Our Ents Editor Áine O’Connell visited Berlinale last weekend, and makes a case for tackling unusual films while at a festival.
Last weekend I headed to a film festival for the first time – and true to my “go hard or go home” nature I visited Berlinale, one of Europe’s largest festivals. Now in its sixty-fifth year, Berlinale boasted the premieres of over four hundred films, including Martin Luther King biopic “Selma” and erotic adaptation “Fifty Shades of Grey”. Unfortunately neither premiered while I was there, but that gave me a chance to taste some new and exciting types of film.
 
Berlinale boasts films from all over the world – movies from Guatemala, Iran, Thailand and Korea are just some of the more far-flung. Many of the films are stories told through native languages – I watched one that was in English with the occasional Inuit subtitle. Many of the films are in English, including “You’re Ugly Too”, an Irish film that made it to the competition stages of Berlinale.
 
However, the ones worth watching are those in other languages, not only because they won’t screen in Odeon any time soon, but they invite the viewer into another world completely different to our own. Take, for example, the soul-rattling “Ixcanul Volcano” I saw while at Berlinale. 
 
Set in Guatemala, the story of María’s arranged marriage is at once mysterious and familiar to anyone familiar with Ireland’s deeply Catholic history. Would I have in a million years expected a story of a Guatemalan teenager to resonate with me so deeply? No. Ixcanul wasn’t a fun watch but it made for a profoundly connecting experience for an Irish person given that it was set on the sides of a smoking volcano.
 
While it can often be very expensive to see films that fly under our radar, Berlinale is exceptionally kind to its students. Tickets are normally priced at ten euro, but for students there’s a massive fifty per cent off tickets. That’s Korean, Austrian or Argentinian cinema for a fiver, folks. 
 
Tickets can also be bought last minute for six euro fifty, a bit of a step up but still far less than the price of a bad rom-com in Cineworld. With so many Irish student discounts parking themselves at a measly ten per cent off, it’s commendable of a huge operation like Berlinale to offer a half-price offer.
 
Many films at Berlinale invited viewers to test the boundaries of “watchable”. The film’s programmes offer little more than the name of the film and the vaguest of synopses, with no information offered about the genre or tone of the film.  I walked into more than one film knowing only the titles of the films offered – this is something of a “hit and miss” experience but it also allows viewers to push themselves. 
 
For me, the best example of this was the fairly silly One and Two, which I attempted to classify as sci-fi but ended up as a horror film rooted in family drama. For someone who tends to stick to their guns in terms of film genre, One and Two was something of a learning curve.
 
Berlin, as a city, has just the right atmosphere for a film festival. It’s quiet yet intensely busy and deeply efficient to get around. It’s an ordered yet creative place, where former Soviet buildings are covered in bright graffiti. The city is steeped in a tragic history for which it is deeply apologetic, but never cowers from. This makes a film festival a unique experience; one could never imagine a Paris or London film festival being the same. 
 
Few cities hold a candle to it, in terms of personality; one such place is Dublin. So when the Jameson Film Festival rolls around in March, pay attention, and pick something out of your comfort zone – you might be pleasantly surprised.