By Thomas Escritt
BERLIN (Reuters) – An exploration of what freedom means in a dictatorship by a jailed Iranian director and the story of three people trying to wrest back control of their lives from social media giants are among the films competing in this year’s Berlin Film Festival.
The programme for the 70th Berlinale, which opens on Thursday, was described by its new director Mariette Rissenbeek as an exploration of artistic and political topics, marking a return to the roots of a festival that was launched in a divided city on the frontlines of the Cold War.
Among 18 films competing for a coveted Golden Bear is Russian director Ilya Khrzhanovskiy’s “DAU. Natasha”, the first fruit of his DAU project, in which actors were filmed living in a long-term simulation of Stalin’s Soviet Union.
Iranian director Mohammad Rasolouf will not be able to attend the premiere of “There is No Evil,” an exploration of themes such as moral strength and the death penalty, due to his imprisonment last year in Iran on charges of anti-government “propaganda”.
“It’s going to be a more … back-to-the-roots approach, trying to focus on more the quality of cinema and on real strong arthouse movies,” said Scott Roxborough, European bureau chief at the Hollywood Reporter.
The coronavirus epidemic may also make for a slightly lower-key Berlinale. According to Matthijs Wouter Knol, head of the parallel European Film Market, there have been some 100 cancellations, a modest number compared to the 21,000 industry visitors expected in total.
Jeremy Irons, the British actor who will chair the jury, will have to choose between films that also include Belgian-French drama “Delete History” about social media companies, and Burhan Qurbani’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, a retelling of the classic 1929 German novel of social exclusion with a West African refugee as the main character.
Other notable premieres include Andrew Levitas’s “Minamata”, starring Johnny Depp as U.S. war photographer W. Eugene Smith, enticed out of retirement for a final act of bravery in 1970s Japan, and “Stateless”, Cate Blanchett’s television series exploring the lives of refugees in Australia.
A different reminder of the festival’s origins in the aftermath of World War Two cast a shadow over preparations this year: The name of founding director Alfred Bauer was dropped from the second-place Silver Bear over allegations that the critic played a more important role in Adolf Hitler’s Nazi dictatorship than previously thought.
(Additional reporting by Reuters TV; Editing by Helen Popper)