indieberlin’s pick: The Five Best Berlinale Films


While Caterina Gili was busy for us snapping stars on the red carpet outside, indieberlin’s Official Film Person Elinor Lewy was inside in the darkness staring up at the screen, a thoughtful expression on her face. After watching a whole load of films, Elinor’s come up with her pick of the five best of the festival. 

Top 5 Berlinale Films

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter (USA 2014)
Kumiko (Rinko Kikuchi) is a detached young woman working as a lowly secretary in Tokyo. She leads a lonely existence and the only thing that manages to perk her up is treasure hunting. Kumiko comes across a mysterious tape during one of her trips and becomes obsessed with finding what she believes is a suitcase filled with money in Minnesota. If what is on the VHS tape reminds you of a certain film shot by the Coen brothers, you would not be wrong. Kumiko sets off to the United States completely unprepared and dead-set on finding her treasure during the coldest time of year. The character of Kumiko may first appear to be all quirk and no substance but the film is deceptively grim with a breathtaking ending. One would expect nothing less from the same team that made the unrelentingly Kid-Thing.

Finding Vivian Maier (USA 2013)
Vivian Maier was a New York nanny and covert street photographer. Maier is experiencing a posthumous renaissance and this is all due to director John Maloof who happened to come across her street photographs at a public auction. Maloof attempts to uncover Maier’s life, which proves to be a very difficult undertaking. Maier took more than 100,000 photographs in her life yet no one had seen them when she was alive and no one knew just how good they were. It could be said that Vivian Maier lead an unfulfilled life, at least in mainstream society’s understanding of what a life should be. Her life story is a sad one and while Maloof has tried to bark up every tree a lot of the details remain a mystery. Finding Vivian Maier also dares to ask pertinent questions about what constitutes “good art” and the elitism of the art world that favors canonization over quality.

Boyhood (USA 2014)
Mason (Ellar Coltrane) is an elementary aged child living in Texas with his extroverted older sister Samantha (Lorelai Linklater, the daughter of the director) and single-parent mom (Patricia Arquette). Mason is not an especially unique kid and does not lead a spectacular existence by any means, yet seeing him grow up is riveting nonetheless. Boyhood starts off with Mason at age seven and ends when he is about to go off to college. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood represents a version of bland Americana that is very familiar and the film does have its share of simplistic, generic beats to service its relatability (especially geared towards white, middle-class men) but its impact and ambition is undeniable: it is an astounding cinematic feat and an absolute joy to watch.

Al Midan aka The Square (Egypt/USA 2013)
Al Midan follows a group of young revolutionaries who are standing up against the corrupt, violent regime that has ruled over Egypt for decades. These individuals are risking their life to benefit their countries’ future and it is happening in Tahrir Square which has become an urban battleground. The film follows the revolutions’ beginning in 2011, when the activists experienced a brief moment of hope when Mubarak stepped down, and follows them handling the very messy aftermath which is still going on to this day. Al Midan shows history in the making, and these inspiring people are sacrificing everything they have for a common cause; their commitment is a testament to the human spirit. (Full disclosure: Though I found the film to be captivating, I had to leave 20 minutes before the film ended.)

Nymphomaniac Part 1 (Denmark/Germany/France/Belgium/UK 2014)
Self-ascribed nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stacy Martin as young Joe) is found lying in a dark alley by a kindly man(Stellan Skarsgard) who takes her in. Joe, seething with self-hatred, proceeds to narrate her life story and explain how she came to be the self-proclaimed bad person she is today. Nymphomaniac Part 1 is a grandiose spectacle; director Lars von Trier took a lot of ballsy risks with this film and it pays off handsomely. There is humor, philosophy, brilliantly conceptualized ideas, spot-on acting – a film like this has truly never existed. It will be incredibly difficult to wait for Part 2 which will surely not disappoint.

Honorable mention:
Kuzu (Turkey 2014)
Trouble is brewing in a small, quiet village in Turkey. The son of Medine (Nesrin Cavadzade) and Ismael (Cahit Gok), is about to get circumcised – an auspicious occasion that brings his mother great grief for they haven’t a penny to spare and desperately need to prepare an adequate celebration meal. As part of a cruel prank, the boy’s older sister Vicdan (Sila Lara Canturk) tells him that he is doomed in one of the more uniquely spun tales caught on celluloid and the truly awful joke soon develops into something far more sinister. What starts off as a gentle allegorical film develops into a raw depiction of human evil. Kuzu lags in places but its last third brings the masterfully conceptualized dark fairy tale to a very fitting end.

Article by Elinor Lewy