Berlinale 2018: Awards predictions and highlights from the festival
Once again we were back at the Berlin Film Festival covering the good, the bad and the strange. Filmmakers trying to make insightful comments about their own films whilst fighting a hangover from their premiere party. Journalists fighting sleep deprivation. Vaguely anguished Berliners standing outside festival venues with handwritten signs asking if anyone has a spare ticket for the screening. After ten days of running from screening to screening to interview and chugging coffees in between, we have reached the end of the festival.
All this will soon disappear from Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz as the event is about to halt for another year. But before it closes, a number of shiny silver bears (and one golden bear – much cuter than an Oscar, by the way) will be given out. It can be difficult to read the mood of the jury (this year headed by Tom Tykwer, the director of Run Lola Run and the co-creator of Babylon Berlin, now on Sky Atlantic), but to hazard a reasonably well-educated guess informed by these writers’ own favourites and biases, here are a few films that might well be walking away from the Berlinale Palast with a bear statuette tonight at 7pm.
The Golden Bear
Berlin always attracts an eclectic competition from all over the world and this year was no different. The film that grabbed me the most was Utøya 22 Juli; a single-shot masterpiece depicting the Anders Breivik massacre. The film does not try and glamorise what happened, nor does it try and produce a political agenda. Rather, it puts the audience in the place of the victims to demonstrate the threat far-right extremism poses to Europe and the world. I also liked Dovlatov for its lyrical, poetic story and Daughter of Mine for its strong, complicated female characters.
This category can be surprising, although 2017’s winner Testről és lélekről (On Body and Soul) is now nominated for the best foreign language film at this year’s Oscars. Twarz (Mug) would be a brilliant choice, as would Isle of Dogs. But who knows what goes on behind jury deliberation room doors? At least they all get to go to the afterparty with an open bar…
Silver Bear for Best Director
Wes Anderson returns triumphantly with his new animation feature Isle of Dogs. The design-obsessed director lets his imagination run wild in this stunning, meticulously crafted stop-motion story.
This one might simply go to Wes Anderson for Isle of Dogs, because stop motion animation is difficult, and it’s even more difficult to create a moving, immersive world in this manner. It would also be nice to see Mani Haghighi rewarded for his absurdist and deceptively important Khook (Pig).
Silver Bear for Best Actress
A German film festival presided over by a German director could easily award a German actress playing a German-speaking (though Austrian) icon. While Marie Bäumer is excellent as Romy Schneider in 3 Tage in Quiberon (3 Days in Quiberon), this title might be a little too soapy overall, and a win for her might be a bit too obvious. Although the film itself doesn’t quite work, Léonore Ekstrand turned in an exquisite performance in The Real Estate (Toppen av ingenting).
Claire Foy was electrifying in the thriller Unsane and Helena Hawkins is definitely the discovery of the festival in Madeline’s Madeline, but neither of them starred in a film in competition. Alba Rohrwacher poured herself into a difficult role to come out with a fantastic performance in Daughter of Mine.
Silver Bear for Best Actor
Twarz could also be a contender here, with Mateusz Kościukiewicz acting beneath prosthetics for the second half of the film, denied the use of his face to express emotion. Anthony Bajon could also be in with a chance for his grounded performance in La prièr (The Prayer).
Milan Maric was an absolute revelation as the Russian writer Dovlatov. The film follows the tortured author as he is forced into obscurity by Soviet censorship. Milan learned Russian for the role and displays a charming knack for slipping between witty laughs and visceral drama.
Silver Bear for Best Script
This should go to the excellent Polish film, Twarz (Mug). So many films at this year’s festival had a somewhat irritating sense of self-importance, as though they were trying to ram their own sense of importance down the audience’s throat. Twarz has a layered complexity that seems effortless and this largely down to the script from Małgorzata Szumowska (also the director) and Michał Englert.
Silver Bear for Alfreud Bauer Prize
This silver bear is handed out to a “feature film that opens new perspectives,” as vague as that sounds. The jury might opt to reward Mein Bruder heißt Robert und ist ein Idiot (My Brother’s Name Is Robert and He Is an Idiot), an esoteric film about the very nature of time (which doesn’t quite work, although its shortcomings are still interesting). It could also go to the harrowing Utøya 22. Juli.
Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize
Essentially the runner-up prize, again it will be interesting to see if a German production is rewarded. The Mexican feature Museo (Museum) would be a more than a worthy winner, but it depends if the jury has been more enchanted by one of those films with a somewhat irritating sense of self-importance (as though they were trying to ram their own sense of importance down the audience’s throat).
Josephine Decker’s Madeline’s Madeline explores the blurry line between mental illness and artistic genius in this multi-layered character study. It was one of the rare occasions where I left the cinema wanting to instantly re-watch it.
It’s hard to only pick one, and when covering a film festival, a lot of what is seen depends on what has been assigned. I have been slightly underwhelmed by a few of the films this year, although this is not a reflection on Berlinale. The festival might move in a new direction when its current management steps down next year, but this remains to be seen. Isle of Dogs was pure brilliance, and you could practically taste the audience’s joy (OK, so it was on the first day when exhaustion and cynicism hadn’t begun to take effect). Twarz (Mug) is an authentic delight, a richly textured film that has been delivered in a seemingly effortless manner (which requires a huge amount of effort). Styx is also brilliant – a taunt, involving thriller with a social conscience. It’s mystifying why it wasn’t in the competition section of the festival, since a number of the competition films were something to buy on DVD for nights when you have trouble falling asleep.
I’ve been covering the festival for four years now and I can tell you that every year, journalists claim that last year was better. This year is no different. I have to disagree, I saw a lot of exciting and innovative films that re-stoked my faith in the medium. Once again, I am puzzled by the organisation of films. I saw some incredible masterpieces in the other non-competition sections and some unoriginal genre films in the competition so still scratching my head over that. What makes Berlinale special is its openness.
Unlike Cannes or Venice, the festival is a lot more available to the public and there’s more of a communal atmosphere. This extends to the press conferences and interviews where any journalist can pose a question or start a dialogue with the filmmakers and actors. Beyond the films, the highlights for me were the Isle of Dogs press conference where Bill Murray claimed to be “hopped up on champagne and chocolate” and Jeff Goldblum announced that he had a red poodle called Woody. Idris Elba also threw a party for the release of his impressive directorial debut Yardie. The actor/director/DJ spun Earth, Wind and Fire and dancehall tunes well into the night.
It’s hard to verify a claim of being the largest overall film festival in the world, but Berlinale is definitely the largest public film festival in the world, and this is important. Anyone can buy a ticket for a public screening. It’s the people’s festival, and you see the people eagerly rushing into the cinema, in long, long, long, lines outside the ticket offices, or screeching with excitement as a celebrity enters the Grand Hyatt for a press conference. Scalpers also seem to do a brisk trade. There are many nice Berlinale moments that are difficult to capture. The live translation of the press conferences is amazing, with a real time translation of the actors words in your earpiece, complete with a stiff “haha” when the speaker laughs. Willem Dafoe appears to be a delightful man. When asked if receiving a lifetime achievement award made him feel old, he gasped with mock horror: “You think I’m old? Old??? OOOOOOOOLD???” Watching Idris Elba DJ at the premiere party for Yardie, his excellent directorial debut, was also immense fun. But also, what were they thinking? Giving journalists access to an open bar when most of them have to be back in a cinema in seven hours? No official complaints, although my liver expressed its concerns.
Sean and Oliver
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.