It hardly seems possible but the 66th Berlinale is drawing to a close. Tonight, awards in all categories, including the festival’s highest honour – the Golden Bear - will be handed out. As always there are complaints about the competition being weak this year, but is there really a lack of excellent, daring, informative films to celebrate?
What about the unsentimental, effortlessly charming look at life’s unexpected turns in Things to Come, featuring a pitch-perfect Isabelle Huppert? That would make for a pretty solid winner in our books. Or the layered, sleekly executed Death in Sarajevo, which boils down centuries of strife on the Balkans into 85 minutes of breathless tension? Speaking of tension, Alex Gibney’s documentary Zero Days is not just tight as a drum, but illustrates with frightening clarity the magnitude of cyber warfare fought without our knowing.
Consider also the tender character study Hedi, which provides rare insights into the struggles of modern Tunisians longing to break free. Or A Dragon Arrives! from Iran, the very last competition film to screen and wows with its thrilling mix of documentary and fiction, wrapped up in gloriously dynamic aural and visual design. Even films that we’re not fans of – the mountains-set youth romance Being 17 and the poetically charged surrealist drama from China Crosscurrent for example – have avid supporters for their message or approach.
In the end, however, the consensus choice might just win the day: Italian documentary Fire at Sea can’t be more topical as it takes a hard look at how the world turns a collective lazy eye towards the refugee crisis. Eloquent without being preachy, narratively and stylistically communicative, it’s a lyrical piece of work with near-universal appeal. We would be quite surprised if it doesn’t pick up some serious hardware tonight.
That said, the Berlinale has also been known to go for the wild card from time to time. Remember when Wong Kar-Wai declared Romania’s Child’s Pose the winner, or when James Schamus crowned Black Coal, Thin Ice over odds-on favourites Boyhood and The Grand Budapest Hotel? This year, movies that divided opinion include the eight-hour Filipino epic A Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery, which is one of those madly ambitious undertakings that usually end up going home with either gold or nothing; and the German abortion drama 24 Weeks, which even within our editorial team incited heated debate.
Playing the young mother who must decide the fate of her unborn child, Julia Jentsch is a hot contender for the best actress Silver Bear, but she faces fierce competition from a typically strong field of female performers. The aforementioned Huppert, Danish icon Trine Dyrholm from one of the later competition entries The Commune, or even the ensemble cast of Polish drama United States of Love, all have a serious shot. On the male front, one must look a bit harder for worthy choices, but Majd Mastoura who carries Hedi, the two leads of Being 17 or James Hyndman from Boris Without Béatrice, which we liked more than most, are thinkable candidates.
In any case, there are plenty of ways the jury can go with their decisions. We shall find out how Meryl Streep likes her movies in a couple of hours (Awards ceremony starting 7pm). Here's our take on what will most likely happen (not to be confused with what should happen).
Golden Bear: Fire at Sea (Fuocoammare)
Jury Prize: Crosscurrent (Chang Jiang Tu)
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: Julia Jentsch for 24 Weeks (24 Wochen)
Best Screenplay: Death in Sarajevo (Smrt u Sarajevu)
Outstanding Artistic Contribution: A Dragon Arrives! (Ejhdeha Vared Mishavad!)