Berlin Film Festival: Top award goes to Italian prison documentary


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The Berlin International Film Festival handed out its awards Saturday, awarding the top prize, the Golden Bear, to ‘Caesar Must Die’ (“Cesare Deve Morire”) from octogenarian filmmaking brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani.

The crowd- and critic-pleasing scripted documentary follows inmates at a high-security prison in Rome as they rehearse for a public performance of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” Accepting their award, the Taviani brothers greeted and named their behind-bars stars by name, and gave thanks for “the sublime words of Shakespeare.” The filmmakers have previously won a Palme d´Or and the Grand Prix du Jury in Cannes, and have also been honored with a Golden Lion for Career Achievement at the Venice Film Festival.


“Csak a szél” (“Just The Wind”) by Bence Fliegauf won the Jury Grand Prize Silver Bear. The intense realist drama is inspired by an actual series of hate-crime murders in Hungary; the film also won two independent jury prizes, the Peace Film Award and the Amnesty International Film Prize.

This year’s jury, which included Jake Gyllenhaal, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Iranian director Asghar Farhadi, also took the unusual step of inventing a new prize for the occasion. “When there are so many films, and so few awards, there is sometimes an excellent film that doesn’t quite make the final selection. So strongly does the jury of the 62nd Berlinale feel about one such film that we have decided to award a special mention,” said Jury President Mike Leigh, presenting a Special Award Silver Bear to Ursula Meier for her film “L’enfant d’en haut” (‘Sister’). Set behind the scenes in a Swiss ski resort, the story focuses on a young boy who survives by stealing from well-off holiday-goers, supporting his sister, with whom he has a rather complicated relationship.

Germany’s Christian Petzold won a Silver Bear for best director for “Barbara.” Set in 1980s East Germany, the film is part thriller and part quiet personal drama.

This year’s Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution singled out cinematographer Lutz Reitemeier for his work on the Chinese film “Bai lu yuan” (“White Deer Plain”) directed by Wang Quan’an, which is full of golden landscapes of grain, and beautiful but desolate vistas.

“Tabu,” an unconventional black-and-white film from Portuguese director Miguel Gomes, received the Alfred Bauer Prize, awarded to a feature film that ‘broadens the horizons of the art of filmmaking.’ Gomes and countryman João Salaviza, whose film “Rafa” got the Golden Bear for Short Film, took their opportunity on stage to draw attention to what they see as a lack of support for the film industry in their country.

The Silver Bear for best script went to Nikolaj Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg for “En Kongelig Affære” (“A Royal Affair”). Arcel also directed the historical Danish drama, which boasted fellow Dane Lars von Trier as an executive producer. One of the film’s stars, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard, took home the top acting prize for playing the immature and irresponsible King Christian VII.


Best actress kudos went to 15-year-old Rachel Mwanza for her performance as a child soldier in “Rebelle” (“War Witch”) from Canadian director Kim Nguyen. Mwanza lived on the street in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo before being discovered by Nguyen and cast in his film, along with other amateur actors.

Many of the feted films have already picked up distributors for North America. Adopt Films acquired U.S. rights for “Caesar Must Die” and ‘Sister.’ Magnolia will bring “A Royal Affair” stateside.

Other prize-winning films include “The Great Rabbit” by Atsushi Wade, with a short film Silver Bear, “Kauwboy,” by Boudewijn Koole, which won for best first feature, a prize endowed by German film industry group GWFF. Earlier Saturday, “Kauwboy” also won a Crystal Bear from the Generations section, which focuses on films for young people. Other Crystal Bear winners include “Gattu” from Indian film director Rajan Khosa and the American independent film “Arcadia,” directed by Olivia Silver, which took home the top prize in the section for best feature.


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-- Susan Stone in Berlin