bear essentials The Sober View from the Berlinale

Gritty films were rewarded for a hard look at difficult political topics in the award ceremony at the close of the Berlinale film festival.
Hana Saeidi took the Golden Bear prize for Best Film on behalf of her uncle, Jafar Panahi.

Whether they addressed politics or personal relationships, crisis was at the core of many of the films which won prizes at this year’s Berlinale festival.

The winning film was “Taxi” by Jafar Panahi, a filmmaker banned from making movies in Iran.

He was awarded the Golden Bear for his film in which he drove a taxi in the Iranian capital and then filmed his passengers with a dashboard camera. Viewers gained an insight into modern day Tehran through the city’s residents' tales of frustration.

Mr. Panahi was banned from making films for 20 years and from traveling abroad following his criticism of corruption in the 2009 presidential elections and his support for the failed green revolution. His secret film was smuggled to Berlin and, as Mr. Panahi was unable to come to the festival, the Golden Bear award was presented to his niece, Hana Saeidi.

Ms. Saeidi also featured in his film as one of the passengers. As they drive through the city, his niece, who also wants to be a filmmaker, sits in his car and talks about what she has learned about film in school. “There shouldn't be any bodily contact between men and women and you can’t show economic or political topics or any dirty realism,” she said.

In a statement, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, called the award “an important sign for the freedom of art.”

The search for truth was celebrated in many of the other awards presented Saturday night at the closing gala of the film festival.

The jury’s grand prize went to “El Club,” a Chilean film directed by Pablo Larraín. The critique of Catholic priests and the issue of child abuse unfold in a movie which explores justice and the search for truth when accusations disrupt the peace of a community of priests.

The prizes for best direction went to Radu Jude, from Romania and to Malgorzata Szumovska from Poland.

Mr. Jude’s film “Aferim!” looked at the treatment of the Roma people in a historic Western-style movie set in Romania in the 19th century. A tax collector and his son hunt for an escaped slave in an exploration of power and prejudice.

Ms. Szumovska’s film "Body" showed the troubled relationship between a man and his daughter who has anorexia, who he checks into a hospital as he is afraid he cannot care for her sufficiently. The film, blackly comic, is a call for a rational approach and a rejection of the esoteric when dealing with eating disorders.

The prizes for best actor and actress went to Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay for their roles in "45 Years," the story of a couple whose relationship is in crisis. When the body of the husband’s former girlfriend is found, memories from the past threaten to disrupt the present and derail their anniversary celebrations.

Another Chilean film, “The Pearl Button,” by Patricio Guzmán, won the prize for best script. The film uses an exploration of two buttons in the ocean to portray the voices of the indigenous and marginalized people in a critique of Chile’s military dictatorship.


Quelle: Pressebild
Tales of the sea.
(Source: Pressebild)


“Ixcanul” tells of a Kaqchikel Maya living at the foothills of an active volcano in Guatemala. She longs to escape her life and explore beyond the mountains and the movie won a prize for opening up new ways of seeing a situation. Director Jayro Bustamante held workshops with people in the region and asked them to tell their stories, to create a film not about but from within their community.

One of two prizes for cinematography went to a similarly hard-hitting story for its technique. Alexey German’s “Under Electric Clouds” was recognized for its visual portrayal of the loss of structure after the fall of the Soviet Union. Evgeni Privin and Sergei Mikhalchuk painted a picture of a dystopian society and the people lost within it, drifting through a desolate landscape.

Gabriel Ripstein’s “600 Miles” was another dark story of a teenage Mexican gunrunner pursued by an  law enforcement agent from the United States and won the prize for best first film. The character-driven story explored the harsh realities of the gun-running business and the depths of the relationship in a film viewers called “gripping.”

Similar criteria informed the prizes that were awarded by foundations and organizations.

“Tell Spring Not to Come This Year,” a film about two officers in the Afghan national army which showed up close combat and death and the fear of soldiers who had not been paid for months, was made by Saeed Taji Farouky and Michael McEvoy and won the audience award for the documentary section as well as the prize sponsored by human rights organization Amnesty International. It showed Afghan soldiers’ resentment that the United States had withdrawn, as well as the desire for them to leave. “People have both those feelings at the same time,” said co-director Mr. McEvoy.

This year’s awards show that Berlin’s film festival still sees itself as political – and that jury and audience alike are ready to take on difficult topics.



Allison Williams is deputy editor in chief of Handelsblatt Global Edition. Jan Schulz-Ojala and Pierre Heumann also contributed to this article. To contact the author: [email protected]