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    57th Berlin International Film Festival – Berlinale 2007

    By Ron Holloway | August 27, 2008

    Now in his sixth year as director of the 57th Berlin International Film Festival, Dieter Kosslick takes particular pride in changing the image of the festival each time around. This year, for the 57th Berlinale (8-18 February 2007), he expanded the European Film Market (EFM) beyond the environs of the roomy Martin Gropius Bau, a short three-minute walk from festival headquarters on the Potsdamer Platz.

    “Last year, we offered buyers and sellers 5000 square meters of space in the Gropius Bau,” Kosslick said in an interview, “but this year every nook and cranny of the building couldn’t accommodate all of the market professionals who requested stands.” So, to handle the overflow, the fifth floor of the Berlinale Service Center in the debis atrium was reserved for latecomers. Altogether, more than 5000 market professionals were accredited for the Berlinale, while over 250 films from 51 countries were programmed in 1100 screenings.

    Walk across the street from the Martin Gropius Bau to the Abgeordenetenhaus von Berlin (Berlin Parliament House), and you would find national delegates from the European Union gathered for roundtable sessions at the Berlinale Co-Production Market. Jump in a shuttle bus, and you could visit the Berlinale Talent Campus quartered in the nearby Hebbel am Ufer (HAU) complex. Next year, when renovations have been completed on the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (House of World Cultures) in Tiergarten Park, the Berlinale Talent Campus will move back to its natural habitat. The Campus is one of the Berlinale’s success stories. Its strategy of providing a creative platform for film students, by exposing them to lectures and workshops by professionals visiting the festival, has already been effectively exported to India, where it prospers as an integral part of the Cinefan festival in New Delhi.


    A key festival innovation this year was the change in the name and scope of the traditional Children and Youth Film Festival. Now titled “Generation,” the section couples the former Kinderfilmfest (Children’s Film Festival) with the newly established 14plus (Youth Film Program). As far back as 1978, the Berlinale had been awarding prizes to entries in the Children’s Film Festival. Then, in 2004, the sheer growth of the festival section required a separate competition for the secondary 14plus Youth Film Festival. Now called Kplus and 14plus under the new Generation title, the section welcomed an estimated audience of over 40,000 to four spacious venues scattered across the city.

    A second innovation was prompted by the Eckart Witzigmann Prize, awarded to Dieter Kosslick by the German Academy for Culinary Studies. Kosslick responded to this personal honor by launching a new festival section titled Celebrating Culinary Cinema – Eat, Drink, See Movies in the Kino venue of the Martin Gropius Bau. Among the series of ten films dealing with the culinary art were two new documentaries: Les Blank and Gina Lebrecht’s documentary All in This Tea (USA, 2007) and Doris Dörrie’s How to Cook Your Life (Germany, 2007). On the culinary side were on-the-spot menus by five of Berlin’s top restaurant chefs.

    Still another innovation was Magnum in Motion – a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the founding of the legendary photographer agency. The festival screened 33 films by and about Magnum photographers in the Zeughauskino of the German Historical Museum. A dozen Magnum photographers and filmmakers showed for the anniversary event. In addition, there was an exhibition in the Camera Work gallery of Berlin photos taken by Magnum photographers between 1946 and 2006. Alone the Magnum photos taken of Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable by Eve Arnold during the 1960 filming of John Huston’s The Misfits (USA, 1961) were a cineastic attraction.

    Berlinale Bears

    Wang Quan’an’s fiction-documentary Tu ya de hun shi (Tuya’s Marriage) (China, 2007) was awarded the Golden Bear, in addition to the Ecumenical Jury Prize. Set in rural Mongolia, Tuya’s Marriage mirrors the plight of nomadic shepherds whose way of life is threatened by government plans to move them to urban shelters. When Tuya is requested by her invalid husband to divorce him and marry another, she reluctantly views this as a possibility to care for her man she loves, feed their children, and remain on the steppes. The decision only hastens the breakdown of the family.

    For the third time in a row, the Silver Bear for Best Actress was awarded to a German thespian: Nina Hoss in Christian Petzold’s Yella (Germany, 2007) follows Sandra Hüller in Hans-Christian Schmid’s Requiem (Germany, 2006) and Julia Jentsch in Marc Rothemund’s Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage (Sophie Scholl – The Last Days) (Germany, 2005). As refined as her performance is, much of the credit for her cool, icy, distant performance as an accomplice in ruthless venture capital schemes belongs to her director. This is the third time Christian Petzold has starred Nina Hoss in his psycho-thrillers, after Toter Mann (Dead Man) (Germany, 2001) and Wolfsburg (Germany, 2002). Yella, shot in Hannover and Wittenberge on the Elbe (formerly the border between East and West Germanys), scores as the best German film of the current season.

    Overlooked for a Berlinale Bear, Stefan Ruzowitzky’s Die Fälscher (The Counterfeiters) (Austria/Germany, 2006) stars Karl Markovics and August Diehl as an opposing pair of adept counterfeiters, one a thief with principles and the other a political idealist, in the Sachsenhausen prison camp during the last years of the Second World War. Based loosely on a true story about a Nazi plan to flood the money market with fake American dollars and British pounds in order to cripple the economies of the Allies, The Counterfeiters deserves praise as a psychological thriller offering an entirely different perspective to the Holocaust.

    Hollywood Highlights

    Some American films were critical hits at the Berlinale. Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd (USA, 2006), awarded the Silver Bear for Individual Artistic Contribution on the part of the ensemble cast, proposes to tell the behind-the-scenes story of the founding of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), one of the most powerful secret services in the world and particularly active during the Cold War years as adversary of the Soviet KGB. Scripted by Eric Roth – he penned Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump (USA, 1994) and Steven Spielberg’s Munich (USA, 2005) – the project reportedly went through several rewrite versions and directorial changes before reaching the Berlinale in its truncated version.

    Two American films running out-of-competition might easily have contended as favorites for the Golden Bear: Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima (USA, 2006) and Paul Schrader’s The Walker (USA/UK, 2006). Letters from Iwo Jima, in contrast to Eastwood’s Flags of Our Fathers (USA, 2006) pays tribute to Japanese general Tadamichi Kuribayashi, an intellectual who was well acquainted with the United States through travels and thus managed to delay defeat by a month on this volcanic island, although at a horrendous cost of 20,000 Japanese lives. The Walker, starring Woody Harrelson as a middle-aged gay version of Richard Gere’s male prostitute in Schrader’s American Gigolo (USA, 1979), sketches an intriguing portrait of haut-culture ambivalence at a Washington canasta club frequented by aristocratic ladies of the past and present.

    Thespian Triumphs

    Acting performances were the icing on the Berlinale cake. Awarded the Grand Jury Prize, Ariel Rotter’s El otro (The Other) (Argentine/France/Germany, 2007) also merited Julio Chavez the Silver Bear for Best Actor. The story of a business man who assumes the identity of a dead man in order to get away from his own humdrum existence, the impersonator’s journey into his inner self turns out in the end to be more than he can handle. Ivan Barney is a standout as the suave waiter and later savvy hotelier in Jiri Menzel’s Obsluhoval jsem anglickeho krale (I Served the King of England) (Czech Republic/Slovakia, 2006), another of the director’s patented adaptations of Bogomil Hrabal novels, this one spanning Czech history from the 1930s up to the present. I Served the King of England was awarded a FIPRESCI (International Critics) Prize.

    As a hand-sex artist in a London porno club in Sam Garbarski’s Irina Palm (Belgium/Germany/Luxembourg/UK/France, 2007), Marianne Faithfull gives an exceptionally nuanced performance that is both hilariously funny and warmly sympathetic, for the grandmother has accepted this lucrative job in order to pay for her grandson’s medical bills. And Marion Cotillard’s insightful interpretation of the personality of the legendary Edith Piaf is the primary reason why Olivier Dahan’s La Môme (La vie en rose) (France/UK/Czech Republic, 2007) was given a standing ovation at the opening night gala.

    Citations for Directors

    The Silver Bear for Best Director went to Josef Cedar for Beaufort (Israel, 2007), the story of the last days of an 18-year occupation of Beaufort Fortress in Libanon. The departure of Israeli troops in May of 2000 necessitated the destruction of the symbolic fort as the Israeli army retreated under fire. Cedar, who studied cinema at New York University and philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, crafted Beaufort more as a psychological drama than as a war film. Awarded the Peace Prize, Bille August’s Goodbye Bafana (Germany/France/Belgium/UK/Italy/South Africa, 2007) reviews the prison years of Nelson Mandela on Robben Island during the apartheid years at the end of the 1960s, the story told through the eyes of an Afrikaner warder who spoke the language of the prisoners.

    Unfortunately overlooked for an award, Saverio Costanzo’s In memoria di me (In Memory of Myself) (Italy, 2007) delves deep into the existential universe of the cloister in which every word and gesture takes on meaning in the light of faith and belief. In In Memory of Myself we follow the path taken by a young novice (Christo Jivkov) from entrance into the monastery until his departure, the account more a personal journey than a study of the religious order itself. Costanzo apparently is fascinated by “border” conditions. His previous feature film Private (Italy, 2004), set inside a Palestinian residence occupied by Israeli soldiers bent on driving the family out of their home, was awarded at the Locarno film festival.

    Forum in Top Form

    Several German-language entries in the 37th International Forum of New Cinema confirmed that creative voices are increasingly evident in the cinemas of Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Ann-Kristin Reyels’s Jagdhunde (Hounds) (Germany, 2007), an accomplished feature film debut, is set in snow-covered Uckermark just north of Berlin and stunningly lensed by cinematographer Florian Foest. Hounds comes across as a metaphorical statement on family disorientation in which losers try to pick up the pieces over the Christmas holidays. The film takes on emotional depth in the tender relationship between a deaf girl and a callow youth who has just moved into a farmhouse with his father, a dreamer with plans to turn the barn on his property into a wedding hotel!

    Ulrike Ottinger’s documentary Prater (Austria/Germany, 2007), a half-decade in the making, chronicles over the past century and more the attractions that contributed to the rise and fall of the world’s oldest amusement park. Located in the center of Vienna, and known to cineastes mostly because of the giant Ferris Wheel scenes in Carol Reed’s The Third Man (UK, 1951), Prater comes to life first with some quaint shots from the silent and early sound era, accompanied by interviews with eyewitnesses, then takes on a life of its own in the varied freak shows, dance contests, rollercoaster rides, parachute jumps, spook houses, tests of strength, and numerous other attractions. Prater is one of those films you want to see again.

    Stefan Schwietert’s Heimatklänge (Echoes of Home) (Switzerland/Germany, 2007) is more a poem than a documentary. Schwietert assembles musicians and nonprofessionals from the Swiss and Austrian Alps who share a passion for mountain singing. They yodel, warble, even hum from the top of the Alps, where the valleys below serve as a kind of natural echo chamber. After becoming acquainted with the individuals who share this passion for Alpine singing, their voices enchant all the more as an exotic experience. Echoes of Home is a rare viewing pleasure.

    Balkan Stories

    Srdjan Golubovic’s Klopka (The Trap) (Serbia/Germany/Hungary, 2007) drew broad critical praise as one of the highlights in the Forum program. In this absorbing story of a good man who turns bad, an honest laborer agrees to a hitman contract in order to earn the money for an operation to save the life of his young son. The reasons for his acceptance are augmented by the misery of social conditions in Belgrade, affected by both gang wars and political corruption, thus allowing for an easy link to underworld forces. The Trap was scripted by the talented Srdjan Koljevic, whose screenplays have helped significantly to maintain a quality standard in Serbian cinema.

    Ognjen Svilicic’s Armin (Croatia/Germany/Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2007), directed by the same Croatian filmmaker who had successfully presented his poignant family comedy Oprosti za Kung Fu (Sorry for Kung Fu) (Croatia, 2004) at the Forum two years ago, delighted his audience again with another quiet tongue-in-cheek tale cut from the everyday lives of little people in the Balkans. The 14-year-old Armin dreams of playing a role in the movies, so why not audition for a German film about the Bosnian war. But the trip with his father from their small town in Bosnia Herzegovina by bus to Zagreb is apparently doomed when the bus breaks down en route. One mishap leads to another as the father valiantly tries to save his son’s burgeoning career against odds that can only be imagined.

    Asian Dreams

    Two Japanese entries in the Forum were exceptional. In Kazuhiro Soda’s amusing political documentary Senkyo (Campaign) (Japan, 2007), shot in the tradition of “direct cinema” pioneered by American documentary filmmaker Robert Drew (Primary, USA, 1960), follows the campaign route of a naive newcomer in the Liberal Democratic Party who wants badly to win a seat in the Tokyo City Council back in 2005. In Campaign the candidate is plagued by his own stumbling efforts and unexpected humorous twists every step of the way. In the end, however, he does win his seat, although the vote count was a cliff-hanger through most of election night.

    Ichijiku no kao (Faces of a Fig Tree) (Japan, 2006), popular actress Momoi Kaori’s first venture in the director’s seat, explores the thin line between fantasy and reality. The setting is a small family house with a fig tree in the courtyard that fails to blossom and bear fruit. As the title hints, the motif of the fig tree reflects the destinies of the four family members. The father, who works a mysterious night job, dies on the construction site, and the mother later remarries. The daughter becomes pregnant from a man she hardly knows and bears a baby girl, to the delight of the new family circle. Meanwhile, some ants in an animation sequence comment on the goings-on with the same inquisitive questions that viewers might also raise. Faces of a Fig Tree shared the Netpac (Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema) Prize.

    The other half of the Netpac Prize in the Forum was awarded to Auraeus Solito’s Tuli (Philippines, 2007), awarded Best Film and Best Director at the 2007 CineManila festival but still questionable as to whether it will be released uncut in the Philippines. Set in a rural village, where the traditional circumcision rite on young boys is unwillingly carried out by a young woman, the girl rebels by flaunting a lesbian relationship and opting to get pregnant by the only uncircumcised lad in the community. A poetic film with exotic-erotic nuances, Tuli comes across in the closing scene as a prolonged dream sequence.

    Kihachi Okamoto Retrospective

    The Forum played its trump car with a stunning 9-film retrospective honoring the late Kihachi Okamoto (1924-2005) in the presence of his producer wife Minako. Introduced last November with restored prints in a 12-film retrospective at the Filmex festival in Tokyo, the series embraces a wide range of styles and themes explored by a nonconformist director in the employ of the Toho Studio from the late 1950s to the late 1960s. Admittedly influenced by the cinema of John Ford and Howard Hawks, as well as the spaghetti Westerns of Leone and Carbucci, Okamoto fashioned his own version of the Samurai era in such mainstream hits as Daibosatsu toge (The Sword of Doom) (Japan, 1966), Kiru (Kill) (Japan, 1968), and Akage (Red Lion) (Japan, 1969). Each of these films starred popular Samurai actors Toshiro Mifune and Tatsuya Nakadai in familiar roles but with ironic twists to set them apart from the contemporary Samurai films of Akira Kurosawa.

    Just as important was Okamoto’s indictment of the military in his war films: Dokuritsu gurentai (Desperado Outpost) (Japan, 1959), Nihon no ichiban nagai hi (The Emperor and a General) (Japan, 1967), and Nikudan (Human Bullet) (Japan, 1968), the last named a low-budget venture produced by his wife and shot in 16mm. And his films on political corruption, gang warfare, and social mores in postwar Japan – Ankokugai no taiketsu (The Last Gunfight) (Japan, 1960), Jigoku no utage (Procurer of Hell) (Japan, 1961), Edburiman shi no yuga na seikatsu (The Elegant Life of Mr. Everyman) (Japan, 1963) – leave no doubt as to whose ethical rights he defended. As Forum programmer Christoph Terhechte noted in his introduction, the “Kihachi touch” stood for “originality, elegance, a wealth of ideas, and a lack of respect for cinematic convention.” Deserving praise for a rediscovered Japanese master.

    City Girls

    Rainer Rother, the new head of the Berlin Film Museum, programmed City Girls as the cornerstone of the Berlinale Retrospective. The focus, of course, was on starlets of the silent screen. To wit: Clara Bow in Clarence Badger’s It (USA, 1927), who graced the cover of the retrospective catalogue, Marion Davies in King Vidor’s The Patsy (USA, 1928), Greta Garbo in Clarence Brown’s Flesh and the Devil (USA, 1927), Louise Brooks in Frank Tuttle’s Love ’Em and Leave ’Em (USA, 1926), and Gloria Swanson in Cecil B. DeMille’s Why Change Your Wife? (USA, 1920). The hit of the retro? Have you ever seen Asta Nielson in the recently discovered and color-restored Hamlet (Germany, 1921), codirected by Svend Gade and Heinz Schall? The Danish prince is played by a Danish screen star – a rare instance in which Hamlet is interpreted by an actress. Modern film music has been composed for the premiere by Michael Riessler and the Solisten-Ensemble.


    International Jury
    Golden Bear
    Tu ya de hun shi (Tuya’s Marriage) (China), dir Wang Quan’an
    Silver Bear, Grand Jury Prize
    El otro (The Other) (Argentine/France/Germany), dir Ariel Rotter
    Silver Bear, Best Director
    Joseph Cedar, Beaufort (Israel)
    Silver Bear, Best Actress
    Nina Hoss, Yella (Germany), dir Christian Petzold
    Silver Bear, Best Actor
    Julio Chavez, El otro (The Other) (Argentine/France/Germany), dir Ariel Rotter
    Silver Bear, Individual Artistic Contribution
    Ensemble cast, The Good Shepherd (USA), dir Robert De Niro
    Silver Bear, Best Film Music
    David Mackenzie, Hallam Foe (UK), dir David Mackenzie
    Alfred Bauer Prize, Film of Particular Innovation
    Sai bo gu ji man gwen chan a (I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK) (Republic of Korea), dir Park Chan-wook

    First Feature Award Jury
    Best First Feature Award – Generation 14plus
    Vanaja (India/USA), dir Rajnesh Domalpalli

    International Short Film Jury
    Golden Bear, Short Film
    Raak (Contact) (Netherlands), dir Hanro Smitsman
    Silver Bear, Short Film – ex aequo
    Decroche (Pick-Up) (France), dir Manuel Schapira
    Mei (Taiwan/USA), dir Arvin Chen
    Prix UIP Berlin
    Rotten Apple (UK), dir Ralitza Petrova
    DAAD Short Film Award
    Annem sinema ögreniyor (My Mother Learns Cinema) (Turkey), dir Nesimi Yetik

    Independent Juries

    FIPRESCI (International Critics) Jury
    Obsluhoval jsem anglickeho krale (I Served the King of England) (Czech Republic/Slovakia), dir Jiri Menzel
    Takva (Takva – A Man’s Fear of God) (Turkey/Germany), dir Özer Kiziltan
    Jagdhunde (Hounds) (Germany), dir Ann-Kristin Reyels

    Ecumenical Jury
    Tu ya de hun shi (Tuya’s Marriage) (China), dir Wang Quan’an
    Luo ye gui gen (Getting Home) (Hongkong/China), dir Zhang Yang
    Chrigu (Switzerland), dir Jan Gassmann, Christian Ziörjen

    Prize of Guild of German Art House Cinemas
    Hallam Foe (UK), dir David Mackenzie

    C.I.C.A.E. Jury (International Confederation of Art House Cinemas)
    The Bubble (Israel), dir Eytan Fox
    Heimatklänge (Echoes Of Home) (Switzerland/Germany), dir Stefan Schwietert

    Label Europa Cinemas
    El Camino de los Ingleses (Summer Rain) (Spain/UK), dir Antonio Banderas

    Amnesty International Award
    När Mörkret Faller (When Darkness Falls) (Sweden/Germany), dir Anders Nilsson

    Peace Film Award
    Goodbye Bafana (Germany/France/Belgium/UK/Italy/South Africa), dir Bille August

    NETPAC (Network for Promotion of Asian Cinema) Prize
    Tuli (Philippines), dir Auraeus Solito
    Ichijiku no kao (Faces of a Fig Tree) (Japan), dir Momoi Kaori

    Caligari Prize
    Kurz davor ist es passiert (It happened Just Before) (Austria), dir Anja Salomonowitz
    Special Mention
    Wolfsbergen (Netherlands/Belgium), dir Nanouk Leopold

    Dialogue en Perspective Award
    Perspektive Deutsches Kino
    Prinzessinnenbad (Pool of Princesses), dir Bettina Blümner
    Special Mention
    Hotel Very Welcome, dir Sonja Heiss

    Femina Film Prize
    Bettina Böhler, for editing Yella (Germany), dir Christian Petzold


    Panorama Short Film Award
    Tes cheveau noirs Ihsan (Your Dark Hair Ihsan) (USA), dir Tala Hadid
    Special Mention
    Love This Time (Australia), dir Rhys Graham
    Prix UIP Berlin
    Rotten Apple (UK), dir Ralitza Petrova
    Panorama Audience Award
    Blindsight (UK), dir Lucy Walker
    Manfred Salzgeber Award
    The Tracey Fragments (Canada), dir Bruce McDonald
    Special Mention
    Boldog uj elet (Happy New Life) (Hungary), by Arpad Bogdan

    Teddy Awards
    Feature film
    Ci-Qing (Spider Lilies) (Taiwan), dir Zero Chou
    Special Mention
    La León (Argentine/France), dir Santiago Otheguy
    Documentary – Forum
    A Walk Into The Sea: Danny Williams And The Warhol Factory (USA), dir Esther B. Robinson
    Special Teddy
    Helmut Berger
    Teddy Ballot Volkswagen Audience Award – Competition
    Notes On A Scandal (USA/UK), dir Richard Eyre

    Generation Juries Prizes

    Children’s Jury Generation Kplus
    Crystal Bear, Best Feature Film
    Dek Hor (Dorm) (Thailand), dir Songyos Sugmakanan
    Special Mention
    Mukhsin (Malaysia), dir Yasmin Ahmad
    Crystal Bear, Best Short Film
    Menged (Ethiopia/Germany), dir Daniel Taye Workou
    Special Mention
    Land gewinnen (Gaining Ground) (Germany), dir Marc Brummund
    Generation 14plus Jury
    Crystal Bear, Best Feature Film
    Adama Meshuga’at (Sweet Mud) (Israel/germany/France/Japan), dir Dror Shaul
    Special Mention
    The Fall (USA/UK/India), dir Tarsem Singh
    International Jury
    Grand Prize, Best Feature Film
    Mukhsin (Malaysia), dir Yasmin Ahmad
    Special Prize, Best Short Film
    Land gewinnen (Gaining Ground) (Germany), dir Marc Brummund
    Special Mention
    Drengen i kufferten (Having A Brother) (Denmark), dir Esben Toft Jacobsen

    Tagesspiegel Readers Award – Forum
    Heimatklänge (Echoes Of Home) (Switzerland/Germany), dir Stefan Schwietert
    Berliner Morgenpost Readers Award – Competition
    Irina Palm (Belgium/Germany/Luxembourg/UK/France), dir Sam Garbarski
    Siegessäule Readers Award – Panorama
    The Bubble (Israel), dir Eytan Fox

    Berlinale Talent Campus Award
    Volkswagen Score Competition
    Ilja Coric
    Berlin Today Award
    Wasserschlacht – The Great Border Battle, Kasia Klimkiewicz (Poland), Andrew Friedman (USA)

    Berlinale Camera Awards
    Gianni Mina (Italy)
    Marta Meszaros (Hungary)
    Dorothea Moritz (Germany)
    Ron Holloway (USA)

    Arthur Penn
    Kihachi Okamoto
    Magnum in Motion

    – Ron Holloway

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