I saw fewer Competition films than usual at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, having drawn much of my viewing schedule around other sections of the vast programme — after all, with almost 200 feature films jostling for your attention, you simply have to accept that you’re going to end up missing a lot of worthwhile stuff. And so it is that I must make the admission that no Berlinale journalist ever wants to make: I haven’t seen the winner of the Golden Bear.
I had a feeling that missing Romanian director Calin Peter Netzer’s film “Child’s Pose,” about a wealthy, fiercely driven mother playing the system to wrangle her adult son out of a murder charge, was going to haunt me one way or another — one of the few Competition films to generate across-the-board critical approval, it seemed at the very least a strong Best Actress contender for Romanian veteran Luminita Gheorghiu. I’d missed the screening to catch up with another Competition buzz title, “Gloria” — which, as it turned out, won Best Actress instead — and never found a suitable gap in my diary for the Romanian film. Festival scheduling is like Jenga that way.
So it goes. As it stands, “Child’s Pose,” while hardly a sensation equivalent to “A Separation” two years ago, appears to be a popular Golden Bear winner, further underlining the rude health of the Romanian film industry these days — it’s the first of the country’s films to take top honors at one of the European majors since “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” won the Cannes Palme d’Or in 2007, but there have been plenty of festival hits in between. Romania even earned a place on the Academy’s foreign-language shortlist for the first time in December — might “Child’s Pose” be their submission this year?
Meanwhile, a former foreign Oscar champ was the second-biggest winner tonight: Bosnian filmmaker Danis Tanovic won all manner of prizes for “No Man’s Land” in 2001, but has struggled to regain that level of approval with his subsequent films.
I didn’t think his latest, the rather forbiddingly titled “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker,” was particularly special, but Wong Kar-wai’s jury evidently disagreed, handing it the Grand Jury Prize, as well as Best Actor for non-professional lead Nazif Mujic. Mujic quite literally plays himself in the film, a narrative-documentary hybrid about a disenfranchised Romany family facing a mounting medical crisis. It’s well-intentioned and well-crafted, but I thought rather unilluminating, skating close to poverty-porn territory, but I’m not surprised the jury was so moved; I’ll write about it in more detail in tomorrow’s festival wrap.
Another film I’ll review at greater length soon was, for me, the night’s most surprising winner — and a pleasant surprise at that. Sundance holdovers tend merely to make up the numbers at Berlin, but David Gordon Green’s sweetly melancholy buddy movie “Prince Avalanche” charmed the jury enough to win Best Director for the American auteur — an award that effectively welcomes the indie prince back from the mainstream wilderness of “The Sitter” and “Your Highness.” After missing it at Sundance last month, I was mostly won over by this low-key return. It’ll be interesting to see if the film’s awards trail begins or ends here.
I’ve already written at length about Sebastien Lelio’s “Gloria,” which took a richly deserved Best Actress prize for Paulina Garcia. The film has been picked up for US distribution by Roadside Attractions, so this will certainly not be the last you hear of it. I also got a chance to interview Lelio on my last day at the fest; keep an eye out for that.
Below, all the Competition jury awards, with a selection of other key prizes. The full list of Berlinale awards from its multiple sections runs into next week, but you can check it out at the festival website here.
COMPETITION JURY AWARDS
Golden Bear: “Child’s Pose,” Calin Peter Netzer
Grand Jury Prize: “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker,” Danis Tanovic
Alfred Bauer Prize for Innovation: “Vic + Flo Saw a Bear,” Denis Cote
Silver Bear (Best Director): David Gordon Green, “Prince Avalanche”
Best Actress: Paulina Garcia, “Gloria”
Best Actor: Nazif Mujic, “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker”
Outstanding Artistic Contribution: Azaiz Zhambakiyev (cinematographer), “Harmony Lessons”
Best Screenplay: “Closed Curtain,” Jafar Panahi
Special Mention for Golden Bear: “Layla Fourie,” Pia Marais; “Promised Land,” Gus Van Sant
FIPRESCI Award (Competition): “Child’s Pose,” Calin Peter Netzer
FIPRESCI Award (Panorama): “Inch’Allah,” Anais Barbeau-Lavette
FIPRESCI Award (Forum): “Helio Oiticica,” Cesar Oiticica Filho
Ecumenical Jury Prize (Competition): “Gloria,” Sebastian Lelio
Ecumenical Jury Prize (Special Mention): “An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker,” Danis Tanovic
Ecumenical Jury Prize (Documentary): “The Act of Killing,” Joshua Oppenheimer
Teddy Award (Feature Film): “In the Name Of,” Malgoska Szumowska
Teddy Award (Documentary): “Bambi,” Sebastien Lifshitz
Teddy Award (Jury Award): “Concussion,” Stacie Passon
Best Debut Feature: “The Rocket,” Kim Mordaunt
Special Mention for Best Debut Feature: “The Battle of Tabato,” Joao Viana
Golden Bear for Short Film: “The Runaway,” Jean-Bernard Marlin
Silver Bear for Short Film: “Die Ruhe bleibt,” Stefan Kriekhaus