Berlinale film festival to award top prizes under Covid shadow

The 72nd Berlinale film festival awards its top prizes on Wednesday including its Golden Bear for best picture and a gender-neutral acting gong after a reduced in-person run under the pandemic.

French actress Isabel Huppert receives the Best Actor award at the Berlinale
French actress Isabel Huppert receives the Best Actor award at the Berlinale on February 15th, 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Monika Skolimowska

The 11-day festival, which ranks along with Cannes and Venice among Europe’s top cinema showcases, conducted a shorter competition this year with strict regulations for audiences just as coronavirus infections peaked in Germany.

The Hollywood reporter said that the competition’s “small casts, contained sets and limited location shoots provide a glimpse of a new Covid-era cinema”.

There are 18 films from 15 countries vying for this year’s Golden Bear, which will be awarded at a gala ceremony from a jury led by Indian-born American director M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense”).

The contenders span a range of moods from “Both Sides of the Blade”, a tense French love story directed by Claire Denis and starring Juliette Binoche, to “Robe of Gems”, a gritty Mexican crime mystery.

Critics lavished praise on Binoche for her performance in the French film, where she is caught between two men — her longtime husband Jean and her elusive ex Francois.

READ ALSO: In-person Berlin film fest stands up to pandemic and streaming

‘Dazzlingly accomplished’

The Hollywood Reporter called it a “smart, moody, superbly acted melodrama”, while Britain’s Screen Daily said Binoche and co-star Vincent Lindon, who plays Jean, were “at the top of their game”.

In “Robe of Gems”, writer and director Natalia Lopez Gallardo explores the trauma inflicted on families in Mexico when relatives go missing.

The Guardian called it “dazzlingly accomplished and confident… The film that everyone is talking about this year in Berlin”.

Critics also praised “Before, Now and Then”, a family drama set in 1960s rural Indonesia from Kamila Andini, the first woman from her country to direct a film in competition at the Berlinale.

The Hollywood Reporter said it was a “precisely calibrated” and “emotionally nuanced” film that “both looks and sounds stunning”.

Chinese film “Return to Dust” also impressed with its understated love story between two social outcasts who make the best of an arranged marriage as they build a simple life together in the countryside.

Screen Daily called it 39-year-old director Li Ruijun’s “most affecting and accessible work to date”, saying it “packs a quiet emotional punch”, while US movie news site Deadline noted the “wonderfully atmospheric” rendering of life in bleak rural China.

READ ALSO: Love in the time of corona in focus at Berlin festival

‘Challenging but riveting’

On a rather less understated note, Austrian director Ulrich Seidl served up a dark, sexually explicit drama “Rimini”, which tells the story of a washed-up pop singer who makes his living performing for pensioners and bedding lonely women for money.

Variety called it “challenging but riveting”, while the Guardian said protagonist Richie Bravo was “so horrible he may be brilliant”.

Also exploring questionable sexual escapades, “That Kind of Summer” from Canadian director Denis Cote follows three women on a summer retreat for sex addicts as they attempt to make peace with their demons.

Deadline said it was “entertaining” but “it remains unclear what (Cote) wants to discover or tell us about these unreformed Lolitas”.

Director Denis Cote gives a press conference in Berlin

Director Denis Cote gives a press conference in Berlin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Another contender for the top prize is Andreas Dresen’s “Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W. Bush”, the true story of a mother’s battle to bring her son back from Guantanamo Bay.

Spanish film “One Year, One Night” also reconstructs real-life events as it focuses on a young couple who survived the 2015 attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris.

Elsewhere, Charlotte Gainsbourg was feted for her performance as a single mother in 1980s Paris in the Mikhael Hers drama “The Passengers of the Night”.

And Michael Koch’s meditation on death and loss set in the Alps, “A Piece of Sky”, was hailed by Deadline as “both beautifully made and a thing of beauty in itself”.

By Femke Colborne

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Munich gives Russian maestro ultimatum over Ukraine

Acclaimed Russian conductor Valery Gergiev on Friday was told to speak out against Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine or risk losing his job as chief conductor of the Munich Philharmonic.

Munich gives Russian maestro ultimatum over Ukraine

Gergiev, known for his warm ties with the Kremlin, had already faced pressure from other arts institutions wary of working with him since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on Thursday.

“I have made my position clear to Gergiev and also called on him to clearly and unequivocally distance himself from the brutal war of aggression that Putin is waging against Ukraine,” Munich mayor Dieter Reiter said in a statement.

“Should Gergiev not have clearly taken a stance by Monday, he can no longer remain chief conductor of our Philharmonic Orchestra,” Reiter said.

As well as being the principal conductor in Munich since 2015, Gergiev is also the chief of the Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg.

He has not yet spoken publicly regarding Moscow’s offensive, but he has proven fiercely loyal to the Russian president in the past, allying with him on  the annexation of Crimea and a law aimed at stifling LGBT rights activists in Russia.

Gergiev has also faced pressure to speak out in Milan, where he is currently leading Tchaikovsky’s “The Queen of Spades” at the Teatro alla Scala.

If he doesn’t, “the collaboration will be over,” Italian media quoted Milan’s mayor as saying.

He was also suddenly dropped on Thursday from concerts where he was due to lead the Vienna Philharmonic at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

A spokesperson for the prestigious venue told AFP the decision had been taken “due to recent world events”.