I have a very cosy and intimate relationship with the largest film festival in the world, as well as very fond memories. It was the very first such event that I attended as a journalist, nearly two decades ago in 2005. This is also where I saw some of the best films in my life. In 2006, I watched Jasmila Žbanić’s Grbavica, the movie that affected me most deeply during my 44 years of existence on this planet. I literally had to lock myself in cubicle of the press centre adjacent to the Berlinale Palast because I couldn’t stop crying compulsively. In 2020, I watched Mohammad Rasoulof’s There is No Evil, which immediately made it to my top 10 of all time. Both films won the Golden Bear, the event’s top prize. I returned this year with great expectations, after being unable to attend the Festival for two consecutive years (2021 and 2022). I was a little disappointed.
In all fairness, no film festival can be consistently good. But I did expect to enjoy more films in the official selection. I watched 16 out of 19 movies in the main competition, and I was only genuinely moved and stirred by one of them, Lila Aviles’s Totem. This achingly beautiful Mexican film tells the story of a young father dying of cancer, seen from the eyes of a young child. It will ring bells with those who’ve seen Carla Simon’s equally impressive Summer 1993, from five years ago. Incidentally, Simon was in the main jury. I was surprised that the Latin film left almost empty handed, taking home an independent prize from the ecumenical jury (of which Simon wasn’t part) The big winner was Nicolas Philibert’s On the Adamant, a topically fascinating yet cinematographically mediocre documentary about patients living in a psychiatric institution that encourages creativity (through music, painting, etc). A heartfelt and moving film that merits a viewing, but not the top prize at such a prestigious film festival.
Other winners include Sofia Otero, who snatched the Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance in Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s 20,000 Species of Bees. The eight-year-old actress plays a trans girl living with a Basque family of farmers. The Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution went to Helene Louvart for the cinematography of Giacomo Abbruzzese’s Disco Boy (a hypnotic and sometimes confusing allegory of European refugees and colonialism). The Silver Bear for Best Screenplay went for Angela Schanelec of Music (I wasn’t particularly impressed by either the film or the award). Best Director went to Phillipe Garrel and his family affair/ puppeteer drama The Plough (another undeserving prize). The Grand Jury Prize went to Christian Petzold’s Afire, while the Jury Prize went to Joao Canijo’s Bad Living – sadly I missed both films.
Transsexual actress Thea Ehre received the Silver Bear for Best Supporting Performance in Christoph Hochhäusler’s Till the End of the Night. The script of this queer gangster flick is extremely shoddy, going around in circles to no satisfactory conclusion. I overheard someone compare the film to Fassbinder. The enfant terrible of German cinema is probably turning in his grave.
Interestingly, both top performance prizes went to actors impersonating trans characters (Ehre of Till the End of the Night and Otero of 20,000 Species of Bees).
And that wasn’t the only coincidence. Three of the top prizes went to German filmmakers (Christian Petzold, Christoph Hochhäusler and Angela Schanelec). These three people are the oldest and most prominent directors of the Berliner Schule (a 21st century movement of German cinema).
You can read all of my 20 pieces in our review archive here.