The 11-day Berlin International Film Festival 2017 Berlinale has come to a close with a star-studded awards ceremony and several surprises on Saturday. The festival showed over 400 feature films, of which 18 were nominated for the main prizes, including the Golden Bear for Best Picture as well as the Silver Bear in categories including best actress, best actor, best screenplay and, new this year, best documentary.
Tipped to win the top prizes this year were a European comedy about refugees, "The Other Side of Hope," and a transgender love story from Chile, "A Fantastic Woman." In the end, however, it was "On Body and Soul," (Teströl és lélekröl), an atmospheric love story that takes place in a Hungarian slaughterhouse, directed by Ildikó Enyedi, that won the Golden Bear for Best Picture.
Director Enyedi, who lives in both Hungary and Germany, began her career as a conceptual artist and made her premiere at Cannes in 1989 with "My twentieth century," which won the festival's Camera d'Or. She has released five feature films since, including "On Body and Soul," which tells the story of a couple who discover they dream the same dream every night.
The first-ever Silver Bear awarded for best documentary went to Palestinian filmmaker Raed Andoni for "Ghost Hunting" (Istiyad Ashbah). The film has former inmates of Israel's main interrogation center recreate their prison live and the humiliation they experienced during their detention.
Although the festival itself tried to steer away from political discussions, both celebrities and filmmakers used the spotlight to sound off about the US president's ban on refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations. A stark contrast to that came in the form of the feature film, "The Other Side of Hope," (Toivon tuolla puolen), which garnered loads of advanced praise.
It recounts the story of Khaled (played by Syrian actor Sherwan Haji), who ends up in remote Finland and strikes up an unlikely friendship with a group of Helsinki eccentrics. Directed by Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki, the movie was cheered as a moving call to conscience on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of people seeking refuge in the West from war and persecution.
Britain's "Daily Telegraph" swooned over the "gorgeous, cuttingly poignant" movie.German newspaper "Die Welt" declared it an instant classic that was "full of warmth" and noted Kaurismaki singled out German Chancellor Angela Merkel's liberal asylum policy for praise. "This film will be watched long after (Syrian President Bashar al-)Assad is history," said reviewer, Barbara Moeller.
The Silver Bear for Best Actress went to the celebrated Kim Minhee for her role in "On the Beach at Night Alone," (Bamui haebyun-eoseo honja), an entry from South Korea. Director Hong Sangsoo picked up on the subject of love's meaning with a story of a woman who travels to Hamburg after having an affair with a married man. The movie was adored by viewers, who found both the acting and the scenic backdrops in Germany and South Korea mesmerizing.
Austria's Georg Friedrich was awarded Best Actor for his role in "Bright Nights" (Helle Nächte), a father-son road trip drama which takes place in Norway during the summer solstice. The actor likewise appeared in another film at the festival, "Wild Mouse," (Wilde Maus). One of the best-known German-language actors, Friedrich was awarded the European Shooting Star in 2004 and has appeared in numerous films since. He's a regular on stage at the Volksbühne Berlin as well.
Taking home the award for Best Screenplay was "A Fantastic Woman," (Una Mujer Fantástica), an entry from Chile's Sebastián Lelio, which was awarded the Teddy Award for the Best LGBT-featured film earlier this week. Many critics had expected lead actress Daniela Vega to be awarded for Best Actress after her knockout performance as a nightclub singer fighting for her right to attend the funeral of her much older lover after his sudden death.
Film industry bible "Variety," said director Lelio had "crafted perhaps the most resonant and empathetic screen testament to the everyday obstacles of transgender existence since Kimberly Peirce's "Boys Don't Cry" in 1999, noting that unlike that film or "The Danish Girl" - both of which scooped Oscars - and TV's acclaimed "Transparent," "A Fantastic Woman" featured a trans actress playing a trans part.
A celebrity jury
Decisions on the awards were made by a seven-member jury, led by Paul Verhoeven ("Basic Instinct", "Elle"), which included US actress Maggie Gyllenhaal ("The Dark Knight") and Mexican director and actor Diego Luna ("Rogue One: A Star Wars Story").
ct/sms (dpa, AFP)