Notes on 65th Berlinale

February 5-15, 2015

By: - Feb 17, 2015

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Time has come again for assessments. The 65th Berlinale, the biggest international film festival with a huge participation of festival goers (around 350.000 sold tickets) has presented its trophies, the Golden Bear, the Silver Bears, Crystal Bears and several special prizes - the party is over. From February 5 through Sunday, February 15, 2015 Potsdam Square with its Berlinale Palace and a multitude of movie theaters was the center/pivotal point of film madness again, abuzz with stars, starlets, media people and the thousands of film buffs running from showing to showing.

It was a happy madness. 441 films were shown in 10 days, 114 of them made by women, not enough, as was commented.The European Film Market expanded its dealing to 748 films and presented 1014 screenings. Many more discussion forums around town drew the interest of the public. For the first time emphasis was given to the importance of film series, and, of course, stars like Cate Blanchett, Sir Kenneth Branagh, Christian Bale, Juliette Binoche, Nicole Kidman, Helen Mirren abounded.

More important for this festival proved again the focus on social and sociopolitical themes. It is Berlin after all and the human condition the world over took center stage. The selections of the international jury under US filmmaker Darren Aronofsky of “Black Swan” fame reflected this. (Daniel Bruehl, Bong Joon-ho, Martha De Laurentiis, Claudia Llosa, Audrey Tautou and Matthew Weiner were the other members of the jury.) 19 films were judged in the Competition (four more were shown out of competition). Here the big international productions vied for the coveted Bear prizes. Proof in point was, that the biggest prize, the Golden Bear went to the Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi for “Taxi.” It was filmed illegally, like his 2013 contribution “Pardé” and smuggled out of Iran. Panahi plays a cab driver who interviews/ talks to his passengers about the state of affairs in Iran. His niece, also a character in the film, received the honor for the director, who is not allowed to leave Iran. Thus it was a statement for a good movie but more a statement of solidarity.

The second biggest prize the Silver Bear of the Jury was given to the Chilean production by Pablo Larrain called “El Club.” It is a haunting glimpse into the lives of former priests, punished by the church for their pedophile past to live in an isolated house on the Chilean coast. The third big prize, given for a film that brings a new perspective to the screen, the Silver Bear/Alfred-Bauer-Prize, went to the Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante for his very first movie “Ixcanul Volcano.” It tells the story of a young Mayan called Maria (lay actress Maria Mercedes Coroy ), who wants to escape poverty but in the end has to submit to the rigid rules of her tiny village at the foot of the vulcano Ixcanul.

What was unusual at this Berlinale was that the jury presented two Silver Bears for direction and for outstanding artistic accomplishments. Normally they present one. The Romania/Bulgarian/Czech co-production “Aferim” of the Romanian “New Wave” director Radu Jude received the director's prize as well as the Polish film, “Body,” by Malgorzata Szumowska. The two prizes for Outstanding Accomplishments were skewed toward camera work. The Russian production “Pod electricheskimi oblakami” (Under Electrical Clouds) is an absurd treatment of the Russian soul and political scene by Alexey German, Jr. The camera work by Evgeniy Privin and Sergey Mikhalchuk was given the honor.

The German Film “Victoria” by Sebastian Schipper, praised by media and audience alike as a contender for the Golden Bear, came away only with the Silver Bear for the amazing camera work by Sturia Brandth Grøvien. He filmed a bank robbery, born in a night of drunken swaggering by four low lives, who also convince the bar dancer Victoria (Laia Costa) to drive them to the bank. It was done in a single take of 140 minutes. This film will most likely make it to American movie theaters within the year.

The US participation raised hopes with Texas born Terrence Malick's film “Knight of Cups” to repeat the 2014 glamour of Texas directors taking the biggest prizes. Here, Rick (Christian Bale) is a Hollywood producer who seems to sleepwalk through his life, leaving the relationships with former wife Nancy (Cate Blanchett) and girlfriend Elizabeth (Natalie Portman) in tatters. The story line was confusing and confused and Malick's associative and masterful film composition was considered too unreadable and over the top. Thus, unfortunately, it did not receive any of the Bears from the international jury headed by fellow American filmmaker Darren Aronofsky.

The 65th Berlinale proved to be true to itself, trying to reflect the state of the world seen through the lenses of cameras by engaged film makers. It had, unfortunately, very few American contributions, yet the German and non-European films were plentiful, innovative and socially committed. The public loved it and showed up by the thousands. Certainly, some of the films will make it to American theaters this coming year.