Triumph in Berlin

Last Updated: July 30, 2011By Tags:

Asghar Farhadi’s “Nader and Simin” was the big winner at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, which announced its awards Saturday evening, a day prior to the end of the fest.

Farhadi won the Silver Bear for best director two years ago for his film “About Elly.” “Nader and Simin” was widely seen as a shoo-in for the Golden Bear, both for its outstanding quality in a year of insipid competition fare and the spotlight thrown on Iranian cinema by incarcerated director Jafar Panahi, for whom the festival kept an open jury seat for the duration of the festival.

The international jury of the 61st Berlin Film Festival, presided over by actress Isabella Rossellini, jointly awarded the Silver Bears for acting to the ensemble cast of “Nader and Simin.” Among the six actors and actresses who shared the two statues was the director’s teenage daughter, Sarina Farhadi. In the film, she plays the daughter of a feuding couple who is faced with choices of loyalty and ethics. The other honorees were Sareh Bayat, Leila Hatami, Peyman Moadi, Ali Asghar Shahbazi and Babak Karimi.

The Grand Jury Prix went to Bela Tarr’s sparse and minimalist “The Turin Horse,” about a coachman and his daughter going about their daily routine while an apocalyptic threat looms. The film has divided critics. Personally, I found the film’s purity and visual beauty masterful. But to be honest, the sparsely of dialogue, repetition of mundane actions and slowness make for an outstandingly difficult film to sit through (and I’m saying that as someone who watched all 7 ½ hours of “Satantango” in rapt concentration).

Tarr has hinted that this film may be his last. In accepting the award from Canadian filmmaker and jury member Guy Maddin, Tarr declined to address the audience and curiously sulked off stage.

The previous evening, “The Turin Horse” picked up the Best Competition Feature award from FIPRESCI (the International Federation of Film Critics) and Tarr had been a frontrunner for the Silver Bear for directing. Tonight, however, that award went to Ulrich Köhler for “Schlafkrankheit” (“Sleeping Sickness”), a German production about foreign medical aid givers in Cameroon which this reviewer unfortunately missed.

Paula Markovitch’s directorial debut “El Premio” (“The Prize”; reviewed by Screen Comment) scooped up two awards for outstanding artistic achievement: for Wojciech Staron’s desolate cinematography; and Barbara Enriquez’s production design, which recreated a seaside town in fascist Argentina. Markovitch’s autobiographical film, about a strong-willed seven-year-old girl in hiding with her mother, a political refugee, was one of the competition section’s stronger entries.

American director Joshua Marston’s Albanian-language “The Forgiveness of Blood” won the screenwriting award. Marston shared the Silver Bear with Andamion Murataj for their script about feuding clans, family honor, and retribution in a rural Albanian village. The film, which screened yesterday, was the last competition offering. For all its authenticity and dramatic tension, it is curiously underwhelming, and a disappointing follow-up to Marston’s Spanish-language “Maria Full of Grace” (2004).

Germany picked up another award for “Wer Wenn Nicht Wir” (“Who, If Not Us”), about the German terrorist organization The Red Army Faction. The film’s director Andreas Veiel took home the Alfred Bauer Award. Named for the Berlinale’s founder, it is awarded “for a work of particular innovation” (according to the festival website). I found it difficult, however, to see what particular innovation the jury was responding to in this perplexing and oddly constructed film.

Full reviews of the last two awardees (“The Forgiveness of Blood” and “Wer Wenn Nicht Wir”) will follow shortly.

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