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Munich Film Festival kicks off with Juliette Binoche

Jochen Kürten sb
June 23, 2017

The 35th edition of the Munich film festival has opened with Claire Denis' "Let the Sunshine In." An epic new Hitler documentary and Sofia Coppola's "The Beguiled" also await.

Filmfest München
Image: Filmfest München/S&L Medianetworx GmbH

Some French celebrity cinema isn't a bad start for the festival on the Isar river, which always seeks to combine glamour with artistic aspiration. Director Claire Denis, one of France's most renowned filmmakers, helms the story of Isabelle (Juliette Binoche), a woman who makes several male acquaintances, including a macho, power-hungry banker, a late-puberty actor, a sensitive philosopher, and finally her ex-husband. Isabelle gives herself to them all, both physically and intellectually, and yet she knows perfectly well that the right one is not among them.

Plakat Filmfest München
Image: Filmfest München

'Creative resistance'

It's uncertain whether the opening film of the 35th Munich Film Festival lives up to "Youth on the Move" and "Creative Resistance," the central themes of this year's cinema celebration. 

"No moral cowardice, but youthful Sturm und Drang will rule on the screen and fuel many of the films we have invited to Munich from around the world in 2017," said festival director Diana Iljine of the sub-themes driving the 2017 festival.

"Resistance is useless, you might think, in our crisis-torn world. And yet there's a political will to resist in society, spreading upheaval, especially among the young," Iljine added about "politically aware Millennials rebelling against the norms and conformities of the adult world."

New German Cinema

This year's festival program includes 45 world premieres, most of them German feature and documentary films - including 15 in the New German Cinema section. Unlike film festivals in Berlin and Saarbrücken, a lot of entertaining genre films are coming to the screen in Munich.

"German cinema in 2017 renegotiates the will to get along in happy single/couple/family constellations in exceptional dramas, comedies, tragicomedies [that explore] bizarre dream worlds ... pathologies and personality disorders," states the festival website.

Hard-hitting socio-political cinema is also on show. In the film "Fremde Tochter" ("Foreign Daughter"), for example, a volatile theme is explored: the love between a young non-religious German woman and a slightly older Muslim man. Can it go well? Director Stephan Lacant tackles the difficult subject - especially in an age where terrorism is often linked with Islamic extremism - cautiously and with many nuances.

Filmfest München
Hard-hitting new German cínema: a scene from "Fremde Tochter" Image: Filmfest München/S&L Medianetworx GmbH

Monumental Hitler documentary debuts

Among the most anticipated events is the world premiere of the seven-a-half-hour TV documentary "Who Was Hitler." Director Hermann Pölking has deliberately opted for a cinematic feel - and monumental length - on a subject that has been the focus of many television series in recent years. The film deliberately confines itself to original quotes, speeches and writings by Hitler and his contemporaries - and largely dispenses with commentary of its own.

"Pölking conducted some of the most exhaustive research ever for a documentary film, cataloging 120 archives in 14 countries, reviewing 850 hours of footage, restoring and digitally scanning more than 100 hours of material," said the festival.

The world premiere of "Who was Hitler" on June 24 is sure to generate a lot of interest from abroad, where the subject of Nazism remains a staple of the big and small screens.

Honors for Coppola, Cranston and Hauff

Filmstill - Wer war Hitler
The much-anticipated "Who was Hitler" debuts in MunichImage: Filmfest München

Some of the great names of cinema will be specially honored this year in Munich, including the American director Sofia Coppola, whose films are the focus of this year's festival retrospective.

Beyond early works like "The Virgin Suicides" (1999) and "Lost in Translation" (2002), Coppola will also present the German premiere of her latest film, "The Beguiled." Starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell, the film is in competition.

Meanwhile, American actor Bryan Cranston, star of the worldwide smash series "Breaking Bad," will receive the prestigious "CineMerit Award" this year. 

Filmstills - Regisseur Reinhard Hauff Retroperspektive zum Filmfestival München
A scene from "Stammheim," part of the Reinhard Hauff retrospectiveImage: Filmfest München

The festival is also dedicating an homage to leading New German Cinema director Reinhard Hauff. In the 1970s and '80s, Hauff was one of several politically-minded German directors - among them Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Alexander Kluge, Volker Schlöndorff, Werner Herzog and Wim Wenders - who changed the face of German film, especially with "Stammheim" (1986), which detailed the trial of the Baader-Meinhof terrorist group.

"Hauff was a seismograph of his times and practiced a radical [film style] with people at the margins of society," said Diana Iljine. "It's especially intriguing to see how our perspectives were changing back then, and how our perspective on those days have changed."

Now 78, Hauff was once one of the young and wild directors to whom this year's festival motto, "Youth on the Move," is dedicated.

The Munich Film Festival runs from June 22 to July 1.