Saturday, February 17, 2007

BERLINALE prizes awarded at jaded festival

The Bears were awarded today at the 57th International Berlin Film Festival, and some question the continued virility of the Festival. But, first, the awards:

TUYA'S MARRIAGE (Tu ya de hun shi) from China received the top prize, the Golden Bear for Best Film. It was chosen from among 22 competitors in competition at the festival by a seven-member jury led by TAXI DRIVER screenwriter Paul Schrader. The other jury members were: Hiam Abbas, Mario Adorf, Willem Dafoe, Gael GarcĂ­a Bernal, Nansun Shi, and Malene Stensgaard.

Director Wang Quan'an's movie follows the troubles of a young farming woman in fast-changing China. It stars Yu Nan as Tuya, a herdswoman in Inner Mongolia trying to resist pressure to leave her pastures and move to the city as China's industry expands. She seeks a man who can help her look after her sick husband and two children. Director Wang Quan'an and producer Le Wang accepted the Bear. The other Chinese movie at the festival, LOST IN BEIJING (Ping Guo) and directed by Li Yu, screened too late to generate any buzz.

The Silver Bear for the Grand Jury Prize went to Argentina's EL OTRO (The Other), directed by Ariel Rotter.

Silver Bears for acting went to Argentina's Julio Chavez as Juan in EL OTRO, and Germany's Nina Hoss for her role as the heroine of the film's title, YELLA, directed by Christian Petzold.

U.S.-born Israeli director Joseph Cedar won the Silver Bear for best director for BEAUFORT, which takes place in an outpost in southern Lebanon ahead of Israel's withdrawal from that country in 2000.

The Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution 2007 was awarded to the ensemble cast of Robert D Niro's THE GOOD SHEPHERD.

French director Francois Ozon's ANGEL made its world premiere as the Festival's closing film.

As to the Festival being jaded, "Berlin film festival fails to reel in the critics," was the header for a Reuters' news release written by Mike Collett-White late in the Festival in which he quotes A. O. Scott, New York Times, as writing, "The 57th Berlinale might best be thought of as an average festival." Scott went on, to say that Berlin, once a bastion of serious cinema, has become "something bigger, more varied and perhaps less distinctive."

For instance there are critics who argue that some of the best films in Berlin this year were outside the main lineup, and wondered whether festival director Dieter Kosslick had shied away from incendiary topics. Collett-White mentions one such film, THE LARK FARM, a drama depicting the tragedy of a family almost wiped out in the mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman Turks in 1915. According to him, this could have been this year's FAHRENHEIT 9/11 at the Berlinale.

Turkey continues to deny allegations by Armenia and others that 1.5 million Armenians died in systematic genocide at Turkish hands. Critic Peter Zander of the German newspaper Die Welt (The World) wrote, "The film comes at precisely the right time -- after the murder of the Armenian journalist Hrant Dink and threats against the Turkish Nobel prize winner Orhan Pamuk . . . It would have been a highlight of the Berlinale, perhaps the most important film of the year. But it's not in the main section. Perhaps they wanted to avoid the big controversy. How unfortunate."

I went to the Berlinale when it was held in the summer. They moved it to February, the Berlin Wall came down, and I no longer had an appetite to attend. Also when I went, Germany was still divided. The Festival was the showcase of East German and Eastern European movies, showing at least twice as many movies as they do today. It was a fantastic opportunity to see wonderful films that I could never see in the U.S. because of State Department restrictions, and dance the night away at the U.S.S.R.'s party.

The festival has grown rapidly in recent years, now mainly spotlighting Hollywood glamour-types and art-house films. This year, they had an agreement with Sundance to feature the top movies shown at the Sundance International Film Festival and, of course, to attract the stars of those movies. I have followed this Festival since the late 1970's, and have watched the Festival's slide. I agree that it is now an average film festival. What made it unique is gone. As we approach the end of this decade, the "old gal" ain't what she used to be. Sad.

That said, the Festival this year had some films, besides the winners, from which you will hear more this year:

IRINA PALM, starring British singer and actress Marianne Faithful; Germany's YELLA; the French biopic Edith Piaf, LA VIE EN ROSE; Germany's THE COUNTERFEITERS, based on a real Nazi plot to disrupt Britain's wartime economy by flooding it with counterfeit banknotes made by Jewish craftsmen in a concentration camp; Brazilian director Cao Hamburger's THE YEAR MY PARENTS WENT ON VACATION, about the country's military dictatorship seen through the eyes of a boy; as well as two French films, WITNESSES (Andre Techine, director) about the start of the AIDS epidemic and Jacques Rivette's DON'T TOUCH THE AXE, a version of a Balzac novella.

For more, click the link for my Film Festival Page on the right sidebar, or click the title of this post.

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