Best of British at the Berlin Film Festival

The world premiere of Ken Loach’s The Spirit of ’45 tops a strong showing for Team GB at the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival.

Samuel Wigley
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The Spirit of '45

The Spirit of '45
Credit: BBC

Martial arts epic The Grandmaster, the latest feature from Wong Kar-Wai, kicks off the 63rd annual Berlin International Film Festival today. The largest public film festival in the world, the 10-day celebration of world cinema features around 400 films from far and wide, from major international productions to a wealth of independent releases.

British film is well represented this year, with the world premiere of Ken Loach’s The Spirit of ’45 prominent in the Berlinale Special section, the festival’s showcase for new films by established film talent. Backed by the BFI Film Fund, Loach’s film draws on archive footage from the BFI National Archive and regional archives to tell the story of the creation of the welfare state in the UK after the end of the Second World War.

The Berlinale Special section also offers gala screenings of Tom Hooper’s Oscar-nominated musical Les Misérables and the European premiere of the latest collaboration between director Michael Winterbottom and star Steve Coogan. The Look of Love is the true story of Paul Raymond, the ‘King of Soho’, who from small beginnings in 1950s London built a huge sex-industry empire that made him one of Britain’s richest men.

Panorama Dokumente offers a cross-section of the best new documentary films, encompassing the world premiere of Kim Longinotto’s Salma, a powerful account of one girl’s resistance to arranged marriage in Tamil India; The Act of Killing, a Danish-Norwegian-UK co-production boasting Werner Herzog and Errol Morris as executive producers; and A World Not Ours, in which Danish filmmaker Mahdi Fleifel charts the lives of three families in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon.

Billed as the most daring section of the festival, where viewers can alight upon “yet-to-be-discovered cinematic landscapes”, the Forum includes David M. Rosenthal’s A Single Shot, a cat-and-mouse thriller about a huntsman (played by Sam Rockwell) in over his head in the backwoods of North America. In the festival’s Forum Expanded section, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s formally experimental Leviathan brings the mythic resonance of Moby-Dick up to date to the world of contemporary fishing.

Foodie cinema is celebrated in the festival’s seventh Culinary Cinema strand, where British entries are The Moo Man, Andy Heathcote and Heike Bachelier’s documentary about a dairy farmer’s working relationship with his 55 wayward cows, and Amit Gupta’s Jadoo, a tale of feuding chef brothers who set up rival restaurants on the same street.

A strong offering of British short films included across the festival takes in Not Blacking Out, Just Turning the Lights Off (directed by James Richards), Hannah and the Moon (directed by Kate Charter), the Iraqi-British co-production Happy Birthday (directed by Mohanad Hayal), Flight of the Pompadour (directed by Karan Kandhari), and Rachel Mayeri’s Primate Cinema: Apes as Family.

Finally, rubbing shoulders with classics like Casablanca (1942) and Some Like It Hot (1959), a clutch of British archive gems will be screening in this year’s retrospective strand, The Weimar Touch. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s The Small Back Room (1949), the 1935 Jessie Matthews comedy First a Girl, Thorold Dickinson’s baroque period drama The Queen of Spades (1949) and the film operetta Car of Dreams (1935) will be holding the British end up as the festival explores the influence of Weimar-era German cinema on other national cinemas.

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