TWIG - Following a feature in last week’s issue on Berlin’s rising star as a prime filming location for Hollywood, "The Week in Germany" looks at the brightest and most blundering events of the Berlinale.
Twenty-six films in competition
The Berlinale got off to a good start with the European premier of the U.S. Civil War epic "Cold Mountain," starring Nicole Kidman and Jude Law. Neither of the big-name actors were in attendance, leading journalists to wonder whether the stars were just busy preparing for this year’s early Oscar ceremony - or whether more sinister forces were at work. Opening the festival but out of competition, the film - a beautiful film adaptation of Charles Frazier’s popular novel - was met with polite applause from a public still reeling from the actors’ no-show.
A total of 26 feature-length films from around the world are competing for the festival’s coveted prizes, the Golden and Silver Bears, the bear being the mascot of the City of Berlin. Although no film has emerged as the clear favorite since the festival opened last week, a number of stellar showings already have critics and pundits alike speculating about who will be winning and who will be whining when final decisions are made.
Favorites for the Golden Bear this year are Patty Jenkins’s "Monster" starring Charlize Theron (photo) in a role that already won her the Golden Globe for best actress, and "Before Sunset," a sequel to indie great Richard Linklater’s 1994 "Before Sunrise" starring Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy.
Other films didn’t go over so well with the Berlinale’s unique audience of both movie enthusiasts and industry professionals.
Many people walked out, while those that remained at the premier of the much-anticipated "Night Sings its Songs," directed by Romuald Karmakar, jeered and laughed out loud at some of the most serious lines near the movie’s end. For his part, Karmakar railed against journalists at a press conference, decrying the appetite for "happy endings" and defending his gloomy love story, which was based on the same-name play by the great Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse
Fatih Akin’s "Against the Wall," another hotly anticipated German entry, fared better, garnering extended applause and - to the director’s delight - rave reviews. Director of last year’s success "Solino," Akin once again investigates intercultural dynamics by exploring one German-Turkish relationship.
Danish director Annette K. Olesen’s "In Your Hands," as well as Greek director Theo Angelopoulos’s "The Weaping Meadow," third in his trilogy "The Earth Cries," are also expected to be strong competitors when they premier at the end of this week.
The prizes for feature-length film will be awarded on Saturday.
Each year, festival organizers devote a program to looking back at a particular genre or period that radically changed the course of film history. This year, the focus was on magical moments from the "New Hollywood" films produced between 1967 and 1976.
Sixty-six films from a tumultuous period in American social history are being shown in the retrospective, including "Easy Rider," "Taxi Driver," "Bonnie and Clyde," "The Last Picture Show," the first and second installments of "The Godfather", and Roman Polanski’s "Chinatown."
The films chronicle not only Hollywood’s break from the Studio System and the emergence of independent film. They also show the rise of stars such as Jack Nicholson and Robert DeNiro and tap into the vibrant American counterculture that was challenging old ideals and changing the nation indubitably.
"The political and social upheavals of this era brought forth a form of cinema which even from today’s perspective contributed to one of the most exciting developments in film", said Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick. "Movies like ‘Easy Rider’ influenced an entire generation. And it was the decline of the old Hollywood studio system which made the birth of the ‘independent’ scene possible."
Prize for best short film awarded
Ahead of the main prizes to be awarded this Saturday, the winner of this year’s Golden Bear for best short film was Christi Puiu’s "Cigarettes and Coffee" (photo).The Romanian director’s film takes place 14 years after the fall of the brutal Ceausescu regime.
In the ten-minute film, a man who has been unemployed for more than two years sits down and has a heart-to-heart with the only employer who will give him a chance - his son.
"Small budget, big effect: simple but effective storytelling with fantastic dialogue" the jury noted as the award was announced. "This film is a meaningful statement on a society dealing with immense change."
This is the first award for Puiu after his film took home the highest honors at "Prix UIP Berlin," an award bestowed by the European Film Academy and the Berlinale in conjunction with United International Pictures. With the win, "Cigarettes and Coffee" is automatically qualified for the European Film Prize, awarded annually in December.
As the Berlinale wrapped up in the German capital, German-Turkish director Fatih Akins’s "Gegen die Wand" ("Head-On") took home the Golden Bear for best film, the first time that a German production has taken the top honor in 18 years.
"The prize is really great," said Akin at the awards ceremony. "What’s better, though, is that my family liked the film, too."
Akin (photo) is one of Germany’s rising young directorial stars. The 30-year old director was born to Turkish parents in Hamburg, where he has lived all of his life. Since graduating from the University of Hamburg in 2000, he has already drawn critical acclaim for his first two feature-length films, "In July" and "Solino," both starring German actor Moritz Bleibtreu. He promises that his next project, a romantic comedy called "Sold Kitchen," will be "light and easy."
This is the second film by Akin to be recognized for its serious look at the lives of second-generation immigrants. Last year,his "Solino" dealt with a family-run Italian restaurant where daily conflicts and jealousy destroy the relationships between three brothers.
Akin’s win was the first time since 1986 that a German film won the top prize, with Reinhard Hauff’s Drama "Stammheim" previously the last of seven German films to have taken home the Golden Bear since the festival began 54 years ago.
Critics are saying that "Head-On" is a realistic look at modern-day German-Turkish relations - and that it offers a serious glimpse into the daily confrontations between traditional Islamic values and Germany’s second generation of Turks, the children of the so-called guest workers who came to help revive the German economy in the late 60’s and early 70’s.
In the film’s opening sequences, Cahit, a 40-year old Turk dealing with alcoholism and depression, attempts suicide. While recovering, a doctor says to him: "You can put an end to your life without committing suicide." What is meant here is a new beginning - a new life that begins when he meets a young woman dealing with her own problems of identity and depression.
Sibel, a 20-year-old woman of Turkish origin, is looking for a way to escape the confines of her traditional Muslim family, first through suicide, then by convincing Cahit to marry her and feign a pseudo-relationship.
At first, the pair enters the marriage for convenience, she to pursue a life outside of strict Muslim doctrine, he to find daily companionship and to help her out. As Sibel enjoys the new freedoms that the fake marriage affords her, Cahits begins to fall in love with her.
Sibel eventually falls for him as well, but for Cahit, her realization comes too late. Riddled with pangs of jealousy, he murders one of her lovers and is sent to jail in Istanbul. Ostracized from her family and without any other options, Sibel follows him. Cahit is released from jail and assumes that they will pick up where they left off.
The Silver Bear for best film was awarded to Argentinean filmmaker Daniel Burman’s "Lost Embrace," the story of Ariel, the grandson of Jewish grandparents who fled the Holocaust to Argentina. While some of his peers search for ways to return to Europe to get a job, Ariel’s purpose is of a greater scope: To discover his father’s motivation for leaving his family to fight for Israeli statehood.
In other categories, Charlize Theron took home the Silver Bear for best actress for her stirring portrayal of a Florida street walker turned serial killer in "Monster." She is a favorite to win the Academy Award for the same role.
The prizes are chosen by a seven-member international jury, spearheaded this year by U.S. actress Frances McDormand.
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