THE SCARY OF SIXTY-FIRST (Berlinale 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Dasha Nekrasova’s debut feature film follows two young women who fluke the real estate deal of a lifetime, a dream duplex on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It is only after moving in, however, that they discover that their home’s previous owner was Epstein who used it, as one character notes, as an “orgy flophouse”. They together become Nancy Drew like conspiracy theorists who fall increasingly into paranoid obsession. The Scary of Sixty-First does exactly what horror film does best: it gives us a way of speaking about the very real nightmares of the world we live in when we struggle to find the words.

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MISSION ULJA FUNK (Berlinale 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Barbara Kronenbgerg’s Mission Ulja Funk is a lollipop-colored kids road movie that centers around 12 year-old science nerd Ulja. Playfully teasing out the tensions between faith and science, old and young, Mission Ulja Funk by no means reinvents the wheel, but it absolutely has no intention of doing so. Fresh, joyful, and never patronizing the complex, fearless protagonist, Mission Ulja Funk feels like one of those movies for which it feels the phrase “for the young and young at heart” was invented.

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I’M YOUR MAN (Berlinale 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Maria Schrader’s I’m Your Man is a classic girl-meets-boy romcom, except that boy is a bot. And a German-speaking Dan Stevens shaped bot called Tom, at that. A fun movie with a perhaps surprisingly emotional punch, I’m Your Man is surely the high-tech feel-good romcom of the year.

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MEMORY BOX (Berlinale 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Working across cinema, art and publishing, the filmmaking collaborations of Beirut-born Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige have established a reputation as two key figures at the cutting edge of the Lebanese film and arts sectors, and with Memory Box they are clearly at the top of their game. Memory Box brings buried memories back to life in its tale of New Wave teen dreams (and nightmares) in wartime Beirut in a fresh, poignant and deeply personal way.

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MOON, 66 QUESTIONS (Berlinale 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

Some films, on paper, aren’t much; that is why, without wishing to sound facetious, they aren’t novels. Greek filmmaker Jacqueline Lentzou’s Moon, 66 Questions is a masterclass in what makes this axiom true. While all elements are there that make a “good film” – complex characters, compelling plot, etc. – this film adds emotional intelligence and sensitivity that is communicated sensorially as much as it is through the Big Words or Big Actions that we critics in our laziest moments so desperately cling to.

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LANGUAGE LESSONS (Berlinale 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

I want to wear this film in a heart shaped locket around my neck, focused as it is on that far too precious and rare subject matter in cinema: deep, life-changing friendship between a man and a woman with no romantic or sexual elements on any level. Language Lessons reduces me to monosyllables; it is just pure and good and hard and kind and – ultimately – just so, so, so real.

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STOP-ZEMLIA (Berlinale 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

The dizzying liminality of adolescence is not new terrain when it comes to coming of age movies, but with Stop-Zemlia, director Kateryna Gornostai’s debut fictional feature film turns it up to eleven in her documentary-imbued portrait of the kids of Class 11a at a seemingly generic Ukrainian high school. Stop-Zemlia is an intelligent film about a demographic who are so often approached by adult filmmakers in ways that miss all the nuance, fragility and genuine joy that this film brings to life.

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WE (Berlinale 2021) – Review by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas

A French documentary filmmaker of Senegalese heritage, Alice Diop’s sociological sensibility and undisguised interest in French cultural and social politics has permeated work. With its world premiere at the 2021 Berlinale Encounters section, the simplicity of the title of her latest documentary We (Nous) suggests the looking glass nature of her project, focused as it is on using a busy French trainline as the literal and symbolic vehicle to profile a range of the city’s people, a meditative collection of individuals who seem disconnected but who ultimately come together under that elegant, simple banner: “we”.

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‘TIL KINGDOM COME – Review by MaryAnn Johanson

Christian churches in the US are raising money for philanthropic groups in Israel to, like, give food parcels to poor little old ladies in Jerusalem. Sounds innocuous enough. Didn’t Jesus say something about helping the poor? Turns out, however, that it’s all an absolutely terrifying unholy alliance between two religious blocs that are using each other for their own purposes.

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LAND – Review by Lois Alter Mark

With Land, the new movie she both stars in and directs, Wright has traded in the peak of American political power for the peak of a remote mountain far removed from civilization. Land is a slow, quiet, thoughtful movie about the human condition. It’s about the profound power of human kindness and our need for connection. Focusing on grief and isolation and, ultimately, the importance of connecting with other people, Land just may be the perfect movie for the pandemic.

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