Another year, another Berlinale. Last night the international jury chaired by Meryl Streep made their verdict known and crowned the latest class of proud Bear winners. In case you missed it, we did rather well on our award predictions, correctly calling four of the eight eventual victors, including that of the Golden Bear.
The festival’s biggest prize of course went to Italian documentary Fire at Sea, whose director Gianfranco Rosi now joins a rarified group of filmmakers who have won both the Golden Bear and the Golden Lion, as his last film Sacro GRA topped the Venice Film Festival in 2013. We applaud this perhaps predictable but no less justified or meaningful decision. By adding a vividly human voice to his depiction of the refugee crisis, Rosi’s work is lyrical, eloquent, giving rise to what the jury described as a “compassionate outrage”. It might be the easy consensus vote, but that sometimes translates to the correct, responsible choice as well. (See also last year’s very popular winner Taxi by Jafar Panahi.)
The jury probably made their most unexpectedly discerning call with the runner-up prize, which was awarded to Death in Sarajevo. Expertly interwoven and sleekly packaged, the multi-perspective thriller is not only tight as a drum but illustrates the impossibly tangled history of Balkan conflict with chilling clarity. We had it pegged for the screenplay prize, thinking its genre cinema DNA might prove an awards deterrent, but Meryl & Co. were obviously ready to see past that and declared it the rightful Grand Jury Prize winner.
We also have no trouble with their choices for the Alfred Bauer Prize, the Best Director and the two acting prizes. The criterion for the Alfred Bauer Prize – a feature film that “opens new perspectives” – is practically tailored made for the insanely audacious, eight-hour-long A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery. In naming 35-year-old Mia Hansen-Løve best director, the jury showed not only its appreciation of one of the best films in competition (Things to Come), but also its support of young, female filmmakers who are regularly overlooked by award-giving bodies. Both Majd Mastoura (Hedi) and Trine Dyrholm (The Commune) delivered undeniably great performances. We missed with the Best Actress category, falsely assuming the single German competition entry and the other of only two female-directed films in the lineup, 24 Weeks, will go home with something.
It turned out this female-dominant jury chose to make its stance clear with the screenplay prize, awarded to United States of Love, a relationship drama dedicated to feminine sensibilities. The cause is noble but we think it might be the most ill-advised decision this year. Portraying all four of its female protagonists as needy, oft hysterical creatures embedded in truncated, underwritten storylines, the script starts off from a good place but goes in all the wrong directions. Perhaps less blatantly wrong but still troubling is to hand the award for outstanding artistic contribution to the cinematographer of Crosscurrent, Mark Lee Ping-Bing. Lee is of course a legendary figure in Chinese-language cinema, having lensed Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love and almost the entire filmography of Hou Hsiao-Hsien. But his work here is spotty at best. For every image of mesmerising beauty (the scene where the protagonist passes through the gigantic Three Gorges Dam comes to mind), there are at least two that feel shockingly crude. The filmmaker might be aiming for an atmosphere of mystique, but the truth of the matter is, the majority of the film is simply underlit. We can easily think of worthier candidates for this prize – the eye-popping production design or fabulously provocative score of A Dragon Arrives! for example.
In any event, we’ve once again been invigorated, mystified, compelled and moved by films from every continent this past fortnight. There are no English-language films among the winners, but instead those from Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, which serves as a good reminder that, no matter your personal opinion on the quality of its selection, the Berlinale always brings us cinematic work from around the world. For the opportunity to be exposed to such a variety of perspectives, aesthetics and stories, we’re grateful. So yes, we’ve had a blast seeing and writing about these incredible, exciting, or simply different movies, talking to their makers and observing the vibe surrounding Berlin’s biggest cultural event of the year, we hope you’ve had fun too.
Until next time.
Full list of winners
Golden Bear: Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare)
Grand Jury Prize: Death in Sarajevo (Smrt u Sarajevu)
Alfred Bauer Prize: A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery (Hele Sa Hiwagang Hapis)
Best Director: Mia Hansen-Løve for Things to Come (L'avenir)
Best Actor: Majd Mastoura for Hedi (Inhebbek Hedi)
Best Actress: Trine Dyrholm for The Commune (Kollektivet)
Best Screenplay: Tomasz Wasilewski for United States of Love (Zjednoczone stany miłości)
Outstanding Artistic Contribution: Mark Lee Ping-Bing for the cinematography in Crosscurrent (Chang Jiang Tu)