As we predicted, the 73rd Berlinale was the year of the documentary. Taking home the festival’s prize of the Golden Bear was Nicolas Philibert’s French documentary On the Adamant, which Head of the International Jury, Kristen Stewart called “cinematic proof of the vital necessity of human expression.” The only documentary among nineteen films from the main competition section, On the Adamant’s win was almost eclipsed when 8-year-old Sofía Otero won the Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance in 20,000 Species of Bees (the first time this award has ever been given to a child actor).
This weekend, the festival’s programme didn’t disappoint. The Retrospective and Classics programme included György Fehér’s 1990 Twilight and Peter Bogdanovich’s 1971 The Last Picture Show. Seen on the same intimate screen at Cubix, there was a collective stillness and awe felt throughout the audience from both these haunting masterpieces.
The weekend had a palette of black and white. At the Haus der Berliner Festspiel on Saturday evening we witnessed the magnificent Limbo. Alongside Tótem (whose child protagonist played by newcomer Naíma Senties could just have easily won the Silver Bear for Lead Performance) would be our favourite from a strong and progressive cinematic Competition Section.
This work by indigenous Australian film-maker Ivan Sen is a neo-crime noir operating on biblical levels, whispering the dark secrets of a remote community. Stripped back and hardcore, this is an odyssey of profound precision. An exploration-cum-excavation of past crimes and their reverberations into the present. A place where secrets are known, but justice is unknown – trust is tightly knighted and words are hard-won. As Limbo unfolds, the stone town and its hollowed-out characters slowly reveal hardened hearts. This is special stuff, JM Coetzee meets Shane Meadows.
Another example of the Berlinale’s singular programming is its Forum and Forum Expanded sections. Here, slow contemporary Japanese feature fiction jostled against forgotten 90s German TV documentaries and plenty of 2+ hour experimental forms.
On the topic of experimental, one of our weekend picks was Allensworth by artist-filmmaker James Benning. Allensworth was the first self-administered African American municipality in California, and Benning’s work comprises mostly long shots of the buildings of this now-ghost town. An auteur of the vast abyss and desolation of the American landscape, here Benning presents long static shots of a forgotten destination laced in history. Allensworth is a beautiful and curious work, taking the political into new territory whilst being an exercise in patience, assessing the relationship to perception of cinema.
A real favourite this year was the Berlinale Special. This out-of-competition program is perhaps the most unfettered and unrestrained of the festival. A footloose free-for-all, it is a spontaneous and up-to-date look at film personalities (except glamour and galas). Alongside Todd Field’s Tár, a two-part documentary on Boris Becker and 100 year celebration of Disney Animations, what we managed to catch blew us away.
On Thursday, Brandon Cronenberg continued to prove he’s up to the familial mark with his orgiastic death-dilemma film Infinity Pool. Mia Goth puts in a turn here, with one of the best performances of the festival playing the sinister and seductive leader of a super rich death cult whose games of morality unfold in a luxury resort where anything can be bought.
Robert Schwentke’s Seneca – On the Creation of Earthquakes also impressed, a faint-inducing anachronistic mash-up with John Malchovik playing the narcissistic philosopher whispering sweet nothings into the ear of the Roman emperor Nero. Seneca could be viewed as an endurance piece – one with all the hubris of the modern Alisdair Campbel/Malcom Tucker-figure working on a historic scale.
Another notable mention comes in the form of The Last Night of Amore, a head spinning joyride that’s populist and precise, a tonal convergence of high octane TV cop crime meets Paolo Sorrentino. This Italian crime thriller is something of a spectacle. Finely balancing artistry with the satisfying grip of pulpy crime mob storytelling. On several occasions the imagery is reminiscent of Christoper Doyle’s work on the films of Wong Kar Wai, particularly Fallen Angels with a giallo-homage score and riveting performances led by Pierfrancesco Favino. Friday evening saw its world premiere at the Berlinale and was the most energetic and fun screening of the bunch.
The Golden Bear
- Winner: Sur l’Adamant
- What Should have Won: Limbo / Tótem
The Silver Bear
- Winner: Afire
- What Should have Won: Afire / Blackberry
The Silver Bear For Best Director
- Winner: Philippe Garrel (L’grand chariot)
- Who Should have Won: Ivan Sen (Limbo)
The Silver Bear For Best Leading Performance
- Winner: Sofía Otero (20,000 Species of Bees)
- What Should have Won: Naíma Senties (Totem)
The Silver Bear For Best Supporting Performance
- Winner: Thea Ehre (Bis ans Ende der Nacht)
- What Should have Won: Paula Beer (Afire)
The Silver Bear For Best Screenplay
- Winner: Music
- What Should have Won: Music
- Winner: El Echo
- What Should have Won: El Echo / El Jucio
GWFF for First Feature Award Award
- Winner: Leandro Koch, Paloma Schachmann (The Klezmer Project)
- What Should have Won: Martín Benchimol (El castillo)
Sections & Special Presentations
- Winner: Sira
- What Should have Won: Reality / El Castillo
- Winner: Here
- What Should have Won: Here / El Echo
Perspektive Deutsches Kino
- Winner: Seven Winters in Teheran
- What Should have Won: Seven Winters in Teheran
- Winner: Adolfo
- What Should have Won: Waking Up in Silence