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Berlin Dispatch – Who Will/Should Win?

In what feels like the blink of an eye, the 68th Berlinale is coming to a close. After seeing all 19 films in competition, I’d say there’s no out-and-out masterpiece à la A SEPARATION in the lineup this year. My personal favorite remains Wes Anderson’s dazzling, thoughtful ISLE OF DOGS, which is probably also the consensus winner even if the level of across-the-board support enjoyed by TAXI (2015) or FIRE AT SEA (2016) isn’t quite there.

Instead we have many solid – very good films in the mix all deserving of recognition. In fact, with the exception of DOVLATOV, THE REAL ESTATE and TOUCH ME NOT, I’d say I’ve enjoyed everything from the selection. This makes predicting the awards winners – a mostly futile undertaking anyway in such festival settings – even more difficult, but just for the fun of it, let’s go through how I think it may all go down.

Outstanding Artistic Contribution
Will win: Adam Stockhausen, Paul Harrod (production design of ISLE OF DOGS)
Should win: Martin Otterbeck (cinematography of U – JULY 22)

This award is kind of a Berlin exclusive and nearly impossible to predict, since it could go to any tech department of any film, from cinematography to editing, music, costume etc. To me the question of who should win this year is actually clear, seeing how no singular technical achievement grabbed and shook me quite like Martin Otterbeck’s camerawork in the harrowing U – JULY 22. What speaks against it is the fact that another “one-shot-wonder” has just been awarded this prize three years ago (VICTORIA) and also the jury may want to avoid “reducing” its appreciation of this particular film to a technical aspect.

Outside of this most obvious choice, I’d say the music of MUSEUM, the original songs of Lav Diaz’s controversial SEASON OF THE DEVIL and anything from the production design to the animation or Alexandre Desplat’s brilliant score for ISLE OF DOGS are all viable candidates.

Best Screenplay
Will win: MUG
Should win: ISLE OF DOGS

Considering festival juries generally tend to distribute prizes among the films they like, I’d say narratively distinct films they can’t find space for in the top categories stand the best chance. To me that includes Polish face transplant drama MUG, Iranian social media black comedy PIG and Paraguayan lesbian love story THE HEIRESSES.

Best Actor
Will win: Franz Rogowski (TRANSIT and/or IN THE AISLES)
Should win: Franz Rogowski (IN THE AISLES)

After delivering two beguiling performances in two competition films at the same festival, I’d be very surprised if Franz Rogowski does not walk away with a Silver Bear tomorrow. His obstacle? TRANSIT, the more high-profile of his two films, may end up winning something major. Although the official rules do not prohibit giving multiple awards to one film, the jury may take the opportunity to say they liked THE PRAYER (Anthony Bajon) or MUSEUM (Gael Garcia Bernal) too. Oh and we should probably not underestimate Joaquin Phoenix’s potential to surprise (DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT) either.

Best Actress
Will win: Alba Rohrwacher (DAUGHTER OF MINE)
Should win: Andrea Berntzen (U – JULY 22)

As is tradition now, the race for Best Actress is again much more competitive than its male counterpart at the Berlinale. Worthy contenders abound: Ana Brun (THE HEIRESSES), Julia Zange (MY BROTHER’S NAME IS ROBERT AND HE IS AN IDIOT), Marie Bäumer (3 DAYS IN QUIBERON), Léonore Ekstrand (THE REAL ESTATE) and heck, Isabelle Huppert (EVA) is still waiting for her first Berlin Best Actress win, too. From where I stand, the always enchanting Alba Rohrwacher is likely to take this one for a meaty part in a female-centric film, edging out 19-year-old Andrea Berntzen, who gave in my mind the most impressive performance of the festival – in her film debut no less.

Best Director
Will win: Philip Gröning (MY BROTHER’S NAME IS ROBERT AND HE IS AN IDIOT)
Should win: Philip Gröning (MY BROTHER’S NAME IS ROBERT AND HE IS AN IDIOT)

There’s considerable wishful thinking involved here, seeing how I was floored by what Gröning did in his shocking incest drama. Taking out the filter of personal preference, this could easily go to Wes Anderson, Lav Diaz, Erik Poppe (U – JULY 22) or, in each case marking their second win in this category, Christian Petzold (TRANSIT) or Małgorzata Szumowska (MUG).

Alfred Bauer Prize (for a feature film that opens new perspectives)
Will win: SEASON OF THE DEVIL
Should win: SEASON OF THE DEVIL

The unofficial second runner-up prize of the Berlinale carries the footnote that it should be about the opening of new perspectives. If people really stick to that rule, I see the 4-hour a cappella musical about 1970’s Filipino dictatorship as the fitting recipient, don’t you? Obviously Diaz has won the same prize with his last film just two years ago, so that might complicate things. As alternatives I consider MY BROTHER’S NAME IS ROBERT AND HE IS AN IDIOT, ISLE OF DOGS, U – JULY 22 and the highly experimental TOUCH ME NOT to be first in line.

Grand Jury Prize
Will win: TRANSIT
Should win: THE HEIRESSES

In a year where we have a German jury president judging a lineup that includes as many as four German films among which TRANSIT has emerged as the critics’ favorite that’s not too controversial as opposed to some of its competitors, it would be an unmistakable snub if it doesn’t take home something big – if not THE prize.

Golden Bear
Will win: U – JULY 22
Should win: ISLE OF DOGS

It would upset a lot of people who hated the movie with a vengeance but it would also be a very topical/relevant choice considering the recent massacres in the States. Tom Tykwer doesn’t strike me as someone who shies away from controversies and this would give the jury the chance to not just pick a fine film, but make a statement as well. Otherwise, TRANSIT is a likely alternative, and one should not rule out the possibility of Golden Lion winner Lav Diaz claiming Berlin on his second try or the jury going for broke and giving this to MY BROTHER’S NAME IS ROBERT AND HE IS AN IDIOT.

A film that I did not include in any of my predictions but is reigning the critics’ survey alongside ISLE OF DOGS is the Russian biopic DOVLATOV. It’s unwise to bet against something this classical, substantial AND popular. But as mentioned above, this movie did nothing for me and I just couldn’t bring myself to see it as a winner. I guess – as is the case with the Oscar race – we’ll find out soon enough how dangerous personal bias is when playing the predictions game.

The winners of the 68th Berlin Film Festival will be announced tomorrow (Feb. 24).