British films at the Berlin Film Festival 2020: What to look out for

New films from Sally Potter and Johnny Depp keep the British end up in a packed Berlinale that also includes some of Helen Mirren’s greatest hits.

Lou Thomas

The Roads not Taken (2020)

The Roads not Taken (2020)

Sally Potter’s new drama, The Roads Not Taken, is among the most eagerly anticipated of a smattering of UK feature productions set to screen at this year’s Berlinale. Backed by the BFI and making its world premiere in competition at the festival, this is the writer-director’s ninth fiction feature film and stars Javier Bardem as Leo, an unwell man contemplating his life as he wanders the New York City streets with his daughter Molly.

Elle Fanning will play Molly, teaming up again with Potter following her role in Ginger & Rosa (2012). Salma Hayek and Laura Linney crop up in supporting roles in a film that promises to be an intriguing follow up to Potter’s last feature, The Party (2017), which won the Guild Film Prize after it premiered at the 2017 Berlinale.

Minamata (2020)

Minamata (2020)

Another world premiere, Minamata, screens as a special gala. American director Andrew Levitas’s film stars Johnny Depp as a war photographer who investigates the effects of mercury poisoning in a Japanese coastal community. Bill Nighy appears in support alongside Hiroyuki Sanada and Tadanobu Asano in another intriguing feature based on a shocking real-life environmental disaster – following closely behind Todd Haynes’ Dark Waters (2019), which gets a UK release later this month.

DAU. Degeneration (2020)

DAU. Degeneration (2020)

A mysterious UK co-production with Germany, Ukraine and Russia entitled DAU. Natasha also plays in competition. The film is a version of DAU, a social experiment art hybrid first created in 2006 as a biopic of Russian physicist Lev Landau. A huge set was built in Kharkov, Ukraine for a three-year shoot in which hundreds of participants came to live and work as if they were living in a period spanning the late 1930s to the late 60s. In January 2019, the project was launched as a series of films and installations playing constantly in Paris for more than three weeks. The Natasha instalment is directed by Ilya Khrzhanovskiy and Jekaterina Oertel, while DAU. Degeneration, a documentary directed by Khrzhanovskiy and Ilya Permyakov, will screen as a special gala.

In the Panorama section, the festival’s spot for daring, often queer or political work, debut fiction-feature director Bassam Tariq’s Mogul Mowgli stars Riz Ahmed as a British-Pakistani rapper whose imminent superstardom is curtailed when he falls ill and has to balance a career in music with the traditional values of his conservative Pakistani parents. Ahmed, who produces as well as stars, shares writing duties with Tariq.

Surge (2020)

Surge (2020)

Elsewhere in Panorama, BFI-backed drama Surge makes its European debut following its premiere at Sundance in January. Aneil Karia’s debut feature sees Ben Whishaw as an airport security guard who has a loneliness-induced breakdown, leaves his job and walks the noisy streets of London, finding chaos and despair.

Helen Mirren will receive an honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement at the festival, while five of the actor’s greatest performances can be seen in the Homage strand. Audiences can enjoy Mirren’s breakthrough feature appearance opposite Bob Hoskins in The Long Good Friday (1980), John Mackenzie’s indelible London crime classic; marvel at Jean-Paul Gaultier’s costumes and a demented gastronomic denouement in Peter Greenaway’s sumptuous oddball erotic thriller The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover (1989); see just why Mirren won her best actress Oscar playing Queen Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears’ The Queen (2006); be captivated by Mirren’s verbal sparring with Christopher Plummer in Michael Hoffman’s Tolstoy biopic The Last Station (2009); and enjoy Mirren getting to grips with conman Ian McKellen in Bill Condon’s The Good Liar (2019).

The Long Good Friday (1980)

The Long Good Friday (1980)

Rubikah Shah’s urgent punk documentary White Riot plays in the Generation 14Plus strand, having premiered at the BFI London Film Festival in October. Shah’s documentary looks at the protest movement Rock Against Racism, from its low-key start to the height of its cultural import – the 1978 carnival in London’s Victoria Park, featuring punk stalwarts The Clash.

Two new UK co-productions play in the Forum strand, which highlights challenging cinema by bringing together film with other artistic disciplines, including theatre and literature. Ouvertures, directed by Louis Henderson and Olivier Marboeuf together with The Living and the Dead Ensemble, is another LFF alumnus, a France/Haiti/UK co-production that begins with the final days of Haitian revolutionary Toussaint Louverture as he lay dying in a prison cell in 1803. The Two Sights, a Canada/UK co-production directed by Joshua Bonnetta, is a collection of super-16mm field recordings and interviews from the Outer Hebrides. David Larcher’s Mare’s Tail (1969), described by Lux as “one of the forgotten masterpieces of British avant-garde cinema” screens as part of the strand’s 50th anniversary programme.

INFINITY Minus Infinity (2020)

INFINITY Minus Infinity (2020)

The Forum Expanded section, devoted to installations and films looking at the role of cinema and art, includes three UK works. Graeme Arnfield’s The Phantom Menace (no connection to the Star Wars prequel) compiles stories of planes crashing, computers malfunctioning and elections going awry; while in Shipwreck at the Threshold of Europe, Lesvos, Aegean Sea: 28 October 2015, collective Forensic Architecture reconstruct an accident involving a boat full of migrants. The Otolith Group’s UK, UAE and Belgium co-production INFINITY Minus Infinity uses dance, music, recital and animation to explore the relationship between capitalism, racism and climate policy.

Fans of small-screen action can catch the world premiere of Trigonometry as part of Berlinale Series. A London-set love story about three people in their 30s, the eight-part series will air on the BBC later in 2020 with episodes directed by Athina Rachel Tsangari (Chevalier, 2015) and Stella Corradi, known for her acclaimed short Little Soldier (2016).

Finally, a new digitally restored 4K restoration of Charles Crichton’s A Fish Called Wanda (1988) will have its world premiere. A hilarious caper movie starring John Cleese, Jamie Lee Curtis, Kevin Kline and Michael Palin, Crichton’s comedy screens in the Berlin Classics strand.

Also screening

The Works and Days (Of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) (C.W. Winter and Anders Edström) – Encounters
The Citadel (King Vidor, 1938) – Retrospective
toni_with_an_i (Marco Alessi, short) – Generation Kplus
A Demonstration (Sasha Litvintseva and Beny Wagner, short) – Berlinale Shorts
Filipiñana (Rafael Manuel, short) – Berlinale Shorts

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