The glory of Berlinale

Print edition : March 26, 2004

Charlize Theron in The Monster. She shared the best actress award with Cataline Sandio Moreno in Maria Full of Grace. - BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Most of the films at Berlinale 2004 deal with the problems of immigrants or rootless people.

The Monster. Maria Full of Grace.

BERLINALE 2004 remained true to the festival's tradition of supporting cinema of the innovative kind, which breaks the rules meant for a sector dominated by Hollywood and holds a mirror up to reality. The films selected for competition in the event (February 5 to 15) justified the motto of the festival. Most of them dealt with the problems of immigrants or rootless people.

The Golden Bear went to Fatih Akin's Head On, a film that explored the intellectual roots of the characters more than their biological roots. The strong content has received outstanding treatment, and the young Turkish-born, Hamburg-based film-maker deserves praise for this. The film has artistically blended the multicultural nature of second-generation Turkish immigrants. A tragic love story set in Hamburg and Istanbul, it begins with a fateful encounter in a psychiatric institution where 20-year-old Sibel, desperate to escape her Muslim family to search for her mental roots, has been admitted after a suicide attempt. "I love to experiment with form as much as I like to tell stories," said Akin at a media conference near the main auditorium, Berlinale Palast.

The special jury prize, the Silver Bear, went to Lost Embrace, directed by the Argentinean Daniel Burman. It tells the story of a young Polish immigrant in Buenos Aires searching for his roots and the reason why his father left home. Burman conjures up a little world of engaging characters who pursue their humble dreams, with gentle humour and an infectious generosity of the spirit. A simple film on the surface, Lost Embrace leads towards the construction of an identity with small anecdotes, tragedies and comic events.

Cataline Sandio Moreno-

Hollywood-born Monster was a strong contender for the Golden Bear. Based on the true story of Ailean Wournos, branded by the U.S. media as the `first serial murderess', it depicts Ailean whose love affair with a young woman drives her into the world of prostitution and killing. A high voltage psychodrama, brilliantly shot by director Patty Jenkin, it bagged only the Silver Bear for the best actress for Charlize Theron, who shared it with Cataline Sandio Moreno for her performance in the U.K.-Columbian co-production Maria Full of Grace. Oscar Winning and Hollywood actress France McDormand headed this year's international jury.

Glamour was set to walk hand in hand with politics at this year's event. Hollywood action distracted attention from the serious business of films. However, this year's competition line-up is strong and sober, full of heavy weight auteurs and ambitious and talented newcomers. The dynamic festival director, Dieter Kosslick, pointed to the political content of many of the films in and out of the competition. Three films dealt with the aftermath of bad politics: John Boorman's U.K.-South African co-production The Country of My Skull, an account of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that explored the horrors of apartheid-era oppression; Vinko Bresan's Witness, based on the Serb-Croatian war; and Norwegian Director Hans Petter Moland's Beautiful Country, a human drama based on the Vietnam war.

For agit-prop political cinema, one had to see the documentaries shown in the Panorama section. Worth special mention is Death in Gaza, a film about Palestinian suicide bombers and the hard realities of life in the occupied territories. The director, James Milar, was shot dead by Israeli troops during the making of the film. Travelling With Che Guevara chronicles the journey of Alberto Granado, a friend of Che, through South America. Granada was Che's companion in his original journey through South America, during which they experienced at first hand the plight of the region's rural population.

A scene from Intimate Strangers.-

Intimate Strangers.

Every major film festival has pundits looking for global shifts and new territories. That is the reason why Kosslick spotlighted South Africa and Latin America this year. The economic catastrophe brought about by globalisation, the selling out of an entire continent, and the profoundly harmful effect on social structures are described in all their brutal reality in Memoria del saqueo - A Social Genocide, a documentary by the doyen of Argentine cinema, Fernando E. Solanas. The festival paid a warm tribute to him by awarding him the Honorary Golden Bear, 2004.

In numerical and qualitative terms, Scandinavia was a major presence. There was an outstanding Swedish film, Day Break by Bjorn Runge, in the competition section. A powerful adult drama, the film won for its team of actors a Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution.

The flag of Asian cinema was held high by South Korea, with Kim Ki-Duk being awarded the Silver Bear for the best director for his Samaritan Girl. The announcement came as a surprise to the viewers as two promising films, Patrice Leconte's Intimate Strangers and Theo Angelopoulos' Trilogy: The Weefing Meadow, were left out without any Bears or even a special mention. Leconte's French sentimental thriller begins with a mistaken identity and evolves into something between mystery and desire, a strange ritual created between two characters, a man and a woman, as their strange relationship deepens. Leconte explained: "Directing a film and actors with this in mind is a fascinating exercise."

From Country of My Skull.-

Country of My Skull.

Angelopoulos' Trilogy, a human saga, is set against the backdrop of rootless people. A poetic summing up of the century that just ended, the film traverses through a love affair that challenges time - the story begins in Odessa in 1919 with the entry of the Red Army into the city and ends in present-day New York. Exile, separation, wandering, the end of ideologies and constant trials of history make Trilogy an elegy on human fate.

LAST year Buddhadeb Dasgupta's A Tale of a Naughty Girl was chosen for the opening of the official section, Panorama. But this year, Forum, an independent section of the festival dedicated to innovative and experimental cinema, screened a handful of Indian films, - including the Bollywood blockbuster Kal Ho Na Ho, Sudhir Mishra's Hazaron Khwaishi Aisi, Vishal Bhardwaj's Maqbul and Paris-based Partho Sengupta's maiden venture Hawa Aane De.

Rakesh Sharma's long documentary on the Gujarat communal violence, Final Solution, was also screened in this section. The fact that no Indian film was selected for the competition section suggests that Indian entries sent for selection were not up to the mark. But, strangely, selections for a prestigious section like Forum were done by people who do not know much about India, let alone Indian films? It is a pity that the days of Ulrich Gregor, to whom Indian film-makers are indebted for enabling them to gain access to the international audience through the Forum, are gone. Mrinal Sen, Buddhadeb Dasgupta, Goutam Ghose, Adoor Gopalakrishnan - all owe a lot to the Forum. The last Indian film shown in the Berlinale competition section was Buddhadeb Dasgupta's Charachar in 1994.

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