Channel Editor of Film4 David Cox has been in Berlin, watching as many films as humanly possible at the 63rd International Berlinale. Here, he reports on the prize winners in the festival’s official selection and gives a run down of his personal Berlin highlights.
Having started so strongly on February 7th, the Berlin Film Festival came to a close last Sunday having remained impressively consistent across its entire 10-day span. As rewarding as the Berlinale always is, it’s not regularly a festival that delivers many of any given year’s best films. The 2013 edition – the 63rd in the festival’s history – promises to change that.
The actual awards were, as is the case at most major festivals, something of a mixed bag. The resonant if not particularly galvanising Romanian drama Child’s Pose (directed by Calin Peter Netzer) won the top award of the Golden Bear for Best Film, while the runner-up film award - the Jury Grand Prix - went to Denis Tanovic’s An Episode In The Life Of An Iron Picker, a film which seemed to be treated with respect rather than greeted with much enthusiasm. David Gordon Green – who’s proven himself capable of maturing even when seemingly regressing – was an inspired choice to win the Silver Bear for Best Director (for the film Prince Avalanche) and Jafar Panahi was the recipient of the Best Screenplay prize for his inventive Closed Curtains (a film I wish I’d liked more at the time, and look forward to re-visiting in the future away from festival overload). As expected, Paulina Garcia won the Best Actress award her performance in Sebastien Lelio’s emotionally satisfying Gloria, probably the best received film at the festival, with Nazif Mujic’s Best Actor triumph making it two major awards for Tanovic’s Iron Picker. Particularly well-deserved was the Best Cinematography win for Aziz Zhambakiyev, whose work helped to make young Kazakh director Emir Baigazin’s assured Harmony Lessons one of the competition highlights.
The prizes above only represent what was happening in the official Competition section of what is a sprawling festival that really starts to pay off the deeper you dig into it. Even having spent seven days there seeing more than 35 films I missed a lot of acclaimed titles, amongst them the aforementioned Iron Picker; the double-winner in Panorama Broken Circle Breakdown; the Teddy Award winner In The Name Of (the Teddy being the festival’s prize for best gay-themed film); Best First Feature The Rocket (a favourite in the youth-oriented Generation Kplus sidebar which won three prizes overall) and new films from Gus Van Sant, Steven Soderbergh and Ulrich Seidl. And that’s just the film that made ‘headlines’.
Still, omissions aside, I came away feeling as if I’d managed to take a reasonably broad sample of what the 63rd Berlinale had to offer. It’s always a good place to go in order to get the new year in film underway – along with Sundance and Rotterdam in January, Berlin is where you really get to see the first batch of major 2013 films and if these ten days are anything to go by we have a bright year ahead. Here, for no reason other than a desire to wrap things up in a relatively labour-unintensive fashion, is a list of best films and personal highlights from my time at the Berlin Film Festival:
OVERALL BEST FILM:
Upstream Color (Shane Carruth, USA, in Panorama): Symphonic science-fiction, with a myriad ideas and emotions nesting amidst its abstractions.
THE REST (alphabetical):
Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, USA, Official Selection/Out-of-Competition): Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke’s walking-and-talking romance gets surprisingly serious in Greece.
Camille Claudel 1915 (Bruno Dumont, France, in Competition): A formidable performance by Juliette Binoche graces this austere but impassioned tale of an artist’s confinement.
Coming Forth By Day (Hala Lotfy, Egypt, in Forum section): A young woman tends to her dying father in Cairo, her every action followed by a patient and empathetic mobile camera. Slow, subtle, with shades of Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien.
Everyday Objects (Nicolas Wackerbarth, France, in Forum section): Confined to a holiday home in the south of France for the summer, a German writer makes some very poor choices as she attempts to make the most of her minimal opportunity for personal expression
Forgetting To Know You (Quan Ling, China, in Forum section): People and place are both beautifully observed in this study of suspected adultery in a small Chinese town, produced by Jia Zhang-Ke.
Harmony Lessons (Emir Baigazin, Kazakhstan, in Competition): A young boy is bullied at a rural school in Kazakhstan, with non-whimsical flights of fancy taking the film into unexpected territory.
I Used To Be Darker (Matt Porterfield, USA, in Forum section): A delicately constructed and realised tale of emotional confusion; a pale Irish teenager goes to stay with her uncle and aunt in Baltimore, a pair of musicians who are splitting up. Patterns emerge from the resulting upheavals but not necessarily any order. More accessible than Porterfield’s previous films Hamilton and Putty Hill but just as beguiling.
In Bloom (Nana Ekvtimishvili, Georgia, in Forum section): A tough and heartbreaking coming-of-age story set in Tblisi, following two teenage girlfriends forced to assume adult roles. Features one of the festival’s standout setpieces, a perfectly-placed solo wedding dance – performed in a single take with fierce conviction and remarkable concentration – that provides the film with its emotional centre.
Lifelong (Asli Ozge, Turkey, in Panorama section): A contemporary artist is stuck in a marital and creative rut in this cool and clear-eyed appraisal of domestic disharmony.
Prince Avalanche (David Gordon Green, USA, in Competition): Two men – Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch - in the middle of nowhere, trying to make sense of their lives but lacking the necessary skills to do so. Broad comedy and intimate drama, set against a devastated but beautiful rural American backdrop.
That’s it from Berlin – hopefully quite a few of the films above, plus others that featured at the festival, will be arriving in the UK before the end of the year. In the meantime, roll on Cannes – the festival in May for once has something to live up to.