Dispatch from Berlinale 2023: Small Marathi Film, Big Doc on Ukraine, and More

Gayle Sequeira brings you the best from one of the most prestigious festivals in the circuit — the Berlin International Film Festival
Dispatch from Berlinale 2023: Small Marathi Film, Big Doc on Ukraine, and More

A Jesse Eisenberg film in which a bodybuilder is inducted into a masculinity cult. A film in which Willem Dafoe plays an art thief trapped inside a New York penthouse. Sean Penn’s documentary on President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The Berlin International Film Festival 2023, which runs between February 16 and 26, has a fantastic lineup. These are 10 films we’re looking forward to the most. 

Seven Winters In Tehran

Genre: Documentary

Director: Steffi Niederzoll

In 2007, Iranian interior decorator Reyhaneh Jabbari stabbed the man who attempted to rape her. She was arrested for his murder and sentenced to death. Steffi Niederzoll’s documentary uses original audio and visual material smuggled out of Iran to trace the seven years of Jabbari’s imprisonment and her eventual death.

Past Lives

Genre: Narrative; romantic drama

Director: Celine Song 

Two childhood friends are separated when the family of one emigrates from South Korea. Two decades later, they reunite and must confront the ideas of destiny, love and choices. Celine Song’s debut film stars Greta Lee, Teo Yoo and John Magaro. The film’s soundtrack is scored by Christopher Bear and Daniel Rossen, from the indie rock band Grizzly Bear.


Genre: Narrative; thriller

Director: Vasilis Katsoupis

Art thief Nemo (Willem Dafoe), after five paintings by Egon Schiele, finds himself trapped inside a New York penthouse suite with a high-end security system. As hours turn into days and then months, Vasilis Katsoupis’s feature film debut weighs human needs against the value of art. This is the Greek director’s first fiction project. He’d previously directed the music documentary My Friend Larry Gus (2016).


Genre: Narrative; thriller

Directors: Ng Choong Ping, Sam H. Freeman

Traumatized after a brutal attack, a London drag artist withdraws from the world. Months later, he recognises his attacker in a gay sauna and, on realizing that he’s a closeted homosexual, begins an affair with him as part of a revenge plot. Femme is screenwriter Sam H. Freeman and theatre director Ng Choon Ping’s debut feature is based on their short film by the same name which won the British Independent Film Award (Bifa) for best short film.

A still from Femme.
A still from Femme.


Genre: Docudrama

Director: Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson’s dramedy, starring Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton and Cary Elwes, tells the story of the two mismatched entrepreneurs who invented and sold the BlackBerry mobile phone. The film traces the company’s peak, but also its mismanagement and downfall. The film is based on the bestselling book Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of BlackBerry, by Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff.


Genre: Narrative

Director: Chhatrapal Ninawe

Chhatrapal Ninawe’s film tackles the war between the Indian central government and the Naxalites from the perspectives of three protagonists: an alcoholic policeman, an informant, and a demoralised guerrilla. The film and its director made news last year when Ghaath was pulled out from the Berlin International Film Festival at the last moment. 


Genre: Documentary

Directors: Sean Penn, Aaron Kaufman

Sean Penn and co-director Kaufman initially travelled to Ukraine in 2021 to learn more about comedian-turned-President Volodymyr Zelensky. As they began filming in Kyiv in 2022, explosions rocked the city, signalling the Russian invasion. The documentary chronicles the aftermath. The Berlinale will open later today with a video message from Zelensky.


Genre: Narrative; thriller

Director: John Trengrove

After successfully breaking out of a cult based on Karate in The Art of Self Defence (2019), Jesse Eisenberg finds himself trapped in one yet again in Manodrome. The actor plays an Uber driver inducted into a group that exploits his fragile self image and body issues. Directed by John Trengove, the film also stars Adrien Brody and Odessa Young.

A still from Manodrome.
A still from Manodrome.

She Came To Me

Genre: Narrative; romantic comedy

Director: Rebecca Miller

Peter Dinklage and Anne Hathaway star in this Rebecca Miller drama about a composer whose wife encourages him to roam the city in search of inspiration that could help him finish his big comeback opera. He discovers much more than he bargained for.


Genre: Narrative

Director: Avinash Bende

Ashish Avinash Bende’s directorial debut reworks the cues of Bollywood romances to comic effect as he explores what happens when a young boy falls in love with his classmate. The film’s cast includes Om Bendkhale, Pranjali Srikant Bhimrao Mude and Ketaki Saraf.

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