As a child growing up in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, Alexandre Koberidze wore a jet stone to ward off the evil eye. Eventually, after studying economics and film production, he moved to Germany to study directing at the German Film and Television Academy Berlin (DFFB), where he made a few short films, all of them landing respectable spots along the festival circuit. His first feature, Let the Summer Never Come Again (2017), premiered at the Berlin Critics’ Week and won the grand prix at FID Marseille. Now Berlinale artistic director Carlo Chatrian and his team of programmers have given Koberidze a more than justifiable vote of confidence by catapulting him straight into this year’s competition with his playful yet also gorgeously elegiac What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?
What Do We See is a stream of rewarding diversions flowing like tributaries of the Rioni River that runs through Kutaisi and under its bridges. The narrator wonders out loud why he bothers to tell such a whimsical tale when there’s so much violent wrong in the world. He anticipates your questions about the many obvious plot holes. He takes us to a music school beside the river for a sequence that becomes a delirious marvel of sound design. He pauses to watch along with us as the local children play soccer in slow motion, a reverie of movement, joy, and promise.
For a radical shift in theme and tone, we turn to Natural Light, the first fictional feature from Hungarian filmmaker Dénes Nagy. He’s taken the title and a central character but only a sliver of the narrative from Pál Závada’s sprawling novel from 2014. While Závada’s 600-page book spans twenty years, Nagy focuses on just three days in 1943. Hungarian troops are combing through occupied Soviet territories to weed out partisans. Essentially, Natural Light is the story of a war crime as seen from the point of view of the perpetrators, both the willing and the unwilling.