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Must Watch Movies at the Berlin Film Festival

Last updated on: February 20, 2012 18:49 IST

Must Watch Movies at the Berlin Film Festival

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Aseem Chhabra in Berlin
Looking at the Top 10 movies at the recently-concluded Berlin International Film Festival.
 
Germany is experiencing one of the coldest winters in decades, but the past two weeks witnessed a lot of warmth in Berlin, as hundreds of thousands of filmgoers filled up the city's large movie theaters for the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival. 
 
The festival -- also referred to as the Berlinale -- closed on Sunday, marking another strong year for international films.
 
Here are Aseem Chhabra's top ten picks at the Berlinale.

Aujourd'hui (France)

One morning US-returned Satche (played by American slam poet, hip hop musician and actor Saul Williams) wakes up at his parents house in Senegal to learn that he will live for only one more day.  

At the end of the day, when he shuts his eyes, he will die. Thus begins this man's journey, revisiting his life -- meeting old buddies, his ex-girlfriend, an uncle who in a haunting scene shows how he will wash Satche's body before his burial.
 
Finally, in the film's quietest and most tender moments, Satche plays with his two little kids and makes peace with his wife.  

Director Alain Gomis has made a moving, spiritual film where a man takes a measure of the life he has lived.

Image: A scene from Aujourd'hui


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Barbara (Germany)

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Winner of the Silver Bear for best director for Christian Petzold, Barbara works in the same territory as the 2007 Oscar winner The Lives of Others.  

But unlike that film, Barbara is a lot quieter, which gives it a very compelling edge-of-the-seat quality.
 
In Barbara, actress Nina Hoss plays a doctor who has been punished for applying for an exist visa out of East Germany. She is sent off to a small provincial hospital where she has to deal with nosey colleagues, the Stasi and loneliness, while also caring for patients.

Image: A scene from Barbara


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Caesar Must Die (Italy)

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Italian brothers and filmmakers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani (Padre Padrone) have directed a stunning prison drama, which became an early favourite of critics and won the top Golden Bear award at the Berlinale.  

In Caesar Must Die, the directors spent six months filming criminals (killers, those serving terms for drug related crimes and even former Mafia members) as they rehearse Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.  

Shot mostly in black and white, the film is a powerful depiction of one of the best known plays of all times. In the prison setting, the film becomes a gripping drama with surprising performances from non-actors.

Image: A scene from Caesar Must Die


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Elles (France/ Poland)

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In Elles, the radiant Juliette Binoche plays a journalist writing an article about two college students, who work as prostitutes to support their studies.

While she interviews the young women and listens to the tapes, Binoche's character Anne also spends time preparing an elaborate dinner for her husband's colleagues, cleaning her brightly lit apartment, and worrying about her two sons.  

Elles is a disturbing film that juxtaposes intense sex scenes with mundane daily rituals in Anne's life. Binoche shines in the film playing a complex character who somehow manages to bring a balance in her life.

Image: A scene from Elles


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Home for the Weekend (Germany)

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Another German entry in the competition section, Home for the Weekend covers what appears to be an oft visited subject in western films -- a troubled family reunion.

But the subject here is of two adult sons, coping with their personal failures, while their wealthy father is cheating on their sick mother. Meanwhile the mother has decided to discontinue her medications, which leads to the brothers reliving childhood traumas.  

There is a lot of sadness in Home for the Weekend, even though it has an enticing look and is very well acted.

Image: Home for the Weekend (Germany)

Tags: Germany

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Kuma (Austria/ Turkey)

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Although Germany has a large Turkish immigrant population, Kuma is set in the neighboring Austria.  

The matriarch of an immigrant family is sick with cancer and she decides to get her husband a second wife.  But officially the family pretends that it is their oldest son who is marrying the young bride.  

Kuma is a very strong film, reflecting a shameful tradition that immigrants bring with them to their new homes in the West. 

Deftly directed by a first-time filmmaker Umut Dag, the film boasts of wonderful performances by its ensemble cast.


Image: A scene from Kuma (Austria/ Turkey)


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My Brother the Devil (UK)

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British-Egyptian filmmaker Sally El Hosaini weaves a complex story about the working class immigrant Arab community in London. Mo, a 14-year old teenager, idolizes his 19-year old brother Rashid, who is a drug dealer.  

The boys cruise through days and nights of street violence, gangs and weapons while their clueless, but hard working parents are focused on building a life in the foreign land.  

Time, circumstances and lifestyle changes test the bond between the brothers.
 
In El Hosaini's hands My Brother the Devil is a tightly knit drama, moving and heartbreaking. 

Image: A scene from My Brother the Devil


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Shadow Dancer (UK)

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British filmmaker James Marsh won an Oscar for his riveting 2008 documentary Man on Wire.

This time Marsh has directed a narrative feature Shadow Dancer, a critical hit at the Sundance Film Festival, before its European premiere at the Berlinale. 

Clive Owen plays a British secret agent who convinces a young single Irish mother from Northern Island to spy on her family, deeply engaged in IRA activities.  

Working in the same space as the Oscar nominated Australian indie Aminal Kingdom (2010), Shadow Dancer is a psychological thriller, where the greatest threat the characters face is from their own family.


Image: A scene from Shadow Dancer


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Sister (French)

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Like the works of the Belgian filmmakers and brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, the French film Sister explores a deeply sad story about 12-year old Simon, a charming street-smart teenager who lives in a working class apartment building on the base of a luxurious ski resort.

He buys a season pass, and then steals skis, gloves and sunglasses, selling them at a discounted price to his neighbors -- mostly young kids.  

Winner of a Special Award Silver Bear at the Berlinale, Sister is often tough to watch, but 14-year old actor Kacey Mottet Klein brings a lot of warmth to his role as Simon.  

The film's energy rests on the chemistry between Simon and his sister, played by the seductive young French star Lea Seydoux (one of the villains in Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol).


Image: A scene from Sister


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War Witch (Canada)

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French-Canadian film War Witch explores the horrors of the civil war in Sub-Saharan Africa through the eyes of child soldiers, especially Komona, a 12-year old who is forced to join the rebel army after her village is attacked and all the adults are killed.

Beautifully made, with stunning cinematography, music and some harrowing scenes of war, War Witch is an important film about a region that most of us tend to forget.

The film's core strength is the survival instinct of Komona, played with a lot of charm and confidence by Rachel Mwanza, who won the Silver Bear for Best Actress.


Image: A scene from War Witch


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