To fight with love: highlights from Berlinale 2017

Conveniently forgetting the too-expensive-to-attend Sundance, the Berlinale is the first event in the festival calendar, heralding the films that will be released later in the year.

Berlin is the best-attended public festival in the world according to the Berlinale PR agency but it’s easy to believe when the festival screenings are packed and the queues out the door. This is especially impressive when considering the raw ice-factor of this year’s festival had it on a par with Siberia. 

Cillian Murphy signs autographs in sub-zero temperatures at the Berlinale premiere of Sally Potter's The Party (from inside the Filmpalast)

So, what can we look forward to in 2017? Filmmakers and the Jury told us we must ‘fight’ – with love. Even if the films weren’t overtly political, the speeches were and we can expect a lot more of this as people take to a public red carpet to try and use films to make sense of the collective global confusion felt by the liberal arts brigade. What this conversation actually means in film terms is hard to determine right now; as one producer put it, ‘we’re in a post-gay world’ but it felt good to see liberalism on the screen with two gay-centric films that were both bold and beautiful.

God's Own Country - dir. Francis Lee, 2017

The first, God’s Own Country, set on a Yorkshire sheep farm, is about a blossoming romance between the farmer’s son and a Romanian farm-hand helping out in the lambing season. There is such an authenticity to life on the farm (writer/director Francis Lee grew up on one) and it is the scenes set there that lift this rural drama to form a genuinely exciting debut. In stark contrast to the chilly English moors, the exquisite new film Call Me By Your Name from Luca Guadagnino is set in the gorgeous Italian Riviera. Armie Hammer (yes, Armie Hammer) plays Oliver, a visiting American staying with his academic hosts and their 17-year-old son, Elio (Timothee Chalamet, superb). A tentative love affair blossoms between the two young men, and it's beautifully told and played. For anyone who has ever fallen in love then this film will remind you of those early days of attraction and the aftermath of a love lost. It was simply sublime.

Call Me By Your Name - dir. Luca Guadagnino, 2017

If there is any criticism with Call Me By Your Name (and there isn’t) then it’s the running time of 2 hrs and 10 mins, when the Hitchcock adage about 'length of film' and 'size of bladder' came to mind. No such danger with the succinct 71 minutes of Sally Potter’s The Party.  Potter describes the film as a portrait of Broken England. Well maybe – but don’t expect an I, Daniel Blake broken England – it's one of bankers, liberalists, politicians, academics and feminists – and it works. Set at a house party celebrating Janet’s (Kristen Scott Thomas being brilliant) appointment as Shadow Health Secretary it all starts to go if not wrong, certainly misshaped, quite quickly leading to secrets and lies being aired. I particularly enjoyed Cillian Murphy’s portrayal of an OCD banker.

But finally to my favourite film of the festival, Sebastien Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman, a Chilean drama centred on a trans woman who may be found culpable of murder after her lover dies. The revulsion felt by the first time round family of her lover who claim that they don’t understand nor know what they are looking at is at odds with what we see on screen: the picture we form is that of a courageous, gentle, intelligent and kind woman. It’s a transcendent performance and a stunning cinematic film.

[Kate Gerova, Curzon Cinemas Head Office]

To hear more about the 2017 Berlin Film Festival from the Curzon Cinemas team tune into this special episode of the Curzon podcast on Friday 24 Feb.

God’s Own Country will be released by Trafalgar Releasing later in 2017.
Call Me By Your Name will be released by Sony later in 2017.