BERLIN, Jan 23 (Reuters) – Sean Penn’s documentary portrait of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, filmed as Russia invaded Ukraine a year ago, will be among headliners at next month’s Berlin Film Festival, where a life achievement award will go to Steven Spielberg.
Announcing the final film line-up on Monday, artistic director Carlo Chatrian said directors Penn and Aaron Kaufmann were already in Kyiv filming “Superpower” when Russian tanks rolled across Ukraine’s border, opening Europe’s largest conflict since World War Two.
“The Berlinale will take place exactly one year after,” Chatrian said. “And maybe Berlin is more relevant than other places, because we are close to Ukraine, because Ukrainian people live in Berlin.”
With its roots in the embattled enclave of West Berlin on the front lines of the Cold War, the Berlinale sees itself as an avowedly political festival, and Chatrian said the 73rd edition would highlight the fights for freedom in Ukraine and Iran, screening dozens of films from and about both countries.
Chatrian said the 18 films running in the competition were thematically linked by their preoccupation with melodrama and love, from Emily Atef’s “Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything” about the danger and violence of teenage love, to Giacomo Abbruzzese’s Disco Boy, about a Belarusian who joins the French Foreign Legion.
“We don’t do the selection with melodrama in mind,” Chatrian said. “We select the films because they resonate with us.”
The competition will also make space for animation with “Suzume” by Japan’s Makoto Shinkai, described by Chatrian as the “poet of youth”. Described as a journey through the Japanese archipelago, the film stands out for its bold colouring.
The Berlinale, at home in one of the world centres of queer culture, will continue to foreground the questions of gender and identity that have in recent years preoccupied its juries, this year headed by U.S. actress Kristen Stewart.
“Orlando, My Political Biography” by Paul B. Breciado will screen outside the main competition and describes Orlando writing a letter to Virginia Wolf, writer of the eponymous novel, to tell her that the gender-shifting character she created now exists in real life.
(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)