For a few days every February, I live for McDonald’s breakfasts. My regular order: a sausage and egg McMuffin and black coffee, scarfed quickly in the upstairs dining area before it’s time to sprint somewhere for the first movie of the day, if we’re lucky, at Potsdamer Platz, if we’re not (and so often, we’re not) at Haus der Berliner Festspiele, where the ancient, sagging seats scoop your spine into scoliotic curves.
This is my fifth Berlinale, my fifth year (see years four, three, and two here) of waking up at 5:30 a.m. to stand in line with other crazy people so we can get tickets to spend ten days of doing nothing but watching movies and waiting in line to watch more movies. After five years, I think I can say we have traditions, the most fixed of which is getting McDonald’s breakfast after the line. To be fair, we really only make it about four days before we can’t stand the thought of eating McDonald’s again until the next Berlinale rolls around. But it’s like Glühwein in December: the first Christmas market sip is like cutting the ribbon to the season. By the fifth sip, you’re ready for May.
Of course we eat other things during the Berlinale. We try to make it to Pizza Hut at least once. Sometimes for lunch there’s Dunkin Donuts or carrot cake from Starbucks, and naturally all the coffee beverages. There are the stale soft pretzels they sell outside the theaters and burgers from the food truck and chocolate muffins and basically anything you can get your hands on between screenings. There’s not nearly enough green. Two memories: One, walking past a display case full of cream cheese sandwiches and craving the chive and parsley garnish. Two, ordering a salad that was more or less a tub of raw arugula and thinking it was the most delicious thing I’d ever eaten.
I always feel a little like I’ve been reborn when the Berlinale comes to an end. Waking up at 6:30 a.m. suddenly seems like sleeping in, and somehow the mornings are miraculously already light (albeit -10 ºC). I long to go to the gym, to go running, to do yoga, to eat well. The darkened theater is my chrysalis. I emerge the best self I’ve been trying to be all January, with a stunning side of caffeine dependence.
And my brain feels awake, alight with analysis and this year, the vitamin B12 supplements that Charlotte, bless her, has been keeping me supplied with. I love talking about what makes a film good and if a bad film could have been better or why so many of this year’s films were about missing and/or insane women.
So of this year’s 29-film tally, what stood out? I’ll get it out of the way: I loved Isle of Dogs, which is hardly surprising considering I loved The Fantastic Mr. Fox and love Wes Anderson’s style in general. Museo was solid (Mom, remember that dream I told you about in which I killed Gabriel García Marquez, and you were sad because you thought I’d killed Gael García Bernal? Don’t worry, he’s alive and well in this film!), as was Becoming Astrid – where, after two hours of film, I wanted two hours more. Les faux tatouages was gentle and precise and a film that felt like reading a good short story.
I enjoyed the animation (graphic novel style) of Virus Tropical and its commentary on the dynamics of women within families. Whatever Happens Next was a little too “hip” at times for my taste, but had its incisive moments, and I loved the way La Prière didn’t present clean conclusions about religion as its protagonist struggled to break his addiction. Monster Hunt 2 was the clear surprise hit of the festival – it was completely ridiculous and also joyously amusing and bizarre and Wuba is maybe the most adorable animated monster of all time. I was surprised to like Unsane after overcoming my initial reserve about the camerawork. One of my favorite moments in this year’s Berlinale was hearing the entire Friedrichstadt Palast scream and then give a sheepish, collective laugh after a particularly harrowing moment we all knew was coming.
But I think the movie that’s stayed with me most is Tinta Bruta, a Brazilian film with an incredible soundtrack (I’ve been listening to this, the only song I could remember off the top of my head, on repeat, and also doing an extensive amount of intense dancing around the apartment, but that’s neither here nor there). It’s bluntly graphic, but that’s an important part of a story in which both leaving and staying require their own kind of strength. As one of the directors put it in the Q&A afterwards, paraphrased: it’s not a love story, it’s a life story in which there is love.
It’s a movie with a spot-on ending that left me with plenty to unpack as the week wound down and I came back to the real world and my real life, where the McMuffin is replaced with an over-easy egg nested in a deliriously healthy bed of spinach and dinner on the run becomes a long lunch of parsley and wheat berry salad and baba ghanoush and hot mint tea and finally… a book.
Parsley & Wheat Berry Salad
This recipe is adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s ever-wonderful Jerusalem cookbook. You can replace the wheat berries with barley, spelt, or farro – just be sure to adjust the cooking times accordingly. This salad’s bright, fresh zinginess and bite make it an excellent accompaniment to heavy meat dishes, but it’s also lovely as part of a mezze platter or office lunch. Serves 3-4.
¼ cup (60 g) wheat berries
1 cup (150 g) feta
5½ tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp za’atar
½ tsp. coriander seeds, lightly toasted and crushed
¼ tsp. cumin
2 cups (80 g) flat-leaf parsley, leaves and fine stems
2 spring onions, finely chopped (40 g total)
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup (40 g) cashews, lightly toasted and crushed roughly
1 green pepper, finely diced
½ tsp. ground allspice
2 tbsp. lemon juice (about ½ lemon)
salt & black pepper
Boil wheat berries in a pot with plenty of (unsalted) water for about 40 minutes or until berries are tender, but have just a bit of bite. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
In the meantime, roughly crumble feta and mix with 1½ tbsp. of the olive oil, za’atar, coriander seeds, and cumin. Gently mix together and allow to marinate.
Finely chop parsley and add to the wheat berries. Add spring onion, garlic, cashews, green pepper, allspice, lemon juice, and the rest of the olive oil. Mix well and season to taste with salt and pepper. Gently add the marinated feta and stir.