Due to COVID, the Berlin Film Festival is taking place in two stages. German actor Daniel Brühl will showcase his directorial debut, alongside works by arthouse stars.
The Berlin International Film Festival revealed its selections for the main best picture competition on Thursday in an online press conference given by managing director Mariette Rissenbeek and artistic director Carlo Chatrian .
The lineup of 15 films features both award-winning filmmakers and two debut works.
German directors are well represented among the selection. German star Daniel Brühl will premiere his debut film as a director: His very personal project Next Door is set in Berlin's gentrified neighborhood of Prenzlauer Berg, where the actor also lives.
Long-time director Dominik Graf's film Fabian: Going to the Dogs is an adaptation of Erich Kästner's classic 1931 novel. The coming-of-age story is set in Berlin, shortly before the Nazis came to power.
Best known internationally for her Netflix miniseries Unorthodox, director Maria Schrader is in the running with I Am Your Man, a romantic comedy about love with a robot, starring Maren Eggert alongside award-winning actress Sandra Hüller, who starred in the 2016 comedy Toni Erdmann.
Director Maria Speth spent years working on Mr. Bachmann and His Class, which Chatrian described as an "epic yet intimate documentary."
Beyond Germany, 15 other countries are represented in the competition, with many co-productions in the running.
Following her acclaimed Portrait of a Lady on Fire from 2019, French director Celine Sciamma will premiere Petite Maman. Revered South Korean director Hong Sang-soo returns to the Berlinale competition with Introduction.
Romanian director Radu Jude, who won the Silver Bear in 2015 for best director for Aferim!, is also back with Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. Another past winner of the Silver Bear, Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios (Museum, 2018), is in the running with his film A Cop Movie, which intertwines documentary and fiction to explore police work in Mexico.
Last year's Golden Bear, the award for best picture, was won by Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof. The country is once again represented with Ballad of a White Cow, directed by Behtash Sanaeeha and Maryam Moghaddam.
Iranian films have won many prizes at the Berlin festival. This year, 'Ballad of a White Cow' is in the run.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, several changes have been planned for this year's Berlinale. Traditionally taking place in February, the 2021 festival has been pushed back to later dates and split into two separate events.
"It wasn't an option for us to simply cancel the Berlinale," Rissenbeek said during the online press conference on Thursday, pointing out that after many months of cinema closures due to the pandemic, a great number of filmmakers were "urgently" looking for a platform to promote their work.
From March 1-5, the main competition selection, as well as movies from other established sections of the festival, will be screened online during an event restricted to film industry insiders.
Assuming that the COVID-19 situation will be under control by midyear, a "Summer Special" event will allow the public to catch up on the festival's selection in movie theaters and enjoy red-carpet screenings and gala events, including the awards ceremony. It is set to take place from June 9-20.
The Berlinale Special, another section of the festival announced on Thursday, features several films that will potentially bring stars to the red carpet when they're publicly screened this summer.
Among those works is a documentary on Tina Turner, Tina. The surreal comedy French Exit, starring Michelle Pfeiffer, will also be screened. Michael Caine stars in Best Sellers andJodie Foster and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Mauritanian, whereas Natalie Morales leads in Languages Lessons.
With the Berlinale renowned for being a political festival, this section also features titles focusing on current issues, including Courage, a documentary on the situation in Belarus, and Who We Were, on ecological issues.
Even though the awards will only be handed out in June, the winning films will have already been selected in March.
The jury appointed for this year's main competition is made up of six directors, all former winners of the Golden Bear award: Mohammad Rasoulof (Iran), Nadav Lapid (Israel), Adina Pintilie (Romania), Ildiko Enyedi (Hungary), Gianfranco Rosi (Italy) and Jasmila Zbanic (Bosnia and Herzegovina).
Even with its slimmed-down program due to the pandemic, the online festival includes its established sections, including Berlinale Special & Berlinale Series, Encounters, Berlinale Shorts, Panorama, Forum & Forum Expanded, Generation and Perspektive Deutsches Kino.
Encounters is another competitive section. Introduced in 2020, its goal is to "support new voices in cinema and to give more room to diverse narrative and documentary forms in the official selection." This year's lineup comprises 12 titles from 16 countries, of which seven are first features.
Another traditional section in the festival is the Retrospective, which continues as part of the program this year.
The 2021 selection focuses on films that were made as Hollywood imposed a set of morality rules known as the Motion Picture Production Code, dubbed the "Hays Code." Adopted in 1930, the code prohibited depictions of sex, promiscuity and profanity.
Actresses Mae West, Rosalind Russell and Carole Lombard however found ways to subtly subvert those rules, leading the screwball comedy genre to bloom.