The Golden Bear and its six silver siblings

A film called Honey took top prize at the 60th Berlin Film festival, presided over by Werner Herzog, this year’s jury supremo. And there were six more prize-winners…
Michael Dominski
1 March 2010



Isn’t it funny

How a bear likes honey?

Buzz! Buzz! Buzz!

I wonder why he does?



The Golden Bear, main prize of the Berlin Film Festival was this year awarded to Turkish competition entry Bal meaning Honey by Semih Kaplanoglu. As 26 films rolled out in the festival’s main section over nine days, 19,000 accredited guests plus 300,000 ticket buyers joined the daily buzz in the ticket queues and cinema foyers to see just which film might be the jury’s favourite in the Berlinale’s sixtieth incarnation. As usual, the jury soon became indistinguishable from its president. This year it was chaired by Werner Herzog, director of German cinema classics like Nosferatu, Aquirre The Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, the recent, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, and scores of documentaries including Little Dieter Needs to Fly and, Grizzly Man.






Bal | Honey    Country: TUR/GER 2010 Featuring: Bora Altas

Honey is told from the point-of-view of a six-year old boy whose father is a beekeeper. One day the bees suddenly disappear. The father sets out for the mountains searching for the missing bees, but does not return. So it is up to the boy, now traumatised and mute, to venture out.  That’s the plot at elevator-pitch length and I can’t tell  you more as I have not seen this one – forgive me, there were more than 400 films screened in the seven categories! -  but one can see that the outsider protagonist as well as the role nature plays in the film, might well have endeared Honey to the jury and Herzog.

I may not have seen the Golden Bear winner but luckily, my choices included all six of its silver siblings.







Eu cand vreau sa fluier, fluier | If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle   Country: ROU/SWE 2009 Featuring: George Pistereanu, Ada Condeescu

The Jury Grand Prix went to the Romanian film Eu cand vreau sa fluier, fluier (If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle) by Florin Serban. This tale of a young offender recklessly planning an escape, with only five days to go to stop his mother from taking his beloved younger brother to Italy, and falling in love with a psychology student who helps him to prepare for life after release, has everything going for it. For one, it doesn’t use the dark grittiness usually reserved for the genre - the prison is set in a beautiful rural landscape. But most of all, it’s the spirited ‘wild at heart’ performance of the amateur cast and the raw energy of Serban’s direction, reminiscent of the best of the Nouvelle Vague but in colour, that wins the day. His film also picked up the Alfred Bauer Prize for a work of particular innovation, awarded in memory of the Festival founder.






Kak ya provel etim letom | How I Ended This Summer    Country: RUS 2010 Featuring: Grigory Dobrygin, Sergei Puskepalis | © Koktebel Film Company

Similar in its use of a singular location, the clock running out with only a few days remaining, and its small cast - in this film just two characters - is Russian entry Kak ya provel etim letom (How I Ended This Summer) by Alexei Popogrebsky, set in the stark natural beauty of the Arctic.  The performances by Sergei Puskepalis and Grigori Dobrygi as meteorologists waiting for the ship to relieve them, when the younger man receives a radio message regarding his companion’s family that he just can’t get himself to pass on, were recognized as the ‘best of fest’, and the Silver Bear for Best Actor instantly became twins to honour both. This of course is a Herzog film like no other: Herzog is also the director of recent Antarctica doc Encounters at the End of the World and was surely empathetic to shooting under such extreme conditions. Maybe as a result, the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Achievement in the Category Camera went to Pavel Kostomarov.






Caterpillar    Country: JPN 2010: Featuring: Shinobu Terajima

The Best Actress Silver Bear went to Shinobu Terajima  for her performance in Caterpillar by Koji Wakamatsu. This Japanese film, set in the final year of WWII or more precisely the second Sino-Japanese war, sees her in the role of wife to a lieutenant who has lost both his arms and legs to war, but not his huge appetite for rationed food and sex. His wife is coerced to provide for her ‘war hero’ husband who, we know through flashbacks, is anything but. Terajima’s acting is certainly a praiseworthy contribution to a flawed film whose commendable look at Japanese Imperial war crimes in China and at home is thwarted by the explicitness of the wife’s humiliation. The coy subtitling in this regard is a joke. ‘Sleeping and eating’ is all that the husband wants, complains the wife on more than one occasion. Surely she means, ‘fucking and eating’. If we can watch it, we certainly can read it.






Tuan Yuan | Apart Together   Country: CHN 2009

Much more enjoyable is the Chinese autumn love story Tuan Yuan (Apart Together) by Wang Quan'an for which he and co-scriptwriter Na Jin won the Silver Bear for Best Script. This is a likeable tale of a 1927 civil war veteran who at the point of defeat, escapes with the remnants of the Kuomintang forces to what was to become Taiwan. More than fifty years later, he is allowed to visit his hometown Shanghai for the first time, and takes the opportunity to look up his former sweetheart whom he had to abandon, pregnant, all those decades before. She, of course, is married with a number of children and grandchildren, and tensions erupt in the family when her former lover asks her to spend what little time they might have left with him in Taiwan. She discovers that time hasn’t mellowed her feelings for the returnee: but it is surprising and moving to see the stance that her current husband takes. One could argue about the political agenda of the film but Apart Together gathers enough nuances for its final act to lift it well above propaganda.






The Ghost Writer   Country: FRA/GER 2009    Featuring: Ewan McGregor

Last but not least, the Silver Bear for Best Director went to Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer. Some moralising critics felt that this was in bad taste considering last year’s prolonged extradition saga over thirty-three-year-old rape charges against the director (timing with regard to his current film that might get any conspiracy theorist’s head spinning). However, in 2003, just before Polanski won an Academy Award for The Pianist, his 1977 victim wrote {http://articles.latimes.com/2003/feb/23/opinion/oe-geimer23?pg=2} ‘Judge the Movie, Not the Man’, and this is what I will do.

Polanski’s film about a writer hired to rework the memoirs of a retired British prime minister hiding in the U.S. from indictment by the International Criminal Court is a gorgeous-looking political thriller with excellent performances, in which the master ranks up the tension notch by notch. The unnamed writer might be the Ghost of the title, but more to the point it is him who is surrounded by ghosts in a stylish but ‘haunted’ concrete bungalow on a remote island. The inhabitants are has-beens of political superstardom: a prime minister, his entourage and his wife. Their rise and even more so their loss of power have soured their relationships and deeply scarred each psyche; everyone is dwelling in personal hell as the skeletons of their past corruption return to haunt them.  The writer quickly finds himself out of his depth in this snake pit and in a rollercoaster ride tries to save both his pay cheque and his butt -  and we are with him all the way.

This Gothic ghost story without any supernatural elements works very well as entertainment, but even better when one considers its chosen target. Anyone who didn’t walk around with a blindfold in the decade that brought you the War On Terror will recognize it immediately, and for those who miss it, writer Robert Harris spelt it out in the Berlin press conference: this film is about Tony Blair and the Iraq war. Am I alone in wishing that The Ghost Writer had been a documentary?

So much for the winning Berlinale Bears. Another famous bear, Winnie-the Pooh whose insightful little poem started this piece philosophizes: “That buzzing-noise means something. You don’t get a buzzing-noise like that, just buzzing and buzzing, without its meaning something.” But just what might the meaning of the festival buzz be? Well, after Cannes, Berlin hosts the biggest film market in Europe, the European Film Market or EFM where aside from the 400+ films in its official selection, another 800 or so films were screened and thousands more were on offer, traded, debated and sold. It is likely that the next film you watch on a small or big screen has been purchased at the Berlinale EFM.

Pooh continues his line of thought: “If there’s a buzzing-noise, somebody’s making a buzzing-noise, and the only reason for making a buzzing-noise that I know of is because you’re a bee. And the only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey. And the only reason for making honey is so as I can eat it.” Not quite, Edward Bear. The Bearlinale buzz ensures that you who have not been there, can watch it too. In a crowded market place, a Golden Bear might just help to get Honey onto a screen near you.


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