Berlin International Film Festival 2023 Report
The Berlinale was back in full force in 2023. Last year, the festival was still very much mired in post-COVID regulations: masks were mandatory at all venues, vaccination certificates needed to be sighted daily, and there was no European Film Market (EFM) in person nor any festival- or film-related parties. This year resembled life on Melbourne public transport – it’s like nothing ever happened.
Masks were seen occasionally, worn by the more conscientious, and the parties were plentiful. Candy bars were open again with crowds gathering in foyers to chat about films they’ve seen and loved or, even more interestingly, hated. Still no food allowed in the auditoriums, but that was out of a sense of civility and respect rather than a fear of infection.
So it was that my esteemed colleague and trusty festival buddy, Kate Jinx, and I tackled life in the much-revived EFM. The Martin-Gropius-Bau was once again a hive of activity, every square inch of the place taken up by various sales agents, production companies and cultural institutes’ stands replete with flyers, poster and coffee on tap for the weary visitor. There was a sense of real joy among participants to see one another again in person – to come together to talk about our mutual love of cinema.
Which of course leads to the films themselves. What a fabulous program the team at the Berlinale put together this year. A comprehensive retrospective program honouring Disney’s 100th birthday, alongside a homage to Steven Spielberg plus some dynamite restorations, complemented a contemporary program brimming with diversity, quality and bold filmmaking, with a generous dollop of emotional heft for good measure. One film that really packed a punch was Dustin Guy Defa’s The Adults, starring Michael Cera, Hannah Gross and Sophia Lillis, about estranged siblings reconnecting when their brother comes to town. Suitably awkward and hugely affecting, the three leads deliver outstanding performances under the assured direction of Defa (Person to Person, MIFF 2017).
Above: Past Lives | Header: Berlinale 2023
Celine Song’s Past Lives was every bit the magical and emotional ride I was led to believe it would be, while BlackBerry made good on director Matt Johnson’s earlier promise of nonstop hilarity and biting satire (The Dirties, MIFF 2013) and Glen Howerton gives an explosively good, career-best performance. Even a health incident in the theatre, which stopped the film about three-quarters of the way in, couldn’t dampen Johnson’s response to being included in competition, nor our enthusiasm for the film.
The Golden Bear winner, On the Adamant, is a tender and disarming portrayal of mental health care aboard a vessel on the Seine in Paris. It is a frank look at how different approaches to caring for those with mental health issues, and how primarily granting them a sense of autonomy and agency in their own day-to-day lives, can make a massive difference.
Topped off by a small yet typically rousing exhibition by Nan Goldin at the Akademie der Künste, my time spent in Berlin in 2023 felt as vibrant and event-filled as it’s ever been.