Best & Worst Films at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival

  • Publish Date: February 24, 2018
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Which films impressed at this year's Berlinale?

Berlinale 2018

The 68th Berlin International Film Festival wrapped up this weekend with the Romanian drama Touch Me Not earning top honors from a jury led by director Tom Tykwer.

Below, we summarize the reactions of critics to that title and all of the major films debuting at this year's Berlinale. Note that entries like Damsel and Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot that previously debuted at other festivals (such as last month's Sundance Film Festival) are not included here.

The winner

Touch Me Not
Drama | Romania/Germany/Czech Republic/Bulgaria/France | Directed by Adina Pintilie

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Romanian writer-director Adina Pintilie’s debut feature won the Golden Bear and Best First Feature at this year’s festival. Blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction, the film is an open look at intimacy, sexuality, and love through three characters, with Pintilie appearing in the film as well. THR’s Deborah Young believes it’s a “relentlessly immersive tour de force.... striking for its intelligence, self-assurance and originality.” But Variety’s Jay Weissberg finds it to be “a divisive film that aims to address more issues than it can persuasively handle.”

Other highlights of the festival

Daughter of Mine (Figlia mia)
Drama | Italy/Germany/Switzerland | Directed by Laura Bispuri

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Laura Bispuri’s follow-up to Sworn Virgin also stars Alba Rohrwacher but in a completely different role as Angelica, a party-girl and mother to Vittoria, a ten-year-old adopted at birth by Valeria Golino’s Tina. As Angelica and Tina struggle over Vittoria, Bispuri “challenges us to do away with conventional notions of what a perfect mother should be,” creating a “wrenching, heartfelt drama with an unfussy social commentary,” according to Ed Frankel of The Film Stage.

Dovlatov
Drama | Russia/Poland/Serbia | Directed by Aleksey German

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Soviet-era Russian novelist Sergei Dovlatov is the subject of this impressionistic, biographical drama from Aleksey German (who previously brought Under Electric Clouds to Berlin in 2015). Rather than trace Dovlatov's full life and career, German focuses on a six-day period in 1971 when the then-unknown author is denied the right to publish his work by an oppressive government regime. While CineVue's Patrick Gamble doesn't dislike the film, he warns that some viewers may "find German’s approach pretentious and overly repetitive." But The Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Young seems a bit more supportive of German's often "dreamlike" approach, which she deems "a forceful presentation of an ever-timely topic." Netflix just acquired the film, which won a Silver Bear award at the festival for its costume design.

Grass
Drama | Korea | Directed by Sang-soo Hong

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Back at the Berlin Film Festival (where this film’s star, Kim Min-hee, previously won best actress for On the Beach at Night Alone) with his fourth film in 12 months, Hong Sang-soo has brought a “beguiling 66-minute charmer that will likely be as illuminating for the director’s die-hard fans as it will be impenetrable for those who are new to his work,” writes David Ehrlich of Indiewire. Capturing what happens at a Seoul cafe, the film could “double as a snapshot of his filmography; tales of life, love, connection, sorrow and yearning all unfurl,” according to Screen Daily’s Sarah Ward.

The Heiresses (Las herederas)
Drama | Paraguay/Uruguay/Germany/Brazil/Norway/France | Directed by Marcelo Martinessi

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Paraguayan writer-director Marcelo Martinessi’s debut feature about an older lesbian couple torn apart by money trouble is “brooding with melancholy and a sense of loss” and “shines a light on the nation’s fractured identity by crossing numerous generational and class divides,” writes Patrick Gamble of CineVue. In his rave review, Variety’s Jay Weissberg calls Ana Brun, who won the Silver Bear for best actress, “magnetic,” and the film as a whole a “finely-crafted, beautifully realized debut that exquisitely balances character study with shrewd commentary on class, desire, and the lingering privileges of Paraguay’s elite.”

Infinite Football (Fotbal infinit)
Documentary | Romania | Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu

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The latest from Romanian writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu (The Treasure, Police, Adjective, 12:08 East of Bucharest) is a documentary about his friend, Laurențiu Ginghină, who, after a soccer injury left him unable to play, became obsessed with revolutionizing the beautiful game. Rory O’Connor of The Film Stage believes the “concept, indeed, is laughable and would have come off as quite stodgy stuff in a less witty director’s hands,” but THR’s Neil Young finds that even though “Ginghina's originality of thought is prodigious, Infinite Football is relatively staid, content to follow established essay-documentary techniques.”

Isle of Dogs Watch trailer
Animation/Adventure | UK/Germany | Directed by Wes Anderson

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Like Fantastic Mr. Fox before it, Wes Anderson’s latest foray into stop-motion animation has earned excellent early reviews, and Anderson was honored with a Silver Bear as best director at the festival. Based on an original story written by the director along with Roman Coppola, Kunichi Nomura, and Jason Schwartzman, the film follows 12-year-old Atari Kobayashi as he searches for his dog, Spots, on Trash Island, where dogs have been quarantined. Rory O’Connor of The Film Stage believes it’s a “delightful, exquisitely-detailed production,” featuring a “thrilling” score by Alexandre Desplat. And Indiewire’s David Ehrlich finds it “staggeringly well-crafted” and “nothing if not Anderson’s most imaginative film to date.”

Mug (Twarz)
Comedy/Drama | Poland | Directed by Malgorzata Szumowska

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Polish director Malgorzata Szumowska's dark, satirical comedy about the first man to get a face transplant in Poland took home the Grand Jury Prize as the second-best film at this year's Berlinale. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw believes it’s an “absorbing and strange story, expertly managed.” And Allan Hunter of Screen Daily finds it to be a “wide-ranging, quirkily entertaining combination of identity crisis, deadpan farce and social commentary.”

Museum (Museo)
Drama | Mexico | Directed by Alonso Ruiz Palacios

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Alonso Ruizpalacios’ follow-up to Güeros won the Silver Bear for best screenplay. Based on an actual heist that took place in 1985, the film stars Gael Garcia Bernal and Leonardo Ortizgris as students who pull off a heist from the National Museum of Anthropology, only to discover that no one wants their loot of 140 priceless Mayan and Aztec artifacts. The Playlist’s Bradley Warren lauds Museum as an “endlessly entertaining, challenging investigation of history that confirms Ruizpalacios’ status as the next big thing in Mexican cinema.” Writing for Variety, Jessica Kiang concurs, finding the “fabulously entertaining” film “made of dazzle and wit and melancholy.”

The Prayer (La prière)
Drama | France | Directed by Cédric Kahn

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Anthony Bajon won the Silver Bear for best actor for his portrayal of Thomas, a drug addict who struggles to get himself clean at an isolated religious sanctuary. Jordan Mintzer of THR finds Bajon “riveting,” while Variety’s Guy Lodge observes that the film’s “plain, confident purity of style and tone make it another distinguished entry ... in the growingly diverse oeuvre” of director Cédric Kahn (Red Lights).

Profile
Thriller | USA/UK/Cyprus/Russia | Directed by Timur Bekmambetov

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Like Aneesh Chaganty’s recent Sundance debut Search, the latest from Timur Bekmambetov (Ben Hur, Wanted), who produced Chaganty’s film, takes place entirely on a computer screen. Based on In the Skin of a Jihadist by a French journalist who has taken the name Anna Erelle, the film follows Amy Whittaker as she creates an online profile to contact an ISIS fighter in Syria. Winner of the Panorama Audience Award, the film is “thrillingly topical,” writes Joe Blessing in his “A” review for The Playlist. But THR’s David Rooney warns that Profile is a “silly movie that fails to justify its self-seriousness, inadvertently trivializing a very real phenomenon.”

Season of the Devil (Ang Panahon ng Halimaw)
Musical | Philippines | Directed by Lav Diaz

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Set in the late 1970’s, the latest from slow cinema maestro Lav Diaz (The Woman Who Left, Norte, The End of History) is a relatively short 234 minutes. Based on true events and described by Diaz as a “Philippine rock opera” with songs written by the director, Devil is a sung-through “seething critique about the Philippines’ current trigger-happy president,” according to Clarence Tsui of THR. In his “A–” review, The Playlist’s Kevin Jagernauth calls it a “mesmerizing film that towers over the rest of the Berlinale selection with its uncompromising style and spirited, scathing political criticism.”

Transit
Drama | Germany/France | Directed by Christian Petzold

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Moving Anna Seghers’ 1940s-set novel to a fictionalized version of contemporary Marseille, writer-director Christian Petzold (Phoenix, Barbara) tackles the refugee problem in surprising ways with his latest story of mistaken identity. Ed Frankel of The Film Stage believes this “engrossing, uncanny and somewhat disturbing” film “ranks as a rare period piece that utterly gets under the skin of contemporary concerns. And Variety’s Guy Lodge claims Transit is Petzold’s “most conceptually daring film to date.”

U–July 22 (Utøya 22. juli)
Drama/Thriller | Norway | Directed by Erik Poppe

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The latest from director Erik Poppe (The King’s Choice) uses a 72-minute single take to reconstruct the horrible events of July 22, 2011 in Norway, when 69 people were killed at the Workers’ Youth League camp on Utøya. (Eight more people were killed when a bomb exploded in Oslo prior to the gunman’s attack on the camp). Following 19-year-old Kaja (a fictional composite) throughout the attack, Poppe has created an “absorbing and moving tribute to the courage of the young victims of Utøya,” according to The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw. Ed Frankel of The Film Stage predicts this “grueling, pulsating, in-your-face film” is “going to divide like a fissure.”

The disappointments

7 Days in Entebbe Watch trailer
Drama/Thriller | USA | Directed by José Padilha

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The latest from director José Padilha (RoboCop) dramatizes the events of Operation Thunderbolt, a 1976 counter-terrorist rescue by Israel Defense Forces. Critics hoping Padilha would bring some of the urgency of his documentary Bus 174 or the energy of Elite Squad: The Enemy Within are disappointed by what Jonathan Romney The Guardian claims is a “ponderous, sometimes ludicrous, number that goes through all the docudrama motions to pretty flat effect,” and a film Variety’s Jessica Kiang describes as “curiously unthrilling.” Entebbe opens in theaters on March 16.

Eva
Drama | France/Belgium | Directed by Benoît Jacquot

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A Benoit Jacquot (Diary of a Chambermaid) adaptation of James Hadley Chase’s 1945 novel (also the basis for Joseph Losey’s 1962 film starring Jeanne Moreau) should be reason for excitement, especially as it reunites Jacquot with his The School of Flesh star Isabelle Huppert. But its “enticing premise” of a playwright (Gaspard Ulliel) who becomes infatuated with a high-class prostitute (Huppert) “fails to catch fire,” according to Jordan Mintzer of THR.

Unsane Watch trailer
Horror/Thriller | USA | Directed by Steven Soderbergh

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Shot on an iPhone, Steven Soderbergh’s latest experiment in filmmaking stars Claire Foy (The Crown) as a woman who, in trying to flee a stalker, gets involuntarily committed to a mental institution. Critics are divided on the thriller's merits. THR’s David Rooney dismisses the film as a “dispiritingly pedestrian woman-in-peril shocker,” but Guy Lodge of Variety believes it’s a “quick-and-dirty genre romp, scripted, shot and cut with itchy, unpretty zeal — and performed with image-altering gusto by Claire Foy.” The film will open in theaters on March 23.

 

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