Weimar at Berlinale 2018

The Berlinale, or Berlin International Film Festival, is one of the great Festivals. It has a vast and varied programme. And its honours are prestigious because they seriously award cinematic merit.

Alongside the offerings of world cinema, mainstream productions, documentaries and experimental fare are well designed retrospective programmes. This year, in a treat for cinephiles the Festival offers a focus on the era of Weimar Cinema, German film production from 1918 to 1933.

“In the heyday of German film-making, a variety of styles developed such as Expressionism and New Objectivity, inspired in part by American methods, a division of labour developed which led to greater professionalism and specialisation in many film production jobs.”

‘Expressionism’ is fairly well-known in the cinematic examples, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari, 1920) is the famous example. The ‘New Objectivity’ was an artistic movement which in some ways was a reaction against Expressionism. The films espoused a more naturalistic style, in keeping with their socially conscious themes. A late and favourite example of mine is People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag, 1930). The latter the work of a bevy of future Hollywood talents: Curt Siodmak, Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Billy Wilder and Fred Zinnemann,

Some of the results are rightly famous; The Last Laugh (Der letzte Mann, 1924) by F. W. Murnau with Karl Freund; and Metropolis (1927) from Ufa and Fritz Lang; both films were trailblazers of the Silent Era. But this retrospective offers a fresh insight,

“But with ‘Weimar Cinema Revisited’, that prolific period of German film itself becomes the subject of a review for the first time. The attention is primarily on work that is often omitted from the core list of Weimar films.”

There are 28 titles and 18 short films screened over the ten days of the Festival. I have seen a variety of early German films but I have only see three of four of these titles before. So the retrospective offers a feast of new cinematic treats. Given that quite a lot of cinephiles will want to enjoy the programme most titles are screened twice. Many will be from the silent film period and will have live musical accompaniments. And whilst there are several restoration screening in digital formats most of the titles should be on 35mm film. There are three strands to the programme.

“Exotic – worlds are portrayed in a variety of ways and genres. Travelogues, already very popular in early cinema were also a common genre in the Weimar era.”

And there are early ethnographic films and traits of ‘Orientalism’.

“The mountain film, at the time a primarily German genre, can also be seen as a variety of the exotic.”

The most well-known example in the programme is Das blaue Licht (The Blue Light, 1932) directed by Leni Riefenstahl with Béla Balázs.

“Quotidian – In turning to the New Objectivity of the second half of the 1920s, elements of contemporary reality and social issues were incorporated into the narratives of many films.”

The programme includes titles by the film-maker Gerhard Lamprecht, including Children of no importance, 1926). I saw several of Lamprecht’s films in a programme at Il Cinema Ritrovato and he appeared a talented and socially conscious film-maker of the period.

History – Lavishly produced period films, such as Der Favorit der Königen (The Queen’s Favourite, 1922) were very popular in the Weimar Republic.”

We also have an early version of the much characterised Ludwig II of Bavaria (Ludwig der Zweite, König von Bayern, 1930). This should offer an interesting comparison with the several later versions.

The films will be seen in two cinemas. The CinemaxX is a multi-screen venue: one of a the many sited around the central space of the Festival, Potsdamer Platz. This teems with screens, facilities, and in the Press and audience sections so many programmes and publicity offerings that I should have bought a second suitcase. The Press facilities also ask you to bring your own coffee/tea cup, to cut down on non-bio waste. Fortunately a German comrade reminded me just before I left.

The other venue is Zeughauskino sited just off the Unter den Linden. This is set among in an area of museums and cultural venues. It is a trip from Potsdamer Platz; there is both a subway and regular buses, but it is also the opportunity for a bracing walk and some exercise.

The retrospective will occupy most of my days but hopefully I will manage to see some other programmes. There are also interviews and talks and exhibitions. I have to seek out one on ‘October 1917’. Note, so far the weather is better than in Britain.

The complete Festival Journal and the Retrospective Programme are both online.

Quotations from the 2018 Berlinale Journal.

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