• Inspired by the 2001 Dos Palmas kidnapping of foreign tourists and missionaries by the Islamic separatist group Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Philipino director Brillante Mendoza, a Cannes Festival favorite (Kinatay, Serbis) Captive excruciatingly follows the twenty hostages as they are dragged at gunpoint from their hotel, spirited onto a fishing boat and led through various towns and jungles for over a year. Isabelle Huppert

  • In Berlin for a while, everyone talked about Caesar must die, a historical and literary reenactment filmed by Paolo and Vittorio Taviani in superb documentary style--but it's a feature film documenting a jail bound theater production. The Tavianis (Padre Padrone, Kaos), who are now in their eighties, entered a high-security prison near Rome to film a production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” Mixing footage of the final production with

  • Halfway through the 62nd installment of the Berlin Film Festival, no single film has emerged to carry the fest’s top prizes. The international jury, this year’s headed by British director Mike Leigh, will have a difficult time distributing the Gold and Silver bears if the competition fare remains this lackluster. Benoît Jacquot’s French-Revolution drama, Les Adieux à la Reine was the firing shot in a festival year that is taking a hard look

  • Two highly anticipated late competition entries in this year’s Berlin Film Festival which wrapped up yesterday scooped up awards at Saturday’s award ceremony. American director Joshua Marston’s “The Forgiveness of Blood,” an Albanian-language dramatic thriller nabbed the Silver Bear for best screenplay. Andres Veiel’s feature film debut “Wer Wenn Nicht Wir” (“If Not Us, Who”), a German production about the origins of the West German terrorist organization The Red Army Faction, was awarded the Alfred Bauer prize –named for the festival founder—for unique contribution to the art of cinema. In the opinion of this critic, both prizes were undeserved.

    Marston, whose only previous feature “Maria Full of Grace” was a critical favorite (and Berlinale competition entry) in 2004, wrote the screenplay to “Forgiveness” with Andamion Murataj, based on hundreds of interviews with ordinary Albanians for this story of familial loyalty, honor and retribution. The plot centers on Nik, a teenager in northern Albania who dreams of starting an Internet café and winning over the prettiest girl in school. These modest ambitions are dashed when his father becomes embroiled in a land dispute that culminates in a murder. Suddenly, it falls to Nik to protect his family and uphold their honor.

  • 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).

  • The separation itself is somewhat of a MacGuffin and does little more than set all the pieces in motion. The most we hear about marital disputes is in the tense opening scene, a single static shot that shows the spouses pleading their cases, from the perspective of the marriage clerk’s desk. Simin explains that she wants to take their eleven-year-old daughter to study and live abroad. Nader insists on staying behind to tend to his Alzheimer-afflicted father.

  • “El Premio” is a slow, meditative piece with a political back story and a headstrong protagonist too young to understand the danger that her family is in. Incidentally, these aspects are shared by last year’s Golden Bear winner, the Turkish production “Bal.” For a festival whose award choices are often seen as political, “El Premio” is exactly the sort of film that Berlin loves.