Yes, yes, yes, February feels like a distant dream of long-ago coats and scarves, fur-lined gloves and wind so cold it creaks inside the wet, warm inside of your cheeks. But for the most part, none of the films I saw at this year’s Berlinale will be out for another twelve months anyway, so this post is mostly just as relevant as it might have been when it was maybe a little more relevant.
What was it about this year’s Berlinale that made us drop like flies? Every single one of us was sick by the end. I left my last film and went straight to bed for two days, waking in a feverish twilight and wanting the covers, a bowl of popcorn dusted with Old Bay, and the Game of Thrones opening sequence jauntily humming from my laptop speakers. Ugh, art films! it made me want to say and mouth a silent scream. Ugh, to the obscenity-strewn pointlessness of Mid-90s. Ugh, to the questionable metaphors of Flatland. Ugh, to the black-and-white smugness of Elisa y Marcela, which was so bad I had to leave the theater.
Some of our posse were more pleased with their choices, but I felt like I’d mostly picked a bunch of duds. Though there were films I really did enjoy, even now, looking back on it a month later, there wasn’t anything that left a sear in my heart like last year’s Tinta Bruta or Call Me By Your Name from the year before that.
What can I recommend of the twenty films I saw? VICE was excellent, incisive, timely – and terrifying. Systemsprenger, about kids who fall through the system’s cracks, was haunting and heart-wrenching and so well-acted. And Waiting for the Carnival was a beautiful documentary that did an excellent job of withholding judgment on a story that could so easily have been a lecture on the evils of industrialization.
What did I not mind? Grâce à Dieu had a slow build that felt appropriate for a not-as-obnoxious-as-usual French film. And Amazing Grace was amazing because Aretha is amazing. Skin was solid but somehow predictable, and 55 Steps was like an enjoyable sequel to Erin Brockovich. Varda par Agnès would’ve meant more to me if I’d been more familiar with Agnès Varda’s work, and I liked a lot of things 37 Seconds chose to do – and not do.
And yet. And yet. It’s telling that my favorite part of this year’s Berlinale was the outpost of Brammibal’s Donuts that recently opened up on Potsdamer Platz. I’m pretty sure I ate a donut every single day, working my way from chocolate peanut fudge to maple smoked coconut to beetroot and walnut. It felt kind of horrible and also so, so right.
Near the end of the festival, I was interviewed for some TV station’s Instagram story, which was surely embarrassing for everyone involved, including me, the station, and the entire Instagram community. I was wishy-washy about what movies I’d enjoyed. Did I care who won the Golden Bear? Not really. But I did have a firm and fast answer to how I’d survived an average of three to five films a day, waking up day after day at 5:30 a.m. and leaving the theater after the final credit roll at 10:00 p.m.: coffee and donuts.
Which is why, when it came to thinking about what to make to represent this year’s festival, there was one answer only. And like this post, which is much too late to be relevant for the Berlinale, these beignets are just a little too late to be relevant for Mardi Gras. Now how do you like that for thematic consistency?
Quark Beignets (Quarkbällchen)
I’ve been seeing quark around the last few times I’ve been home, so there’s a chance it’s lurking in your local dairy aisle, but if not, I think strained cottage cheese would work as well (you just don’t want it to be too wet). This is a beautifully straightforward dough, to which you could add all sorts of things, like shredded coconut, citrus zest, cinnamon, etc. Makes about 30 beignets.
½ cup (125 g) sugar
1 1/3 cups (250 g) quark
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups (250 g) flour
2 tsp. baking powder
Vegetable oil for frying
Sugar for rolling
Powdered sugar for dusting
Using an electric hand mixer, blend eggs and sugar until frothy. Add quark, vanilla, flour, and baking powder, and stir until combined. Your dough should be shaggy and sticky.
Heat two inches of oil in a deep pan (I used a wok). When it is very hot, drop spoonfuls of batter into the oil and fry in small batches until golden-brown. Because the dough is very sticky, I’ve found that the easiest way to make ball-shaped beignets is to use two soup spoons and pretend you’re making squat quenelles (this is super easy to do, but ridiculously hard to describe, so if you don’t know how make a quenelle, check out a how-to video such as this one).
Use a slotted spoon to remove the fried beignets from the oil and place on a paper towel to drain. Once slightly cooled, either roll them in granulated sugar or dust them with powdered sugar. They’re best enjoyed warm with a mug of hot coffee.