Berlinale 2024 Preview: Everything you need to know about this year's Berlin Film Festival

Berlinale 2024 preview
Berlinale 2024 preview Copyright IMAGO/Nicole Kubelka/Berlinale
By David Mouriquand
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The 74th Berlin International Film Festival opens today and runs until 25 February, and its line up is very promising... Here’s the lowdown on everything you need to know about this year’s Berlinale, including the films we’re most looking forward to.

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We’re in for a busy time in Berlin this month...

This year’s Berlinale will be the last edition headed by the departing festival directors Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek. It’s a genuine shame, as both artistic and executive directors have managed to weather the Covid storm and proven their curational chops since 2020.

Still, they’ve still got their hands full for their swansong, and not just artistically.

There’s been the kerfuffle with the AfD invites / disinvites, prompting further discussion regarding the escalating anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hate speech spreading in Germany; taking a stand against Iran’s hard-line Islamist authorities with the inclusion of a certain film in Competition (more on that in a bit); and ensuring that the festival will maintain its reputation for providing a space for artistic expression and peaceful dialogue, especially with the backdrop of the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the Middle East. 

There’s the looming promise of protests during the festival linked with Israel-Hamas war, and recently, Berlinale workers called for an “immediate ceasefire” in Gaza, as well as “stronger institutional leadership” from the Berlinale, in response to what they describe as the “current assault on Palestinian life.”

“We want to hold the festival and ourselves to a higher standard,” their statement read, describing a lack of debating opportunity within this year’s festival programme about the conflict. “We witness no initiatives that invite professionals and/or audiences into a dedicated space of discussion,” the statement says.

Stay calm and carry on

How the outgoing directors are managing to keep it cool is beyond us, but on the plus side, and without wishing to appear flippant in the face of vital issues, they seem to have put together a vibrant selection of films this year. And at the end of the day, it’s all about the movies at the Berlinale, and even festivals have their limits when it comes to pressing humanitarian conflicts. What we can hope is that the selected films this year will provide audiences with new perspectives, encourage dialogue, and entertain – something we’re in dire need of.

Sticking to the official Competition titles only (otherwise we’ll be here all day, considering the embarrassment of riches on show this year), the 20 titles vying for the Golden Bear this year are eclectic and include several star-driven projects alongside some arthouse favourites. We don’t envy this year’s jury, led by Lupita Nyong’o, and we’ll be keeping you abreast of the movies and their Bear chances with our reviews.

So far, here are the Competition titles we're eagerly anticipating.

Another End

Another End
Another EndBerlinale

Italian director Piero Messina (The Wait) has assembled an eye-watering cast for his new film, which sees Gael García Bernal star as a man whose wife dies, and _The Worst Person in the World_’s Renate Reinsve as the woman who rents out her body - in which the memory and consciousness of his former wife are temporarily implanted. As you do. We’re looking forward to seeing how Messina tackles topics of new technologies and possibly AI in this futuristic love story, as well as how the theme of grief is handled. Could the torment of permanent separation be lessened or at least appeased by granting the bereft the time to say goodbye? Not long to wait in order to find out...

Black Tea

Black Tea
Black TeaBerlinale

We’re getting strong Past Lives vibes from this one, and hopefully it’ll enthral us just as much as Celine Song’s 2023 Berlinale Competition film. Abderrahmane Sissako’s film follows Aya, a woman from the Ivory Coast who says “no” on her wedding day. She decides to emigrate to China, where she falls in love with Cai, the owner of a tea boutique. Cue: what will hopefully be a tale of culture clashes and overcoming prejudices, and above all, a love story that will make us swoon. And presumably, plenty of tea. That’d be nice.

La Cocina

La Cocina
La CocinaBerlinale

Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios’ (A Cop Movie) new film La Cocina is billed as a love story set in the kitchen of a Manhattan restaurant, The Grill. It sees Rooni Mara playing an American waitress named Julia who becomes romantically entangled with the prime suspect of an in-house theft, an undocumented Mexican cook named Pedro (Raúl Briones). Considering Ruizpalacios’ track record so far, there’s every reason to be excited about this one.

A Different Man

A Different Man
A Different ManBerlinale

We love Renate Reinsve. We really do. And so do the Berlinale, as she’s starring in two Competition titles this year: the aforementioned Another End, and Aaron Schimberg’s A Different Man. Both films have very enticing loglines, with A Different Man 's pitch reading thusly: “Aspiring actor Edward undergoes a radical surgical procedure to drastically transform his appearance. But his new dream face quickly turns into a nightmare when he loses out on the role he was born to play.” Reinsve stars alongside Sebastian Stan (Logan Lucky, I, Tonya, the MCU’s Bucky Barnes / Winter Soldier), and if the Sundance buzz is to be believed (it premiered there earlier this year), the performances are great, and there’ll be a welcome smattering of body horror. Oh, and reportedly, one kinky sex scene that had viewers squirming in their seats. Sign us up.

The Empire

The Empire
The EmpireBerlinale

French absurdist Bruno Dumont (Slack Bay, Jeannette) has crafted what looks like a bonkers sci-fi OVNI. Set in a fishing village in northern France, The Empire chronicles how a special baby is born, a child so unique it unleashes a secret war between extraterrestrials... With some Star Wars lightsabres thrown in for good measure. We don’t know what else to say, apart from watch the trailer below, and thank you Berlinale for including a hefty dose of absurdity in Competition. This one should provide a much-needed palette cleanser considering some of the selection’s more high brow offerings.

My Favourite Cake

My Favourite Cake
My Favourite CakeBerlinale

One title of note in Competition this year is My Favourite Cake by Iranian directors Maryam Moghaddam and Behtash Sanaeeha. Their last collaboration was the stunning Ballad Of A White Cow, which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in 2021. And if this new offering is anything as emotionally devastating, we’re in for a real treat. My Favourite Cake sees a lonely 70-year-old woman deciding to break from her solitary routine and revitalise her love life, in a country where women’s rights are heavily restricted. This film has already caused quite the stir, as Iran’s hard-line Islamist authorities are believed to have been angered by the film, leading to the filmmaking pair being banned from travel by Iranian authorities. They also face a trial in relation to My Favourite Cake. The Berlinale has been vocal in demanding that Iranian authorities to drop all charges and lift their travel ban – but to no avail. Still, the fact that the Berlinale has chosen this film in Competition sends a strong message, as the festival is known for its political leanings and giving a platform to voices facing political oppression.

Pepe

Pepe
PepeBerlinale

A dead hippopotamus speaks. He’s the first and only hippo ever killed in the Americas, and the Colombian press called him Pepe. Oh, and he happened to belong to Pablo Escobar. Yep, you read correctly. In fact, four hippos were kept by the late Columbian drug lord in the late 1970s. Upon his death in 1993, the “cocaine hippos” were allowed to wander his unattended estate; and by 2019 their population had grown to approximately one hundred, which caused a threat to the flora and fauna, as well as the human population in the area. The premise of Nelson Carlos De Los Santos Arias’ film sounds both weird and wonderful. Two words that usually yield results on screen...

Small Things Like These

Small Things Like These
Small Things Like TheseBerlinale

This year’s opening film is directed by Peaky Blinders’ Tim Mielants, and is based on the 2021 book by Irish author, Claire Keegan. Set in 1980s Ireland, it sees Cillian Murphy play a devoted father who discovers unsettling truths about the Magdalene Laundries, the horrific asylums run by Roman Catholic institutions said to house “fallen women”. The cast includes Ciaran Hinds and Emily Watson, and the Berlinale's Artistic Director Carlo Chatrian previously said: “We are confident that this story that allies the kindness to be directed to the more fragile, and the willpower to stand up against injustice, will resonate with everyone.” The Competition openers are often quite clunky, but this one looks mighty promising – and it is not screened Out of Competition like a great many openers, which means the festival has high hopes...

The Devil’s Bath

The Devil's Bath
The Devil's BathBerlinale

The horror genre doesn’t often get a look-in within official Competition selections. At least, that used to be the case. Directing duo Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala, whose sophomore film Goodnight Mommy saw them deliver one of the most memorable and surprising horror movies of the past decade, are presenting The Devil’s Bath. Set in Austria in the mid-1700s, it sees a young woman questioning her place in her husband’s life. The press notes state that “a shocking act seems to be her only way out.” We have questions... Hopefully, the chills will be plentiful, reminding viewers that horror can be about having a spine-tingling ride but is also the genre par excellence for exploring human trauma and emotions. Granted, moody intellectual horror where everything has metaphorical weight is all the rage, but we have faith that Franz and Fiala can do justice to the many facets of a rich genre.

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A Traveler’s Needs

A Traveler's Needs
A Traveler's NeedsBerlinale

It wouldn’t be a Berlinale without another Hong Sangsoo film... The prolific South Korean director has won awards three years in a row - his 2020 film The Woman Who Ran won the Silver Bear for Best Director; 2021’s Introduction nabbed the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay; and 2022’s The Novelist's Film took home the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize. At this point, it feels like the director is sponsored by the festival. While his inclusion in Competition is eye-rollingly predictable – not to mention tiresome considering the spot could have gone to a new filmmaker in need of a platform like the Berlinale’s top selection – there is every chance the jury may end up giving Hong Sangsoo the Golden Bear. They've been building up to it. Clearly. All cynicism aside, A Traveler’s Needs stars Isabelle Huppert as a French teacher who takes two Korean children as her pupils. We’re expecting another languorous effort, but Huppert is Huppert, and we keep an open mind...

The Berlin Film Festival runs from 15 – 25 February. Stay tuned to Euronews Culture for news stories, potential protests, film reviews, interviews, and all this year’s Berlinale has to offer.

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