Awards night at the Berlin International Film Festival this past weekend was a little glitzier than it has been in past years. Besides a special Silver Bear presented to celebrate the Berlinale’s seventieth anniversary edition, a fresh round of awards were given to four films in the Encounters competition introduced this year by the new team of festival directors, Carlo Chatrian and Mariette Rissenbeek. For all these changes, the international jury, intentionally or not, upheld a Berlinale tradition, namely, the presentation of the Golden Bear as a political statement.
Besides the Golden Bear, There Is No Evil has also won awards from the independent Ecumenical Jury and the Association of German Art House Cinemas. “Not since [Krzysztof Kieślowski’s] A Short Film About Killing has a filmmaker produced such a thrilling case against capital punishment, an enraging, enthralling, enduring testament to the oppressed,” writes Ed Frankl at the Film Stage. Some, though, will find it difficult to disagree with Screen’s Lee Marshall, who argues that as a whole, the film “can feel loose and uneven.” After the first and most effective of the four somewhat predictable tales, the second, set inside a prison, is a stagey mess. But there’s no denying the sleek beauty of Ashkan Ashkani’s cinematography or the sincerity of the characterizations. “What I can observe from my own story,” Rasoulof tells IndieWire’s Eric Kohn, “is that the satisfaction that you receive once you resist oppression and despotism can be higher than the price you have to pay.”
Saturday night’s awards ceremony was peppered with a few other politically charged moments. Accepting the grand jury prize for Never Rarely Sometimes Always, her quietly powerful abortion drama that picked up its first award at Sundance in January and has scored high marks on a number of critics’ ratings grids, Eliza Hittman thanked not only her cast and crew but also the reproductive care providers she worked with while conducting her research.
Germano also appears in Bad Tales, the second feature from Fabio and Damiano D’Innocenzo (Boys Cry), who have won the best screenplay award. Bad Tales is “the big discovery” of this year’s competition for the Observer’s Jonathan Romney, and in his review for Screen, he calls this film set over a long hot summer in a suburb of Rome a “strange hybrid—part quasi-abstract mood piece, part tragedy, part sour social comedy.”
The aforementioned seventieth anniversary Silver Bear has gone to Benoît Delépine and Gustave Kervern’s comedy Delete History, in which three French neighbors team up to take on the tech giants that are ruining their lives. In the Hollywood Reporter, Boyd van Hoeij finds the film to be all at once “a dramedy that dips into yellow-vest sentiment in suburban France; a farce about the digital world that surrounds us and seems to command us more than actually help us; and an all-round, utterly depressing movie about the world we live in today.”
Colombian director Camilo Restrepo’s Los conductos, winner of the GWFF best first feature award, is loosely based on the real-life experiences of lead performer Luis Felipe Lozano, who escaped a religious cult that was also a ruthless criminal operation. “In a swift seventy minutes, the lugubriously solemn film punctures one’s psyche as it interrogates a society’s moral corrosion that has normalized violence as the lone avenue to salvation for the marginalized,” writes Carlos Aguilar at the Film Stage. Writing for Vague Visages, Ben Flanagan finds Los conductos “stirring in its sheer simplicity.”
Los conductos premiered in the Encounters competition, where C. W. Winter and Anders Edström’s eight-hour The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) has won the award for best film. Writing for Perlentaucher (and in German), Jochen Werner appreciates the opportunity to spend a full day with the forty-seven residents of a village in the mountains of Kyoto Prefecture and is especially taken with the sound design.
The Encounters special jury award has gone to Sandra Wollner’s deeply disturbing The Trouble with Being Born, in which an android meant to replace a man’s ten-year-old daughter is lost, reluctantly adopted by an elderly woman, and given a new identity. For Jessica Kiang in Variety, the film “inspires nothing but strange feelings, from unnerving horror to shocked admiration to visceral disgust to that specific type of disorienting nausea that comes from the fractional delay between your eye processing a well-composed image, and your brain comprehending the implications of the actions so coolly depicted.” At Slant, Chris Barsanti finds that “rather than truly exploring the ramifications of its futuristic conceit, whether from a broader societal or individualistic and relational perspective, the film just keeps looping back to the same luminously filmed but ultimately blank silences.”
Cristi Puiu has won best director for Malmkrog, which we considered last week. Film Comment has now posted Jordan Cronk’s interview with Puiu, and there are recent reviews from Ela Bittencourt in the Notebook and Ben Flanagan at Slant. A special mention has gone to Matías Piñeiro for Isabella, another of the director’s studies of the women in Shakespeare’s comedies, in this case, Measure for Measure. For Carlos Aguilar at the Film Stage, Isabella is “an initially puzzling but ultimately rewarding fragmented narrative.”
Well over a dozen awards and special mentions have gone to films screening in the Generation program, the section curated for younger viewers, and it’s especially delightful to see that the children’s jury has embraced Sweet Thing, the latest feature from Alexandre Rockwell, probably best known for 1992’s In the Soup. Shot on “glimmering black-and-white 16 mm and about a broken family living on society’s edge,” writes Daniel Kasman, Sweet Thing “feels at once a throwback and refreshing conduit to that era of American indie cinema’s hard-scabrous qualities.”