Berlin on Screen at GFT, plus other titles to explore
As GFT presents a season of Berlin films to celebrate Glasgow's co-hosting of the European Championships with the German capital, we suggest more cinematic titles made in Berlin that delve into this fascinating city's history
It’s been said that Glasgow has a lot in common with Berlin – creatives, collectives, a buzzing re-emergence. Now the twinning goes one step further when Glasgow hosts the European championships this month, with events being held in the German capital simultaneously. In recognition, the GFT is holding a Berlin retrospective. It offers to take you on a chronological journey through the evolution of a city that gave birth to an entire influential film movement in German Expressionism, and fostered names like Dietrich and Lang.
A Berlin season wouldn’t be complete without Cabaret (2 Aug). It might be known for Minelli's razzle-dazzle but the film exudes a sense of threat and precarity as Nazism tightens around the hedonistic Kit Kat Club. Liberality and the accompanying reactionary conservatism isn’t so strange a concept today. Next, The Lives of Others (5 Aug). Set in 1983, it skilfully examines the process of self-revelation in the mind of an East German spy who listens in on a couple on the Western side of the wall. Wings of Desire (6 Aug) uses a black and white palette, conversely exploring the nuances and complexities of human existence from the point of view of an angel. Wim Wenders' 1987 film was screened in the appropriately monastic Paisley Abbey last year. The season concludes with the continuous one take Victoria (11 Aug), a thriller in both narrative and filming choice. And then there's the dance culture documentary Symphony of Now (12 Aug) – follow the beats and spot your favourite club stops, as every district gets its turn under the glow-stick lights.
Like Berlin’s side streets of hidden art, clubs and communities, you can delve beyond those initial five titles for a more rounded experience. People on Sunday (1930) is an early example of what we have become used to seeing in films by Ken Loach or Jafar Panahi, namely the use of non-professional actors to create a naturalistic style. Relationships and friendships fall together and apart in this silent film written by Billy Wilder. In capturing wartime, Downfall (2004) offers the chance to see events through the eyes of “young follower” Traudl Junge, who was appointed as Hitler's personal secretary.
Good Bye, Lenin! (2003) brings the comedic to communism. When a mother sleeps through the dismantling of the Berlin wall, her son (Daniel Brühl) goes to every effort to maintain the lie. It’s an unexpectedly touching look at the lengths we’ll go to for the ones we care about. Run Lola Run (1998) takes time and plays with it, splitting the narrative into distinct strands where we get to see how things would turn out if you could do them differently. The Edukators (2004) may be 14 years old, but its ideas are as relevant as ever. A group of young activists break into houses of the wealthy, rearranging their furniture in anti-capitalist protest. Soon events spiral and the film raises questions about the consequences of principles in practice.
The Berlin Film Festival is now in its 68th year, and the city’s cinephile scene sits side-by-side with its filmmaking culture. Academy Award-nominated Toni Erdmann (2016) was directed by Maren Ade, also known for her Silver Bear-winning Everyone Else. Erdmann explores a father-daughter relationship in wise-cracking form – from the moment an eccentric father dresses up as his ‘brother’ to unconvincingly fool the postman, the tone is set. Margarethe von Trotta, nominated for two Palm d'Ors, brought political theorist Hannah Arendt to screens in 2012. Today, Arendt's book The Origins of Totalitarianism has become required reading again, in part because of perceived parallels with current events.
Film Academy Baden-Württemberg graduate Mia Spengler was a star of the 2017 Berlin Film Festival with Back for Good. Spengler puts two sisters and their mum at the centre of a comedy-drama intertwining the perils of reality TV and protective epilepsy helmets. While Helene Hegemann has opened eyes with Axolotl Overkill (2017). Based on her own book, it follows a young woman who takes audiences into the tumult of adolescent implosion. Hegemann re-energises female relationships, laying bare all their uneasy extremes.
As events unfold in America and on our own doorstep, the shadows are not just drawn across the screen any more. But there is a Berlin on film ever propelling itself forward too, disruptive, energetic, and vocal.
Festival 2018: Berlin on Screen, GFT, 2-12 Aug; full details here