Spanish Drama ‘Alcarràs’ Wins Golden Bear at Berlin Film Festival
Art and Experience:
Spanish director Carla Simón has won the Golden Bear, the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival, for her second feature “Alcarràs,” a moving drama about a Catalan farming family facing eviction from their land. She received the prize from jury president M. Night Shyamalan, capping a strong night for female filmmakers.
“Alcarràs” was one of the last Competition titles to unspool at the festival, but emerged as a hot favorite for the Bear following yesterday’s premiere, with unanimous critical adoration for her unassuming but emotionally stirring film, featuring an ensemble of entirely non-professional actors.
Variety‘s critic was among its admirers, praising the film for its “bristling political conscience [balanced] against its tenderly observed domestic drama.” Simón’s win comes five years after her autobiographical debut “Summer 1993,” set in the same region of rural Catalonia, triumphed in the Berlinale’s youth-oriented Generation competition — a significant promotion for the 35-year-old writer-director.
With Simón’s Golden Bear following a Venice Golden Lion win for French director Audrey Diwan’s abortion drama “Happening,” which in turn followed her compatriot Julia Ducournau’s Palme d’Or triumph at Cannes for “Titane,” this marks the first time in history that the reigning winners of the most prestigious three prizes on the international festival circuit are all women.
Shyamalan’s jury, which also included newly minted Oscar nominee Ryusuke Hamaguchi and actor Connie Nielsen, rewarded a diverse range of films across the remaining Competition prizes, with only the German political satire “Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush” taking two awards: Best Screenplay and Best Leading Performance for star Meltem Kaptan. In the second year of the festival’s new policy of gender-neutral acting honors, female performers again took both the leading and supporting categories, with the latter going to Indonesian actor Laura Basuki for Kamila Andini’s lyrical political drama “Before, Now and Then (Nana).”
The second-highest honor, the Grand Jury Prize, went to South Korean helmer Hong Sangsoo for his wry, conservational comedy of manners “The Novelist’s Film” — on which the prolific multi-hyphenate takes solo directing, writing, producing, lensing, editing and scoring credit. He accepted the prize together with his personal and professional partner, Kim Minhee, who takes a leading role in this story of artists working out their creative blockages together. This was his third consecutive year in Competition at Berlin: Two years ago, his similarly droll “The Woman Who Ran” won him the Best Director prize.
This year, as it happens, that award went to a close friend and champion of Hong’s, veteran French auteur Claire Denis, for her sensually charged relationship drama “Fire.” IFC Films has already scored U.S. rights to the film, which stars Juliette Binoche and Vincent Lindon as a Parisian couple undone when past desires unexpectedly resurface. It’s a rare victory for Denis, who, despite longtime critical adulation, hasn’t won major festival jury prize since her 1996 film “Nenette and Boni” triumphed at Locarno.
The festival’s Jury Prize, meanwhile, went to another female filmmaker, at the opposite end of her career: Mexican freshman helmer Natalia Lopez Gallardo for her debut feature “Robe of Gems.” Hitherto best known as an editor for such major directors as Carlos Reygadas, Lisandro Alonso and Amat Escalante, Lopez Gallardo has made a strong impact with her muscular, cryptic crime drama, though Variety‘s critic was less enthusiastic than the jury, praising the film as “a sensory experience” while criticizing its “too-sparse plot.”
The Competition winners were rounded out by an Outstanding Artistic Contribution Award for Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh’s experimental dystopian vision “Everything Will Be OK” (another winner that ran foul of Variety‘s reviewer) and a special mention for Swiss director Michael Koch’s austere Alpine tragedy “A Piece of Sky.”
In the festival’s other juried sections, female filmmakers swept the top prizes. Austrian docmaker Ruth Beckermann was a surprise Best Film winner in Encounters — Berlinale’s second-most prestigious competition, founded in 2020 — for her nonfiction film “Mutzenbacher,” an exploration of masculinity, sexuality and modernist Viennese literature.
Iraqi newcomer Kurdwin Ayub won the Best First Feature award — a prize considering debuts from multiple sections of the festival program — for her film “Sonne,” a dynamic study of Muslim feminist rebellion in Austria. Russian director Anastasia Veber won the the short film award for “Trap,” while the festival’s documentary prize went to the Myanmar Film Collective — an anonymous group of dissident filmmakers in Burma, for their “Myanmar Diaries,” shot in the aftermath of the territory’s February 2021 military coup.
The awards ceremony concludes the press portion of this year’s Berlinale, which was structurally compressed this year due to COVID-19, with all films in the programme premiering in the fest’s first seven days — while the remainder of the event, which ends on Sunday, will be made up of repeat screenings for the public.
In the festival’s first full in-person edition since 2020, the pandemic was still a prominent presence in proceedings, with daily testing required for press attending socially distanced screenings, and a palpably diminished crowd circulating around an unusually quiet Potsdamer Platz. Even Isabelle Huppert, the festival’s honorary Golden Bear winner this year, was a pandemic casualty, ultimately unable to attend yesterday’s tribute ceremony in person after testing positive for the virus.
Still, festival brass are likely to be happy with what has been a smoothly executed event under the circumstances, showcasing a typically rich, progressive array of world cinema — with Simón’s earthy, vibrant film a worthy valedictorian for this year’s Berlinale class.
Leo Barraclough reports on the mood inside the theater, the Berlinale Palast:
At the start of the awards ceremony, the mood inside the Berlinale Palast had resembled the weather outside: Dank and gloomy. But the seeming indifference of the audience received a jolt with the heart-rending speech from young Brazilian filmmaker Bruno Ribeiro, winner of the Silver Bear Jury Prize for the short film “Sunday Morning.” He thanked his mother, who died during the pandemic. “She was the person who most supported me in my dream to make cinema. So, thank you, mom.”
The emotion was ratcheted up with each successive winner. Among the highlights were:
- Young Russian filmmaker Anastasia Veber, winner of the Golden Bear for Best Short Film with “Trap,” said she had made the film in “loving memory” of a family friend who had died of COVID. “Somebody at the premiere of this film said it was about the taste of life, and this man had a big taste of life.”
- Corinne van Egeraat, the lead producer of documentary winner “Myanmar Diaries,” accepted the award on behalf of the ten “very brave young filmmakers in Myanmar,” who had risked their lives to shoot the film in the military-controlled country, and are unnamed for their own safety. Fellow producer Petr Lom said: “We know, we are absolutely certain, that this film will be a weapon, because you filmmakers have taught us that cinema on the side of justice will move mountains.” Van Egeraat and Lom then delivered the three-finger salute from “The Hunger Games,” adopted by the opposition in Myanmar as a gesture of defiance.
- Meltem Kaptan, who won the Best Performance award for “Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush,” paid tribute to her Turkish migrant parents who had encouraged their kids to follow their hearts. She dedicated her award to Rabiye Kurnaz, the real-life Turkish-German woman who fought to get her son released from Guantánamo, and “all the mothers whose love is stronger than borders.”
- Natalia López, who won the Silver Bear Jury Prize for “Robe of Gems,” dedicated the award to the people of Morelos, the drug gang-ridden Mexican state where she shot the film, who “have been so generous to me and nourished me, and shared with me their vision of life, their insights into life.”
- Carla Simón, the Berlin Golden Bear winner for “Alcarràs,” spoke movingly of the farming community she had grown up in, and who were the subjects of her film. Simón, who previously won Berlin’s first feature award and the Grand Prix of the Generation Kplus in 2017 for “Summer 1993,” said: “I think I consider myself like a daughter of this place, of Berlinale. This is truly our film home. I think we should just move here as every time we come here something amazing happens.” The awards ceremony was followed by a screening of “Alcarràs.” “I hope that you can feel the love that there is in the film when you are watching it,” she said.
In his closing remarks, festival director Carlo Chatrian said: “We always say that the Berlinale is a big family but probably this word applies this year more than ever: A big family of jurors and a big family of filmmakers. So I thank you all, and we close with a film that is about family.”
As the audience emerged into the night, it was fitting that the clouds parted, allowing the moon to transform the wet streets surrounding Marlene Dietrich Platz with a silvery kiss.
Golden Bear for Best Film: “Alcarràs,” Carla Simón
Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize: “The Novelist’s Film,” Hong Sangsoo
Silver Bear Jury Prize: “Robe of Gems” Natalia Lopez Gallardo
Silver Bear for Best Director: “Fire,” Claire Denis
Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance: “Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush,” Meltem Kaptan
Silver Bear for Best Supporting Performance: “Before, Now and Then (Nana),” Laura Basuki
Silver Bear for Best Screenplay: “Rabiye Kurnaz vs. George W. Bush,” Laila Stieler
Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution: “Everything Will Be OK,” Rithy Panh
Special Mention: “A Piece of Sky,” Michael Koch
ENCOUNTERS JURY AWARDS
Best Film: “Mutzenbacher,” Ruth Beckermann
Best Director: “Unrest,” Cyril Schäublin
Special Jury Award: “See You Friday, Robinson,” Mitra Farahani
DOCUMENTARY JURY AWARDS
Berlinale Documentary Award: “Myanmar Diaries,” The Myanmar Film Collective
Special Mention: “No U-Turn,” Ike Nnaebue
GWFF JURY AWARD
Best Debut Feature: “Sonne,” Kurdwin Ayub
SHORT FILM AWARDS
Golden Bear for Best Short Film: “Trap,” Anastasia Veber
Silver Bear (Jury Prize): “Sunday Morning,” Bruno Ribeiro
Special Mention: “Bird in the Peninsula,” Atsushi Wada
Awards in other sections of the festival, announced earlier, include:
GENERATION KPLUS AWARDS
Crystal Bear (Children’s Jury Award) for Best Film: “Comedy Queen,” Sanna Lenken
Special Mention: “The Quiet Girl,” Colm Bairéad
Crystal Bear (Children’s Jury Award) for Best Short Film: “Spotless,” Emma Branderhorst
Special Mention: “Luce and the Rock,” Britt Raes
International Jury Award for Best Film: “The Quiet Girl,” Colm Bairéad
Special Mention: “Shabu,” Shamira Raphaëla
International Jury Award for Best Short Film: “Deer,” Hadi Babaeifar
Special Mention: “Vancouver,” Artemis Anastasiadou
GENERATION 14PLUS AWARDS
Crystal Bear (Youth Jury Award) for Best Film: “Alis,” Clare Weiskopf, Nicolas van Hemelryck
Special Mention: “Stay Awake,” Jamie Sisley
Crystal Bear (Youth Jury Award) for Best Short Film: “Born in Damascus,” Laura Wadha
Special Mention: “Nothing to See Here,” Nicolas Bouchez
International Jury Award for Best Film: (tied) “Kind Hearts,” Olivia Rochette, Gerard-Jan Claes; “Skhema,” Farkhat Sharipov
International Jury Award for Best Short Film: “Goodbye Jérôme!,” Adam Sillard, Gabrielle Selnet, Chloé Farr
Special Mentions: “Blue Noise,” Simon Maria Kubiena; “Tinashé,” Tig Terera
Berlin Europa Cinemas Label Award: “Beautiful Beings,” Guðmundur Arnar Guðmundsson