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Berlin Round Up VI: Golden Bears, Global Themes, and Ghastly Sales

Berlin Round Up VI: Golden Bears, Global Themes, and Ghastly Sales

The 2009 Berlin International Film Festival came to a close yesterday with Claudia Llosa’s “La teta asustada” (The Milk of Sorrow) taking the Golden Bear. “I want to thank my mother and all women,” indieWIRE reported Llosa as saying on stage in Spanish at the Berlinale Palast Saturday evening. “This [award] is for Peru – this is for our country.” Adrian Biniez’s Uruguay-set “Gigante” won three awards, including the Silver Bear.

The Hollywood Reporter said the festival’s closing honors “offered something almost unheard of — a truly entertaining awards ceremony.” “‘Aaaah!’ screamed Argentinean director Adrian Biniez after receiving his first Silver Bear,” the Reporter noted, “obviously overwhelmed and at a loss for words. ‘It’s amazing, fantastico!’ was all he managed to say.” The trade noted in a separate article that, in regard to the fest’s winners, “youth and energy triumphed over experience and political correctness as the jury of the 59th Berlinale, headed by actress Tilda Swinton, chose up-and-coming directors for its top prizes.”

Llosa and Biniez, the queen and king of those prizes, both had films not universally acclaimed by critics. While Variety‘s Boyd van Hoeij said that Llosa’s film “perfectly aligns form and content,” The Hollywood Reporter‘s Peter Brunette called it a “slow-moving bit of magical realism” and Screen Daily‘s Lee Marshall said that “arthouse audiences will find themselves dipping in and out of engagement but the story is too contrived in the long run to resonate much beyond its own four walls.”

Biniez’s “Gigante” also didn’t find much support from Screen Daily. “While it generates some curiosity for the first half hour,” the trade remarked. “‘Gigante’ loses its grip as its non-plot plods slowly towards an ending that might be the beginning of a sequel.” Variety said the film “fails to inject freshness into a one-sided tale,” while The Hollywood Reporter noted “carefully combed through many festival development markets, the film is impeccable but distant, lacking in spontaneity and not very original.”

The Auteurs‘s Neil Young, in his “festival score card” (which has twenty categories including “non-filmic highlight of the festival” and “celebrities glimpsed”), named Mariano de Rosa’s “Green Waters” the best of the festival, with runner-up honors going to “Home From Home,” “My Dear Enemy,” “Deep in the Valley” and “Letters to the President.”

The New York Times‘ Dennis Lim didn’t offer a specific favorite film in his wrapup, but did suggest the festival’s overall theme, calling it “a festival full of national and linguistic border crossings.” “The unofficial theme of this year’s Berlin International Film Festival was hard to miss, and not just because it was spelled out in the title of the opening-night movie, ‘The International,'” he said. “Film after film in the 59th Berlinale has sounded some version of an internationalist message — the world is shrinking, the world is flat, we are the world — as if filmmakers were measuring the worth and seriousness of their work in terms of geographic scope.”

Scott Foundas’ LA Weekly wrapup touched on similar ideas. “Films made by actors and directors working outside of their national borders and mother tongues are, of course, as old as the cinema itself,” he said. “What’s different about the crop of English-language international productions at this year’s Berlinale is that they largely take matters of language and nationality as their very subjects. They could, one British colleague has joked, be rated “G” for globalization. Or, better yet, “P” for pedantic.”

indieWIRE‘s own touched wrapups on the other apparent themes at this year’s festival: a lack of good films, and a lack of good business. Shane Danielsen discussed, reports that Berlinale director Deiter Kosslick “had, at a meeting the previous day, declared himself ‘infuriated’ by the general negativity of the press this year – by all accounts, a Variety mid-fest report had especially riled him – and wondered why these pesky critics bothered to come, if only to make the same carping complaints every February?”

Eugene Hernandez wondered if the poor business showing of the festival’s adjacent European Film Market also had to do with the quality of the films. “Very disappointing,” Hernandez quoted the head of one American company, about this year’s Berlin fest and market. “There was nothing available at the level of commerciality and quality of past Berlin sales to U.S. buyers such as ‘Happy-Go-Lucky,’ ‘2 Days in Paris,’ ‘The Counterfeiters,’ or ‘Walk on Water.’… I think it was the films, not the economy”

Hernandez noted how focus has shifted to the next big stop on the international festival circuit: “Half way through the Berlinale, as critics and buyers saw more and more disappointing films, all eyes began to turn to Cannes ‘09, where folks are already anticipating a strong showing for new international cinema.”

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