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Giovanni Marchini Camia: The bears are out

Well, the winner's have been announced. And Giovanni, isn't psychic, just damn good at spotting the best films. Here's the Bear round-up and his thoughts on it.

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In its infinite wisdom, the international jury chose… really well! And proved my predictions surprisingly spot-on (I can’t pretend I wasn’t pretty pleased with that).

I am so happy that the Taviani brothers’ Cesare deve morire (Caesar must die) won the Golden Bear. It was a masterpiece of a film and the octogenarians can now put their Bear next to their 1977 Palme D’Or (for Padre padrone). And perhaps this will help give them the exposure they deserve outside of Italy, because despite their numerous awards and nigh six decades of filmmaking, they still haven’t achieved the status of household names like, say, Fellini or Visconti.

In second place came Bence Fliegauf’s Csak a szél (Just the Wind), also a more than worthy winner. Out of all the political films I saw at this year’s festival in any section, this was the most accomplished and it’s therefore no surprise that in addition to the Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear, it also won the Peace and the Amnesty International prizes awarded by independent juries.

Tabu by Miguel Gomes was exceptional and there was no way it was going home empty handed. I can’t judge whether it deserved either of the two top awards more than the winners – all three were excellent, yet incredibly different from one another – but it would have been an utter injustice if it hadn’t received the Alfred Bauer prize, awarded to particularly innovative Competition entries. The only other two that can be described as such are Cesare deve morire, with its meta-cinematic blend of cinéma vérité and fiction, and Postcards from the Zoo, which failed terribly in its not-so-daring experiments, and Tabu made both look pretty conventional by comparison.

As to Christian Petzold winning the Silver Bear for best director with Barbara – well, the award is not generally (ever?) given to either of the two top winners, and while Fliegauf’s handheld travelling close-ups were very effective, he certainly didn’t invent them, but I do think the Tavianis’ direction would have been more deserving. Still, I really didn’t want Barbara to win one of the top bears – and considering the buzz of enthusiasm around this film ever since its premiere, it seemed likely – but best director is certainly not undeserved.

The Silver Bears for best acting performance went to Rachel Mwanza for playing the protagonist in Rebelle (War Witch) and to Mikkel Boe Følsgaard for his portrayal of King Christian VII in En Kongelig Affære (A Royal Affair). While I didn’t particularly care for either of those films (I downright hated the former), the actors were indeed remarkable. Other worthy winners could have been Lars Eidinger as the elder son in Was bleibt (Home for the Weekend), Kacey Mottet Klein as the protagonist of L’enfant d’en haut (Sister) Nina Hoss as the titular character in Barbara, and Jürgen Vogel and Birgit Minichmayr as the central couple in Gnade (Mercy). If anything, the Competition seems to prove that good acting doesn’t make for a good film, as I found all of the above to range between average and bad.

The overlong, over-confusing and over-ponderous White Deer Plain managed to get an award: the Silver Bear for outstanding artistic achievement for Lutz Reitemeier’s photography. Despite how bad that film was, here again the award is fully deserved, as the photography was probably the only reason why I sat through the entire 177 minutes. Not only are the stunning landscape shots gorgeous and its rendition of wheat fields and variable skies on par with Terrence Malick’s iconic Days of Heaven, but most every other shot is constructed with nigh perfect symmetry – the film is pretty much a series of breathtaking tableaux.

The best script Silver Bear was given to Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg for En Kongelig Affære and while, again, I didn’t like it much, it was probably the most solidly scripted of the more intricate narratives (there was a lot of minimalist plots this year).

The one award I wholeheartedly disagree with is the Special Award given to L’enfant d’en haut. I’ve never heard of this Special Award and apparently the jury invented it just to give an honour to this film – the jury headed by Mike Leigh, one of the absolute masters of social realism! I don’t know if it’s because I partly grew up in Switzerland, but the story of a destitute single mother in the land of amazing social provisions rings awfully false to me (note: she parties a bit too much, but she doesn’t seem to be an alcoholic, isn’t addicted to drugs, doesn’t buy clothes or groceries or anything, since her son does… where does all the money go? Why are her inevitable benefits never even mentioned in the film?). In any case, I think I’m pretty alone on this one – I haven’t met anyone that shares the extent of my dislike and the average critical reception was quite praising.

All in all, I’m very pleased with the turnout. It must have been a really tough decision process, as unlike previous years, there was few glaringly bad entries that could be dismissed without dispute (Dictado, mainly). Still, the only three films I thought were truly outstanding all got top awards and apart from the absurd Special Award, I don’t really see much reason for complaint.