La Presse at the 74th Berlinale | Under the red carpet, everything is not rosy

(Berlin) You should never trust appearances. On the red carpet at the Berlinale Palast, everyone looked happy to be happy on Thursday evening at the opening of the 74e Berlin International Film Festival. The members of the competition jury were all smiles. Its president, actress Lupita Nyong’o, took advantage of the mild weather to take off her coat and pose for photographers in a white dress with a low cut in the back.

The leaders of the Berlinale also seemed to have a blast, as did the guests and dignitaries, in front of the cameras and the hundreds of onlookers. On the way to the screening of the opening film, Small Things Like Thesestarring Cillian Murphy and Emily Watson, I chanced upon filmmakers Fatih Akin and Abel Ferrara, as well as actress Vicky Krieps.

I saw Wim Wenders in the distance. I saw demonstrators with anti-racist signs, denouncing the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party. I did not, however, see the five deputies from this party disinvited last week by the management of the festival after the controversy sparked by the possibility of their presence at the opening ceremony. Rhinestone is by definition deceptive. In Berlin, what is swept under the red carpet these days is not rosy.

“The Berlinale has a lot of room for dialogue between people and for art,” said Festival co-director Mariëtte Rissenbeek during the opening ceremony. “But she has no room for hatred. Hate is not on our guest list. »


The co-director of the Festival, Mariëtte Rissenbeek

Earlier in the day, jurors of the official competition did not agree. “I don’t think it’s a problem to have five people from the AfD in the audience. We are not cowards. If we cannot accept five people from the AfD in the room, we will lose our battle,” said German filmmaker Christian Petzold (Barbara), during a particularly tense jury press conference.

“Imagine if you had these five fascists watching the films shown at the Berlinale. Maybe this could help them broaden their horizons a little,” added, along the same lines, Italian actress Jasmine Trinca, who is a member of the jury and cast of the Netflix series. Supersexstarring porn actor Rocco Siffredi, which will premiere at the Berlinale.

Imagine two jurors who disavow on the first day a decision of the festival management which invited them to sit…

Lupita Nyong’o, born in Mexico to Kenyan parents, the first black person to chair the jury of the Berlinale competition, would she also have been comfortable finding herself at the opening ceremony in the company of elected officials who campaign for the deportation of two million migrants and Germans of foreign origin?

“I’m a foreigner here,” the daughter of diplomats and Yale graduate replied cautiously. I don’t know the ins and outs of politics. I’m glad I don’t have to answer that question. And I’m glad I don’t have to be in that position. »

Christian Petzold, Silver Bear at the Berlinale last year for Afire, ended up showing his annoyance at the journalists’ insistent questions on this subject. “I think all these questions make them stronger than they really are. There are hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating against these five MPs and they are much more important than this kind of discussion. »


Jury member Christian Petzold

The Berlinale is recognized as the most political of the major film festivals. Also, the political questions did not stop with the irritation of Christian Petzold. In particular, there was talk of the letter of support that the filmmaker signed in December, like Lupita Nyong’o, in favor of a ceasefire in Gaza.

Germany has aligned itself unwaveringly behind Israel since the atrocious massacre committed by Hamas on October 7. Since then, several artists have called on German cultural institutions, notably the Berlinale, to more firmly oppose the war. Should this be the case?

“I don’t want to answer that question here, because it’s not really a question that belongs in this press conference,” Christian Petzold said dryly. I am for peace. I am in favor of discussion, of conversation, which we will do as a jury. »

On the opening night, German Culture Minister Claudia Roth deplored the Israeli and Palestinian victims, hoping for a political and peaceful solution to the conflict, but without specifically mentioning a ceasefire. She also denounced Vladimir Putin’s shameless lies and reiterated her support for the Ukrainian resistance.

“Heavy conversations”

At the jury’s press conference on Thursday morning, tension rose a notch when a Ukrainian journalist mentioned an interview given in 2022 by another juror of the competition, the Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra (Peacetion) to a Spanish media outlet, in which he admitted his fascination with Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and suggested that he would like to become a Russian secret agent.

“The political issue you are referring to has changed because there is war and everyone is angry [contre la Russie] “, replied Serra, without clearing up any misunderstanding. “Saying that a person is good or not changes nothing,” he added. Saying Trump is good doesn’t change anything. These are just statements. I think realpolitik is much more interesting. »

Serra, as provocative in his art as in his statements, should know that black humor does not go down well in interviews or press conferences (he only has to consult Lars von Trier on this subject). Especially since one of his colleagues on the jury is the Ukrainian novelist, poet and activist Oksana Zabuzhko, who declared herself “intrigued” by Serra’s response, before rebuffing him.

“The good news,” she said, “is that last night we were sitting together at dinner and Albert told me that he had bought my newest book on the war in Spanish. I hope this will be an opportunity for him to educate himself on this issue. ” And wham. Hello atmosphere…


Lupita Nyong’o on the red carpet

There wasn’t just love in the air, as Martine St-Clair sings, unlike what we see at the consensual jury press conferences that festivals have accustomed us to in the past. With all these strong heads, the tone risks rising during the deliberations. “We’ve already had tough conversations,” confirmed Lupita Nyong’o, Oscar winner for best supporting actress for Twelve Years A Slave by Steve McQueen in 2014. “It will probably be spicy!” », added the star of Black Panther.

“Are there no more political questions? », concluded Christian Petzold, with a smirk, when the moderator announced the end of this memorable press conference.

Political interference

Politics is on display in all sorts of ways at the Berlinale this year. It was announced last September that the co-directors of the Berlinale, Carlo Chatrian and Mariëtte Rissenbeek, will be replaced next year by the American Tricia Tuttle, who was director of the London Film Festival for five years.

Under his two-headed leadership, the Berlinale has struggled, since 2019, to attract the big Hollywood guns as well as the stars who accompany them – or has refused to do so. What will be expected from Tricia Tuttle. Some saw the long awaited Dune 2 by Denis Villeneuve launched at the Berlin Film Festival, where the Quebec filmmaker won the Critics’ Prize in the Panorama section for Maelstrom in 2001. The film is rather multiplying its premieres in different cities around the world, even though the Berlinale is in full swing.

The Berlin Film Festival is no longer on Hollywood’s radar, as are its main competitors Venice, Cannes and Toronto. It’s a popular demonstration, open to the public, but clearly in left field. Will the new American leadership change anything?

Significant budget cuts are not unrelated to the departure of the co-directors. Mariëtte Rissenbeek has decided to retire. The outgoing artistic director, Carlo Chatrian, for his part suggested that Minister Claudia Roth was now demanding a veto on the selection of films at the Berlinale. Several renowned filmmakers, including Martin Scorsese and Claire Denis, have publicly denounced in vain what amounts to political interference.

“In the new structure, as it has been presented, it is very clear that the conditions for me to continue as artistic director no longer exist,” Chatrian, a former director of the Locarno Festival, said in a statement. when his five-year contract was not renewed.

Thursday evening, Claudia Roth and Carlo Chatrian were both on the red carpet. We can suspect that they will not be invited to the same place again anytime soon. party

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