Rita Di Santo presents brief film reviews from the Berlin Film Festival 2020
The 70th Berlin International Film Festival came to a close with There Is No Evil, Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof’s scorching denunciation of the death penalty in Iran taking the top prize, the Golden Bear. Rasoulof was not able to attend the ceremony due to a travel ban and possible prison sentence for his politically-charged film. Rasoulof's daughter, Baran, accepted the Golden Bear award on his behalf.
One of the audience favourites at the festival, Never Rarely Sometimes Always directed by Eliza Hittman won the Grand Jury Prize. The film follows two teenage girls in rural Pennsylvania who, faced with an unwanted pregnancy, embark on a journey across state lines to New York City. A slow-moving bit of magical realism, powered by a quiet, poignant performance by its young star, this is an authentic meditation on dismay, humiliation and sexual abuse.
The Best Director award went to Korean veteran Hong Sang-soo for The Woman Who Ran, about a young woman visiting three different friends in Seoul. Strange, witty, and intriguing, this is another great work of one of the world’s most fascinating and prolific filmmakers.
The acting awards went to German Paula Beer, for her role in Christian Petzold’s Undine, and Italian Elio Germano for his performance of an outsider artiste who struggles with abject poverty and severe mental health in Hidden Away.
Among other awards, the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution went to cinematographer Jurgen Jurges for DAU. Natasha. Probably the most controversial movie in the Berlinale, it was conceived as a biopic of Nobel prize-winning Soviet physicist Lev Landau, from the perspective of two waitresses working in a cafe in a secret Soviet research institute in 1952, who live under threat of arrest, torture, and murder by the secret police. It is a harsh, claustrophobic viewing experience.
Delete History, a comedy by Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern, won the Silver Bear. Three down-and-out protagonists from a working-class suburb get tangled up in a social media network. After the laughter dies down, the bitterness of Delepine and Kervern's analysis of the sad-sack-sorry state of the world remains.
Best screenplay honours went to Damiano and Fabio D'Innocenzo, for their dark comedy Bad Tales, while the Berlinale Documentary Film Prize was awarded to Rithy Panh for Irradiated, a visual onslaught of footage of bombings, torture and massacre overlaid with readings of French poetry.
This year’s festival was overshadowed by the Coronavirus epidemic, the rapid spread of the disease leading to a mass cancellation of Chinese industry attendants. Between 100-120 attendees cancelled their trips, citing the virus as the reason, though the actual number of cancellations may have been higher.
This huge and now rather unwieldy festival showed a fair number of good films but rather a lot of moderate ones, including those in competition. When are film festivals going to realise that more isn't always better, and start to pare down their programmes?
Rita di Santo is a film critic and reviewer.