Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 13 / 29 March 2018

Back for more Berlin & Beyond


Scene from director Ayse Toprak's "Mr. Gay Syria." Photo: Les Films d Antoine/Coin Film/Toprak Film
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The 22nd Berlin & Beyond Film Festival unspools Feb. 9-11 at the Castro Theatre, Feb. 12 at Berkeley's Shattuck Cinemas, and Feb. 13-15 at the Goethe-Institut (530 Bush St., SF). With over 12,000 admissions annually, the festival is the largest North American venue for German-language films, primarily from Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Mr. Gay Syria Director-writer Ayse Toprak offers a joyful plunge into the upside-down lives of LGBTQ refugees from the Middle East, particularly war-torn Syria, still dominated by warlords and their crazed disciples, some willing to maim or murder their own queer kinfolks.

The hero of this freewheeling doc is a handsome 24-year-old barber. Husein has a great fashion sense, an ex-wife, a young daughter, and the desire to live as an openly gay man with a male partner. During our 88 minutes with him and his queer band of brothers, we witness him winning the Mr. Gay Syria contest, then facing the practical challenges this honor may pose in obtaining visas and other travel documents.

Highlights include sexy swimsuit shots of the contestants, Husein getting a question from a small boy about why he's wearing eyeliner, getting his ears pierced, and hearing a confession from a Syrian organizer of why he makes the effort despite roadblocks posed by authoritarian governments. A family member threatens Husein's life unless he "swear[s] on the Koran that you're not gay!" Warning for pervasive smoking scenes: these handsome boys are smoking hot in more ways than one. In Arabic, Turkish, and English, with English subtitles. (West Coast premiere, Castro, 2/10)

Dream Boat Director Tristan Ferland Milewski blends the experiences, beauty tips, hissy-fits and other pleasures of several hundred queer men from many nations on a yearly cruise whose passenger list is limited to gay men, particularly from countries hostile to gays. The passengers include an Indian man, Dipankar, fleeing a traditional arranged marriage; Palestinian Ramzi, escaping police persecution, moving to Europe for freedom and safety; wheelchair-bound Philippe, remembering his able-bodied youth while enjoying shipboard solace with his partner; HIV+ Austrian Martin finding the cruise a hedonistic escape from normal life; and Polish bodybuilder Marek escaping loneliness amid glitter and frenzy. In English, French, German and Arabic, with German subtitles. (Goethe, 2/15)

Welcome to Germany Opening-night film is director Simon Verhoeven's (son of filmmaker Paul Verhoeven) feisty, family-centered comedy-drama. Against the will of her aging husband Richard, Angelika invites a young African refugee to live in the basement of their Munich home. Soon opinionated young Nigerian Diallo moves in, bringing a whirlwind of complications. These events upset the lives of adult children Philip and Sophie, put the marriage at risk, and imperil the chances of Diallo's being granted permanent German residency. The biggest German film box office hit of 2016 with over 3.5 million admissions, in German and English, with English subtitles. (Castro, 2/9)

Godless Youth Swiss director Alain Gsponer reveals a dystopian, results-oriented society where teens compete for grades while their dreams are broken by an unfeeling system. (Castro, 2/11; Shattuck, 2/12)

Beuys An intimate peek, through a montage of archival clips, at visionary artist Joseph Beuys, "the man with the hat, the felt and the fat corner," 30 years after his death. (Goethe, 2/14)

The Bloom of Yesterday Filmmaker Chris Kraus offers an awkward romance when a Holocaust scholar, grandson of a Nazi war criminal, mentors an intern, granddaughter of a Holocaust victim. (Castro, 2/10)

Code of Survival, or the End of Genetic Engineering Director Bertram Verhaag spots the movement towards non-toxic agriculture in India, Egypt and Germany. (Goethe, 2/13)

Egon Schiele: Death and the Maiden Dieter Berner's portrait of early-20th-century Viennese artist Egon Schiele (Noah Saavedra), whose career and life are driven by beautiful women and the end of an era. (Castro, 2/11; Shattuck, 2/12)

The Final Journey Following the death of his wife, 90-year-old Eduard (Jurgen Prochnow) boards a train for Kiev in search of the woman he fell in love with while serving with the Cossacks. Nick Baker Monteys' drama has its American premiere. (Goethe, 2/14)

My Brother Simple Director Markus Goller presents a moving road-trip of two brothers on a motorcycle. Ben's brother Simpel is a grown man with the mental capacity of a three-year-old. Actors David Kross and Frederick Lau give memorable performances. (Castro, 2/9; Goethe, 2/15)

Paradise Director Andrey Konchalovskiy tells a pitiless tale of three people whose paths cross during WWII. Olga is a Russian emigrant and member of the French Resistance who strikes a bargain with Jules, a French collaborator, before entering into a dangerous liaison with Helmut, a German SS officer. In Russian, German, French, Yiddish, with English subtitles. (Goethe, 2/13)

Rock My Heart 16-year-old Jana has a bad heart, a good boyfriend and a wild stallion named Rock My Heart. Jana rebels against her illness and her despairing parents, bonding with the horse. (Castro, 2/9, 11)

Streaker In Swiss filmmaker Peter Luisi's story, a middle-aged teacher uses streakers as a sport-betting gimmick. (Castro, 2/11)

Text for You Clara (director Karoline Herfurth) misses her boyfriend Ben, killed in an accident, and keeps sending texts to his phone. The messages find their way to a guy who got the dead boy's number. (Castro, 2/10)

That Trip We Took with Dad Anca Lazarescu presents a 1968 road-trip drama. Brothers from Arad get their ailing dad into their car under false pretenses and head for Communist East Germany. (Castro, 2/10)

Three Peaks Director Jan Zabeil gives us the harrowing tale of a young man, Aaron, who wants to form a family with his girlfriend and her son. But a hiking trip high up in the Italian Dolomites turns into a tough outing. (Castro, 2/11)

We Used To Be Cool Austrian filmmaker Marie Kreutzer presents the struggles of three young affluent couples whose lack of material needs becomes a problem. (Castro, 2/9)

Wunderlich's World In Dany Levy's drama, Mimi, a failed musician, daughter of an addicted gambler and unmarried mother of a hyperactive son, takes a chance when her boy signs her up for a Swiss talent show. (Castro, 2/10)


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