Berlin Festival Adds Netflix Drama 'Elisa & Marcela' to Competition Lineup

'Elisa & Marcela'

The black-and-white feature from 'The Bookshop' director Isabel Coixet will be the first film acquired by Netflix to screen in competition in Berlin.

The Berlin International Film Festival on Thursday unveiled several more titles for its 2019 competition lineup, including Elisa & Marcela, a black-and-white drama from Spanish director Isabel Coixet (The Bookshop), which Netflix has acquired.

Although the streaming giant did not produce Elisa & Marcela and Coixet is a regular in Berlin, the film's inclusion in competition is certain to spark controversy, given the uproar surrounding the decision last year by the Venice Film Festival to give a competition slot — and eventually its top Golden Lion award — to Alfonso Cuaron's Roma, another Spanish-language black-and-white period drama, which Netflix released worldwide.

Elisa & Marcela, which tells the true story of two women who got married in Spain in 1901 after one adopted a male identity, will be the first Netflix film to compete for Berlin's Golden Bear honor.

Other titles added to Berlin's 2019 competition lineup on Thursday include Mr. Jones from Polish director Agnieszka Holland (Spoor), starring James Norton, Vanessa Kirby and Peter Sarsgaard; So Long, My Son from Chinese helmer Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycle); the Mongolian drama Öndög from Berlin Golden Bear winner Wang Quan'an (Tuya‘ s Marriage); Piranhas from Italian filmmaker Claudio Giovannesi (Fiore); the German drama System Crasher from first-timer Nora Fingscheidt; Hans Petter Moland's Norwegian dramedy Out Stealing Horses, starring Stellan Skarsgard; and God Exists, Her Name is Petrunija from helmer Teona Strugar Mitevska (When the Day Had No Name).

The Operative, a hotly anticipated spy drama from Israeli director Yuval Adler (Bethlehem) which stars Diane Kruger, Martin Freeman and Cas Anvar, will have its world premiere, out of competition, in Berlin this year, as will Varda by Agnes, the new autobiographical documentary from French film legend Agnes Varda. Marighella, a debut drama from Brazilian director Wagner Moura, also nabbed an out-of-competition slot.

In addition to the new competition titles, the fest announced that The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, the directorial debut of British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, will have its European premiere as a Berlinale Special, as will Who You Think I Am from helmer Safy Nebbou (Angel of Mine). The latter stars actress Juliette Binoche, the president of the upcoming Berlin competition jury.  

Three new documentaries — Anthropocene from Canadian directors Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky; Dominik Wessely's It Could Have Been Worse — Mario Adorf, a look at the acclaimed German-Italian actor; and Alice Agneskirchner's Kids in the Spotlight — will also be part of the Berlinale Special lineup.

Previously announced competition titles include the new feature from Fatih Akin, who won Berlin's Golden Bear in 2004 with Head-On, and marks his return to the Berlinale with the world premiere of the hotly anticipated The Golden Glove, a true-life crime tale set in the director's hometown of Hamburg, while Ozon, a Berlinale regular, will celebrate the international premiere of his latest, By the Grace of God.

Other competition titles that will have their world premiere in Berlin include I Was at Home, But from German director Angela Schanelec (The Dreamed Path); A Tale of Three Sisters from Turkish filmmaker Emin Alper (Beyond the Hill); and Ghost Town Anthology from Canadian helmer Denis Cote (Vic + Flo Saw a Bear).

After premiering The Fatherless in Berlin's Panorama Special section in 2011, Austrian director Marie Kreutzer will make her Berlin competition debut with The Ground Beneath My Feet. The film follows Lola, a late-twenty-something and high-powered business consultant (Valerie Pachner) who keeps her private life — particularly her family's history of mental illness — secret. But when Lola's older sister Conny (Pia Hierzegger) is forced back into Lola's life, her secrets begin to unravel.

Watergate, a documentary from Inside Job director Charles Ferguson, will have its European premiere in Berlin in a special screening. Other non-competition special screenings include Brecht, a TV miniseries starring Burghart Klaussner (The White Ribbon) as legendary German playwright Bertolt Brecht; and Gully Boy, a coming-of-age tale inspired by the lives of street rappers in Mumbai, from Indian filmmaker Zoya Akhtar (Lust Stories). 

The 69th Berlin International Film Festival, which is set to run Feb. 7-17, will kick off with The Kindness of Strangers from Danish director Lone Scherfig (An Education). The New York-set drama stars Zoe Kazan, Tahar Rahim, Andrea Riseborough, Caleb Landry Jones, Jay Baruchel and Bill Nighy.

The 69th Berlinale will also be the final edition under longtime director Dieter Kosslick, who has run the fest since 2002. Carlo Chatrian, former artistic director of the Locarno Film Festival, is set to take over in 2020.