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The Best Films at the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival

Written by on February 27, 2018 

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With the 2018 Berlin International Film Festival wrapped, we’ve highlighted our favorite films from the festival. Make sure to stay tuned in the coming months as we learn about distribution news for the titles. Check out our favorites below.

An Elephant Sitting Still (Bo Hu)

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The trick to getting the most out of the Berlin Film Festival is to dig deep into its stupendous program spanning 400 films across a multitude of sidebars. Premiering in the Forum section which traditionally favors more experimental/radical forms of filmmaking, Chinese writer/director Bo Hu’s feature debut An Elephant Sitting Still is the work of raw, intimidating talent driven by a creative fury that would likely daunt most competition titles. Unmissable for anyone craving the gritty realism and independent spirit of pre-00’s Chinese cinema. Fair warning: this is decidedly not the feel-good movie of the year. – Zhuo-Ning Su (full review)

Grass (Hong Sang-soo)

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If you happen to be in need of motivation, take a moment to consider that South Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo has released fourteen feature-length movies this decade thus far, and four of them have premiered within the past year. As levels of cinematic productivity go that’s up there with the Rainer Werner Fassbinders of this world. Similar to that late, great German, one of the reasons he is able to achieve such metrics is that he continuously works with roughly the same recurring cast. Hong’s filmmaking style–that of reworking the same elements again and again–means that, unlike Fassbinder perhaps, there is a temptation to compare each concurrent release. Given that the last few years have offered high watermarks such as Right Now, Wrong Then and On the Beach at Night Alone, it might be easy to judge his latest film (a medium-length black-and-white feature called Grass) as being small in scope, even unambitious perhaps. But it is nothing of the sort. – Rory O. (full review)

Infinite Football (Corneliu Porumboiu)

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In Romania at the end of the 1980’s–the autumn years of the Ceausescu regime–Adrian Porumboiu worked as a professional referee for the national football league (or however it was referred to at the time). His son Corneliu (born in 1975) would grow up to become a significant filmmaker in the so-called Romanian New Wave of the mid ’00s. In 2014, Corneliu made a movie about his dad called The Second Game in which he narrated over a full 90-minute match that his father had refereed. Through the ever-politicized veil of sport the director was able to talk about the realities of those times. He returns to the beautiful game in 2018 with Infinite Football, a contemporary portrait of a man who suffered a bad injury before his career—at least in his eyes–had the chance to take off. – Rory O. (full review)

In the Realm of Perfection (Julien Faraut)

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From the years 1973 to 1981 the great film critic Serge Daney held the position of editor of Cahiers du cinéma, that most revered and storied of film journals. He also wrote a tennis column. That idea of a shared symbiotic passion for the worlds of cinema and sport—and how the two might be connected—provides the basis for Julien Faraut’s experimental documentary In the Realm of Perfection, a witty and contagiously impassioned ethnographical study of the game and, in particular, the 1985 finals at Roland Garros. – Rory O. (full review)

Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)

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One does not necessarily have to be fond of canines in order to love Isle of Dogs, but it helps. It may also help to have a fondness for the meticulous craft of stop-motion animation itself or, even more interestingly perhaps, for Japanese cinema. It is a delightful, exquisitely-detailed production that sees Wes Anderson return to animated filmmaking for the first time since Fantastic Mr. Fox, and it’s clear, as he has admitted, that his biggest influences were not the works of Laika or Aardman, but rather Akira Kurosawa. – Rory O. (full review)

Transit (Christian Petzold)

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Migration isn’t just a hot-button issue in the political arena. It’s a hot topic in your local arthouse theater, too. At Berlin’s film festival, the subject is everywhere–from Wolfgang Fischer’s Styx and documentaries like Central Airport THF–perhaps natural for the capital of a country now home to more than a million recent asylum-seekers from the middle east and Africa. Local boy Christian Petzold’s audacious retelling of Anna Seghers’s World War II-set novel about refugees escaping Nazi-controlled France is a strange, beguiling creation that will be hard to beat in the competition line-up, and ranks as a rare period piece that utterly gets under the skin of contemporary concerns. It’s an engrossing, uncanny and somewhat disturbing film, and completes something of a trio of historical melodramas after Barbara and his worldwide hit Phoenix, but develops the themes of those in an adventurous, if oblique, way. – Ed F. (full review)

U – July 22 (Erik Poppe)

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How do you make a film about Utøya? Veteran Norwegian helmer Erik Poppe’s latest feature will revive discussions about the justification of making movies about recent historical tragedies, just as Paul Greengrass suffered the wrath of the Twitterati when it was announced he, too, was making a movie about the 2011 Norway attacks for Netflix. It’s been six-and-a-half years since right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 in the worst attack in Norway since the Second World War. This grueling, pulsating, in-your-face film–almost to a fault–has ferocious power, but it’s going to divide like a fissure. – Ed F. (full review)

Unsane (Steven Soderbergh)

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The term “post-prime Federer” has recently come into the sporting lexicon as a way to describe the great Swiss tennis star’s career in the years since his supposed peak ended in 2010; the rub here being that this unique entity has actually won more Grand Slam titles than Andy Murray, to take one example. Similar innocuous comparisons could soon be made for the prolificacy of “post-retirement Steven Soderbergh.” Indeed, it was never going to be easy for the director of Sex, Lies and Videotape to step away from the camera — his finger has always been too close to the pulse to ignore it, his inputs too wired to the cultural zeitgeist. Despite being shot months before the New York Times and New Yorker aired Weinstein’s dirty laundry, his latest effort, Unsane — which is essentially a b-movie in many respects — is arguably the first psychological horror of the #MeToo era. – Ed F. (full review)

The Rest

Damsel (B+)
Madeline’s Madeline (B+)

Cross My Heart (B)
Daughter of Mine (B)
Museum (B)
Touch Me Not (B)
Xiao Mei (B)

Dovlatov (B-)

Cobain (C+)
Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot (C+)

Generation Wealth (C)

Eva (C-)

See our complete Berlin 2018 coverage.


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