As I passed through the doors of the Hyatt hotel, my hands were sweating.
It was my first time ever to be part of Berlinale and I was minutes away to photograph one of my film icons: Wes Anderson.
Yeah, it sounds like a cliche, and maybe it is, but Wes Anderson’s art has somehow shape my view of the world. Quirky and awkward characters dance together with strong and mischievous ones in a surreal world of pastel colors, with the music of Bowie playing in the background.
For the last 10 years (the first movie I saw was The Life Aquatic) I wanted to live like that, with Wes Anderson soundtracks playing in the back of my mind, me taking photos with a strong accent on minimalism and symmetry (not that I do it so, so well) and dressed (sometimes) like a Royal Tenenbaum… Okay so maybe I don’t live like a Wes Anderson character. But to be fair I do love his movies and style. Last year, I dressed like Mr. Fox for Halloween. And that’s enough.
Anyways, I went to the Berlinale Press Center at the Hyatt (sounds cooler than it was) and after fighting my way to the photographer room, I hit myself against a line of Hollywood faces that were all entering the room at the same time: Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston and Wes Anderson himself.
At first I was in shock. It was not my first time in front of a big famous face (I lived in NYC where you find them in their pajamas doing the shopping on a Sunday morning), but for sure I did not expect to see so many on my first day at the Berlinale. Actually, I didn’t expect much from the festival itself.
I always thought of the Berlinale as a quirky festival for quirky movies, something like Berlin itself, with characters that look like they’d spent the weekend at Berghain and share a room somewhere in Neukölln… artists trying to make a living whilst they smoke weed at train stations.
I mean, when you think of film festivals you think of Cannes, San Sebastian or Venice, but not Berlin. Actually, the Berlinale Director, Dieter Kosslick, has been criticized by the leadership and many are calling for a new director that brings the festival to the standards of Cannes and Venice.
But that first day while I shot photos of Wes Anderson with my sweaty hands, I understood: this was not going be a boring festival.
Without expecting it, I spent eight days, one after the other, watching movies every afternoon and photographing famous stars on the red carpet at night. I was able to see some of the greatest American, British, French, Asian, Eastern Europe and Latin new film releases and photograph the stars behind them. In eight days, my love for cinema and that big screen came back to life. Sorry Netflix.
At some point my wife even asked me to please come back home. I’d been living at Postdamerplatz for almost 20 hours a day, drinking free coffee at the Hyatt hotel. What I thought was gonna be another weird, kooky Berlin experience ended up being one of the best events I have ever attended. Bring on next year.
But enough of my own lame experience though, let’s jump to the fun part: here are five movies of the many I saw that I want to recommend to you, and some photos I shot of the moments and the people that made this happen.
1- Isle of Dogs: Directed by Wes Anderson, the movie officially opened the festival. In the film, a handful of Japanese dogs (that speak perfect American English…) search for their freedom in a island made out of garbage. There’s not much to say about this one – it’s just another Wes Anderson movie with good music and visuals, great characters and a funny story. It also gave me a great opportunity to see and photograph everyone who’s someone on that red carpet for the opening night.
2- The Happy Prince: This was my favorite one. Directed by Rupert Everett, it tells of the death of Oscar Wilde. It’s a film that looks like poetry, like a painting from the old dutch masters, a tale from inside the french cabarets, the theaters and the studios where Oscar Wilde spent his last years. A once-great and famous poet who died poor and alone after spending years in jail for homosexuality, Mr. Wilde calls to us from the beyond to remind us that today more than ever we need to defend the rights of those who love their own gender. Maybe this is an easy movie, one that appeals to some Hollywood formula for success, but the acting, characters, script and especially the photography are superb.
3- Museo: Using Gael Garcia Bernal as the main character, the Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacio (winner of the 64th Berlinale Best Film Feature Award with film Güero), Museo tells the story of a robbery inside the National Mexican Museum in 1986. As the camera travels with the stolen pieces around Mexico, we discover the true beauty of the country and those beaches of Acapulco. We also get inside the myths and secrets of the Mayan pyramids and Mesoamerican art. A great Latin American thriller based on a true story – a joy to watch.
4- Ága: This movie is a perfect example of modern “cine art”. Filmed in resplendent HD on the white snow-lands of what looks to be Siberia or Mongolia, this movie manages to touch your heart (and maybe I cried at the end) using as little dialogue as possible. In a series of short videos of sunsets, white tundra and stone mountains, with violin adagios playing in the background, a couple of old reindeer herders (or Dukha as they’re called) spend their lives together without modern technology. Fishing on ice and creating fur crafts and fashion (not Gucci) all while missing the child they lost long ago. A slow movie to think about our modern way of living and our missing connection with nature.
5- Touch me Not: Although I hated this one, it’s on the list because it won the Berlinale Film Festival Gold Bear Award. A strong movie that made me leave the theater after the first 30 minutes (I was not the only one). A slow movie with awkward characters that touch themselves in front of a woman who can’t be touched. Clean white photography, perhaps created to ease the mind of the viewers, while the main character speaks to a camera to tell the story of her frustration… mainly sexual frustration. Since I left the room, I can’t say much about it. Just that I found it too strong for my stomach. Perhaps this is why it won the festival – it showed me those things that I hate in others, while reminding me they’re just things that maybe I hate about myself or are not able to accept.
Antonio Castello is a Berlin-based photographer. Visit his website here: www.antoniocastello.com