Berlin International Film Festival winners announced
At this year's 61st Berlin International Film Festival, the absence of one Iranian director brought sadness, debate and international attention, but the presence of another ended in victory at the Berlinale's closing ceremony on Saturday evening.
Asghar Farhadi's "Nader and Simin, A Separation" swept multiple categories, taking the Golden Bear for best film, with best actor and actress prizes split among the films' ensemble male and female cast, which included the director's teenage daughter, Sarina.
Iranian director Jafar Panahi, an outspoken foe of the Tehran regime, was to have been a member of the international jury, headed by Isabella Rossellini and which also included Canadian director Guy Maddin, German actress Nina Hoss, Australian producer Jan Chapman, Bollywood star Aamir Khan and British costume designer Sandy Powell. But in December, Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison and banned for 20 years from making films and traveling internationally. His seat on the jury was held open in protest and his presence was felt in screenings and speeches.
Yet on Saturday, Farhadi was the center of attention for his film, an enlightening look at class, gender and religious issues in Iran, set within a globally accessible story of a disintegrating marriage complicated by an elderly parent and hopeful children. Asked at the awards news conference what winning the Golden Bear meant, Farhadi replied, "It means that many more people will have the opportunity to see this film. There's nothing better that can happen to a filmmaker.”
Farhadi was taken to task at the conference by a German-based Iranian journalist for not speaking out politically in support of Panahi at the festival. In response, Farhadi said, "I'm not a hero, I'm a filmmaker. And If I have something to say I express myself through my films."
In addition to its political bent, the Berlinale has a history of honoring challenging but artistic films, which continued this year with a few such selections singled out from the 16 films in competition.
The festival's Jury Grand Prix was awarded to "The Turin Horse" by Hungarian director Béla Tarr. The minimalistic black-and-white film, which Tarr has said will be his last, shows the bleak life of a peasant and his daughter using almost no dialogue and little if any plot. When picking up his Silver Bear award, Tarr bypassed the podium, declining to thank the jury or address the crowd. He did attend the news conference, though without his trophy.
"Words for me are not so nice," Tarr said. "The most important thing is to show you something," he said, referring his film. At the festival Tarr and other filmmakers attempted to draw attention to dramatic cuts in government funding to the Hungarian film industry.
Best director kudos went to Germany's Ulrich Köhler for his "Sleeping Sickness," about disconnected and drifting French and German medical aid workers in Cameroon; its languid pace had festival critics divided. Köhler reminded journalists at the news conference to think of Panahi, saying that, as a fan of the Iranian director's work, he had selfish reasons for wanting Panahi to be free -- so he could make more films.
The Silver Bear for best script went to "The Forgiveness of Blood" by Joshua Marston and Andamion Murataj. Set in Albania, and, said Marston in his acceptance speech, "written from hundreds of conversations with many Albanians," the story explores the generation gap between open-minded and technology-obsessed young people and their stubborn parents, who are caught in a legacy of violent blood feuds over land disputes and slights to family honor. This is Marston's first feature since "Maria Full of Grace."
This year's award for outstanding artistic achievement was split between two winners, each of whom worked on the film "The Prize." Wojciech Staron won for cinematography and Barbara Enriquez for production design for their contributions to director Paula Markovitch's autobiographical story of a girl growing up in a small seaside town in Argentina under fascism.
Germany's "If Not Us, Who," about the origins of the Baader-Meinhof gang, directed by Andreas Veiel, took home the Alfred Bauer Prize awarded to a feature film that "broadens the horizons of the art of filmmaking." This is Veiel's second film tackling the theme of terrorism inside Germany and the Red Army Faction; his first was the 2001 documentary "Black Box BRD."
Both short film winners hailed from South Korea. Park Chan-Wook and Park Chan-Kyong took the Golden Bear for their fantasy film "Night Fishing," shot entirely on on iPhone. The Silver Bear went to Yang Hyo-Joo for "Broken Night," about an unlucky insurance fraudster.
"On the Ice" from Andrew Okpeaha MacLean took the best first feature award, given out by a three-member panel of filmmakers and writers. The film, set in Barrow, Alaska, was filmed in English and the Inuit language Inupiaq, and screened in the festival's Generation section for children and youths; the film also won Generation's Crystal Bear for best film in the 14-plus category.
The Berlinale's Panorama section distributed its audience awards earlier on Saturday. Spanish director Iciar Bollain's satire "Even the Rain," starring Gael Garcia Bernal, was the favorite feature; it is also Spain's foreign-language Oscar contribution. Germany's "In Heaven Underground -- The Weissensee Jewish Cemetery," Britta Wauer's look at the largest Jewish cemetery still in use in Europe, won for best documentary.
On Friday, the Teddy Award for best gay and lesbian film went to "Absent" by Marco Berger, an Argentinian drama about a student manipulating a favorite teacher.
--Susan Stone, reporting from Berlin
Photo: Director Asghar Farhadi with his Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival. Credit: Johannes Eisele / AFP/Getty Images