Berlinale Classics 2024
15 Feb 24–25 Feb 24
The films of the Berlinale Classics
For the 74th Berlin International Film Festival, we have gathered a spectrum of film genres with stunning visuals and audio. The selection ranges from early sound film experiment to a sober and distanced black-and-white drama, to colourful, artful exploitation. All the restorations will be world premieres.
USA, 1985, directed by Martin Scorsese
A data entry worker goes to a café after work, where he is chatted up by a young woman, whom he later visits in her downtown loft. She lives in bohemian SoHo, where the dapper uptowner soon experiences the worst night of his life. Not only does one misadventure follow the next, he also has a series of confusing or unpleasant encounters with aggressive or agitated denizens of the night, and ends up being chased through the streets by an angry mob.
One might be forgiven for thinking that Franz Kafka and Edvard Munch’s “The Cry” were kibitzing on Martin Scorsese’s black comedy. With the surreal logic of a nightmare, one bizarre encounter follows another during this nighttime odyssey through Manhattan’s downtown subculture. ‘After Hours’ was the first, but not the last time Scorsese worked with cinematographer Michael Ballhaus; the film garnered best director in Cannes. Nevertheless, this audacious “screwball noir” is difficult to situate within Scorcese’s oeuvre.
The restoration was based on the original camera negative and a 35 mm print held privately by Martin Scorcese, and editor Thelma Schoonmaker joined the director in overseeing the colour correction.
Batalla en el cielo
‘Battle in Heaven’, MX/G/BE/F, 2005, directed by Carlos Reygadas
After Marcos and his wife kidnap their sister-in-law’s baby for ransom, the infant dies. While Marcos’ wife seeks repentance at Mexico City’s Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Marcos wants to go to the police and confess. Marcos works as chauffeur to a general. He is having an affair with his boss’ daughter, who secretly works as a prostitute in a luxury bordello. But even sex with her does not offer Marcos relief from his moral unease and social deprivation.
With the warts-and-all physicality of its overweight (amateur) actor, acts of random violence, and explicit sex scenes, Carlos Reygadas’ provocative look at masculinity in ‘Batalla en el cielo’ caused shock waves in 2005. Complemented by constant references to the omnipotence of strict hierarchies, the film becomes a panoramic look at a country riven by social division.
The pronounced camerawork with its long set-ups, tracking shots, and pans of up to 360 degrees, as well as the hyper-realistic visuals that are reminiscent of British photojournalist Martin Parr, come back into their own in the restoration.
ES/F, 1981, directed by Carlos Saura
Friends Pablo, Meca, and Sebas are armed robbers in Madrid. When Pablo’s new girlfriend Ángela joins them on their crime outings, she dresses as a man. During the robbery of an armoured car, she shoots and kills one of the drivers. Later, a gun battle with the police ensues.
Driving around, smoking weed, hanging out in the disco –Made in the wake of the Franco dictatorship, the film precisely portrays the attitude of many young people during Spain’s transition to democracy – a time of high unemployment and inflation, drug use, and a deluge of media. Cast with amateurs who were, in essence, re-creating their own lives, the film hews closely to reality. Carlos Saura was sharply criticised for, while not glorifying them, expressing no judgement of the young criminals. Straightforward and fast-paced, ‘Deprisa, deprisa’ was an incisive contribution to the quinqui (“delinquency cinema”) film genre that blew a gust of wind through Spanish cinema and revisited the themes of Saura’s feature debut ‘Los golfos’ (‘The Delinquents’, 1959), which can be considered evidence of his affinity for juvenile outsiders. The film won the Golden Bear in 1981.
‘Godzilla’, J, 1954, directed by Ishirō Honda
Atomic bomb testing off the coast of Japan has roused a prehistoric sea monster that lays ruin to Tokyo. While an older professor wants to study the creature to find out how it survived the radioactive fallout, a younger scientist has secretly developed an oxygen destroyer that could be used as a weapon to dispatch Godzilla to the hereafter.
After a Japanese fishing boat fell victim to fallout from American atomic bomb tests in 1954, Ishirō Honda created a cinematic memorial to the 1945 nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; a film in which the nation’s trauma could be dealt with by having actors claim victory over the gigantic radioactive lizard.
The new 4K restoration of one of the most successful films in Japanese cinema history pays tribute to more than just the film’s optical brilliance, not least in its rendering of the model miniature of Tokyo that was trampled underfoot in Toho Studio by an actor in a monster costume. The excellent sound design, with the frightening cries of the behemoth and its defenceless victims, as well as the stirring music by Akira Ifukube also gets the attention it deserves.
‘Kohlhiesel’s Daughters’, G, 1920, directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Innkeeper Mathias Kohlhiesel has two daughters, fetching Gretel and her sister Liesel, a bit of a bristly betty. Farmer Peter Xaver is in love with Gretel, but Kohlhiesel won’t give her in marriage until her sister Liesel has tied the knot. When nobody turns up who is willing to take on that task, Xaver’s pal Seppl urges his friend to marry Liesel himself – on a temporary basis. Xaver has no idea that Seppl is also in love with Gretel. He also has no idea that his uncouth treatment of Liesel after the wedding will have quite the opposite effect than he had planned.
This wintery, droll farmer’s farce was the most popular comedy that Ernst Lubitsch made in Germany. With high exaggeration, to the amusement of everyone involved, a work of great literature becomes a farcical bit of drollery. In 1947, Lubitsch called it “The Taming of the Shrew relocated to the Bavarian mountains”. ‘Kohlhiesel’s Daughters’ is an early race to (over the) top, with the Lubitsch lightening already visible ahead. In 1984, Hans Helmut Prinzler said, “Action and comedy are developed from the below-freezing temperatures, culminating in slides where the bodies become objects of a joyful awkwardness”.
‘The Sacrifice’, SE/F, 1986, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky
Former actor Alexander has withdrawn to live on a Swedish island. He is celebrating his 50th birthday there with his wife, two children, and a few guests. When the Earth begins to tremble, the group hears that nuclear war has broken out. To appease God, Alexander is prepared to offer himself up as a sacrifice by sleeping with the maid, Maria, called a “witch”.
This was the last film directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, who was already sick when it was made. It premiered just a few weeks after the Chernobyl nuclear meltdown and was hailed as the graphic admonition of a “visionary” (Ingmar Bergman). And indeed, in poetic images and philosophical-religious dialogue, ‘The Sacrifice’ marries the merciless précis of its protagonist’s life with a powerful plea for modern humans to engage in self-reflection and self-restraint.
The 4K restoration faithfully retains the masterful lighting design and colour composition, including the sepia and black-and-white passages. Cinematographer Sven Nykvist won a special prize at the Cannes festival for his outstanding work on the film.
‘Time of Maturity’, FRG, 1976, directed by Sohrab Shahid Saless
Michael (9) is a latchkey kid. He is usually already asleep when his mother comes home late at night, and when he leaves for school in the morning, she, in turn, is still abed. She is a sex worker and cries a lot. Michael is saving up for a bicycle; he runs errands and feels forced to steal from his classmates regularly. Michael is often alone.
The Anton Chekhov quote, “I am like the wind blowing across the lonely fields” was the impetus for this impressive sketch of everyday life from the perspective of a child in Berlin’s Wedding district who must prematurely bow to the rules of the grown-up world. With sparse dialogue and in precisely stylised visuals, ‘Time of Maturity’ is a story of social numbness and marginalisation. Both are accompanied by a generalised, latent sense of violence that, in the end, becomes manifest before the young boy’s eyes.
The restoration was done as part of a transnational project with the goal of making the entire oeuvre of director Sohrab Shahid Saless available again. He worked in Germany beginning in 1974 and died in 1998 in the US.
The Day of the Locust
USA, 1975, directed by John Schlesinger
Painter Tod Hackett arrives in Los Angeles in the 1930s to work in the art department at Paramount and falls in love with bit player Faye Greener. Like so many of the small-time actors in their neighbourhood, Faye dreams of a glorious Hollywood career. Although she also dreams of a rich husband, she actually tends to get involved with losers and, in the end, prostitutes herself. The only place she finds refuge is with Homer Simpson, a simple bookkeeper. In the novel, Nathanael West portrays Hollywood as a Sodom of mendacity and superficiality. The film version made by Britain’s John Schlesinger also takes the tack of unmasking the dream factory that devours people, but it tempers the apocalyptic moral portrait with glamorous production design in line with the trend to nostalgia in the 1970s.
The restoration impressively brings to the fore the tremendous production values of ‘The Day of the Locust’. With costumes and sets that establish the historical scene, the introspective studio production belongs among the most visually resplendent films to come from New Hollywood.
In seiner Romanvorlage schilderte Nathanael West Hollywood als ein Sodom der Verlogenheit und Oberflächlichkeit. Die Verfilmung durch den Briten John Schlesinger übernahm Wests entlarvende Perspektive auf die menschenverschlingende Traumfabrik, milderte das apokalyptische Sittengemälde jedoch durch eine glamouröse Ausstattung im Nostalgie-Trend der 1970er-Jahre.
Die Restaurierung kehrt eindrucksvoll die immensen Schauwerte von The Day of the Locust hervor. Mit ihren historisierenden Kostümen und Kulissen gehört die selbstreflexive Studioproduktion zu den visuell prächtigsten Spielfilmen aus dem Umkreis des New Hollywood.
The Love Parade
USA, 1929, directed by Ernst Lubitsch
Count Alfred, military attaché at the Sylvanian embassy in Paris, is recalled due to his countless love affairs. But back in his home country, instead of punishing him, bachelorette Queen Louise dissolves in his arms. They promptly marry. But as a subject of the realm, prince consort Alfred has no rights, either in the regency or in the marriage. When he is expected to grin and bear it for an evening at the opera, he rebels.
In his first talkie, Ernst Lubitsch moved the action of “The Taming of the Shrew” into the upper echelon of nobility. While stars Maurice Chevalier and Jeanette MacDonald fight the battle of the sexes with erotic finesse according to the rules of the Lubitsch touch, the parallel below stairs tussle between their servants (Lupino Lane and Lillian Roth) is more reminiscent of the coarse badinage in Lubitsch’s earlier farce ‘Kohlhiesel’s Daughters’. With its hyper-realistic singing interludes, ‘The Love Parade’ had a lasting influence on the operetta genre. In 1929 Lubitsch said the audience needs to have the ability to transport themselves to a world in which people express their feeling for each other in song.
Tian bian yi duo yun
‘The Wayward Cloud’, TW/F, 2005, directed by Tsai Ming-liang
It is a hot summer in Taipei. Water is scarce, but melons make a good alternative. A young Korean woman reencounters an old acquaintance and, over the course of nightly meetings in her apartment, a tender, almost non-verbal romance develops. Shiang-chyi has no idea that Hsiao-kang now works as an actor in cheap porn movies that an amateur film crew shoots in the same high-rise. Melons are involved.
Big-city isolation and its close companion, alienation, alongside sexual exploitation are at the core of the modern love story told by ‘The Wayward Cloud’, with the diverse uses for melon guaranteeing both annoying, but also comedic, moments. The film garnered three awards at the 2005 Berlinale, including the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution.
The 4K restoration brings out the contrast between the silent, dark scenes in the urban jungle and the cheerful, colourful musical interludes that repeatedly interrupt the story and function as ironic commentary.