Berlinale 2020: The 70th Edition Pumps New Farsi Blood!
by YULING CHEN and Marisa Sittheeamorn
Since its founding, Berlinale has never shied away from artistically pioneering and defiantly daring films. Aspiring to create a “showcase of the free world”, Berlinale provides Farsi filmmakers with a space to express their truth, and unveil the strange beauty of their cinematic visions.
In the past, veteran Iranian filmmakers such as Jafar Panahi, Asghar Farhadi and Abbas Kiarostami have attended and won the coveted Golden Bear award at the February festival. In addition to rewarding big names, the festival has established a reputation of recognizing more contemporary, unorthodox styles of filmmaking from the region. In 2016, for example, Mani Haghighi’s film A Dragon Arrives! was part of the competition in 2016 and his film Pig (Khook) followed in 2018. Other leading figures of arthouse cinema from the Farsi-speaking region, such as Majid Barzegar, have also become household names among Berlinale audiences through the festival.
Programmers at the festival look beyond the borders of Iran, to include works representative of the global Farsi diaspora. In addition to programming films and involving filmmakers from the Farsi-speaking region in their side events, the festival has become a hot-bed for premiering Iranian-European co productions and films from Farsi filmmakers born and raised outside the Farsi-speaking region. This week, Berlinale welcomes its 70th anniversary edition, announcing a line-up that refuses to disappoint lovers of Farsi cinema. The festival will run between February 20 and March 1st.
Within the competition of the festival is Mohammad Rasoulof’s There Is No Evil (2020), and the German, Dutch co production Berlin Alexanderplatz (2020) from the Afghan-German Director, Burhan Qurbani. There is No Evil interweaves four individuals’ struggles for personal freedom in a brutal system. BroadcastPro ME has compared it with the philosopher Hannah Arendt’s concept of “the banality of evil” – an act of evildoing in a system of oppression which allows no ability to think beyond greed and connivance. Rasoulof shot the film in secret and took advantage of winter location lighting and nights, which built up its repressive undertone.
On the other hand, Berlin Alexanderplatz is an adaptation that remodels a novel’s original character to a refugee from Africa, therefore focusing a lens on the sub-saharan migrant community in Berlin. The film was a four year labour of love that was developed at the Torino Film Lab and in Los Angeles through the Villa Aurora Fellowship.
Films from and relating to the Farsi region make strong appearances in categories outside of the main competition as well. Within the Forum section of the festival is Namo (The Alien) by Nader Saeivar. Aligning with the category’s theme of meditation between the past and present, the film centers around a teacher, Bakhtiyar, who has been moved to a Kurdish speaking region of Iran with his family. The screenplay was co-written with the legendary Jafar Panahi.
The Panorama section of the festival programmes films exploring border-crossings and the complicated definitions of home in our current era. This year, two films, No Hard Feelings (Faraz Shariat, 2020), and Pari (Siamak Etemadi, 2020) hail from directors with Farsi backgrounds. Faraz Shariat’s semi-biographical debut film challenges the ideal of migrant bodies’ as victims, and invites audiences into the world of club-hopping through the rebellious Iranian-German youth. Etemadi explores the theme through a completely different narrative, following an Iranian mother (Pari) as she searches for her son in Athens.
Similarly, the Generation sections this year are especially packed to the brim with Farsi talent, with The Kites (Seyed Payam Hosseini, 2020), White Winged Horse (Mahyar Mandegar, 2020), Our Lady of the Nile (Atiq Rahimi, 2019), and the Sundance-winning Yalda, a Night for Forgiveness (Massoud Bakshi, 2019). The Kites follows a girl flying a kite who loses it on the other side of a river, where three boys attempt to help. It intercuts extreme long shots and trailing handheld shots to intensify frustrated feelings of distance and barriers. White Winged Horse is a film streaked with magic-realism. A boy, who grows up and becomes a white winged horse, fulfils a promise to his childhood love to ask for her hand one more time.
In the non-competitive section of the festival, the Berlinale Special Gala, one film stands out in particular. While it was not made by a Farsi filmmaker, its farcical plot connects to Farsi culture. Persian Lessons (2019), directed by Vadim Perelman, tells the story of a Belgian-Jewish man who lies about being Persian in order to survive in concentration camps. The Berlinale Series section is premiering another Farsi-themed narrative, Stateless (2019). Produced in Australia, the six-episode series presents four people whose lives converge in the Australian desert; one of them, an Afghan father who tries to save his family as they navigate migration.
Berlinale’s celebration of Farsi talent includes both on and off-screen talent. Iranian-American actor, Payman Maadi, takes on a role in the French film, Night Shift (Police) (Anne Fontaine, 2019), which is being showcased in the Berlinale Special Gala. In the Perspektive Deutsches Kino section of the festival, veteran Iranian actress Maryam Boubani stars in the German-Dutch coproduction, Sister Apart (2020) by Daphne Charizani. In addition to casting an Iranian lead, Charizani employed two Iranian assistant directors, Ghazal Ghorbani and Hesam Dehgani, and Sarveh Aliveisi as a Kurdish language consultant.
Side Events and Jury
Outside of the festival’s stellar film programme, side events and a selected jury member are amplifying the voices of three, very talented, Iranian filmmakers. In the Talents Table Talk: Places Like Home event, Maryam Zaree, the Iranian-German Actor and Director whose documentary Born in Evin (2019) premiered at Berlinale last year, will take the stage. A few days later, the director of No Hard Feelings (2020), Faraz Shariat, will serve as a panelist on Future Intense: Queer Films Collective. Additionally, Abbas Amini, an Iranian filmmaker whose debut feature, Valderama, premiered at Berlinale in 2016, will sit on the jury of this year’s Generation section.
2020 marks the first year of Berlinale’s leadership transition. Under its new governance, headed by Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian, the festival is advancing the principle of welcoming “new encounters and fresh perspectives.” With a revitalizing new start empowering a high number of Farsi filmmakers, talent, and thematically relevant content, FCC remains positive about the increased representation and opportunity for co-produced content in Europe and around the world.