2023’s Berlinale compiled another excellent, deeply varied roster of films. Check out our full coverage of this year’s exciting film festival offerings after the jump!
I love a horror-tinged queer drama almost more than I can describe in words; last year’s Hypochondriac perfectly epitomized this. Almamula, a French/Argentinian/Italian production, is unfortunately almost entirely void of entertainment value. It begins with a harrowing encounter that also doubles as the film’s best sequence—a tragic gay hate crime that tosses around the “f” slur with reckless abandon, then concludes with a bunch of kids senselessly beating our twelve year-old lead character, Nino (Nicolas Diaz) nearly to death. Nino must pray for forgiveness and move to a new locale with his family and judgmental sister who, yes, also throws around the “f” slur like it’s going out of style. Adjusting to their new surroundings may prove particularly challenging. Around every corner, Nino is haunted by the spectre of a mysterious figure of legend, said to prowl on sinners with sexual tendencies. Writer/director Juan Sebastian Torales was clearly going for coming-of-age vibes, and a twisted commentary on young sexuality. Yet, Almamula is a flagrant misfire. Copious scenes of Nino jerking off, annoyingly preachy monologues, and lazy attempts at fantastic visuals all fall flat. Beyond chants of “Ave Maria” stuck in one’s brain, not a single thing about overtly religious Almamula is memorable in any way.
Focused on positive messaging for body image issues and the loneliness of being an outsider, Dancing Queen is a lovely, charming movie that quickly won me over. Mina (Liv Elvira Rippersund Larsson), a precocious twelve-year-old girl with few friends, struggles to find her place in the world. Her parents aren’t the most supportive, with only her sassy grandmother being a constant source of comfort and knowledge. Dancing becomes Mina’s one true passion. Mina has finally found a way to channel her energy into a new medium that sheds attention on her in a positive light. She joins a class in preparation of the upcoming Mjosa Challenge—they will not be performing as a group, though, but instead in duos. The instructor assigns Mina to be paired with a cocky young boy named E.D. Win (Viljar Knutsen Bjaadal), who possesses thousands of social media followers. As we follow Mina’s journey from distant outcast to blossoming preteen, Liv Elvira Rippersund Larsson shines. By the time we get to the rapturous Mjosa Challenge ceremony, I didn’t want to leave the world of Dancing Queen behind. Ultimately, the film directed by Aurora Gosse is sweet and challenging—following dreams and believing in oneself reign supreme.
Full review at the link.
Full review at the link.
(Written by Allison Brown) Offbeat and whimsical road trip dramedy Kiddo is a delightful treat from The Netherlands. After years of neglect, adolescent Lu (Rosa van Leeuwen) is rescued (or kidnapped, depending on one’s perspective) from the foster home where she resides by her flighty, childlike mother, Karina (Frieda Barnhard). She brings along her pet snake, Henk, and idealistically looks forward to the excitement her mom has in store, while also checking in intermittently with her foster mother. Lu recalls that her mother smells of oranges and lived a fabulous life in Hollywood, which allows for a classic lens to influence the creative narrative. This visual memory is overused, and forces us to consider if the events that transpire have actually happened, or if they are in Lu’s head. Every so often, director Zara Dwinger cuts to comedic interludes dramatizing minutia with beautiful cinematography and color grading to set the mood. Critical lines of dialogue are highlighted with impactful animated text overlays. It is evident that Dwinger has been greatly impacted by American iconography; there is even a Britney Spears reference! Additionally, 70s culture peaks through in Karina’s fashion and overall aesthetic. At no surprise, the rose-colored glasses quickly fade as Lu becomes embroiled deeper and deeper into her mother’s schemes. The film is at its best when it endeavors to find joy and comedy in shitty situations; when Karina’s dumpy car catches smoke, the explosion is beautifully converted into fireworks. Kiddo is a breath of fresh air in a sea of genericism.
Mal Viver/Viver Mal
Full review at the link.
Out of the films I watched for 2023’s Berlinale, Mammalia was by far the worst. Coming across more as some bizarre cult-fueled experimental student film than a movie proper, perhaps attempting to contemplate just what the hell director Sebastian Mihaileseu was going for here is the point. The story, as far as one could call it, involves a man named Camil spying on his romantic partner, who is constantly coming home late from “group meetings.” Many long takes of people talking or nothing happening much in particular will test audience patience to the breaking point. Early on, a sequence in which Camil merely stares at his partner for at least five minutes straight had me contemplating turning off the film entirely. An uneven, meandering mess, Mammalia feels strictly made for pretentious cinephiles with a taste for the strange and unusual.
Nakedly capturing a day in the life of a trans man, Mutt features a captivating lead turn from Lio Meheil as Fena. If only everything around this signature performance felt as raw and exploratory. Three major figures that Fena has not seen since fully transitioning have come back into his life all over the course of a single, hectic day. His younger sister, Zoe (MiMi Ryder), is going through womanhood for the first time, seeking to reconnect with Fena who has grown distant; his straight ex-boyfriend, John (Cole Doman), potentially seeks to rekindle or at least reexamine their volatile relationship; finally, Fena’s father comes to New York City to visit. Writer/producer/director Vuk Lungulov-Klotz has an intensive understanding of the human experience, morphing Fena’s day from hell into an eventful, if small stakes, exploration of the trans experience. In its more passionate, intimate moments, Mutt works magic; in maintaining a throughline and doubling down on its simplicity, there was something missing here. After all the buzz from screening at the Sundance Film Festival, perhaps hopes were too high for Mutt to have even the slightest chance of fulfilling them. While I am overjoyed that Berlinale finally gave me the chance to seek out this unusually straightforward drama, Mutt never lives up to its full potential, nor the lovely performance from Lio Mehiel.
Full review at the link.
The Teachers’ Lounge (Das Lehrerzimmer)
(Written by Allison Brown) Bravo, İlker Çatak! The Teachers’ Lounge (Das Lehrerzimmer) is incredible; viewers are guaranteed to be riveted, staring at the screen with their mouths agape for much of the runtime. It is obvious that teachers are severely underpaid and must be both an educator and a therapist for their students. What should one do when they are caught in the middle of a massive scandal involving an employee who also happens to have their child in the school as a student? Carla Nowak, a new, young teacher, is forced to navigate these tumultuous waters. Mild-mannered and kind, she wants to look for the best in everyone, while her jaded peers throw caution to the wind in trying to unearth and reprimand the elusive school thief. “What happens in the teachers lounge, stays in the teachers lounge.” However, for everyone at this school, it doesn’t. Children are interrogated, racist perceptions run rampant, and loyalty and respect are thrown out the window. The score is impeccably timed to each moment of anxiety and conflict. My only gripe of discontent is in the lack of a true admission of fault by anyone involved by the conclusion. I am sure others will view the final scene, which hilariously emulates the chair portion of the horah reminiscent of a Jewish wedding, as a peak moment of resistance to the powers that be. No matter how one perceives the choices made by the characters in this wild tale, comedic thriller The Teachers’ Lounge (Das Lehrerzimmer) is simply a lot of fun.
LONG LONG KISS
As a forty-minute short film, Long Long Kiss portrays a surprisingly amount of emotional depth in such a short period of time. Aaron (Nils Thalmann) is struggling from a recent breakup with Paul (Christian Erdt)—to call his obsession unhealthy would be an understatement. He is fully convinced that his memories and feelings of Paul have taken root “inside the tooth” that Paul once licked. Aaron refuses to brush his teeth, adamant that getting rid of the plaque will fully extinguish Paul from his life. Aaron’s sister (Katrin Filzen) tries everything in her power to help him get over this devastating loss. Long Long Kiss depicts loss and grief through a filter of crud, hiding the beauty just under the surface. As Aaron grapples with his instability, I was completely enthralled with Nils Thalmann’s performance.
My favorites from this year’s Berlinale were Deep Sea and Femme, while Allison’s were Dancing Queen and The Teachers’ Lounge (Das Lehrerzimmer)! We look forward to checking out more titles we missed as the year progresses. See you in 2024!