Berlin Competition Lineup Unveiled: Sean Penn, Matt Johnson, Hong Sangsoo, Celine Song Films Head to Festival

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Sean Penn, Jesse Eisenberg, Canadian actor/director Matt Johnson, South Korean auteur Hong Sangsoo, and Korean-Canadian director Celine Song are headed to the upcoming Berlin Film Festival.

Berlinale artistic director Carlo Chatrian and executive director Mariëtte Rissenbeck on Monday unveiled the main Competition and Encounters selections for the fest’s 73rd edition which will feature a rich mix of known names and newcomers and a strong political emphasis.

Penn will be in Berlin with “Superpower,” the doc he co-directed with Aaron Kaufman which depicts the struggle between Volodymyr Zelensky, the actor and comedian who became president of Ukraine, and Russian president Vladimir Putin, as he deploys a full-scale invasion of the country. 

“Penn was in Kiev shooting a film with Zelensky when the war in Ukraine burst,” Chatrian said at the press conference. And then, “Reality made the film change into something less comfortable and more meaningful,” he added. “We are very grateful to Sean Penn and the entire team to have picked the Berlinale to show this film,” which “tells the role of art and artists,” the Berlin co-topper noted.

Rissenbeck and Chatrian revealed that the colors of this year’s Berlinale would be blue and yellow – the Ukraine flag colors. Elaborating on the decision to select “Superpower,” Chatrian said: “I guess part of the decision is precisely that the Berlin Film Festival will take place exactly one year after the burst of war and maybe showing this film in Berlin has a more relevant meaning that in any other place, because we are close to Ukraine, because Ukrainian people live in Berlin and also because of the political value of this film. But it’s not the only one dealing with Ukraine. For me ‘Superpower’ – I’m aware that it will drag a lot of attention – is a great door to let you enter to the very complex, rich description of what happened and is still happening in Ukraine right now.”

Canadian director John Trengove will be making his Berlinale competition debut with “Manodrome” starring Jesse Eisenberg and Adrien Brody. Trengove opened Panorama in 2018 with “The Wound.” He is now back with his first U.S. movie in which Jesse Eisenberg plays the lead “in the role of a young man in upstate New York who is about to become a father and feels a sense of loss,” said Chatrian. He noted that the pic is about “What masculinity is today in Western society.” Odessa Young plays the protagonist’s partner. A “great” Brody stars as a cult leader.

Matt Johnson biopic “BlackBerry,” which depicts the rise and fall of the Canadian smartphone company featuring Jay Baruchel, Glenn Howerton and Cary Elwes, is among other standouts ensconced in a Berlinale competition slot.

Prolific South Korean director Hong Sangsoo, a Berlin regular, is back with his latest work “In Water,” which is screening in the more cutting edge competitive Encounters section.

Celine Song’s “Past Lives” which premiered positively at Sundance, will be launching internationally from the Berlinale competition.

Titles by newcomers in competition comprise “Disco Boy” a first feature by France-based Italian director Giacomo Abbruzzese about a refugee who arrives in Paris to join the Foreign Legion as a means to obtain a promised passport.

All told there are 18 films competing for the Golden Bear, six of which directed by women. Eleven of the directors have been at the Berlinale before, eight of which in competition, while three of the competition entries are by first-time directors.

Fifteen of the 18 titles are world premiers. The fest’s international premiers comprise Japanese anime director Makoto Shinkai’s “Suzume,” a crowdpleaser that has been a massive hit at the Japanese box office.

As previously announced, Rebecca Miller’s romantic comedy “She Came To Me,” starring Peter Dinklage, Marisa Tomei, Joanna Kulig, Brian d’Arcy James and Anne Hathaway, has been set as the festival opener.

Kristen Stewart will preside over the jury and Steven Spielberg will receive an honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement.

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION LINEUP

“20,000 Species of Bees” by Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren
Spain

“The Shadowless Tower” by Zhang Lu
China

“Till the End of the Night” by Christoph Hochhausler
Germany

“BlackBerry” by Matt Johnson
Canada

“Disco Boy” by Giacomo Abbruzzese
France/Italy/Poland/Belgium

“The Plough” by Philippe Garrel
France/Switzerland

“Ingeborg Bachmann – Journey into the Desert” by Margarethe von Trotta
Germany/Switzerland/Austria/Luxembourg

“Someday We’ll Tell Each Other Everything” by Emily Atef
Germany

“Limbo” by Ivan Sen
Australia

“Bad Living” by Joao Canijo
Portugal/France

“Manodrome” by John Trengove
U.K./U.S.

“Music” by Angela Schanelec
Germany/France/Serbia

“Past Lives” by Celine Song
U.S.

“Afire” by Christian Petzold
Germany

“On the Adamant” by Nicolas Philibert
France/Japan

“The Survival of Kindness” by Rolf de Heer
Australia

“Suzume” by Makoto Shinkai
Japan

“Totem” by Lila Ayles
Mexico/denmark/France

BERLINALE SPECIAL GALA

“Superpower” by Sean Penn, Aaron Kaufman
U.S.

ENCOUNTERS FILMS

“The Klezmer Project” by Leandro Koch, Paloma Schahmann
Argentina/Austria

“The Adults” by Dustin Guy Defa
U.S.

“The Echo” by Tatiana Huezo
Mexico/Germany

“Here” by Bas Devos
Belgium

“In the Blind Spot” by Ayse Polat
Germany

“The Cage is Looking for a Bird” by Malika Musaeva
France/Russia

“My Worst Enemy” by Mehran Tamadon
France/Switzerland

“White Plastic Sky” by Tibor Banoczki, Sarolta Szabo
Hungary/Slovakia

“In Water” by Hong Sangsoo
South Korea

“Family Time” by Tia Kuovo
Finland/Sweden

“The Walls of Bergamo” by Stefano Savona
Italy

“Orlando, My Political Biography” by Paul B. Preciado
France

“Samsara” by Lois Patino
Spain

“Eastern Front” by Vitaly Mansky, Yevhen Titarenko
Latvia/Czechia/Ukraine/U.S.

“Living Bad” by Joao Canijo
“Portugal/France

“Absence” by Wu Lang
China

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