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2018 Berlinale Recap
Controversy, messages, and surprises from the jury

An audacious winner: Adina Pintilie won the Golden Bear for Best Film for "Touch Me Not"
An audacious winner: Adina Pintilie won the Golden Bear for Best Film for "Touch Me Not" | Photo (detail): © Richard Hübner, Berlinale 2018

A number of controversial issues were thrashed out before, during and after this year’s Berlinale. Some of the jury’s decisions are probably meant as a message.

This year’s Berlinale wasn’t boring – and not only thanks to the films. Seldom has there been so much controversy ­­– starting even before the festival. Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick was criticized for the competition’s lack of a distinctive image. And dress code issues and sexism made their mark from the get-go, putting the #MeToo debate right on the red carpet.

“Black is the new Red! Join us now to request a black carpet for the Berlinale!” said the online petition #blackcarpetberlinale, “A Black Carpet in Solidarity with #metoo”, initiated by German actress Claudia Eisinger.

It took a while for the competition itself to come to life, but it then provide quite an adventurous vintage. Emily Atef’s biopic 3 Days in Quiberon, starring Marie Bäumer as Romy Schneider, provided some terrific arthouse cinema in black and white. Contemporary stuff like the Iranian grotesque Pig (Khook) by Mani Haghighi or the Swedish social satire The Real Estate displayed an exuberant stylistic playfulness. Philipp Gröning’s three-hour sibling drama My Brother’s Name is Robert and He Is an Idiot (Mein Bruder heißt Robert und ist ein Idiot), Christian Petzold’s Transit, an adaptation of Anna Seghers’ eponymous novel of exile, or Lav Diaz’s dark historical musical Season of the Devil (Ang Panahon ng Halimaw) are other examples of the aesthetic and topical breadth of this year’s lineup – even if they came away from the awards ceremony empty-handed. The Berlinale seems bent on striking a balance in the range of its perspectives and sharpening up its profile in comparison with Cannes and Venice.

Beyond the boundaries of shame

As controversial and diverse as the films were, the biggest surprise was the jury’s choices. Who’d have fancied Adina Pentilie’s debut feature Touch Me Not to win the Golden Bear – a difficult film that some walked out on, some booed, and some warmly applauded?

In explicit scenes, the young Romanian director explores the boundaries of physical intimacy. We watch both the disabled and the able-bodied taking part in a workshop where they’re to learn how to touch themselves. Pentilie’s images go beyond the boundaries of shame in a way that is hard to take. And yet however ambivalent one may feel about it, the film does succeed in going against the grain of our views and mindsets. And the festival can procure a public, sometimes even theatrical exploitation, for such awkward films.

Unusual contemporary cinema 

Mug (Twarz), which rightfully won the Jury Grand Prize, leaves a similarly lasting, albeit less drastic, effect. After a facial transplant, a young heavy metal fan is rejected by his rural community. With black humour and great sympathy for her protagonist, director Małgorzata Szumowska tells a visually stunning story in present-day Poland, asking questions about identity and integration.

Two films that won acting awards take a different, quiet approach to the present day and age. In The Heiresses (Las herederas), the first competitive entry from Paraguay in the history of the Berlinale, Marcelo Martinessi describes social change in her country through the story of the emancipation of an elderly woman. Ana Brun won a Silver Bear for her gentle performance in the role. The young French actor Anthony Bajon was distinguished for his performance as Thomas in The Prayer (La Prière). He imbues his portrayal of a young man looking for a new life witih a great sense of urgency in Cédric Kahn’s rather mediocre youth drama.

Pointing where film can go

The jury wanted to pay tribute not only to "what film can do", but also to "where it can go", said jury president Tom Tykwer at the awards ceremony on 24 February. So the awards are probably to be taken as a message. Why else would the Silver Bear for Best Director go to an animated film, namely Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs? One can hardly talk about directing actors when it comes to a stop motion animal fable. On the other hand, with its lovingly fashioned figures and slowed-down narration, Isle of Dogs is a rarity in mainstream animation.

Four of the eight Bears went to women this year. For the sixth time in the nearly seventy-year history of the Berlinale, a woman filmmaker came away with the Golden Bear for Best Film. This is another auspicious sign from this year’s forwards-looking festival, in which issues of sexism, abuse and gender roles loomed so large.