6 must-watch movies from Berlinale 2017

Article published on Feb. 17, 2017
Article published on Feb. 17, 2017

The Berlin International Film Festival comes to an end this weekend. While we wait for the jury to decide who gets the big prizes, here's a selection of films from the festival we think you should keep an eye out for.

1. The Dinner (dir: Oren Moverman) 

In what may be one of his best performances, Richard Gere plays Stan; a politician in the middle of a campaign to become governor. But his popularity doesn't extend to his wife Katelyn, who has to play at the model wife; or his brother Paul, who feels like he's spent his life in Stan's shadow. When the rising political star invites his brother and sister-in-law to dinner, it promises to be a night to remember: especially as it emerges that the sons of the two couples have committed a terrible crime.

A master of storytelling, Oren Moverman's screenplay, adapted from Herman Koch's bestselling novel, unfolds in thrilling fashion. Appetiser, entrée, main course, dessert and coffee - the structure of a dinner works so well on the big screen because it allows us to see, bit by bit, the pschology of each character. Stan, who seems cold at first, is revealed to be a touching and complex dinner by the time the bill arrives, while the seemingly simple Paul subtly changes as he attacks his food. This is one meal you don't want to miss.

2. Bye Bye Germany (dir: Sam Garbarski) 

Frankfurt, 1946. David Bergmann is a Jewish man newly liberated from the concentration camps. He, and a group of friends who have also survived the Holocaust, try to find a means of raising enough money to leave Germany and emigrate to the United States. A gifted salesman and public speaker, he goes door to door selling linen - but the Nazi hunter Sarah Simon, who suspects him of collaboration, is hot on his heels.

The film deals with a subject that's seldom explored: the nearly 4,000 Jews who stayed in the countries that persecuted them after 1945. Sam Garbarski adapted the film from Michel Bergmann's book Die Teilacher, inspired by the life of the author's uncle - a "magnificent comedy", according to Bergmann. Humour takes a central role in the narrative, but it never makes light of events. Instead, it symbolises the internal struggle of all those trying to lead normal lives after everything they've been subjected to. Garbarski walks a fine line between comic dialogue and tragic memory, thanks in part to an impeccable cast.

3. The Party (dir: Sally Potter) 

The Party isn't a long film - it lasts just 71 minutes - but its brevity is matched by its intensity. Janet has just been named Minister of Education: a huge milestone in her career which she celebrates with a small group of friends. But nothing goes to plan. It seems as if everyone has something to announce, or something to hide. Then her husband, Bill, decides to empty the wine cellar. Little by little, tongues start to loosen and the descent into hell begins.

Sally Potter chose to shoot the movie in black and white because she wanted to make a comic drama "on a human scale," and "leave room for the colourful emotions of the characters" to shine through. And she has succeeded, because the audience was enthralled. Thanks to strong dialogue and a bewitching soundtrack, this farce reaches the same level as films like Festen8 femmes and Carnage. But it's also an extremely political film, written during the 2015 general election in the UK - a moment in which, according to Potter, "the British Left lost its courage and forgot how to tell people the truth." The parallels with the characters, who equally hide their true intentions, are plain to see.

4. T2 Trainspotting (dir: Danny Boyle)

When we last left Renton, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie, they'd pulled off the drug deal of the century - at which point Renton made off with the money. Twenty years later, he returns to his native Scotland to find nothing has changed. His old friends haven't gone anywhere. Begbie's temper hasn't cooled, Sick Boy is still a thief and Spud is more addicted to heroin than ever. 

This time around, the theme of the movie isn't growing up in Scotland during an economic depression; instead, it's about accepting the person you become. Danny Boyle has waited a long time to bring us a sequel to Trainspotting - probably because it took him time to convince himself that, if it ain't broke, there's no need to fix it. The four protagonists are just as fascinating as they were in the last film, which exposed their demons and gave them real humanity. Sick Boy and Renton can't help but be friends, even as the former wants to get even with the latter. Boyle's style, meanwhile, throws the viewer into deliciously chaotic scenes - just like that immortal Edinburgh chase at the opening of the original film. 

5. Close-Knit (dir: Naoko Ogigami) 

Every day, 11-year-old Tomo is left to fend for herself. When she gets home from school, the sink is always full of dirty dishes and her mother is often too drunk to take care of her. She finds refuge with her Uncle Makio, and his trans partner Rinko. There Tomo has a real home, but she quickly finds herself facing the scrutiny of strangers. At school and at the supermarket, everyone wants to know about this 'abnormal' person who has entered her life. But with Rinko's help, Tomo learns to face her anger head-on.

How do you live a normal life when you feel different to everyone else? The whole film is built around that intelligently handled question. Tomo and Rinko make a formidable duo; the latter sees in the former an opportunity to feel like a mother (and more importantly, a woman), while Tomo sees the chance to belong in a real family. The film deals strongly in emotion without falling into sentimentalism, and plays astutely with symbols. Food, for example, represents the attention we pay to others. Meals are sacred affairs; a glass of beer is "worthy of a Nobel Prize." When the young girl sees the breakfast that's been made for her, she wants to savour it so much that she lets it rot in her bag. Knitting, meanwhile, is not just Rinko's preferred method of keeping calm but also a metaphor for the weaving together of the lives of the chartacters. Naoko Ogigami leaves nothing to chance, and the result is a wise and beautiful film. 

6. Colo (dir: Teresa Villaverde) 

In a post-recession Portugal, a father loses his job, forcing his wife to work double shifts to pay the bills and give their daughter a normal life. Guilt leads to tension, and finally separation.

According to director Teresa Villaverde, "It's what we don't say that hurts the most." And the malaise is palpable in this family, unable to communicate to each other the dire financial straits they are in. The father, at a loss for ways to make himself useful, is found in the bath by his daughter wearing a bucket on his head, as if hiding from his shame. The daughter, a rebellious teen who feels uncomfortable in her own skin, quickly realises her parents have far too many problems of their own to help her. At the dinner table, she pipes up only to show her hatred of money - a cry of pain at the fact that the economic crisis has overshadowed her teenage crises. In Portuguese, a colo is a the safety net that catches falling trapeze artists. But Teresa Villaverde shows us that the recession has stripped away a lot of safety nets - including the ones provided by family.