BERLIN INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL 2007


The Awards


Golden Bear for the Best Film: Tu ya de hun shi / Tuya's Marriage by Wang Quan'an
Silver Bear - Jury Grand Prix: El Otro / The Other by Ariel Rotter
Silver Bear - Best Director: Joseph Cedar (Beaufort)
Silver Bear - Best Actor: Julio Chávez (El Otro / The Other, director, Ariel Rotter)
Silver Bear - Best Actress: Nina Hoss (Yella, director, Christian Petzold)
Silver Bear - Outstanding Artistic Contribution: Ensemble cast of The Good Shepherd (director, Robert De Niro)
Silver Bear - Best Film Music: David Mackenzie (Hallam Foe)
Alfred Bauer Prize for innovative work: Sai bo gu ji man gwen chan a / I'm A Cyborg, But That's Ok (director, Park Chan-wook). 
Honorary Golden Bear for Life Achievement: Arthur Penn
Best First Feature Award: Vanaja (director, Rajnesh Domalpalli) 

Prizes of the FIPRESCI (International Film Critics) Juries


Competition: Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále / I Served the King of England (director, Jirí Menzel)
Panorama: Takva / Takva - A Man's Fear of God (director, Ozer Kiziltan)
Forum: Jagdhunde / Hounds by (director, Ann-Kristin Reyels)

Tuya's Marriage
Berlin 2007 was an honourable rather than an exciting event, with plenty of films worth watching, but few that will be remembered one year – or even one month - after. The tone was set by the opening gala screening of Olivier Dahan’s LA MOME/LA VIE EN ROSE, a perfectly respectable, eminently commercial biopic with Marion Cotillard, in the leading role, capturing a lot of the legend of Edith Piaf. The Jury, headed by Paul Schrader and including the actors William Dafoe, Gael Garcia Bernal and Mario Adorf, awarded their main prize to a more obviously “festival” film, Wang Quanan’s TUYA DE HUN SHI (TUYA’s MARRIAGE), from mainland China. Set in the grassy hinterlands of Inner Mongolia and relating the romantic choices of a quiet yet forceful young village woman, the film compensates for its lack of dramatic verve with appreciatively shot exotic locales. But – respectably “artistic” and fashionably Asian – it looked a safe rather than an enthusiastic choice. The recipient of the Silver Bear, Axel Rotter’s EL OTRO, from Argentina, never fully exploits the possibilities of its intriguing story about a man who escapes from his oppressive life with expectant wife and ailing father, by travelling around, adopting a series of new identities stolen from dead men. The outstanding central performance by Julio Chaveza also took the Silver Bear for best actor. The Silver Bear for best actress was awarded to Nina Hoss, for her role in Christian Petzold’s YELLA, a brisk, capable, modestly budgeted metaphysical thriller, even if the dual themes of the film – the intriguing account of commercial power games, and the ghost story – fail consistentlyh to connect.

BEAUFORT
A strong contender for the Golden Bear, which finally took the prize for best direction, was the Israeli BEAUFORT, directed by Joseph Cedar from his own novel, giving the soldiers’ view of the evacuation of the mountain fortress of the title – an ancient Crusader castle in Southern Lebanon - in 2000. Cedar has clearly studied the great classic war movies to good effect, and this is a solidly excellent film, balancing the men’s dogged loyalty to duty, the fatuity of war and of this particular operation, and the indifference of remote commanders to the human consequences of their politically motivated edicts. Based on a real engagement, the staging is very convincing and fine actors flesh out good characterisations despite spending most of the time muffled and disguised in armour.

Totally unrewarded even among the myriad subsidiary awards on offer in Berlin was André Téchiné’s LES TEMOINS (THE WITNESSES) - perhaps one of the director’s best films to date. It is a tight-knit character drama set in the 1980s and offering a richly evocative, very sad – in a strange, negative sense, nostalgic – reminiscence of the tragedy and terror of the early days of AIDS. The complex personal relationships are skilfully developed by the meticulously wrought script, and the characters are well-rounded and believable. Michel Blanc subtly develops the character of the older lover of the doomed hero, to take him from an initially pathetic figure to become totally unsympathetic and hypocritical.

I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND
Similarly ignored by a Jury that was clearly fearful of being seen as traditionalist, Jiri Menzel’s adaptation of Bunumil Hrabal’s comic satire I SERVED THE KING OF ENGLAND nevertheless won the prize of the International Critics’ Jury. A wonderful comic actor Ivan Barnev plays a Czech everyman, a simple but cunning opportunist who follows his fortunes through the turbulent middle years of the 20th century. Reviving and renewing the tradition of black humour initiated by the 60s New Wave of which Menzel was a central figure, the film is “old-fashioned” (a wide-spread charge against it at the festival) only in the sense of being finely written and crafted in every respect. It is consistently entertaining and beautifully detailed. The main fault is that the first half hour is a bit indulgently playful with its comic central character, so that it takes rather a long time to get into its main theme of political accommodation. However Barnev’s performance is at its most engaging and skilful in these scenes, so there is adequate compensation.

Other neglected works were Stefan Ruzowitzkly’s DIE FÄlSCHE (THE COUNTERFEITERS), the true story of a group of imprisoned men whose varied talents were organised to forge millions of pound and dollar notes to finance the Nazi war effort, and Saverio Constanzo’ s IN MEMORIA DI ME (IN MEMORY OF ME). This new work confirms the promise of the director’s brilliant debut with PRIVATE, and was undeniably one of the most intriguing films in competition. Played by Christo Jivkov, a deep and brooding young novitiate enters a seminary (for which Venice’s glorious San Giorgio Maggiore provides an extraordinary location, hauntingly filmed in severe, symmetrical framings). He finds himself in a somewhat sinister world of mutual spying and sometimes literally self-flagellatory guilts. The atmosphere is made more mysterious and brooding by the virtual excision of the homosexual element that is pervasive in the 1960 Furio Monicelli novel on which the film is based. The film is at once demanding and compelling, with an atmosphere which richly compensates for the rather too equivocal ending.

Bille August’s GOODBYE BAFANA relates the story of the friendship between Nelson Mandela as a political prisoner and his prison warden James Gregory, who discovers political and human enlightenment from exposure to this irresistible personality. The subject is interesting, though the film is too long drawn out, and the leading performances are persuasive. But the story-telling is dutiful and pedestrian – and the slight disbelief which earlier surrounded Gregory’s book lingers. The supporting performances are less good and mostly under-developed; and the character of Gregory’s ever-grumbling, incorrigibly racist wife is truly irritating.
Aside from the main competition, there were rewarding films in the festival side-bars. The international film critics’ prize for a film in Panorama went to the Turkish Ozer Kiziltan’s TAKVA - A MAN'S FEAR OF GOD, a shrewd and thoughtful examination of the hypocricies demanded when religious fundamentalists are involved in commercial ventures. The story relates the transformation of a poor and very simple, poor man (a multi-prize-winning performance by Erkan Can) who is elevated from his job with a sack merchant to care for the considerable property of a mosque. Transformed suddenly into a businessman, with cell-phone and all, his changed character is used ironically to explore the contrasts (and links) of capitalism and fundamentalism and different, rarely explored aspects of Turkish society.

No Regret
Also in Panorama, NO REGRET, directed, written by Leesong Hee-il, is the first South Korean gay feature made by an openly “out” film maker. The drama is frankly schematic in plot, but skilful in the writing and exceptional for the melodramatic power of its story-telling. The story is simple and classic. A boy reared in an orphanage drifts through economic necessity, into being a rent boy. He attracts the intense admiration of a rich young man, heir to the factory in which the hero once worked. The boy doggedly resists him, but finally yields to his persistence, and falls deeply in love. Things take a dramatic turn when the rich boy’s family insist on his marriage, leading to a violent but not quite closed ending. All the elements – the sexuality of the male brothel and the rentboy’s work, the genuine sentiment, and the violence - are done with great effect. The film subsequently went on to be the most successful independent film at the South Korean box office
Panorama also showed two noteworthy works from Hungary. Karoly Esztergályos’ MEN IN THE NUDE tells the story of a successful writer (played by the ever-excellent Lászlo Gálffy), happily married to a somewhat less successful actress, who embarks on an affair with a mysterious, but definitely not well-motivated boy. The screenplay wanders somewhat, and in some respects the attitudes to sexuality will seem a bit naïve to western audiences. On the positive side, it does tackle a hitherto the mostly ignored issue of bisexuality and other-sex infidelities by husbands.

In Csaba Bollok’s ISKA’S JOURNEY, a 12-year-old girl battles her way out of the poverty of her Romanian col-mining town, only to find abuse and prostitution in the bigger world outside. The film shines for its convincing portrayal of the lower depths of Hungarian life and institutions, and some good direction of the child performances.

Even though it was the most popular film of the festival – with many critics as well as the public - it is hard to justify the presence of Sam Garbarski’s IRINA PALM in the Berlin competition. Frankly commercial in appeal, this is a rough and ready low comedy, with a pretty obvious script, generally poorly directed performances, and a very unbelievable ending. The undeniable fact is that it is also very amusing, with Marianne Faithfull as a respectable suburban widow, who needs to raise money to save her sick grandchild, and finds that she possesses special manual skills that are at a premium in sex parlours.

Other films which definitely did not merit a place in a major international competition included Gregory Nava’s BORDERTOWN. The intentions are good – the story is based on the real-life abuses of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, where the rise of rapes and murders of women workers is virtually ignored by the authorities and condoned by the US for reasons of political convenience. But Nava struggles with a script which translates this into sub-standard thriller material, with Jennifer Lopez as a very improbable American newshawk frustrated (and en route herself raped) in her determination to expose the abuses.

François Ozon’s ANGEL is a chocolate-box period piece, adapted from a 1957 novel by English writer Elizabeth Taylor, in turn clearly based on the careers of Edwardian best-selling novelists Elinor Glyn and Marie Corelli. Angel is a grocer’s daughter with a wild imagination and a passion for writing. She is taken up by a sympathetic and shrewd publisher (Sam Neill in the only half-way good performance) and becomes a best-seller. She makes and squanders a fortune, but her anti-war stance in 1914 quickly leads in a fall in popularity; and, after the understandable suicide of her war-maimed husband, she leads a lonely and hysterically frustrated life until an early death.

The central problems are that Ozon has captured none of the irony of Elizabeth Taylor’s original portrait of Angel; and that he is clearly very uneasy with directing English-speaking actors – the performances lack any conviction or consistency. The truly fatal weakness though is the casting of Romola Garai, who fails to give any sympathetic quality to the wilful and self-centred Angel.