Festival Picks: Highlights from Berlinale 2024

Clockwise from left: Langue Étrangère (2024) © Les Films de Pierre; The Love Parade (1929) © Universal Pictures; Seven Veils (2023) © Headless Films Inc.

Jake Abatan shares three festival highlights from this year’s 74th annual Berlinale, which took place in February.

Langue Étrangère [Foreign Tongue] (Claire Burger, 2024) 

Langue Étrangère (2024) © Les Films de Pierre

Berlinale is a great festival to discover European co-productions, which all too often go under the radar in the UK. One such delight featured in this festival’s Competition was Langue Étrangère, from Claire Burger ,co-director of Cannes’ 2014 Camera d’Or winner Party Girl. The film was warmly received at the Berlinale Palast on its world premiere, and is a youthful film about two young women who form a profound bond during a language exchange trip. 

Fanny (Lilith Grasmug) is a young French student, visiting her German pen pal Lena (Josefa Heinsius). Fanny isn’t warmly received at first, but as she begins to share in Lena’s fanaticism for leftist-activism a special bond begins to form between the two women—verging on romantic. 

Screen Daily’s Jonathan Romney astutely described the film as a “female coming-of-age story about crossing borders, both geographically and emotionally”.The film impressively balances intimacy between its two leads, with grander socio-political statements concerning the rise of the far right across Europe punctuating the human interest story. Langue Étrangère also explores the uirky distinction between presenting yourself as part of a political movement, and genuinely being a part of it. Although the plot plainly presents Fanny’s newfound fanaticism as somewhat superficial, the film also calls the sincerity of Lena’s activism into question with a rare subtlety. 

The Love Parade (Ernst Lubitsch, 1929)

The Love Parade (1929) © Universal Pictures

The Berlinale Classics strand showcased the world premiere of a brand new 4K digital restoration of The Love Parade, undertaken by Universal Pictures in partnership with The Film Foundation. 

The first talkie directed by German-born Ernst Lubitsch, this delightful 1929 musical comedy has certainly stood the test of time. Devilishly charming Maurice Chevalier plays serial womaniser Count Alfred, stationed in Paris as a military attaché and enjoying the city of love a little too much. After being discovered fooling around with the ambassador’s wife, he is sent back to his homeland to await a judgement from the Queen. 

Back home, Queen Louise (Jeanette MacDonald) is under strong pressure to marry—but with her future husband only gaining the symbolic title of Prince Consort, she has zero suitors. As you’d expect, the Queen finds herself weak at the knees when presented with the long list of Count Alfred’s scandalous crimes, and orders him to marry her. 
Impressive for a film nearing its centenary, The Love Parade feels surprisingly modern in its critique of traditional gender roles. Chevalier and MacDonald’s chemistry is electric, the songs are consistently funny and lively, and the production design is never shy of being transportative. Audiences owe it to themselves to revisit this enduring gem.

Seven Veils (Atom Egoyan, 2024)

Seven Veils (2023) © Headless Films Inc.

Amanda Seyfried gives a powerful performance in Seven Veils, Atom Egoyan’s sure-to-be-divisive opera drama centred around a controversial staging of Salomé. 

Seyfried plays Jeanine, a young theatre director tasked with fulfilling her deceased former mentor’s dying wish—bringing their production of Salomé back to life. At a press conference announcing the production Jeanine promises her changes will be “small but meaningful”. Her words invite concern from the theatre company, who make clear they want no changes at all. For Jeanine the production is more than just a way of honouring her former mentor; it’s implied that the two were also lovers, and her changes allow her to relive their relationship as well as other much darker aspects of her past. 

Seven Veils is measured in its pacing, but a quietly engrossing experience. The drama may be too slight for some—aside from the antics of an infamously difficult cast member (played by Michael Kupfer-Radecky), much of the tension is psychologically inflected and wide open to interpretation. But give Seven Veils the attention it deserves and you’ll be rewarded with a gripping tale about the power of artistic expression.

Words by Jake Abatan

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