The Berlinale Report

By Cat Earley

What do you imagine when you think of a cinema?

Is it the crunch of buttery popcorn? The hurried footsteps on the blacktop as patrons scurry to their seats? The dimming of the lights before the big event? Now, what about a film festival? Is it pretentious voices wafting towards directors in Q&As? Clinking glasses and the aroma of high-class petit four? The prestigious red carpet giving way to dozens upon dozens of glitzy film stars?

Both are very different images – two almost polar opposite ways of admiring and consuming cinema – and on my first day in Berlin for the Berlinale Film Festival, I would have anticipated it to appear a bit more like the latter; and I was pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case. In addition to my fellow patrons at the festival this year (by all accounts, more average joes than critics and celebrities), I was surprised to find an array of films that, in most cases, had | sorted through the almost 300 films screened at the Berlinale this year to recap the highlights, note the disappointments, and give a full recount of my time living like Steven Spielberg in Berlin this year.

Kokomo City (D.Smith, 2023, U.S.) – Panorama

Shot in the form in a beautifully stylised documentary, Kokomo City chronicles the lives, personal anecdotes, and philosophies of four Black, trans sex workers living in the U.S. The film quizzes the women on their relationships to their work, to their own transness, and to the greater Black community. The director remarked at the Q&A that “[she] made the film at a very dark time in [her] life” and that she hopes that the film (produced, directed, written, and edited by Smith herself) will spark new conversations around the issues and topics it so expertly addresses.

A Greyhound of a Girl (Enzo D’Alò, 2023, Ireland) – Generation Kplus

I decided to chance my arm at this new Irish flick after one of my other films fell through. To my surprise, it left me a sobbing mess at 11 in the morning crammed between a group of German school kids. A story about death, family, and four generations of Irish women, this film tugs at the tensions that lie at the heart of a lot of Irish households, and does so without relying on the “mythical Irish” trope too much, which was refreshing to see.

Almamula (Juan Sebastián Torales, 2023, Argentina) – Generation 14plus

Admittedly one of my least favourite films at the Berlinale this year, it would be a shame to completely discard Almamula as being entirely without insight or merit. 12 year-old Nino (Nicolás Díaz), after being violently outed by his traditional, Catholic community, moves away with his family to the Argentinian countryside, where he struggles to reconcile his faith with his sexuality and develops a particular curiosity with a mythical monster of lust and carnal sin called ‘La Almamula’. This conflation of sexuality with villainy is not a new cinematic concept by any means, especially not in the world of horror, but the way in which it is handled in Almamula leaves much to be desired. The film often seems confused in its own genre, pulled between coming-of-age and horror and struggles to combine the two in a way that feels thematically conclusive. Still, a queer film of this kind still holds a lot of merit and I can only hope that director Torales manages to channel the same creativity with greater intent into future works.

Infinity Pool (Brandon Cronenberg, 2023, Canada) – Berlinale Special

Looking to cram a more mainstream film into my busy Berlinale schedule, I have to admit that Infinity Pool is not a film I initially thought I would enjoy. The most recent brainchild of the King of Body Horror’s eldest son, the film completely blew my expectations out of the water by appealing to me more than any David Cronenberg film ever has. Set on the fictional island of La Tolqa, Infinity Pool uses its tourist-trap setting to play with ideas of wealth and social status, cultural exploitation, and the multifaceted notions of western tourism, while being careful not to take itself too seriously.

Sira (2023, Apolline Traoré, Burkina Faso) – Panorama

After receiving a last-minute and unexpected ticket to the screening of Sira (Apolline Traoré, 2023), the film ended up becoming one of my favourite films of the entire festival. After an attack on her Fulani clan, which results in the murder of her father and her subsequent kidnapping by Islamic terrorists, Sira is left for dead in the desert. What follows is a cinematic transformation from quite a bleak opening act to a powerfully feminist journey that plays on existing ‘rape revenge’ flicks like Kill Bill (Quentin Tarantino, 2003). A gem of its region, Sira is an immensely important and much-needed feminist take on current events in the Sahel.

The Bride (Miriam Uwiragiye Birara, 2023, Rwanda) – Forum

A slow-moving and methodical film, The Bride (Miriam Uwiragiye Birara, 2023) draws you into its quiet narrative over the course of its short 70 minute runtime. Full of ambition and promise, Eva dreams of attending university to become a doctor, but her bright hopes for the future are completely cut short when she is abducted and assaulted by a stranger. The abductor, as per tradition, is allowed to take her as his wife, trapping Eva in a domestic sphere with her attacker and dashing all hopes of being allowed to attend university. The Bride – if sometimes a tad too meandering – broaches the topic of forced marriages and generational trauma in a very sensitive manner, fleshing out each of its very few characters to create a nuanced portrait of life after the Rwandan genocide.


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