UPDATED with full list of winners: The Berlin Film Festival crowned its winners tonight at a ceremony in the Berlinale Palast. Big winners included Synonyms (Synonymes), which took home the festival’s top prize Golden Bear for Best Film and By the Grace of God, which won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize. I Was at Home, But won the Best Director accolade, and there was a double hit in the acting categories for the Republic of China’s So Long, My Son, which won Best Actor for Wang Jingchun and Best Actress for Yong Mei. Scroll down for a full list of winners.
Golden Bear Best Film winner Synonyms, a French-German-Israeli co-production, was an early favorite at the festival, launching first-timer actor Tom Mercier in the breakout role of a young Israeli man who tries to reinvent himself in Paris, with the help of a Franco-Israeli dictionary that gives the film its title. Director Nadav Lapid acknowledged that his provocative film might be considered scandalous by some, but added, “for me, this film is a big celebration of cinema”.
Otherwise, it was a somewhat muted night, controversy-wise, beginning with a standing ovation for Swiss-born acting legend and honorary German star Bruno Ganz, who died yesterday. This was soon followed by a tribute to flamboyant outgoing artistic director Dieter Kosslick, who bade the festival a surprisingly cheerful farewell after 18 years in the driving seat (his predecessor, Moritz de Hadeln, he later revealed, was one of the night’s special guests, watching from the audience).
In fact, the overall mood was one of celebration, and not long after short film winner Suhaib Gasmelbari energetically announced his solidarity with his Sudanese subjects of his film Talking About Trees (“Long live the struggle of the Sudanese people!”), Juliette Binoche and her jury made a short and somewhat more opaque statement on the absence of Zhang Yimou’s One Second, exalting the Chinese director as an “essential voice in international cinema” and adding that “we hope to see [his film] on screens around the world very soon”.
Tonight’s main prizes were bestowed by international jury president Juliette Binoche in concert with her jury comprising film critic Justin Chang, actress Sandra Hüller, director Sebastián Lelio, curator and author Rajendra Roy, and producer Trudie Styler. Last year’s Golden Bear winner was first film Touch Me Not from Romanian director Adina Pintilie.
The 69th edition of the venerable festival marked the last hurrah of long-time artistic director Dieter Kosslick who during his near 20-year tenure has done a great deal to position Berlin as one of the key international staging posts in the film calendar and for growing the reach of the festival within Berlin and Germany itself.
The event drew to a close with sad news regarding the loss of revered Swiss actor Bruno Ganz, well known for memorable performances in movies including Downfall and Wings Of Desire. Festival director Kosslick praised Ganz as “one of the greatest and most versatile actors.” In reference to Ganz’s performance in Wim Wenders’ classic Wings Of Desire, he added “Now he is truly in the heavens above Berlin.”
This year’s Berlinale, which played out in relatively balmy temperatures, was a mixed bag. Positive notes included the higher number of women directors in the lineup, the signing of a gender equality pact and a handful of well received competition films such as last-to-screen So Long, My Son (Wang Xiaoshuai’s drama was probably the best received of all competition films), Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms and Emin Alper’s A Tale Of Three Sisters. As has become the trend, the Panorama lineup was studded with interesting, if not high-profile, movies, while Friday’s international premiere of scintillating Aretha Franklin documentary Amazing Grace was a joyful way to round out the Berlinale.
On the whole, though, the festival lineup was low-wattage with few new films generating significant buzz. It was a blow for the event to lose Zhang Yimou’s competition film One Second mid-way through and there were some scathing notices for another high-profile title, Fatih Akin’s The Golden Glove. There was also a disquiet from Germany exhibitors over the festival’s inclusion in competition of Netflix film Elisa Y Marcela.
Perhaps proceedings weren’t helped by a muted European Film Market. There was a critical mass of business done on arthouse fare and some bigger U.S. packages found homes: Focus will team with FilmNation on Carey Mulligan pic Promising Young Woman and Amazon nabbed Kristen Stewart starrer Against All Enemies. Aaron Sorkin’s presence for The Chicago 7 and Lisa Joy’s for Reminiscence helped generate significant interest in those projects and Greenland and Angelina Jolie starrer Those Who Wish Me Dead were among other buzzy packages.
There are significant deals percolating. But the market lacked fireworks. While few expected the fevered deal-making of Sundance, many hoped for a little more than we got. That said, wider festival and market events generated good interest. Berlin’s TV strand once again showcased some solid projects and the industry debates were lively with the Netflix European commissioners panel one of the most in-demand and informative. A certain market intrigue was also added by rumours about senior U.S. distribution executives moving on to other top firms and the uncertain status of one hot project in the market, which was being claimed by different companies at the same time.
The A-list festival, still one of the best-attended by public and industry, will now move to slightly later dates in 2020 (‘thank god’ is a familiar refrain from those who attend Sundance and Berlin) and will have new leadership in the shape of former Locarno boss Carlo Chatrian and former German Films executive Mariette Rissenbeek. The festival’s historic 70th edition will be keenly observed by those ready for new energy and direction.
BERLIN FILM FESTIVAL 2019 WINNERS
Golden Bear for Best Film
Synonyms, dir. Nadav Lapid
Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize
By the Grace of God, dir. François Ozon
Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize
System Crasher, dir. Nora Fingscheidt
Silver Bear for Best Director
Angela Shanelec, I Was at Home, But
Silver Bear for Best Actress
Yong Mei, So Long, My Son
Silver Bear for Best Actor
Wang Jingchun, So Long, My Son
Silver Bear Best Screenplay
Mauricio Barucci, Claudio Giovannesi and Roberto Saviano, Piranhas
Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution
Cinematographer, Out Stealing Horses
Glashutte Original Documentary
Talking About Trees, dir: Suhaib Gasmelbari
GWFF Best First Feature Award
Oray, dir: Mehmet Akif Büyükatalay
Golden Bear Best Short Film
Umbra, dir: Florian Fischer, Johannes Krell
Silver Bear Jury Prize Short Film
Blue Boy, dir: Manuel Abramovich
Audi Short Film Award
Rise, dir: Barbara Wagner, Benjamin de Burca
Panorama Audience Award Winner Fiction Film
37 Seconds, Japan, dir. Hikari
Panorama Audience Award Winner Panorama Dokumente
Talking About Trees, France / Sudan / Germany / Chad / Qatar dir. Suhaib Gasmelbari