Before the Berlinale juries presented their awards on Wednesday night, rumors skittered across social media that the Golden Bear would go to Carla Simón’s Alcarràs. Critic Neil Young pointed out that if Alcarràs won—and hours later, it did—the top prizes of the three major European festivals—Cannes, Venice, and Berlin—would currently be held by European women born in the 1980s, each awarded for their second feature. Julia Ducournau won the Palme d’Or last summer for Titane; Audrey Diwan won the Golden Lion for Happening; and now, Catalan director Carla Simón takes the Bear.
All in all, it was an outstanding night for women filmmakers. Claire Denis won the Silver Bear for best director and both acting awards went to female performers. Natalia López Gallardo won the jury prize, Kurdwin Ayub won the award for best first feature, and Laila Stieler won for best screenplay. Two of the three Encounters awards went to female directors. If the industry is ever to achieve gender equality, there is still, of course, a long way to go, but the road begins where films premiere—at festivals.
Alcarràs is the name of a small village in Catalonia where the Solé family gathers each summer to pick the peaches in their orchard. This summer may be the last as there are plans to cut down the trees to make way for a solar farm. “Simón returns to the rural region that served as the backdrop to her remarkable, autobiographical debut Summer 1993, and the film once more benefits from her warm affinity for this alternately parched and verdant landscape,” writes Guy Lodge in Variety. At Little White Lies,Caitlin Quinlan finds that Alcarràs “strikes a deft balance between idyllic reminiscence and melancholy for a cherished place, meandering through the narrative to dwell a while on the hideaways and favorite spots of the family—the grandfather’s fig tree, the children’s ever-changing den—but also delivering a poignant tale about the impact of industrial development on agriculture.”
Hong Sangsoo won the best director award in 2020 for The Woman Who Ran and the best screenplay award last year for Introduction, but when The Novelist’s Film won this year’s grand jury prize, he seemed genuinely surprised. “I just keep on doing what I have been doing,” he said. His twenty-seventh feature, though, “isn’t one of Hong’s usual dramedies about the ways men and women perceive themselves and wind each other up, often during drunken squabbles over soju,” writes Jake Cole at Slant. The focus here is on Junhee (Lee Hyeyoung), an acclaimed writer approaching seventy, and on how she “still struggles to fulfill her restless creative spirit.” Hong “beautifully keys the film’s digressive rhythm to the frustration of her writer’s block.” Cinema Guild has just acquired U.S. rights.
Robe of Gems, set in rural Mexico and the winner of the jury prize, is the directorial debut feature from Natalia López Gallardo, who has worked as an editor with Carlos Reygadas, Amat Escalante, and Lisandro Alonso. So far, most reviewers agree with Film Verdict’s Boyd van Hoeij, who finds the film “beautiful to look at, but hard to get into.” In the Hollywood Reporter,Jordan Mintzer suggests that “the movie attempts to strike a balance between elliptical art house drama and gritty narcocorrido.” López Gallardo “reveals a keen eye for the destructive beauty of modern Mexico, with bodies popping up in sun-drenched garbage dumps or burning alive on hilltops, bathing in murky swimming pools or gyrating to techno under neon lights. But she tends to eschew straightforward storytelling for something so elusive that her film nearly escapes us for its first half, until the pieces gradually fit together and we manage to make some sense of the plot, if not entirely what the director is going for.”
Claire Denis’s Both Sides of the Blade, starring Juliette Binoche, Vincent Lindon, and Grégoire Colin, will be released in the U.S. as Fire. As Ryan Swen points out, this is the first of her films to win an award in the main competition at one of the big three festivals. “Absent the effervescent self-discovery and dashes of ecstasy that defined Denis’s previous collaboration with Let the Sunshine In writer Christine Angot,” writes IndieWire’s David Ehrlich,Fire is “a slow-burn chamber drama that adheres to the geometry of its not-so-bizarre love triangle between a married woman, her ex-con husband, and the dashing entrepreneur she once left in order to be with him.”
The jury—M. Night Shyamalan (president), Karim Aïnouz, Anne Zohra Berrached, Tsitsi Dangarembga, Ryusuke Hamaguchi, Connie Nielsen, and Said Ben Saïd—gave two Silver Bears to Andreas Dresen’s Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush, one to screenwriter Laila Stieler, and the other to Meltem Kaptan for her leading performance. Kaptan plays Rabiye, a feisty Turkish-German matriarch who teams up with human rights lawyer Bernhard Docke (Alexander Scheer) to fight for the release of her son, Murat (Abdullah Emre Öztürk), from Guantanamo. Kaptan is Dresen’s “secret weapon,” writes Leslie Felperin in the Hollywood Reporter, and “it’s pretty clear from the jaunty, David vs. Goliath structure of the screenwriting which way things are going to go. Still, once the details of how unspeakably cruel Murat’s torture was, the film struggles a bit to reconcile those horrors with the chuckles it seeks to generate about Rabiye’s crazy driving and inability to spot who is famous and who’s not at Washington, D.C., cocktail parties.”
This is the first year that the Berlinale presented gender neutral acting awards, and the Silver Bear for the best supporting performance went to Laura Basuki. In Kamila Andini’s Before, Now & Then, Nana (Happy Salma), who lost her husband and father in the turmoil of 1960s Indonesia, discovers that her second husband is having an affair with Ino (Basuki). “Meeting Ino might have crushed Nana’s spirit but instead, bonding over shared cigarettes and gentle feminist bitching about gender inequality, the free-spirited mistress encourages the stifled wife to liberate herself,” writes Stephen Dalton at the Film Verdict. As for the film itself, Michael Nordine, writing for Variety, suggests that picturing what Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love “might have been like had Apichatpong Weerasethakul directed it will land you somewhere in the vicinity.”
Rithy Panh won a Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution for Everything Will Be OK. “Using the same style of elaborate hand-crafted miniature model-work found in many of the prolific filmmaker’s previous projects, in his latest film Panh shifts his perspective somewhat, telling a speculative story about a world where animals have taken over the world and enslaved humanity,” writes Matt Turner at Little White Lies. “Heavy on metaphor and allusion, the ideas explored in the film can sometimes seem vague and searching, or, read less generously, imprecise, unfocused, and too loose in exact meaning.” For Jessica Kiang in Variety, the film “feels less like argument than assault.”
The jury gave a special mention to Michael Koch’s A Piece of Sky, a love story set in a remote Swiss alpine village. “Playing between the registers of nature and culture, tradition and modernity, the intimate and the universal, and the worldly and the metaphysical, this second fiction feature from the writer-director of 2016’s Marija is a stark, affecting, sometimes enigmatic, superbly executed piece,” writes Jonathan Romney for Screen.
Encounters and More
Encounters jurors Chiara Marañón, Ben Rivers, and Silvan Zürcher gave the award for the best film in the third edition of the competition to Mutzenbacher, in which renowned Austrian documentarian Ruth Beckermann “achieves a rich and complex reflection on gender and sexual politics that raises complicated questions of utmost relevance today.” Beckermann issues an open casting call for men between the ages of sixteen and ninety-nine to read from the notorious 1906 erotic novel Josephine Mutzenbacher or The Story of a Viennese Whore, as Told by Herself. “There is some rich material here,” writes Damon Wise at Deadline, but “the director’s acerbic, schoolmarm interrogations may actually be more uncomfortable for the viewer than the participants.”
Cyril Schäublin won the best director award for Unrest, in which watchmakers in a quiet Swiss village form an anarchist union in the 1870s. As Pat Brown explains in Slant, Unrest “takes as its subject the dictum of Marxian dialectics that the capitalist system produces the means of its own destruction.” Jessica Kiang finds Unrest to be “expertly balanced, as though by precision pincers under a magnifier, between the heavy ideas on its mind and the mischievous lightness in its heart.” A special jury award went to Mitra Farahani for See You Friday, Robinson, a series of dialogues between Jean-Luc Godard and Iranian director Ebrahim Golestan.
In Kurdwin Ayub’s Sonne, produced by Ulrich Seidl and the winner of the best first feature award, Yesmin (Melina Benli), a teen from a Kurdish family, and her two friends shoot an impromptu music video that goes viral, or at least scores plenty of likes and comments from their fellow students in Vienna. “This spirited drama is immersed in Gen Z modes of communication that may feel a little extreme depending on your tolerance for elf filters,” suggests Jay Weissberg at Film Verdict. At Cineuropa, David Katz finds that “there’s something a tad underwhelming about Sonne, given the pertinence of its issues.”
Ten anonymous filmmakers have each made a short film in the immediate aftermath of the military takeover in Myanmar almost exactly one year ago. The collective’s omnibus film, Myanmar Diaries, the winner of this year’s Berlinale documentary award, is “first and foremost a powerful artistic statement of defiance against tyranny, and an important window through which the international community can view and understand the political situation and public sentiments in the country,” writes Clarence Tsui at Film Verdict. A special mention went to Ike Nnaebue’s No U-Turn, a portrait of Nigerians determined to make new lives for themselves in Europe.
The Forum is not a competitive section, but independent entities do give awards, and Jacquelyn Mills’s Geographies of Solitude has won three of them—the Caligari Film Prize, the Art Cinema Award from the International Confederation of Art House Cinemas, and the Ecumenical Jury prize. Mills says that she was four when she first learned about Zoe Lucas, a conservationist who has been living alone on an island off the coast of Nova Scotia since the 1970s. “It was the mythology that brought me to her,” writes Mills, “but it was everything else that captivated me and led to the making of this film.”
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