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Our Top Seven Picks for This Weekend's Berlin & Beyond Film Fest

This Ain't California

A scene from German skateboard documentary "This Ain't California"

Ah Germany, the land of Beer and Techno. I've always been a fan of Germany's cultural output but I never saw what happened this year coming–Berlin has drawn nearly as many of my friends away from me as has New York, and I've increasingly found myself attempting to slot a trip to the city into my schedule. Not an easy task for someone who works mostly in non-profit film. The closest I'll probably get this year is a slew of trips to Public Works and the Berlin and Beyond Film Festival, which runs this weekend into next week at the Castro.

At this point, let me be up front: I moonlight working for the B&B every year, but I have nothing to do with picking the films. In a way, this actually means that I look forward to the selections more than anyone else does, and I'm a little more critical of the output. I also end up watching each film almost three times before the fest, so I know where the good ones are! Here's my very personal seven picks for this year's fest of German, Austrian and Swiss treats.

The Tin Drum Director's Cut
I asked a friend of mine if he would be coming to see the new director's cut of the Tin Drum and he said he'd seen it in high school. "So…?" said I. "No," said he, "it shattered my little mind." This is probably the best endorsement I've ever heard for any film. Based on some particularly heavy lit about World War II concerning a kid who refused to grow up (literally), this Academy Award winner is as eye-opening as it is shrill. Bring your thinking cap if you come. Tickets & Times

The Substance: Albert Hoffman's LSD

There are precious few movies about drugs that touch on the actual experience of "doing drugs" in a way that feels authentic, and this one does. It's got all the classic moments that you'd expect from a documentary on the subject: Prime interviews with the man himself, Albert Hoffman, scratchy in-field shots of artists (funny) and soldiers (super funny) doing LSD trials at the outset of the phenomenon. It's not all fun and games though. Ultimately this doc takes a deeper look at the positive good that LSD could have done before it was co-opted by the "flower children" and thrown into legal limbo by an unforgiving system. Tickets & Times

Faust
Festival and art house rats out there: Remember Russian Ark? I do. At 96 minutes, it was more than a film. It was basically a living museum: A czarist-era period piece shot in the Winter Palace of Russia's State Hermitage Museum entirely in one take. The director, Alexander Sukorov, has been similarly meticulous with his new film, an adaptation of Faust, which plays tonight. This intractably well-attired metaphysical nightmare won the Golden Lion at Venice this year. Tickets & Times

The Door
I have a soft spot for international thespians of the Scandanavian variety. Nicolaj Coster-Waldau? Love him. Noomi Rapace? Love her. Any of those Skarsgard guys? Bring 'em out. So, obviously, I love Casino Royale baddie Mads Mikkelson. In The Door, a movie which likely won't ever get released in the US in theaters, we get two of him. I won't spoil the plot, but here's the setup: A man accidentally lets his daughter die while he's off screwing his neighbor's wife, and later discovers a door that will let him go back in time to before it happened. Naturally, he goes in. Hopefully this scenario doesn't sound familiar. If it does, god help you! Like many contemporary German films, it's a dark, dark trip. Tickets & Times

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Combat Girls
You'd be excused for thinking the moment is over, but know this: Guilt is an evergreen topic in German film, (and culture overall...why do you think German Riesling is still so cheap?) and as a result this film about a girl who joins a Neo-Nazi gang has been a very hard sell for anyone outside of Germany. That's a shame, because this drama is a heavy hitter with tons to offer and a real punk aesthetic to pin it all down to. It's kind of a German version of American History X, but even more brutally downbeat. Bring something to drink. Tickets & Times

This Ain't California
Did you know there were skateboarding crews behind the Berlin Wall? I had no idea. Apparently a lot of them had bleach blond Jheri Curls as well. If you think that skateboarders have a rough time with the cops these days, you can only imagine what it was like dealing with East Germany's communist secret police, the Stasi. This doc has tons of awesome old footage of skaters shredding downtown East Berlin and lots of old commercials for skateboarding gear that will have you feeling nostalgic for a time you previously knew nothing about. Good fun. Tickets & Times

Ship of the Dead
Another film that's playing tonight. This is my wildcard. I haven't seen it, you haven't seen it, the American people haven't seen it. Even the director, Georg Tressler, is a bit of an enigma: He was once a big German movie star, but soon became a director pursuant to that and subsequently refused to have his picture taken. I've picked it because A) I love a good mystery, and B) It stars Mario Adorf, who is always great, and C) It's showing on a glorious, super rare 35mm print. As for the plot, the name kind of says it all. Tickets & Times