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Berlin Film Festival

Five things we learned at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival

Here’s what we discovered after a few days sniffing out movie treasures and turkeys at the Berlin Film Festival

By Dave Calhoun
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The big story at this year’s Berlin Film Festival was the rolling into town of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, as the German capital played host to the movie’s international premiere. But beyond ‘Fifty Shades’, it was a strong year for this annual celebration of new films from all over the world, with new work from masters including Terrence Malick (‘Knight of Cups’) and Werner Herzog (‘Queen of the Desert’), alongside fresh films from lesser known writer-directors like Chile’s Pablo Larraín (‘The Club’) and Britain’s own Andrew Haigh (‘45 Years’). Here’s what we discovered.

Queen of the Desert

1. James Franco’s English accent is awful

One of the most hotly anticipated films at this year’s festival was Werner Herzog’s ‘Queen of the Desert’, a drama about early nineteenth-century Middle East expert Gertrude Bell, played by Nicole Kidman. The film is pretty but empty. Its real low point, however, is James Franco as Bell’s lover, a well-to-do, romantic British diplomat. Let’s just say that Franco definitely won’t be in the running when Daniel Craig’s time as Bond is up.

Knight of Cups

2. Terrence Malick isn’t winning any new fans

The famously reclusive director of 1970s classics ‘Badlands’ and ‘Days of Heaven’ re-emerged in 2011 with the beautiful and eccentric ‘The Tree of Life’. Now he’s on a roll. ‘Knight of Cups’, his third film in four years, premiered at Berlin and stars Christian Bale as a rich but troubled screenwriter wandering around Los Angeles recalling a series of past relationships with women played by, among others, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman. If you liked ‘The Tree of Life’, you’ll love this. If you’re not a fan, the new film’s fragmented poetry and whispery voiceover will have you running screaming for the hills.

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The Club

3. Chile is where it’s at

Not one, but two Chilean films seriously impressed in the competition for the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin. Pablo Larrain’s ‘The Club’ tells of four disgraced priests living quietly in a small coastal town under the Catholic Church’s protection. Dark, uncomfortably funny and shocking, it takes a ferocious swipe at the religious authorities. Meanwhile, Patricio Guzman’s doc ‘The Pearl Button’ continues the poetic, cosmic approach to Chilean history that he took with 2010’s ‘Nostalgia for the Light’.

45 Years

4. Andrew Haigh is one of Britain’s best filmmakers

We saw a terrific British film in Berlin, ‘45 Years’, the third drama from Andrew Haigh, whose excellent ‘Weekend’ (2011) told of a brief gay romance. His new, Norfolk-set film gives us a few days in the life of an ageing couple (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) whose preparations for their forty-fifth anniversary party are quietly but powerfully shaken by some news the husband receives. It’s a subtle, deeply compelling study of what it means to love for a long time.

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Life

5. Robert Pattinson looks better in a suit than in an Arabian headdress

The former ‘Twilight’ star appeared in two Berlin films. The more substantial one was Anton Corbijn’s true tale ‘Life’, in which he plays a besuited 1950s photographer who strikes up a friendship with James Dean. His brief cameo as TE Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia) in Herzog’s ‘Queen of the Desert’ is best forgotten: he looks like a teenager who has raided the dressing-up box for a school play.

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