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Culture

Gold and Silver Bears for Iranian film as Berlinale closes

A moving family drama set in Iran took away the top prizes at this year's Berlin International Film Festival. The jury's decision was widely applauded.

Asghar Farhadi and actors from Nader and Simin, A Separation at the awards ceremony

Asghar Farhadi and actors from "Nader and Simin, A Separation" at the awards ceremony

This year's Berlin International Film Festival has been exceptional in more than one way.

While the festival's jury has seldom managed to avoid controversy after announcing their decisions, this time as jury President Isabella Rossellini announced this year's Golden Bear Award, there were jubilant cries from both cast and critics alike.

It is also the first time a Golden Bear winner has also been awarded an additional two other Silver Bears.

That winner was "Nader and Simin, A Separation," directed by Asghar Farhadi. Alongside the Golden Bear, the movie's ensemble cast also took both the best actor and the best actress awards – a first for the festival.

Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi is no stranger to Germany's most prestigious film festival. He won the Silver Bear in 2009 for his film “About Elly.”

Still from Sleeping Sickness

"Sleeping Sickness" wasn't a hit with critics, but took home an award

Simple but powerful

Farhadi's latest film arrived at a time when many thought it seemed impossible for Iranian filmmakers to express themselves in their own country. But with the movie's multilayered and intriguing tale, it succeeds in bringing today's Iranian society into focus in a way few of its predecessors have done.

At the heart of the story are Simin and Nader, an Iranian middle-class couple. When Nader refuses to leave Iran because of his father who suffers from Alzheimer's disease, Simin files for divorce. The couple's separation creates an emotional crisis for them and their teenage daughter.

Silver Bear

The Silver Bear for camera work went to Wojciech Staron

Although there are no direct political references - it is easy to surmise the reason for the middle-class couple's divorce is because Simin - played by Leila Hatami - wants to move abroad.

She wants to find a better future for their 11-year-old child, who in the film is played by Sarina Farhadi, the director's own daughter.

In his acceptance speech Asghar Farhadi paid tribute to fellow Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi, who was unable to accept the festival's invitation to sit on the main jury after being sentenced to six years in jail and banned from making movies or travelling abroad for 20 years.

"I want to remind you of Jafar Panahi," Farhadi said. "I really think his problem will be solved, and I hope he will be the one standing here next year."

Still from The Turin Horse

"The Turin Horse" by Hungarian director Bela Tarr got the Grand Prix Silver Bear

Hungarian film takes Silver

The jury's Grand Prix Silver Bear went to “The Turin Horse,” a work by controversial Hungarian director Bela Tarr that features little dialogue and bears all the hallmarks of his inimitable style, including long takes and black-and-white photography.

Set in 1889, it follows the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche after he is diagnosed with a serious mental illness that makes him bed-ridden and speechless for the last years of his life.

Strong films also came this year from Argentina, including “The Prize,” which received Silver Bears for outstanding achievement for camera work and for production design.

"Absent" directed by Marco Berger received the Teddy Award for best film with gay, lesbian or transgender content.

"The Forgiveness Of Blood," a film which examines the tragic consequences of blood feuds which are still enforced in parts of rural Albania today, won the Silver Bear for Best Script.

Director Andreas Veiel

Director Andreas Veiel

Bears for German Films

Two German films also collected accolades. The prestigious Alfred Bauer Prize went to “If Not Us, Who,” a strong film tracing the origins of left-wing terrorism set in West Germany in the early 1960s and directed by Andres Veiel.

Despite its lack of popularity with critics, director Ulrich Köhler‘s “Sleeping Sickness” a tale of two European doctors on assignment in Cameroon, took home the Silver Bear for Best Director.

Despite being what many observers called an underwhelming year in the competition, Berlinale audiences embraced this year's Golden Bear winner. The work has the potential to engage Western audiences in a way few other films about Iran do.

It is a fitting end to an event that many are dubbing the Iranian Berlinale.

Author: Breandáin O'Shea
Editor: Kyle James

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