The 70th annual Berlinale (Berlin International Film Festival) got off to a rather somber start last night after a right-wing mass shooting Wednesday evening in the German city of Hanau sent shockwaves through the country. The opening gala host, actor Samuel Finzi, delivered a emotional introduction recounting his own life as a Bulgarian immigrant in Berlin. After a moment of silence for the victims of Wednesday’s attack and statements from festival directors Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian, German culture minister Monika Grütters gave a stirring speech stating that no one in in the country should ever have to fear for their lives because of their religion, origin or skin color. The minister later received a long standing ovation after calling for zero cooperation with “political forces that try to relativize National Socialist crimes and stir up resentments with their slogans.”
In sharp contrast with the subdued mood, Philippe Falardeau’s whimsical comedy My Salinger Year kicked off the festival and received a far warmer reception than last year’s opener (Lone Scherfig’s The Kindness of Strangers). Based on Joanna Rakoff’s acclaimed 2014 memoir, the film stars Margaret Qualley as a wannabe writer who, after landing a dream position working for J.D. Salinger’s literary agent (Sigourney Weaver), goes against company policy and starts answering the legendarily reclusive author’s fan mail. Like its cinematic big sister The Devil Wears Prada, the film shines brightly while exploring its young heroine’s artistic and professional struggles, and bores when wasting time on inane romantic subplots. Whether it’s critics who want to be filmmakers or agents who want to be writers, the light, frothy and ultimately inspiring story will speak to all the folks out there working directly adjacent to their true vocation.
Stay tuned for more WoW @ Berlinale coverage next week!