“Hats off to Dieter and his team,” said International Jury President Darren Aronofsky last night at the Berlinale’s closing award’s ceremony.
Indeed, neither he nor Dieter Kosslick had on any form of headwear – and this was one of the few real surprises in a line up of otherwise fairly predictable announcements. Another was use of the term ex aequo, which isn’t a film that nobody saw. Nor does it have anything to do with polar bears and melting ice caps. That would be ex aqua. Ex aequo just means that the Jury moved the goalposts around a bit by handing out two “ex aequo” extra bears (an additional Best Director and extra Silver for Outstanding Artistic Contribution). Essentially however, Exberliner had the majority of winners pegged somewhere in our awards selection, with direct hits for Golden Bear (Taxi), Best Actress (Rampling in 45 Years) and Outstanding Artistic Contribution (camera in Pod elextricheskimi oblakami/Under Electric Clouds).
The question that seemed much on people’s minds (again) was how political the selection was. Kosslick tried to explain:
“I have to say that I was pretty happy … I do think it’s important that we had these films that people call political because they reflect what’s going on out there. So we weren’t just on the red carpet. We were out there in the world – just on a red carpet. For as long as we stay on the red carpet and know where we are the festival has something to do with the world and is political. That’s how I see it. More or less.”
Hmmm. So is that more or is it less? Probably a little more. Which is good if the films match the aspirations. And some did. Take Taxi, which won the Golden Bear. Very political. You only had to watch Kosslick bounding up the red-carpeted stairs to give the Bear to director Panahi’s niece to realize that. Not that Taxi isn’t a great work of art. It is, but precisely because it successfully turns dissidence into art without sacrificing integrity. Stunning debut film Ixcanul (Alfred Bauer) addresses the lives of ethnic minorities (Maya). Another of our favourites, Aferim! (Best Director) did the same with Wallachia’s early 19th century gypsies. Also straddling the politico-social divide, El Club (Grand Jury Prize) and El Botón de Nácar (Best Script), have overtly political sur-texts – albeit backed-up by radical artistry that sometimes stretched our imagination beyond breaking point. Rewarding Pod electricheskimi oblakami for its camera work could (just) be considered political: the film works with epically confounding images to suggest the devastation of Russia’s cultural landscapes 100 years after the Revolution (with the support of the Russian Federation’s Ministry of Culture, but that’s a whole different story). From here on in, though, the prizes went to emotionally charged work in which family dramas opened a window onto issues of non-communication (Best Actor/Actress prizes for the superlative 45 Years, Best Director for occasionally inconsistent Body). And then, there’s Victoria, which appears to have won a prize (camera, Outstanding Artistic Contribution) for the cinematographically bedazzling re-creation of a moral no-man’s land in Berlin-Mitte. Thank you, host city.
So yes, it’s political. And not a whisper for the two big-name films: Terrence Malick’s Knight of Cups, Peter Greenaway’s Eisenstein in Guanajuato. Once again, Berlin has proved it’s no big-name pushover.
Au contraire: about those ex aequo extra bears. Ex aequo et bono translates to “according to the right and good" or what is “just and fair” and refers, according to a well-known internet site, to “the power of the arbitrators to dispense with consideration of the law and consider solely what they consider to be fair and equitable in the case at hand”. In other words, officialese for the Jury’s validation of Kosslick’s selection by presenting two extra bears. Which is where we all meet on the same page again: the Berlinale page of goodness and correctness. So hats off to Dieter for selecting (some) films that got this equation right.