Six past winners of the Golden Bear, the Berlinale’s top prize, Zoomed in at noon, European time, to announce that they had decided to award the 2021 Golden Bear to Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. In a statement read by Nadav Lapid (Synonyms, 2019), the jury, whose other members are Ildikó Enyedi (On Body and Soul, 2017), Adina Pintilie (Touch Me Not, 2018), Mohammad Rasoulof (There Is No Evil, 2020), Gianfranco Rosi (Fire at Sea, 2016), and Jasmila Žbanić (Grbavica, 2006), explained that Jude’s film “captures on screen the very content and essence, the mind and body, the values and the raw flesh of our present moment in time. Of this very moment of human existence.” Bad Luck Banging is “clever and childish, geometrical and vibrant, imprecise in the best way.”
So far, most reviewers agree. Throughout the festival, six discerning critics have been rating Berlinale entries for the German magazine Cargo, and as of this writing, in a list of over forty titles sampled from every program, Bad Luck Banging comes in second after Alexandre Koberidze’s What Do We See When We Look at the Sky? Jude’s film has also been holding its own on critic.de’s jury grid. “Divided into three roughly equal parts—each executed in a completely different style—with a sexually explicit prologue and three so-called ‘possible endings,’ Bad Luck Banging is an ever-shapeshifting beast of a film,” writes Keith Watson at Slant, where he suggests that it’s “a kind of fire sale of Jude’s observations on everything from life during the Covid-19 pandemic to Romania’s dark history of fascism.”
In the first part, an amateur porn video made by a teacher, Emi (Katia Pascaiu), and her husband goes viral, and she heads out to the streets of Bucharest looking for ways to get it out of the ether. The second part is an essayistic lexicon of relevant terms, and in the third, Emi faces the fury of her students’ parents. “Lofty pedagogical ideas get bandied with vicious sexist, racist, particularly anti-Semitic slurs,” writes Ela Bittencourt in the Notebook. But “just as in Aferim!, Jude takes his comedy very seriously. His true theme is a world gone virally ill, long before the pandemic. Not just viral videos, but the entire postmodern complex, in which everything, from desire and intimacy to history, gets digested, regurgitated and monetize as instant content—thanks to the same digital means that power cinema these days.”
The piece to read about Bad Luck Banging comes from Bucharest-based critic Flavia Dima. Writing for Films in Frame, she suggests that this may be Jude’s “most daring” work yet, “which is already, in and of itself, an achievement for an auteur that hasn’t shied away from confronting some of the most difficult and uncomfortable subjects of his homeland: from his explorations of the Romanian Holocaust to the enslavement of Roma people, to the political repression of dissidents during the communist era.” The subtitle, Sketches for a Popular Film, “beyond its obvious wink to the fact that the New Romanian Cinema was always regarded as unsellable on its home ground, and to the fact that the actually sellable ones (such as Miami Bici, the film that has ostensibly saved Romanian cinema from an economic collapse last year), is also a way of setting a tone that is open to experimentation, as well as a means to invert the usual paradigms in the representation of female sexuality.”
The grand jury prize, a Silver Bear that essentially designates second place, goes to Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, another film divided into three parts. “Each episode pivots on individuals attempting elaborate reconstructions of romances and friendships, involving everything from various manipulations to outright playacting for the sake of a long-delayed catharsis,” writes Chuck Bowen at Slant.
These are distinct short stories with an O. Henry-like twist, and in each of them, “a self-contained woman inadvertently enters the world of another, a confrontation of perspectives and yearning that renders slippery the lines between what is longed for, what is real before them, and what is fantasy,” writes Daniel Kasman in the Notebook. “Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, in its masterfully unassuming simplicity, embodies that quality of Eric Rohmer’s films in which characters certain of themselves are gradually taken aback by human interactions.” For IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, the film is “greater than the sum of its parts because Hamaguchi understands that the best short fiction isn’t just a travel-sized version of something bigger. On the contrary, the short stories he tells here are so delightful because they operate in a way that ‘long’ ones don’t.”
Maria Speth, whose Madonnas (2010) and Daughters (2014) premiered in the Berlinale’s Forum program, has entered the competition for the first time with a documentary that runs over three and a half hours. Mr. Bachmann and His Class has won the jury prize, a Silver Bear without the “grand.”
Dieter Bachmann teaches sixth-graders, most of them born to immigrant families, in Stadtallendorf, a factory town in Germany. At sixty-five, Bachmann “still wears AC/DC hoodies and knitted beanies, freely swears while talking to the children, and will pull out a guitar at any given opportunity,” writes Giovanni Marchini Camia for Filmmaker. “He’s also very dedicated to his students and, some slips into sentimentality notwithstanding, the rapport between them is genuinely moving. Having shot what must be a staggering amount of footage over the course of a year with several simultaneous cameras, Speth’s skillful recreation of the dynamics of a classroom, as fueled by the explosive emotions of puberty, is never less than engaging.”
In Variety,Jessica Kiang suggests that any of Frederick Wiseman’s “recent institutional studies would make a great civics double bill with Mr. Bachmann.” Speth “emulates the documentary master’s rhythms, and just when a sequence threatens to run too long, she’ll cut to shots from around Stadtallendorf,” which allows cinematographer Reinhold Vorschneider, “whose handheld work in the classroom is so flexible and immediate, present some crisp, still, classically composed tableaux.”
Dénes Nagy has won best director for his first fictional feature, Natural Light, which we took a look at on Wednesday, and on Tuesday, we posted a few thoughts on Introduction, for which Hong Sangsoo has won best screenplay. As for the two acting awards, starting this year, the Berlinale is dividing them by best and supporting performances rather than by gender. Maren Eggert, known for her work with Angela Schanelec, wins the first for her turn as Alma, a scientist who agrees to take on a robot lover (Dan Stevens) in Maria Schrader’s I’m Your Man.
The “appealingly peculiar” film “lands somewhere between Ex Machina and Toni Erdmann on the tonal spectrum, if you can imagine such a hybrid,” writes Guy Lodge in Variety, where he notes that “much depends on the actors to keep this high-concept piece from collapsing into silliness or navel-gazing, and Eggert’s flinty firmness and Stevens’ buttery elegance prove ideally mismatched from the off—their performances gradually compromise and meet in the middle, borrowing a little of each other’s suaveness and steel along the way.” Lodge finds Lilla Kizlinger, winner of the supporting actor award, “superb” as a teenager in the first of the “intensely performed two-hander vignettes depicting relationships in various forms of crisis” in Bence Fliegauf’s Forest: I See You Everywhere.
A Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution goes to editor Yibrán Asuad for his work on Alonso Ruizpalacios’s Mexico City-set A Cop Movie, which Jordan Mintzer, writing for the Hollywood Reporter, calls “an intriguing, completely deconstructed look at what it takes to both be a cop and to play one, especially in a place where cops are often regarded as criminals themselves.” In Sight & Sound,Jonathan Romney suggests that “it may be that of all the many hybrid films of the last thirty or so years that worry at the limits of truth in documentary, A Cop Movie pushes indeterminacy as far as it can go—or at least, does it with the most exuberantly inventive energy.”
Encounters and More
When Carlo Chatrian became the Berlinale’s new artistic director last year, he and his team created Encounters, a competitive “platform aiming to foster aesthetically and structurally daring works.” This year’s jury—Florence Almozini, senior programmer at large for Film at Lincoln Center; Cecilia Barrionuevo, artistic director of the Mar del Plata International Film Festival; and Diedrich Diederichsen, a writer who teaches at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna—has named Alice Diop’s documentary We best film in the program.
In the northern outskirts of Paris, Diop boards the RER B, a commuter train that runs down through the city to the suburbs in the south. Here and there, she disembarks “at different suburban intervals—metropolitan Paris is but a structuring absence—to conduct interviews with the denizens of these far-flung townships,” writes Patrick Preziosi at In Review Online. “There’s an ostensible interview structure at work in Nous, but also a refreshing lack of formalities, and Diop’s journey along the RER B is like a slipstream of past, present, and future, with personal and political histories swirling together—in this regard, her form feels beholden to Chantal Akerman’s similarly empirical documentaries.”
A special jury award goes to Lê Bảo for Taste, the story of a Nigerian soccer player (Olegunleko Ezekiel Gbenga) who arrives in Ho Chi Minh City to play professionally. When an injury spoils his plans, he moves into an abandoned bunker with four middle-aged women. “It is a film yanked out of a dream, and it behaves as one,” writes Leonardo Goi at the Film Stage. “Strictly speaking, it isn’t a story that’s being told here, but a mosaic of oneiric images, conjured and arranged around a tale of longing.”
Best director? It’s a tie between Ramon and Silvan Zürcher for The Girl and the Spider, which we wrote about yesterday, and Denis Côté for Social Hygiene, a series of socially distanced confrontations between Antonin (Maxim Gaudette) and five women in his life who find him lacking, each in her own way. “In their verbosity, simplicity of staging, and plein-air settings,” writes Carson Lund at Slant, “these elongated tête-à-têtes suggest community theater, albeit with the snap and vigor of actors in full command of the comic and tragic turns in Côté’s material—a distinction that separates Social Hygiene from the amateur-driven and superficially similar work of Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet.” And finally, a special mention goes to Fern Silva’s Rock Bottom Riser, an essay film that the jury finds “encounters—in a virtuoso manner—unexpected and very diverse images for the necessity of a decolonization of science.”
There are two competitions in the Berlinale’s Generation section programmed for younger viewers, and the winner of the grand prix in the Kplus competition is Han Shuai’s Summer Blur, the story of a thirteen-year-old girl processing the loss of a friend. “There’s a key string of sequences in Summer Blur, leading into the climax, that represent some of the loudest filmmaking in recent mainland Chinese cinema, especially with regard to gender dynamics,” writes Will Gorgi at In Review Online. Betania Cappato’s A School in Cerro Hueso, which focuses on a six-year-old girl on the autism spectrum, earns a special mention.
Fred Baillif’s The Fam takes the grand prix in the 14plus competition. “A heart-aching examination of the juvenile care system, it plows a blurred line between documentary and fiction,” writes Emiliano Granada, introducing his interview with the director for Variety. “Baillif, a former social worker himself, teases remarkable performances out of a cast given they are natural actors who live at a Geneva care home working with them over two years.” Dash Shaw’s animated Cryptozoo, which won the NEXT Innovator Award at Sundance, scores a special mention.
My Uncle Tudor, in which Olga Lucovnicova explores her traumatic past and confronts the man who harmed her, has won the Golden Bear for best short film. Zhang Dalei wins the Silver Bear for his family portrait, Day Is Done, and Nicolas Keppens’s animated Easter Eggs, centering on a toxic friendship, will be a candidate for the European Film Awards.
Many would like to have seen Koberidze’s What Do We See score some sort of recognition, and we’ll surely be hearing more about Céline Sciamma’s Petite maman in the coming weeks and months. It’s a testament to Chatrian and his programmers that there were so many strong contenders in a lineup that must have been especially challenging to put together. Their current plan is to share these films with audiences in June in the second phase of what has turned out to be an extraordinary Berlinale—in every way imaginable.
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