A small revolution will take the cinema by storm as the Berlin International Film Festival (aka Berlinale) kicks off on Thursday, February 7. Continuing with last year’s commitment to parity and the usual sensitive political themes, the festival will feature twenty-three films in its official selection, seventeen of which compete for the Golden Bear, awarded by a jury chaired by French actress Juliette Binoche.
The colossal and quintessential cinema showcase in Europe – together with Cannes and Venice film festivals – will propose for its 69th edition four hundred films from seventy-four countries with almost one thousand screenings during ten days (February 7 to 17). Like last year, power to the women: seven out of seventeen films participating in the Competition Section are directed by women – which means a 41%, a un unprecedented mark, especially in front of the scarce 14% female presence in Cannes and 5% in Venice.

Danish director Lone Scherfig will open the competition with the world premiere of The Kindness of Strangers, a drama set in a Russian restaurant in New York which serves as a crossroad where characters flow in and out of each other’s lives. According to film statement, “In a time of growing insecurity and little mercy, the smallest coincidences and kindness can turn into the most surprising of outcomes.”. The French nonagenarian Agnès Varda, will present a new autobiographical documentary, Varda by Agnès, out of competition.
Kindness of Strangers1.jpg
The Kindness of Strangers
Varda by Agnès
For the first time, the festival includes works produced by the streaming American giant Netflix, with the Spanish director Isabel Coixet’s production Elisa & Marcela, which is about a woman who disguised as a man to marry her female lover in 1901.
In lines of the Cold War lies Polish director Agnieszka Holland’s Mr. Jones, the story of Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, who uncovered the horror of famine in Ukraine.
Abuse of power, state oppression and struggle: Berlinale has never been shy of broaching sensitive political themes. Russia, Brazil, the United States and other countries’ steady veer to the right are key themes in this year’s festival. Brazilian director Wagner Moura's Marighella, screened out of competition, tells the story of writer Carlos Marighella's resistance to (and subsequent death in 1969 at the hands of) a military dictatorship that toppled a democratic government, in a story that uncomfortably echoes President Jair Bolsonaro's rise.
Celebrated auteur François Ozon presents By the Grace of God, inspired in a real-life case of sex abuse in the Catholic Church, while German Fatih Akin, who has an irregular trajectory, competes with The Golden Glove, based on the life of serial killer of prostitutes in 1970 Hamburg’s red light district.
China is also strongly represented in the main competition: Zhang Yimou – art-house heavyweight and one of THE best-known directors of the Chinese Fifth Generation – shows One Second, based on China's Cultural Revolution, where a movie-mad fugitive finds an orphan girl. On the other hand, Wang Xiaoshuai's So Long, My Son explores the lives of two couples living through the revolutionary economic changes that have transformed China since the 1980s.

Also coming from Asia, Indian superstars Ranveer Singh and Alia Bhatt will be on the red carpet for the premiere of Zoya Akhtar's Gully Boy, one of Bollywood's rare big-budget directors who tells the story of poor, Muslim rapper – Murad – in Mumbai. Bollywood meets hip-hop in this socially critical tale on music and love.
The documentary about the life and work of the fashion photographer Peter Lindbergh, titled Peter Lindbergh - Women's Stories, by Jean Michel Vecchiet, traces the artist work in a kaleidoscope of interviews, archive material, behind-the-scenes footage and dramatized contact prints.
Peter Lindbergh - Women's Stories
The winners of the competition will be announced on February 16 at the Award Ceremony. Berlinale Special is showing Who You Think I Am, by Safy Nebbou, about intergenerational love affairs and online fake profiling, starring chairwoman of competition jury Juliette Binoche.
The festival sticks to its successful formula: a programme that prioritises diversity, productions from non-European countries, new art-house films and last but not least, some red-carpet glamour, all achieved through the remaining sections.

The cinematic exercises are to be seen at the Berlinale Shorts. The section will screen a selection of twenty-six films from eighteen countries. Eclectic independent and art-house cinema in Panorama, which has in its lineup Mid90s by Jonah Hill, a nostalgia skater culture film featuring man of the moment Lucas Hedges. And other highlights: Shooting the Mafia by Kim Longinotto, featuring Italian photographer Letizia Battaglia; Neus Ballús' Staff Only brilliantly depicts the complex relationships between tourists and locals in Senegal, and Temblores, by Jayro Bustamante, on homosexual relationships in the conservative religious evangelical Guatemala.
Avant-garde and experimental cinematography are under Forum and Forum Expanded; films for young audiences are grouped into Generation sections; new discoveries and talents from the German scene in Perspektive Deutsches Kino. The programme is rounded out by Homage, which this year is dedicated to British actress Charlotte Rampling, who is honoured as well with the Golden Bear for her lifetime achievement.
Culinary Cinema: A Taste for Balance presents Mothers of the Land, directed by Álvaro and Diego Sarmiento, which accompanies five Andean women in their daily struggle to maintain a traditional and organic way of working the land. A God in Each Lentil is a portrait of the gastronomic universe of Alicante’s hinterland as seen by double-Michelin-star chef Kiko Moya and family. Wind Heritage presents Juan, who has worked in the land for the past forty years. His experience encapsulates what agriculture has meant to Mexico over the years.
A good brooch to end the tour through the film festival section is the festival’s director Dieter Kosslick’s quote, “Sometimes, art has to be political”, said during the press conference, who also extended an invitation to the leaders of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to attend the screening of Roberta Grossmann's documentary Who will Write our History about the secret archives of the Warsaw Ghetto, on February, 10 at Berlinale Special.
A page in the history of the festival will turn as this is Kosslick’s latest edition after eighteen years at the helm. A younger duo, composed of Carlo Chatrian, director of the Locarno Film Festival, and Mariette Rissenbeek, a former Dutch producer, will succeed him in next year’s cinema marathon.
The Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) will take place from February 7 to 17 in different locations in Berlin. For more information, visit the festival’s website.