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Courtesy of Berlinale / © Peter Kreibich
Courtesy of Berlinale / © Peter Kreibich

The Top Films To Check Out At The Berlinale

Picture of Alice Dundon
Updated: 7 February 2018

On February, 15 the Berlinale 68th edition takes a hold of the city for 10 days of groundbreaking films, celebrities and a splash of red carpet glamour. Attracting film stars, directors and cinephiles, the converted festival attracts many a hidden film gem – here’s our pick of the best.

Isle of Dogs – Wes Anderson

Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animation film, Isle of Dogs, is set to open the 68th Berlinale. Featuring the voices of Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bryan Cranston and Canadian-Japanese actor Koyu Rankin, Isle of Dogs is set in a dystopian Japan, were all dogs have been exiled to a quarantine island after a mysterious canine flu sweeps the country. The film follows the main character, 12-year-old Atari Kobayashi, as he heads to the island to find his dog, Spots. During his epic journey, Atari and his quirky canine companions King, Duke, Rex, Boss and Chief address the nagging quintessential questions we all ask ourselves: ‘Who are we? And who do we want to be?’  

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Isle of Dogs | Courtesy of Berlinale / © 2018 Twentieth Century Fox

Black 47 – Lance Daly

Premiering at the Berlinale, Black 47 is a harrowing tale of famine, struggle and power set in Ireland in 1847. The drama follows an Irish Ranger, Martin Feeney, who, after fighting for the British Army in Afghanistan, abandons his post and returns to his Irish homeland as a deserter. He returns to a country ravaged by famine, the sufferings of his family and rising tensions against the British. Martin plans to emigrate to the USA with his sister-in-law and her siblings, however, the plan is foiled and witnessing his last remaining relatives wasting away almost robs him of the will to live. In desperation, he rises up beginning a bloody vendetta against the social and political hierarchy of Ireland. Director Lance Daly explores a dark chapter of British colonialism in this drama. Although not a new topic, the film’s gritty realism conveys the palpable suffering of the people during this time.

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Black 47 | Courtesy of Berlinale / © Berlinale

Unsane – Steven Soderbergh

Unsane is a thrilling drama following Sawyer Valentini, a young woman who has escaped her hometown after being stalked. Having started a new job and a new life, she struggles with the transition, and is involuntarily committed to a mental institution where she is confronted by her greatest fear. But is it real? Or all an illusion? This is a film that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat with plenty of twisting perspectives and a heart-thumping narrative. Unsane explores our perception of reality, survival instinct and the systems in place that are supposed to take care of us when we’re vulnerable.   

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Unsane | Courtesy of Berlinale / © Fingerprint Releasing / Bleecker Street

Old Love Park Kiyong

In Old Love, Korean indie-film veteran Park Kiyong looks at the bittersweet reunion of former lovers Yoon-hee and Jung-soo, at an airport. Agreeing to meet again, the lovers are the focus of this film which largely explores the melancholy that sometimes accompanies delving back into the past. Through an empathetic gaze, Kiyong tells this story not through grand words, but rather through the open and reserved gazes, which betray the sense that, now in their 40s, neither Yoon-hee nor Jung-soo have lived the lives they’d hoped for.

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Old Love | Courtesy of Berlinale / © Berlinale

Shut Up and Play the Piano – Philipp Jedicke  

Shut Up and Play the Piano is a cinematic portrait of eclectic musician Chilly Gonzales. After making a name for himself as an electro-rapper, this Canadian reinvented himself as a creator of quiet sounds. The film largely runs as an extended conversation between writer him and Sibylle Berg, while Philipp Jedicke masterfully blends archive material with playfully dramatised cameos and interviews with Chilly’s contemporaries such as Peaches and Jarvis Cocker. The film is also a love letter to Berlin, charting Chilly’s chaotic years as the self-proclaimed ‘President of the Berlin Underground.’

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Shut Up and Play the Piano | Courtesy of Berlinale / © Rapid Eye Movies / Gentle Threat

Zentralflughafen THF – Karmin Aïnouz

Karmin Aïnouz’s documentary Zentralflughafen THF follows the displaced lives unfolding in the hangars of Berlin’s former airport, Tempelhofer Feld, where since 2015 several of the spaces have provided temporary refuge for those who have fled their homeland. Karim fellows two refugees who call this space home, Ibrahim from Syria and Qutaiba from Iraq, who dream of being able to make a new start. Full of hope, they work with translators, doctors, language teachers and job agents to prepare for life in Germany. Karim Aïnous spent a year following these men in their search for a place they can call home, capturing their struggle in the face of a lack of privacy, communication and challenging administrative barriers. The film’s natural setting in Tempelhofer Feld acts as an important juxtaposition, as the men’s struggles are positioned against a place where Berliners and tourists escape their daily routine to unwind. The film’s sensitive and well-composed images give a deeper insight into the daily lives of refugees living here, beautifully capturing the men’s lives that are shaped by uncertainty, stress, and anguish, but also by their aspirations and hopes.

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Zentralflughafen THF | Courtesy of Berlinale /  © Juan Sarmiento

Dressage – Pooya Badkoobeh

Dressage centres on Iranian Golsa, who, along with her friends, decides to rob a corner shop. Motivated primarily by boredom rather than greed, or desperation, the elated joy of the would-be thieves turns to dismay when they realise they’ve left behind the security camera footage. One of them must return to the scene of the crime to retrieve it, and the vote falls on Golsa. Director Pooya Badkoobeh’s radically staged story explores control, blackmail and the power money, holding an uncompromising mirror up to Iranian society.