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If “Past Lives” doesn’t grab the Golden Bear, the festival’s highest honor for a feature film, my pick would be “Tótem,” the second film from the Mexican director Lila Avilés (“The Chambermaid”), a vibrant child’s-eye portrait of an extended family gathering to celebrate the birthday of a dying man. Blithely ignoring the W.C. Fields adage about never working with children or animals, Avilés manages to corral both, often in the very same shot, delivering deceptively naturalistic performances that plunge us into a young girl’s first experience of the terrible and beautiful coexistence of life and death.

The flagship German festival always debuts some outstanding homegrown work. “Afire,” from Christian Petzold, has many of the hallmarks of the celebrated director’s recent work: a woozy edge of ever-so-slight surreality; the transformative deployment of a music track, here “In My Mind” by Wallners, an Austrian band; the actress Paula Beer. But it’s also subtly different from Petzold’s recent titles “Undine” and “Transit,” unfolding largely in a chatty, Rohmerian register. Petzold’s films are many things, but rarely are they as funny as this discursive tale of an insecure writer struggling to finish his book — the press corps’ laughter felt ruefully self-directed — during a beachside getaway with a friend, while forest fires threaten nearby.

At the opposite end of the accessibility spectrum, there’s the severe German formalist Angela Schanelec’s “Music,” a beautifully composed but extraordinarily opaque riff on Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex.” It’s the definition of not for everybody, but if you’re the kind of masochist who enjoys the Sisyphean challenge of a movie that refuses to give up all its secrets, no matter how much you mentally wrestle with them, it might be for you.

The contrast between those two titles highlights the exciting diversity of this year’s thoughtful curation. One can only applaud a competition selection that includes a fun, true-story, rise-and-fall comedy from Canada (Matt Johnson’s “Blackberry”); a stark, despairing Australian colonial-oppression allegory (Rolf de Heer’s inaptly titled “The Survival of Kindness”); and a Spanish trans-themed coming-of-ager (Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s “20,000 Species of Bees”).

The competition also featured three pleasantly eccentric Asian titles: Zhang Lu’s “The Shadowless Tower,” a personal favorite; Makoto Shinkai’s wild-ride anime “Suzume”; and Liu Jian’s animated slacker memoir “Art College 1994.” Even the films that did not appeal to me — such as Philippe Garrel’s “The Plough” or Margarethe von Trotta’s “Ingeborg Bachmann — Journey into the Desert” — added something to the overall picture, both representing the old guard of European auteur cinema.

Toward the end of a festival I always get a little sentimental — chalk it up to lack of sleep or a surfeit of stories vying for space in my addled brain. But this robust, often sparkling edition of my beloved Berlinale has earned certain indulgences. When I sit in the Berlinale Palast for the last time this weekend, the lovely starburst trailer — my favorite festival ident, a glittering rain of gold briefly coalescing into the outline of a bear — will feel starrier still.

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