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Berlinale Bloggers 2018
Willem Dafoe’s Australian connection

Willem Dafoe has been awarded the honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement.
Willem Dafoe has been awarded the honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement. | © Richard Hubner / Berlinale

When Wim Wenders took to the Berlinale Palast stage to sing Willem Dafoe’s praises, awarding him with the honorary Golden Bear for lifetime achievement, the iconic director was effusive with his acclaim. “Every actor is unique, and Willem Dafoe more so,” the filmmaker explained. “Like others, he’s incomparable, but even more so. He’s one of a kind, but even then, even more so.”

By Sarah Ward

A TALENT FOR COMPLEX CHARACTERS

Selected by Dafoe to present the shining statuette, Wenders spoke about the actor’s ability to make villains human, and to contrastingly imbue virtuous figures with complexity — not only in their one project together thus far, 1993’s Faraway, So Close!, but also across Dafoe’s 122 screen credits to date. “He plays all these characters with a sense of love for them: the good, the bad and the ugly, as well as the beautiful, the twisted, the driven and the wild ones,” he noted.

Willem Dafoe in 'The Hunter'. Willem Dafoe in 'The Hunter'. | © Ascot Elite Entertainment / Matt Nettheim “He’s the only actor on the planet who played Christ and the antichrist, and even time itself — and every human shade in between” Wenders summarised. However, amidst the much-deserved celebration of Dafoe’s work, talent and impact came another comment. “I’ve never seen the film you chose yourself tonight, so I’m probably not the only person in this room who’s very much looking forward to seeing you in The Hunter.”

THE AUSTRALIAN CONNECTION

While a ten-film retrospective of Dafoe’s best work features in the 2018 Berlinale program, only one feature could screen as part of the presentation ceremony, and Dafoe picked the involving, enigmatic and under-appreciated 2011 Australian effort. Directed by Daniel Nettheim, The Hunter charts a biotech employee’s quest to find the supposedly extinct Tasmanian Tiger — immersing Dafoe’s protagonist within a journey of discovery on many fronts, and in the striking Australian wilderness in the process.
 
One of Dafoe’s best performances in a career filled with them, it’s easy to see why the actor chose to showcase The Hunter at such a momentous occasion. As an example of his winning way with silence and his expressive ability to convey a plethora of emotions in little more than a look and a gesture, the contemplative, quietly compelling film couldn’t better encapsulate Dafoe’s talents — or demonstrate why he’s such a captivating screen presence.
 
It’s also just one of several he’s made in Australia, all coming in the last decade. As always, his work down under speaks to the eclectic nature of his resume, including Brisbane-shot vampire effort Daybreakers, the forthcoming comic book movie Aquaman and lending his distinctive tones to documentary Mountain, narrating the film’s view of the world from above.

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