Too much happening all at once was a good problem to be having at the Berlin International Film Festival, as for another year it filled the Potsdamer Platz hub and other venues around the city with the best of recent cinema in a frenzy of late parties, early espressos, and films, films, films.
In competition in Berlin, this epic but typically laidback and very poignant project from indie directing legend Richard Linklater lived up to the raves it got at Sundance. Shot over 12 years, it follows Austin kid Mason (Ellar Coltrane) from childhood and friction at home until college as his looks change (blue nail-varnish phase included) and he quietly rebels against rules to find his own path. Patricia Arquette plays his mother - who is studying for a Masters and always goes for the wrong men - and Ethan Hawke is his slacker dad.
20,000 DAYS ON EARTH
Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard take an innovative approach to the music documentary with this fascinating, hugely powerful film about Australian musician Nick Cave and the nature of inspiration and creativity. From a session with a psychotherapist on his early memories and the transformative aspect of performance to work on songs for latest album Push the Sky Away and car chats with former collaborators including Kylie and Blixa Bargeld, we glimpse the origins of Cave's visionary world.
THE KIDNAPPING OF MICHEL HOULLEBECQ
Controversial French novelist Michel Houllebecq went missing a couple of years back while promoting his book The Map and the Territory, a brilliantly playful satire of the art world and modern society in which he kills himself off. Guillaume Nicloux's naturalistic, black-humoured film postulates what might have happened, and sees the chain-smoking, boozing writer (appearing as himself) play on his rep for misanthropy. He is kidnapped and held for ransom, but proves a querulous match for his accommodating captors.
THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL
Shot in Germany, Wes Anderson's hotly anticipated latest is set in a famed European hotel in the '20s. The meticulously impressive, slick production design transports us back into a lost era of old-world grandeur and tradition. The whimsical humour is pure Anderson, as respected hotel concierge Gustav H. (Ralph Fiennes) enlists bellboy Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori) to help him hide the invaluable painting he’s been bequeathed by a lover (Tilda Swinton), as her relatives target the spoils like crows.
"You only have to look around, to see that we're in deep shit," Estonian director Veiko Ounpuu told the audience after the premiere of his beautifully shot latest, which with typical sardonic wit questions the state of modern society. Young writer Fred (Lauri Lagle) gets fired from his newspaper job for writing an expletive-ridden review of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, and is then told by his girlfriend (Jaanika Arum) that she's pregnant. Having checked out of connecting to a world that seems to offer nothing but false constraints, freedom and responsibility suddenly beg re-evaluation.
IS THE MAN WHO IS TALL HAPPY?
French director Michel Gondry with his typical flamboyant quirk brings the ideas and memories of linguist and thinker Noam Chomsky to life through charmingly funny, pulsating animations of their wide-ranging conversations. The different ways they find meaning in the world are wonderfully complementary, as the External Sunshine of the Spotless Mind director pokes fun at his own thick accent and self-conscious trouble keeping up with Chomsky.
GOD HELP THE GIRL
Think Dancer and the Dark lite as Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian fame turns director with this bittersweet pop musical about a psychologically troubled girl who escapes into music to calm her dark thoughts. She forms a band in Glasgow with James (Olly Alexander), a shy musician she meets at a gig who is head-over-heels for her, and sheltered rich-girl Cassie (Hannah Murray), while dating a towering German who works in a thrift-store. It's prototype whimsical quirk - but done so well, what's not to love.
NYMPOMANIAC (LONG VERSION) VOLUME 1
The director’s cut of provocateur Lars Von Trier’s irreverent epic-length confessional tale of a sex addict, which was more explicit (porn doubles were used) but not radically different to the abridged version, had its world premiere. Part one of the last installment in his Trilogy of Depression sees Charlotte Gainsbourg as nymophomaniac Joe, who catalogues her life’s carnal encounters to kindly Seligman (Stellan Skarsgard) who’s helped her off the cobbles after a beating. Brimming with sly humour and bold philosophising against society's strictures, this is the Dane at his impishly transgressive best.
JOHN WATERS EXHIBITION BAD DIRECTOR'S CHAIR
Okay, this wasn't in the festival programme, but the opening of exhibition Bad Director's Chair by indie godfather John Waters was worth the time out at Sprueth Magers in Mitte. Among his mischievously trashy takes on cinema and celebrity his early films Hag in a Black Leather Jacket (1964), Roman Candles (1966) and Eat Your Own Makeup (1968) were playing on a loop in peepshow booths, and a sculpture of a playdate between Michael Jackson and Charles Manson as babies in the middle of the floor almost tripped up the hoards, as Waters wafted round dapperly in a tartan-embellished suit.
Chinese thriller 'Black Coal, Thin Ice' wins best film and best actor prizes at Berlin festival
Asian films take limelight by also scooping best actress award but US auteur Richard Linklater wins best director for Boyhood
Hollywood stars may have dominated the red carpets of the German capital over the last week and a half, but it was Chinese cinema that swept the board at the Berlin film festival’s awards ceremony on Saturday night.
Bai Ri Yan Huo (Black Coal, Thin Ice), a wry, noirish thriller set in northern China, won the jury’s Golden Bear award for best film, with the lead Liao Fan also taking home the award for best actor. A further Silver Bear, for best cinematography, went to Tui Na (Blind Massage), a drama with a largely blind cast set in a massage parlour in Nanjing.
Two auteurs of American independent cinema who had been mooted for the top prize had to be content as runners up. Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, which was filmed over the course of 11 years and had quickly turned into an audience favourite, was awarded the Silver Bear for best director, while Wes Anderson’s festival opener The Grand Budapest Hotel won the grand jury prize.
Anderson’s film, starring an illustrious cast including Ralph Fiennes, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum, was only one of several large ensemble films at a festival that also saw the European premieres of the extended edit of Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac: Vol 1 and George Clooney’s The Monuments Men.
The latter, in particular, failed to live up to the hype and even drew a few boos from the audience. Compared to festivals in Cannes or London, the Berlinale has always been more inclined to select films for the international festival circuit than big box office draws. If anything, this year’s festival has further reaffirmed its identity.
Earlier in the week, British director Ken Loach had accepted a lifetime achievement award at the festival, telling the audience: “I think we do live in darkening times, it is sometimes difficult to remember this. ... I think we do need a united Europe, we are in it together, we are Europeans and we have to find common cause.”