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Berlinale 2018: Isle of Dogs and more...

Seán McGovern reporting from the 68th Berlin International Film Festival.

There's a friendly kind of brusqueness to Berliners. They're very unbothered. But the barely-contained excitement of my first Berlinale is almost matched by the huge passion the Germans have for film culture. Ten days and dozens of stunning venues. I'm here mainly to see all the films up for the Teddy Award but it wouldn't be a film festival if I wasn't in at least three screenings a day.

Opening Film
Isle of Dogs (dir. Wes Anderson, United Kingdom/Germany)

At first it seems like a basic choice – A famed US director with a star studded cast.

But take a moment to appreciate that Isle of Dogs is a multi-format animation, in dual languages, and about a historic animosity between humans and dogs, set in Japan, in the future. It's is a gorgeous testament to the kind of storytelling animation is capable of...

Plus it looks and feels like a true co-production: Anderson's singular vision blends fully with the richness of Japanese aesthetics and storytelling. It's neither orientalist or too whimsical and it's impossible not to enjoy. As opening films go, it was a perfect choice.

River's Edge (dir. Isao Yukisada, Japan)

Premiering in the Panorama section of the competition on Opening Night was something of a complement to Isle of Dogs, River's Edge, by Berlinale alumnus Isao Yukisada. it's a film that's difficult to enjoy but hard to forget. Set in 1994, a year before a devastating earthquake and the attack on the Japanese subway, the film follows a group of wayward teens and their secret lives. But it also involves corpses, self-immolation, drug-fuelled sex and some seriously creepy sibling relations. The film captures an uneasy mood of a world that is on the edge of tragedy. Imagine if Battle Royale was crossed with the White Ribbon and you're only halfway there.

Black 47 (dir. Lance Daly, Ireland-Luxembourg)

For every Irish kid growing up, the famine is a considerable part of our history syllabus and a long time is spent rehashing what caused "An Gorta Mór", beyond just a potato blight. It's the bleakest and most harrowing part of our history, in which over a million people died and many more emigrated. Lance Daly's film, more than just the usual misery-fest takes a Death Wish approach to the proceedings, doubling down on general belief that British occupation was more responsible than the blight. With that in mind, what follows is a brutal revenge story, a far from perfect film, but with a revisionist angle rarely seen. Seeing it with an Irish audience will be something else entirely.

Obscuro Barocco (dir. Evangelia Kranioti, France/Greece)

I'm someone who can appreciate experimental film but can never really say I like it, so upon seeing Obscuro Barroco, I was truly amazed. A film that is a melding of documentary, fiction and non-fiction filmmaking, following the life of a trans women in Rio de Janeiro. I'm wary of films with trans characters at the centre which end up creating narratives of victimhood (and trust me there are way too many of those still being made). Instead, Obscuro Barroco goes beyond mere identity politics shows us is a trans character whose life exists in parallel to the vibrancy and mutations of Rio's cityscape. It's a film about identity-through-urbanism as well as visually stunning: The night sky alight with the carnival fireworks may have been one of the most sensory experiences I've ever had in a cinema. All of it is a poignant delight.

More to come!

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Reader Comments (5)

I am happy that you are covering the Berlinale! Thank you very much for your post and your thoughts about the movies you have already seen, and I am looking forward for more

February 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterIvonne

Hi Seán! So glad that you're getting a chance to cover Berlinale. I'm loving reading your thoughts so far.

Will you be seeing Jacquot's 'Eva' with Huppert and Ulliel?

February 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

@Tyler - unless I manage to grab another screening of it! I'm here programming for a queer festival so they tend to take up my time. However I definitely want to see Utøya 22. Juli which is about the terrible killings in Norway so am going to find a way to do it!

February 19, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSeán

Don't mean to be nitpicky -- I think you've spelled the title of Evangelia Kranioti's film wrong
Should be: "Obscuro Barroco"

February 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSpencer

I'm not a big fan of Yukisada', though I did like Parade and Go was amusing , but you now have me very interested in seeing River's Edge. Hopefully it will make an appearance at TIFF this year.

Looking forward to more of your reports from Berlin.

February 22, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterIshmael

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