Berlin Film Festival 2019: Awards predictions and highlights from the festival
As the Berlin International Film Festival winds down for another year, its primary venue will once again cease to exist, in a manner of speaking. The Berlinale Palast, home to the festival’s most prominent premieres, will go back to its usual name as the Stage Theater Am Potsdamer Platz. At least it’s no longer the permanent Berlin home to the Blue Man Group, since there was something vaguely disappointing about film premieres being replaced with a show about smurfs who play the drums. Of course, Berlinale will return in 2020 for its 70th year, under a new director and at a slightly later date in order to avoid clashes with Oscar pre-events and the BAFTAs, ideally freeing up talent to travel to the German capital. The 2019 Berlinale was a little light on famous faces, and while celebrity spotting is always an effective means of drawing punters to a film festival, at least the Berlinale doesn’t pander to Hollywood as much as it once did. It should never be forgotten that the festival once hosted a showcase screening of Steve Martin’s The Pink Panther 2. Oh, the prestige! Awards ceremonies worried about their bloated running times (hello Oscars!) could learn a thing or two from film festival award ceremonies. There are just a few awards, handed out rather briskly, and then everyone can adjourn to an afterparty for a drink or two or 11. So who will be walking away with a prize at this year’s Berlinale?
The Golden Bear for Best Film
Last year’s Golden Bear went to the docudrama Touch Me Not, which resulted in unkind laughter in the press room. 2019 might be the year for something that is less of a painfully self-aware film. I wouldn’t be surprised if China’s So Long, My Son (Di jiu tian chang) won the grand prize, but it would also be nice to see Norway’s Out Stealing Horses (Ut og stjæle hester) taking the Golden Bear.
For me, the Golden Bear couldn’t be given to anything other than System Crasher. Often when you watch a film in the cinema its magnetic force may fade when recalling it in your mind. That is far from the case in Nora Fingscheidt’s jarring movie, which sears with a lasting force that is intimate and sprawling and fierce.
The Silver Bear for Best Director
It would be great to see Denis Côté win for his extraordinarily clever Ghost Town Anthology (Répertoire des villes disparues), but it probably won’t happen.
There is a delicate force within The Ground Beneath My Feet (Der Boden under den Füßen). The power lies in the hands of Marie Kreutzer and her directorial vision. The film is evoking an internal awakening or, perhaps more precisely, fracturing within its heroines but simultaneously manages to speak to the external world and structures of pressure and performance within society.
The Silver Bear for Best Actress
Why not best actresses? Honouring the leading roles of Turkey’s A Tale of Three Sisters (Kız Kardeşler) as played by Cemre Ebuzziya, Ece Yüksel and Helin Kandemir would be a worthy choice.
Zorica Nusheva is my pick for Best Actress in God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya (Gospod postoi, imeto i’ e Petrunija). There is an innate power in her performance. She has an intangible something that cannot quite be described. She brings a relatability and fulfils the subtle role of a delicate heroine subverting expectations.
The Silver Bear for Best Actor
Measured, nuanced performances from Stellan Skarsgård in Out Stealing Horses (Ut og stjæle hester) and Melvil Poupaud in By the Grace of God (Grâce à Dieu) would both be solid choices, but perhaps the performances were too nuanced, and could be dominated by flashier characters in other films.
Tom Mercier should take home the prize for his role in Synonyms (Synonymes). His performance seethes with charisma; there is a fearlessness about it that cannot be taught. The bewildered sense of an outsider trying to assimilate into a new society while shirking an old identity is captured brilliantly.
The Silver Bear for Best Script
The weaving narrative of So Long, My Son (Di jiu tian chang) is enough of a logistical challenge to be impressive, and it’s even more admirable that the darn thing works.
Silver Bear: The Alfred Bauer Prize
This Silver Bear is awarded to a film that “opens new perspectives”. Sadly, most of the movies that accomplish this task are not screening in the competition section. It would be nice to see Öndög, a delightfully unstructured tale from Mongolia, be recognised.
Unfortunately, the film that should be awarded for opening “new perspectives” is actually highlighting an old one: God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya (Gospod postoi, imeto i’ e Petrunija) should take the prize. The fact that a woman should use her voice is hardly novel, but the resounding message to speak up, speak out and, most importantly, question the power structures that govern our lives can often feel revolutionary.
Silver Bear: Grand Jury Prize
This one is essentially a runner-up prize, and nobody will be shocked if it went to French director François Ozon for By the Grace of God (Grâce à Dieu), his topical, involving and non-exploitative examination of the lifelong aftermath of sexual abuse perpetrated by Catholic Priests in France. If Denis Côté doesn’t win anything else, he’d be a worthy choice here too.
Many of the key festival moments don’t actually play out in the films themselves, and 2019 was no exception. There’s a man who always hangs around the hub of the festival, wearing a placard that claims that Israel is responsible for all the evil in the world, and this year he almost came to blows with an Israeli journalist who happened to be passing by. There was something almost schoolyard about it, and you expected the other journalists to start chanting, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”. Charlotte Rampling was a treat during her press conference for her lifetime achievement award, eloquently refusing to answer questions that attempted to elicit a grand response, such as how she saw her career in ten years (which, to paraphrase, was answered by a cheery “I have no idea”).
I’m a festival newbie so it’s hard to say what stood out precisely. It all did. However, I was amazed by the festival’s throughline, that the private is political. It resonated deeply with me. Filmmakers across genre and category reigned in the resounding message that there is power and there is a possibility for unimaginable change in your actions. The power of film, whether to merely shed light or change perspectives, is clear in this year’s lineup. In an interview with Teona Mitevska, she said audiences are infinitely more intelligent than what we are provided with. That stuck with me. Cinema should be challenging and provoke dialogue. The films at Berlinale proved they can and that they do.
Oliver Johnston and Mary-Catherine Harvey
Read more reviews from our Berlin Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Berlin Film Festival website here.