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WELL… what a rollercoaster ride it’s been seeing those bears being doled out tonight. The 73rd Berlinale has come to an end and Kristen Stewart’s jury made some great choices, some confounding choices and some that border on acts of trolling. Let’s take a look.
Outstanding Artistic Contribution: cinematography of DISCO BOY
Called it! As I said, this would not have been my pick but so very happy for Hélène Louvart, truly a giant of her craft. Of the films I’ve covered on this site alone, she’s responsible for shooting PETRA, HAPPY AS LAZZARO, ALL THE DEAD ONES and NEVER RARELY SOMETIMES ALWAYS. A list of bangers that doesn’t begin to cover her filmography but tells you a little bit about her incredible range. This lady is the real deal.
Best Screenplay: MUSIC
Ok, so this has got to be the jury trolling us, right? Angela Schanelec’s cinematic riddle barely has any dialogue and what the characters do verbally express seldom adds up to anything. To award this film for screenwriting is beyond head-scratching. But you know what? I can never begrudge Schanelec getting shiny statues because, as much as I struggle to appreciate her work, I just love the fact that a lady in her 60’s is out there making the most radical arthouse cinema. That’s dope. Although this sadly comes at the price of leaving out some brilliant screenplays in competition.
Best Supporting Performance: Thea Ehre (TILL THE END OF THE NIGHT)
Now this I really don’t get. German director Christoph Hochhäusler’s stylish neo-noir was the last comp film to screen and it was… not great. Trans actress Thea Ehre plays a character caught between an undercover cop and a drug dealer, and it is not my idea of the best supporting performance of this festival by a long stretch. Without going into the quality of the performance, to me hers is clearly a co-lead role that should not even be eligible. Obviously to give the gender-neutral award to Ehre justifies the category reform but, for the third time in a role, I’m not happy with the jury’s choice here.
Best Lead Performance: Sofía Otero (20,000 SPECIES OF BEES)
I had a feeling the jury was going to recognize Spanish director Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s film in some way – it’s a female-centric queer film that fits the jury profile perfectly – but to honor child actor Otero (her character is 8 years old) still feels like a stunt. Again, this choice justifies the gender neutrality of the prize, for Otero is playing a boy who identifies as girl, but you won’t convince me that this performance is better than many others from the lineup given by adult performers or even the other child actor at the center of TÓTEM. Disappointing.
Best Director: Philippe Garrel (THE PLOUGH)
In my humble opinion, Stewart & Co. dropped the ball big time with this choice. THE PLOUGH is easily my least favorite film in competition and I’m surprised how a jury with such a young and punk vibe would go for the very retrograde, very conservative direction of 75-year-old Garrell, especially when there are so many vibrant new voices in the lineup doing different, exciting things. But apparently the jury does have a soft spot for old-school filmmaking (see the end of this post) and there’s nothing more to say about that.
Jury Prize: BAD LIVING
After a few bombs, the jury rebounded with a solid pick here. Portuguese director João Canijo’s epic melodrama is exquisitely crafted and would have won three prizes if I get to call the shots. I welcome this embrace of camp by the jury and would choose to see this as recognition of the excellent ensemble cast and the work of a superb DP.
Grand Jury Prize: AFIRE
Called it! AFIRE is a tremendous film period, so it’s nice to see it being recognized as such. With a possible North American launch at NYFF, this will probably land on a lot of top 10 lists come December. Also, I expected Stewart to dig Petzold and now that we know she swiped right, we’re one step closer to seeing a collaboration for the ages.
Golden Bear: ON THE ADAMANT
Remember when I said this jury has a thing for oldies? Here’s Exhibit B. French director Nicolas Philibert’s documentary that shines a light on the life of numerous mental illness patients on a boat is expertly put together and has so much heart, but it’s also… the opposite of exciting? While watching the film, I was often touched by the human truths captured on camera, but I couldn’t help being struck by how deeply traditional, unadventurous the filmmaking is. This choice made my heart sink a little, especially because it means TÓTEM – a magnificent film that could really use the push – is shut out completely. Well, cinephiles everywhere will just have to work a bit harder to see Lila Avilés’ directorial tour-de-force.
That’s it from my side on this year’s Berlinale. It’s been a great edition, and not just for the competition – the Encounters sidebar, for example, is also full of gems to be discovered. Hopefully many of these will find their way to a cinema near you.