Berlinale: Berlin Festival to award first ‘gender-neutral’ acting award on final day

The 71st Berlin Film Festival wraps up on Friday after a pandemic-era edition unlike any before, with the awarding of its Golden Bear best picture prize and its first "gender neutral" acting gongs.

Berlinale: Berlin Festival to award first 'gender-neutral' acting award on final day
A sign to buy tickets for the Berlinale. In June, the festival will take place live. Photo: DPA

The later, shorter, all-online Berlinale which started Monday replaced the usual 11-day star-studded extravaganza normally held in February.

Critics watching the movies on their laptops said that for all the lack of red-carpet glamour, it was a vintage year for the main selection of 15 films, with few duds and a clutch of gems.

“Petite Maman”, a moving coming-of-age drama by France’s Celine Sciamma, and “Mr Bachmann and His Class”, an ambitious German school documentary, were lavished with praise.

The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw called Sciamma’s latest “a spellbinding jewel” and a “beautiful fairytale reverie”, while New York-based critic David Ehrlich compared it to the Japanese classic “Spirited Away” for blurring the “soft borders between real and invented worlds”.

Outdated sex distinctions

Weighing in at nearly four hours, Maria Speth’s “Mr Bachmann and His Class” portrays an iconoclast teacher on the cusp of retirement who takes his secondary school pupils from a range of immigrant backgrounds under his wing.

Indiewire said it was “one of the year’s most hopeful movies” while Britain’s ScreenDaily said the affable Bachmann seemed like “Bill Murray’s German cousin” with a knack for boosting his pupils’ self-esteem in the face of poverty and discrimination.

Germany turned in two light crowdpleasers — albeit without the crowds — with actor Daniel Brühl’s directorial debut “Next Door” and “Unorthodox” director Maria Schrader’s sci-fi romance “I’m Your Man”.

READ ALSO: Berlin gentrification takes spotlight in new film by actor Daniel Brühl

In the latter movie, British star Dan Stevens (“Downton Abbey”) uses his fluent German to play a custom-made humanoid robot designed to win the heart of a flinty Berlin museum researcher.

Variety called him a “wry revelation, progressing from rigid, unworldly physical comedy to near-living, breathing emotional turmoil”.

The enthusiasm raised speculation Stevens could walk away with the Berlinale’s first “best performance” Silver Bear, after the festival did away with its best actor and actress trophies. A supporting performance will also be rewarded.

Cate Blanchett and Tilda Swinton have both welcomed Berlin’s bid to set aside outdated sex distinctions, a move the festival’s director Mariette Rissenbeek told AFP was aimed at “spurring the discussion about gender justice” in the entertainment industry.

‘Gripping and impressive’

Reviewers also swooned over the first Georgian picture in competition in almost 30 years, “What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?”, about two lovers who don’t recognise each other when a curse changes their appearance.

Variety reviewer Jessica Kiang called the “witty, warm, surprising modern folktale” her favourite of the race.

Mexico’s Alonso Ruizpalacios premiered the Netflix feature “A Cop Movie” which mixes documentary and narrative techniques to look at the struggles of police work in the country’s capital.

The Hollywood Reporter hailed it as a “an intriguing, completely deconstructed look at what it takes to both be a cop and to play one, especially in a place where cops are often regarded as criminals themselves”.

Meanwhile German drama “Fabian: Going to the Dogs”, a Weimar-era tragedy about the descent into fascism, drew favourable comparisons to the hit series “Babylon Berlin”, with Der Spiegel magazine calling it “gripping” and “impressive”.

The Berlinale jury is made up of six previous Golden Bear winners including last year’s laureate, dissident Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, who claimed the prize for “There Is No Evil”, about capital punishment.

Five of the members saw the films in person in the German capital in a specially reserved cinema, while Rasoulof watched from Tehran under house arrest.

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‘Significant fanbase’: How popular is the NFL in Germany?

For the second year in a row the US's National Football League (NFL) will be playing games in Germany. The Local asked an expert how popular American football is in the soccer-obsessed Bundesrepublik.

'Significant fanbase': How popular is the NFL in Germany?

The Super Bowl, arguably the largest annual sports event in the US, is coming up this Sunday.

Many in Germany will be tuning in, even if that means staying up until 4:30 am to catch the game, famous halftime show and running commentary. 

READ ALSO: Where to watch the Super Bowl in Germany

In fact, US’s National Football League (NFL) has garnered such a following in the Bundesrepublik that US teams will even be crossing the Atlantic twice this year to play in front of live audiences in Frankfurt and Munich.

“I think it’s fair to say that it’s [The NFL] becoming more popular even though we don’t know exactly how much the figures or the interest is rising,” Sebastian Uhrich, a professor of sports management at the University of Cologne, told The Local’s Germany in Focus podcast this week.

“If we have a look at the numbers of the last five years, in for example, the TV audience of the Super Bowl, there’s more of a sidwards trend of these figures, it’s not really rising. But I would assume there’s more people getting interested.” 

Uhrich estimated that the NFL has between two and three million supporters in Germany.

“In Germany obviously there’s a significant fanbase of American football,” he said, adding that it’s the “largest market in Europe”.

That could explain why star player Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers faced the Seattle Seahawks at Munich’s Allianz Arena in November.

It marked the first NFL Game in Germany and tickets quickly sold out.

READ ALSO: Munich and Frankfurt to host regular season NFL games

Seizing on the success, the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots will make their debuts as designated teams in two additional games in Germany later this year.

American Football: Pro League NFL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Seattle Seahawks, at the Munich Allianz Arena in November 2022.

American Football: Pro League NFL, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Seattle Seahawks, at the Munich Allianz Arena in November 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Sven Hoppe

Uhrich sees the games as a big bonus for existing NFL fans in Germany.

“Playing games in Germany provides German consumers, supporters and fans an additional offering, besides all the media offerings,” he said.

“Up until last year they were only able to watch NFL games on TV or on social media. If they wanted to see a game they had to travel to the US, so this is obviously a significant addition to what they can consume.”

But he added that the NFL’s nod to Germany isn’t guaranteed to drum up a significant amount of new support.

“It’s only two games per year so I wouldn’t over estimate the significance,” he said. “I wouldn’t expect this to be the driver of a huge number of additional supporters in the future.”

Could (American) football compete with soccer?

In Germany, the NFL faces tough competition with the by-far most popular sport: soccer, or simply football as non-Americans refer to it.

“I would never expect that they’re able to replace soccer as the most popular sport,” said Ulrich. “So many other sports have been trying to do this for years and they’re not even close.”

Yet Ulrich was optimistic that the NFL could “become part of that second tier of sports,” in Germany which includes hockey, volleyball and basketball.

“Soccer is so traditional and has such a huge fan base in Germany. It might be something that happens in 15 or 20 years but not in the near future. It’s pretty unlikely.”

READ ALSO: American football touches down in Germany