Carlo Chatrian’s First Berlinale Competition Lineup

Paula Beer in Christian Petzold’s Undine (2020)

Christian Petzold has reunited with Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer, the stars of his 2018 film Transit, for Undine, a refashioning of the French folktale popularized in the nineteenth century by Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué’s novella. Baer’s Undine is a historian who works as a city guide in present-day Berlin. When her lover (Jacob Matschenz) betrays her, she refuses to kill him and return to the water as the curse hanging over her head would have it, and instead falls for an industrial diver (Rogowski). Undine is one of eighteen films in the Berlinale’s 2020 competition lineup announced this morning by new artistic director Carlo Chatrian.

Nina Hoss, the star of Petzold’s Barbara and Phoenix, will appear this year alongside Lars Eidinger and Marthe Keller in Stéphanie Chuat and Véronique Reymond’s My Little Sister. Hoss plays Lisa, a former playwright caring for her family in Switzerland. When she learns that her twin brother, a prominent stage actor back in Berlin, has been diagnosed with leukemia, she becomes so determined to nurse him back to health that she begins to neglect her marriage.

Chatrian mentioned this morning that he and his team haven’t yet reached the gender parity they’ll be aiming for in future competition lineups—but they’re working on it. Besides Chuat and Reymond, other women directors include Kelly Reichardt, who will be bringing First Cow (we gathered a round of reviews when it screened at the New York Film Festival last fall), and Eliza Hittman, whose Never Rarely Sometimes Always has just premiered at Sundance. Early reviews of Never are strong, and we’ll be taking a closer look at them in the next day or two.

Sally Potter is returning to the competition with The Roads Not Taken, her follow-up to 2017’s The Party. Elle Fanning plays a young woman who accompanies her father (Javier Bardem) on a journey through New York City as he tries to piece his chaotic life back together. The Intruder, from Argentine director Natalia Meta, has been described as a “psycho-sexual fantastic thriller” in which an actress discovers that strange sounds are emanating from her body.

Jekaterina Oertel shares a codirecting credit with Ilya Khrzhanovsky for DAU. Natasha, one of thirteen features to emerge from the theatrical and cinematic extravaganza that Khrzhanovsky has been working on since 2005. Based on the life of Soviet physicist Lev Landau, DAU has been turning up in a variety of incarnations—an institute, an exhibition, various performances and screenings—in Paris and London and was supposed to have been set up in the heart of Berlin as an installation in 2018. Safety concerns led the city to cancel those plans, but now DAU has found a foothold in the German capital after all. Besides Natasha, the documentary DAU. Degeneration will screen in the Berlinale Special program.

Berlin’s criminal underworld becomes an irresistible vortex in Burhan Qurbani’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, a contemporary reimagining of Alfred Döblin’s 1929 novel, which, of course, was adapted for German television in 1980 by Rainer Werner Fassbinder. In Qurbani’s 140-minute version, Francis (Welket Bungué) survives a treacherous crossing from Africa only to discover that there are few above-board options available to illegal refugees in Germany.

This year’s lineup features a fair number of surprise returns. It’s been two years since we’ve seen a feature from Hong Sang-soo, and that’s an uncharacteristically long stretch for the Korean director. Not much is known yet about The Woman Who Ran other than that it will be Hong’s twenty-fourth feature and his seventh with Kim Min-hee. Tsai Ming-liang, in the meantime, has kept busy running his coffee shop in Taipei, experimenting with VR, and making the occasional documentary, but Days appears to be his first non-documentary feature since 2014’s Journey to the West.

Rithy Panh (The Missing Picture) will bring his new documentary, Irradiated, which focuses on the stories told by those who survived the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. André Wilms, known primarily for his work with Aki Kaurismäki, is listed as a cast member not only in Irradiated but also in The Salt of Tears, the new film from Philippe Garrel. Cowritten with Arlette Langmann and Jean-Claude Carrière, the story ricochets between Paris and the French countryside as a young man juggles relationships with three women.

Last summer, the Revolutionary Court of Iran sentenced Mohammad Rasoulof to a year in prison for spreading “propaganda against the state.” Rasoulof appealed, arguing that none of his films, which most recently include Manuscripts Don’t Burn (2013) and A Man of Integrity (2017), are political, but rather, “they are social criticisms that have political repercussions.” So far, we know next to nothing about There Is No Evil other than that Chatrian hopes that Rasoulof will be permitted to present it in person.

Abel Ferrara has spent five years trying to get Siberia made with Willem Dafoe, and at long last, this exploration of the language of dreams that Ferrera once described as a cross between the Odyssey and Alice in Wonderland has a premiere date. And returning to the competition for the first time since 2010’s Mammuth, Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern will bring Delete History, the story of three neighbors who band together to take on four major tech companies.

Rounding out the competition lineup are Caetano Gotardo and Marco Dutra’s All the Dead Ones, the story of a family’s decline in nineteenth century Brazil, and two features from Italy. Hidden Away, directed by Giorgio Diritti with Elio Germano, is based on the life of naïve painter Antonio Ligabue, and Bad Tales, from the twins Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo, is a group portrait of several families in a suburb south of Rome.

Eighteen may seem like a lean number for a competition at a major film festival, but we should bear in mind that Chatrian has launched a new, parallel competition, Encounters, featuring the premieres of new work from Cristi Puiu, Heinz Emigholz, Josephine Decker, Tim Sutton, Matías Piñeiro, and more—fifteen titles in all. The full schedule for both competitions as well as for the Forum, Panorama, Generation, and other sections will be out on February 11. And the seventieth anniversary edition of the Berlinale will open on February 20 and run through March 1.

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