Berlinale Film Festival: Post-game wrap-up

By Angelika Jansen

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What a let down â?? the Potsdamer Platz void of filmstars, wannabe stars and press! The 60th Berlinale (February 11-21, 2010) is over, but memories remain of a gigantic birthday celebration with decent movies and huge crowds. Almost 30,0000 tickets were sold, 400 films shown, and all movie theatres were filled to the brim. It was an immense economic success, for Berlin at large and for the Berlinale in particular. But as for the festival's artistic excellence â?? the critics were of mixed opinion. Too many films and too many bows to too many economic and political sides. Too much turned out to be too little for a festival that is the largest in Europe and strives to become an artistic equal to Cannes.

The obvious bow to Asia, choosing the Chinese film Tuan Yuan (Apart Together) as the opening film and Otutu (About Her Brother) by the Japanese director Yoji Yamada, as the big finale, left most critics wondering. It was especially puzzling, since “Tuan Yuan” ended up with the Silver Bear for Best Screen Play.

Although the Far-Eastern sensibilities remained alien to the German public, (1) the conflict between Islam and Western realities, as seen in “Shahada” and “On The Path” and (2) adjustments of prisoners released to the “normal” world as evidenced by Florian Serban's Silver Bear winner, If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle and the German Heisenberg movie The Robber were the grand themes of the Berlinale.

The big prize however, the Golden Bear for Best Movie within the Competition, went to the German/Turkish co-production “Bal” by Semi Kaplanoğlu. It is the last film in a trilogy about the poet Ysuf, a lyrical quest of a little boy in search of his father whom he imagines more and more to be the prophet. The father is absent since he has to find another means to provide for his family, since his bees have died due to the environmental changes caused by the building of a power plant. With this film, the jury with Werner Herzog at the helm was able to choose a production equally strong as a moving symbol of the eternal human search for happiness as well as drawing attention to badly planned technological progress destroying human habitats.

The USA did not fare well in the festival. Noah Baumbach's Greenberg got a tepid reception, nothing else. Only one of the lesser prizes, the Teddy Award for Best Film went to Lisa Cholodenko's enjoyable and well-made comedy The Kids are Alright. Trent Cooper's Father of Invention was downright embarrassing. How such a silly, campy film made it into the festival, remains a mystery. A highlight, though a chilling experience, is the USA/Great Britain co-production by Michael Winterbottom The Killer Inside Me. This neo-noir movie based on Jim Thompson's famous novel, deals with a psychopathic murderer who comes across as a likeable deputy sheriff. Played by Casey Affleck almost as a James Dean impersonation, it offered the right balance of a seemingly personable character with a vicious, heartless inside.

It is ironic for the USA, that one of the most important prizes, the Silver Bear for Best Director, went to Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer. This German/Great Britain/French co-production most definitely deserves the accolades. It speaks for the jury that it made a choice based solely on the artistic quality of the production, and thus resisted the temptation of being drawn into moral judgements — what a lost chance for Hollywood.

The biggest disappointment of the festival was the film awaited with the highest expectations — the Austrian/German co-production by Oskar Roehler Jud Suess — Film Without Consciousness. This biopic of the actor Ferdinand Marian, who played Jud Suess in the most successful and most vitriolic propaganda movie Goebbels ever made to discredit Jews, bore wrong facts (Marian's wife was not of Jewish parents thus pulling some redemptive reasoning from Marian's actions) and was totally miscast with Moritz Bleibtreu as Goebbels. Germany's darling of an actor played Goebbels as a silly caricature, thus casting a foolish shadow on his acting and onto the entire production.

So, what remains? The 60th Berlinale drew the biggest crowds ever to the movie houses. Film distributors were happy since so many films were bought and will be seen in film theatres the world over. What often disappointed were the artistic choices. Conflicts as to religious beliefs, political opportunism and the impossible tasks to adjust as an individual within society, were regurgitated to the point of causing boredom. On the average, the movies were good, but did not prove to be outstanding. Thus, Lang's 1927 movie Metropolis made the biggest splash, not exactly the most promising route for future Berlinales as to becoming the artistic equal to the Cannes Festival. Perhaps there were no exceptional films available; perhaps they are still being created. Let's hope some surface in time for the next Berlinale.