Far From Tinseltown 

The Berlinale bares the unadorned cinematic spirit

The usually tame Potsdamer Platz came alive when journalists, film executives, and international A-listers descended upon Berlin’s quadrangle of theaters for the 59th annual Berlinale in February, one of Europe’s longest running international film festivals. While Berlin’s grey skies and frigid temperatures don’t leave much room for glamour (some stars were actually shivering on the red carpet), the festival is an industry favorite because of the breadth of its competition films, ranging from quirkily salable films like Mitchell Lichtenstein’s family drama Happy Tears, starring Demi Moore and Parker Posey to films like Katalin Varga, British Budapest-based director Peter Strickland’s sumptuously shot revenge film set in the Carpathian mountains. Although Hollywood stars like Michelle Pfeiffer, Blake Lively, Renée Zellweger, Steve Martin and Gael García Bernal walked the red carpet, the Berlinale remains a forum of international cinema that is less Hollywood-centric and swag-oriented than Sundance and more manageable than Cannes. Keeping with the spirit of the festival, I offer my top four European film picks.

, director Kai Wessel
The disarmingly beautiful Hildegard Knef went to acting school as a teenager during World War II, had a romantic entanglement with a Nazi official, fought against the Russians to remain by his side, married a Jewish American solider after the war, and (with different lovers in between) went on to make 50 feature films and record 23 albums. Kai Wessel’s film delivers a portrait of a talented and complicated individual with a level of artfulness few biopics ever achieve.

An Education, director Lone Scherfig
Sixteen-year-old Jenny sneaks Gauloises and sings along to French records trying to escape from the dullness of her tweedy prep-school life. A bigger distraction comes from a charming older man who whisks her away from Twickenham and cello lessons to art auctions, horse races and a Paris vacation that changes her life.

Alle Anderen, director Maren Ade
Maren Ade’s sophomore effort chronicles the fallout of a couple’s Saturn Return. While vacationing in Sardinia, the idiosyncratic lovers grapple with their respective uneasiness about identity, success, aging, gender and social codes. The result is a hilarious, yet deeply felt journey into the heart of the 1920s and all its discontents.

Katalin Varga, director Peter Strickland
Strickland captivates with a sparely elegant story about a woman who sets out on horseback seeking revenge for a crime that occurred 11 years prior. Mark Gyori’s camera conjures a primordial atmosphere for a timeless story to unfold. An impressive and intelligent debut.

-Jesi Khadivi