broke performance from Dafoe, building upon the goodwill gained by The Lighthouse’s success last year.

Shirley

Section: Encounters

Josephine Decker has established herself as one of the most fascinating figures in American indie cinema. She returns to Berlin with Shirley, starring Elisabeth Moss as horror writer Shirley Jackson, inspired to write a new novel by the young couple that moves in with her and her husband. With kind reviews out of Sundance, where it won the U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Auteur Filmmaking, Shirley will likely do well in Berlin, where it will play as part of a new Encounters section dedicated to unconventional filmmakers.

Numbers

Section: Berlinale Special

The fact that Oleg Sentsov has returned with a new film is something of a miracle. Imprisoned by the Russian authorities on fabricated charges after they annexed Crimea, the Ukrainian activist was supposed to serve 20 years in jail. Thankfully, he was released last year as part of a prisoner swap and will be at Berlinale with Numbers. Based on his own play, it was filmed while he was still in jail.

Shine Your Eyes

Section: Panorama

Nollywood comes to Berlin with Shine Your Eyes, starring Nigerian actor and musician OC Ukeje. Telling the story of a Nigerian man travelling to Brazil in order to find his brother and bring him back home, Shine Your Eyes promises to take a wide-spanning look at African identity in Sao Paulo, as well as an interesting rumination on horse racing betting and computer games. Expect lots of music, dancing and modernist architecture.

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