Out of the Celluloid Closet

10 unmissable LGBTQ+ films from Berlinale 2023

Berlin has long been known as a city of firsts when it comes to queer achievements. The world’s first gay magazine, Der Eigene (The Unique) was published there in 1896, and the first known male-to-female gender reassignment surgery happened in Berlin as well in 1922. 

When it comes to celebrating LGBTQ+ representation in film, the Berlin Film Festival also paved the way with the Teddy Awards, a prize established in 1987 to celebrate queer themes in each year’s lineup. Other festivals soon followed suit, including Cannes and Venice, but it was the Berlinale that took this first stride with an award given to director Pedro Almodóvar for his film Law of Desire (La ley del deseo).

Since then, everyone from Todd Haynes and François Ozon to Gus Van Sant and Céline Sciamma has received a Teddy win at the Berlinale. And it’s not just Competition films that are eligible. Any screening at the Berlinale can be considered across any category, which affirms precisely how diverse the Berlin Film Festival actually is in an organic, expansive way.

This year’s Berlinale is no different, and that’s why it’s been hard to pick just ten films to celebrate from the festival’s run in 2023. You’ll notice Passages, Mutt, and Kokomo City have been left out of our running below and that’s because we celebrated their world premieres at Sundance very recently right here

So what other new Berlinale entries have the potential to become instant queer classics in 2023? Here are ten LGBTQ+ films from Berlin that you must keep an eye out for in wide release.

All the Colours of the World Are Between Black and White

Queer people aren’t treated equally anywhere in the world, but that painful truth is even harder to bear in countries like Nigeria where people can be stoned to death just for being gay. It’s within this context that director, screenwriter and producer Babatunde Apalowo tells his story of two men whose interest in each other gradually transcends friendship, despite the hostile environment they find themselves in. Both bleak and beautiful, this absorbing character study humanizes the queer Nigerian people who are fighting now for the right to exist, let alone the right to love who they choose, and that’s why this film is more than just a must-see. It’s a vital entry into the queer canon that holds the power to effect real change.  


Movies that explore shame around a young person’s queer awakening aren’t exactly rare, but how many of these films externalize said shame in the form of a monster that kidnaps children with “impure” thoughts? Almamula is named after a mythical being just like that, but this story is really about Nino, an Argentinian boy who’s swept off to the countryside away from homophobic neighbors only to face different struggles of a more internal kind. The narrative moves with a sluggish pace, much like the characters themselves in this sweaty, summer landscape, but what this film captures about adolescent longing and confusion borders on the mystical in a world of impulse and suppressed desires.      


Drifter starts with an explicit blowjob scene where you briefly see everything, but this isn’t that kind of film. With that out of the way, Hannes Hirsch’s feature-length debut slows down to take a sensitive, unhurried look at a young German man named Moritz on his journey through Berlin’s intoxicating nightlife. Sex, drugs, and techno beats abound, but cliches don’t. Instead, Drifter is more concerned with how vulnerable notions of body image and masculinity can be negotiated within a space that’s simultaneously freeing and suffocating depending on who you are and who you’re with. This is the real Berlin you don’t get to see in the tourist videos or even among the endless queues outside Berghain.   


Revenge dramas are usually reserved for straight, white, cis men, but Femme isn’t having any of that. Instead, directors Sam H. Freeman and Ng Choon Ping wrangle the tropes of this genre around a Black drag queen named Jules (AKA Aphrodite Banks) who plots the downfall of her attacker through an affair that ends up damaging them both. With its focus on homophobia, both internalized and externalized, Femme could be criticized as yet another foray into misery porn, but the script is too smart for that, matched only by Nathan Stewart-Jarrett and George MacKay’s fiercely intense yet still nuanced performances. An instant queer classic of British cinema, if we do say so ourselves. 

Bones and Names (Knochen und Namen)

On the face of it, Knochen und Namen revolves around the relationship between two German men named Boris and Jonathan. And that’s true to some extent, but really, actor-turned-director Fabian Stumm is more interested in the moments that spiral out of this bond, whether it be the characters in Boris’ new play or the shenanigans that his niece Josie gets up to when the adults aren’t looking. Full of humor and charm, Bones and Names (as it’s known in English) isn’t exactly a game-changer, but it is a thoughtful, reflective feature-length debut that’s worth adding to your endless watchlists upon release.


All you really need to know is that Perpetrator stars Alicia Silverstone as a deliciously camp, witch-like figure who revels in every ridiculous syllable that exits her mouth. But if you’re still not convinced, we should also mention that Jennifer Reeder’s latest Berlinale hit is a dark mix of female queerness and gory body horror that feels unlike any other “teen” film you’ll see this year. It’ll be the perfect watch for an acid-infused midnight sleepover when Perpetrator eventually reaches Shudder later this year.  

Silver Haze

As a child, Franky was seriously injured in a fire, and now, fifteen years later, she’s working in the same hospital where her life was once saved. There, she meets a patient named Florence and the pair fall in love. Director Sacha Polak isn’t just interested in the romance though. Silver Haze is also rooted in the British social realist tradition, so there’s space here as well for life in working-class Dagenham and what it’s like to be out and proud in such a challenging part of London. There’s a raw honesty to this story thanks in large part to non-professional actor Vicky Knight whose life the script is based on.  

The Lost Boys (Le Paradis)

With its juvenile detention setting, you’d assume that Zeno Graton’s Belgian gay love story would be a tragic one, but the script is far more concerned with the notion of love itself and the freedom it can bring anywhere. Refreshingly, there’s no homophobia here to distract from that message, despite the overtly straight, masculine environment that Joe and William find themselves in. The Lost Boys is an impressive debut that’s anchored by an equally impressive teenage cast who bring some much-needed nuance to the thuggish stereotypes that would usually come with a story like this.


The title of Joris Lachaise’s documentary “Transfariana” refers to the female members of FARC, the “Farianas”, who played a huge role in fighting for trans rights from within the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. It all started when a FARC rebel named Jaison and a trans former sex worker named Laura fell in love during a prison stint in 2012. The journey that ensued is captured here with footage shot largely by Jaison and Laura themselves from behind bars, which helps shed an entirely different light on FARC than any other documentary to date.  

20,000 Species of Bees (20.000 especies de abejas)

With her feature debut, Spanish writer-director Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren depicts the moving journey of an eight-year old child as she transitions into life as a girl. Not since Céline Sciamma’s Tomboy has a film so sensitively explored a child’s gender identity, making this an important film worth celebrating in our current climate and also a vital watch at any time regardless. Patricia López Arnaiz does phenomenal work as a conflicted mother, but it’s newcomer Sofía Otero who soars here most as the little girl who’s struggling to find her place in the world.

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