How can I describe the way it feels when this movie marathon comes to an end, the way my fingers linger over the last ritual unpacking of the bag, the flinging of ticket stubs and loose papers onto the desk. The slow, deep gulps of water salving a week’s worth of harried dehydration, and how I sink down onto the couch to tally up the week’s report of good, bad, and indifferent.
It’s especially as the Berlinale whirls to its inevitable conclusion that I feel that I myself am in a film. I see with a cinematic eye. Even now, as I hunch over my desk to quickly jot this paragraph down, I see how the camera pans in on my fingers, the gentle, white glow of the laptop screen in the dark, the soft tap-tap-tap of my pointer finger on the keys as I think of what to write next. I bite my lip self-consciously to show the audience that I am thinking. The camera picks up the sound of the children in the adjacent apartment, laughing, and the clink of dinner dishes. The scene is set.
The feeling is especially strong as I walk from place to place, which, in the past week and a half, has meant: from theater to theater. Then, my mind’s-eye-camera zooms out across Berlin’s blocky, boxy rows of apartment buildings, streets lined with naked trees rattling twiggy fingers in the wind. I hear the click of my boots on the concrete, catch the flick of my eyes upwards as I wait for the traffic signal to change. I reach into my bag and pull out my wallet, slipping the fat wad of tickets between my fingers to check where I’m going next and what time I need to be there. When you’re watching up to five films a day, it’s easy to lose track.
This year, I managed to see 26 movies, if you count Final Portrait, which I almost don’t, since I watched about 15 minutes of it, and slept through all the rest. I wished I could have slept through Félicité, but there was too much coffee coursing through my system to slip my eyelids shut for longer than a blink.
It seemed to me that this year’s program as a whole was better than last year’s – I saw less awful movies – though there weren’t necessarily more stand-out films. The ones that did stand out – Call Me By Your Name, I Am Not Your Negro, Casting JonBenet, Freak Show, and On Body and Soul – were all very different in tenor and tone, but left me feeling the way good cinema should: awake, engaged, curious, and inspired.
For me, the Berlinale is about more than just sussing out what next year’s arthouse cinema roster holds, it’s about getting caught up in the chaos of the festival. It’s about waiting in line with a cup of free coffee in the mornings and comparing schedules. It’s about McDonald’s for breakfast and food truck fish burgers wolfed-down for lunch in the icy cold. It’s the hush that happens when the theater lights go down and the familiar three-note intro that signals the start of the festival’s theme song. It’s feeling blasé about the red carpet after you’ve run down it so many times. There’s such energy and exhaustion that propels the week along, and more than the movies, that’s what I love about the Berlinale.
It’s not just the sheer quantity of movies you watch, it’s the feeling of being part of the Berlinale as a whole that makes it completely distinct from watching a movie – or movies – in any other way. There was one evening during the Berlinale where we took the night off, and so, to unwind, I made myself a big bowl of popcorn, sat on the couch, and – watched a movie.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit, but until very recently (within the last year recently), I didn’t know you could make popcorn any other way than in a microwave. Blame it on growing up in the consumer belt, where popcorn came two ways: vacuum-packed in a bag or scooped out of a big, buttery Plexiglas box at the theater. I knew you could make popcorn on the stovetop, but I thought you had to buy those plastic-wrapped tins in the shape of a nonsensical, nostalgic skillet. It never crossed my mind that you could just buy corn kernels and pop them in a lidded pot on the stove. Not, at least, until I was walking down the snack aisle of my grocery store here in Germany and spotted a bag of kernels. Curious, I read the instructions. It turns out, there’s very little that’s easier than making popcorn on the stovetop.
My discovery unleashed a terrible, bottomless craving. I ate popcorn salted and buttered, sprinkled with za’atar and doused with Old Bay, I tried it with shredded sheets of nori and sesame seeds, with hot chili flakes and sugar. I ate bowl after bowl after bowl, and soon it seemed I was watching movies just to justify the snack.
At the Berlinale, there is no popcorn. There’s just an endless succession of theaters with secret sneaks of chocolate muffins and chive-buttered pretzels. In fact, popcorn isn’t allowed in any of the theaters during the festival – with such quick turnaround between screenings, it’s probably too much of a hassle to keep all the floors clean.
Nevertheless, all the darkened theaters and big-screen tales leave me wanting a bag of buttered kernels, popped up and crunching between my teeth. And so, while the festival satisfies my movie craving for a while, it sparks that other, more newfound craving, and leaves me ping-ponging back and forth between the two until they finally level each other out – or next year’s Berlinale rolls around again.
Nori & Sesame Buttered Popcorn
Yes, you can get nori flakes instead of nori sheets; no I’m not sure how much to use if you go that route – 2 tbsp., perhaps? I just happened to have some extra sushi nori lying around, which is, in fact, how this recipe came about. I used scissors to snip it into little flakes. Makes 1 serving.
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
4 tbsp. popcorn kernels
¼ tsp. salt
1 sheet nori, cut into small pieces
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. sesame seeds
Pour vegetable oil and popcorn kernels into a large pot, and turn the heat to high. Add salt and half of the nori flakes. Stir to coat. Put the lid on the pot and wait until you start to hear popping. The popping will increase in intensity, and then slowly begin to decrease. When long seconds go by between pops, your popcorn is done. The whole process takes about 3½ minutes.
While your popcorn is popping, melt butter and the rest of the nori flakes in a small saucepan. Remove from heat as soon as the butter has melted.
Add nori-butter and sesame seeds to popped popcorn, and season to taste with extra salt if you feel like it. Give the whole thing a good toss and pour it into a big bowl. Watch a movie.