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The Berlinale Blog: The Bears and their new masters

The international jury has spoken, the Bears have been awarded. Giovanni Marchini Camia gives you a rundown of all the winners, worthy and not-so-worthy.

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“Child’s Pose”

After much ado, the Berlinale’s international jury led by Wong Kar-wai has chosen the winners of this year’s festival. And boy do their preferences not correspond to those of our team of bloggers.

While the unanimous critical acclaim bestowed on Gloria seemed to herald an inevitable Golden Bear for Sebastián Lelio’s coming-of-old-age story, it was Child’s Pose by Calin Peter Netzer that ended up taking home the festival’s top prize. Fair enough. Child’s Pose is a terrific film and while I still think that Harmony Lessons is more deserving, I am rather happy that the award didn’t go to Gloria. While the latter is certainly excellent, it is not ambitious enough to warrant a Golden Bear. Formally, it played it entirely too safe, banking everything on the strength of its narrative and, even more so, on Paulina García’s phenomenal leading performance.

In that regard, Garcia’s Silver Bear for Best Actress came as no surprise. Really, any other choice would have been equivalent to a robbery. Her victory is even more of an achievement if one considers that this year’s Competition was a veritable treasure trove of female acting talent. Juliette Binoche as Camille Claudel in Bruno Dumont’s eponymous film, Pauline Etienne as the protagonist of The Nun, Pierrette Robitaille and Romane Bohringer as the titular heroines of Vic + Flo Saw a Bear, and Luminita Gheorghiu as the domineering mother in Child’s Pose all deserve honourable mentions for their exceptional performances.

The male actors were far less impressive. Still, this does not warrant giving the Silver Bear for Best Actor to Nazif Mujic from An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker. Okay, he really did live through the horrible experience depicted in the film, but that does not change that his performance was indisputably terrible, unable to muster the slightest emotion regardless of what misery befalls him – irrespective of how routine suffering has become in your life, I do think that the news of your unborn child dying would elicit a tear or two. Besides, even if it had been a good performance, doesn’t the fact that you’re re-enacting your own experience somewhat discredit the notion of performing?

It was in large part due to the actors that Iron Picker failed to live up to its admirable intentions and its victory of the Jury Grand Prix award (i.e. the festival’s second-highest honour) is equally unjustified. If one compares it to last year’s Roma-focused Competition entry, Just the Wind – also the recipient of the Jury Grand Prix –the film’s failings become all the more evident.

On the other hand, the Alfred Bauer Prize, the festival’s unofficial third place award, was a nice surprise. I loved Denis Côté’s Vic + Flo Saw a Bear but didn’t think that it would do well in terms of awards. It was a genre-bending exercise with amazing cinematography, script and performances, but one that did not have grander political or philosophical aspirations. Well, I stand corrected and really hope that the prize gives it the exposure it amply deserves (2012’s prize winner Tabu went on to become the arthouse sensation of the year).

Another surprise was the Silver Bear for Best Script awarded to Jafar Panahi and Kamboziya Partovi’s Closed Curtain. Considering the film’s political saliency, it was impossible that it’d leave empty handed. But best script? It’s an extremely disjointed film that I doubt was rigorously scripted, as a lot of the dialogues appear improvised and the restricted conditions under which it was filmed must have necessitated significant compromises.  

When the Silver Bear for Best Director was announced, the bemused expression on David Gordon Green’s face indicated that he understood his victory as little as I did. There is nothing remarkable about Prince Avalanche, a wholly average film saturated with the Sundance brand of saccharine sentimentality. The climax involves a feel-good montage underscored by an uplifting song as a way of conveying the emotional bonding of the two main characters. This constitutes best direction? Someone really needs to explain that one to me…

And finally, the most grievous oversight: that the only award given to Harmony Lessons was the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution in Cinematography. Aziz Zahmbakyjev’s cinematography was indeed splendid, but the film deserved so much more. It was outstanding across the board and simply because of the exposure it would have given to its tremendously gifted 28-year-old director, Emir Baigazin, it should have received one of the top awards. Somehow, it didn’t even receive the award for Best First Feature, which went to Kim Mourdant’s The Rocket instead – at least an entire blog post would be necessary to appropriately condemn this disgrace.