Escobar’s hippo heads up a less political Berlin Film Festival

BERLIN (Reuters) – The story of “Pepe”, the hippopotamus who lived in Colombian druglord Pablo Escobar’s private menagerie, will jostle for space with a slew of science fiction movies in the main line-up of next month’s Berlin Film Festival.

The Berlinale – usually best known for its politically-focussed films – is this year taking a step back from the burning issues preoccupying a turbulent world.

Among the highlights in the line-up announced on Monday is “La Cocina,” Alonso Ruizpalacios’ film starring Rooney Mara which follows the lunchtime rush in a New York City kitchen.

Hong Sang-soo’s “A Traveler’s Needs”, starring Isabelle Huppert, is a “a light yet piercing take on human relationships,” according to festival director Carlo Chatrian, who along with Mariette Rissenbeek is bowing out in 2024 after a five-year-run.

Another of the films on their crowd-pleasing roster is “Another End”, Piero Messina’s relationship-focussed science fiction tale of people finding comfort in surrogates for the dead, starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Renate Reinsve.

In all 20 films will be competing for the Golden Bear, awarded by a jury headed by Kenyan-Mexican actress Lupita Nyong’o.

Norwegian actress Renate Reinsve makes another appearance in the competition line-up in Aaron Schimberg’s “A Different Man”, also starring Sebastian Stan and Adam Pearson, a New York-set story about a man recovering from illness.

The opening film will be Tim Mielants’ “Small Things Like These”, starring “Peaky Blinders”‘ Cillian Murphy in a historical drama about religious oppression in rural Ireland.

Politics is not wholly absent: Victor Kossakovsky’s “Architecton” is a documentary about cement and humanity’s impact on a changing planet.

Maryam Moghaddam’s “My Favourite Cake” tells the story of a woman who decides to resume the live she led before Iran’s revolution.

At least one film has also withdrawn from one of the specialist competitions in protest at Germany’s support for Israel during the conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

“So far, we haven’t received any signal that film-makers in the main programme want to boycott the festival,” Chatrian told a news conference.

(Reporting by Thomas Escritt; Editing by Andrew Heavens)