The Double Life of German Cinema
For one thing, films such as Hannes Stöhrs’ Berlin is in Germany, for example, which won the Panorama Audience Award, or Angela Schanelec’s Mein langsames Leben | Passing Summer, which ran in the Forum. Big budgets are no guarantee of quality. In Germany, though, it was sad that one had to demonstrate again and again how films could be made with little or no money. “Kosslick’s first task will be to create a forum for German film in the Competition,” noted Michael Althen in the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”.The discussion about the little or no attention given to German cinema was mostly confined to Germany, though.
International perception of the festival was dominated by other topics. For example, it was pointed out that none of the US contributions came out of a major studio. Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic, one of the festival’s first highpoints following the opening flop, was seen as a well-produced work full of character by an “independent” director. John Boorman’s The Tailor of Panama and Mike Nichols’ haunting drama Wit were anything but cut and dried, slick products. Even the heated debate surrounding Ridley Scott’s calculating shocker Hannibal revolved more around the question of how much violence art can tolerate, than whether a film was being shown whose success at the box office was already a given.
Sex, Corporeality, Intimacy: Explicit Berlinale
Asides from this debate, many commentators focused on the noticeable presence of corporeality, sex and intimacy in the films of this year. While defiant films such as Kirsten Sheridan’s Disco Pigs are normal for the Panorama, the Competition also took a provocative direction with Bear-winner Intimacy and Catherine Breillat’s A Ma Soeur | Fat Girl. Further critic favourites were Lucrecia Martel’s La Ciénaga | The Swamp and Lone Scherfig’s Italiensk for Begyndere | Italian for Beginners. If Intimacy polarized opinion, praise was heaped on Scherfig’s mellow “post-Dogma film” by audience and press alike. The dramaturgy in the Competition hit the right note, even if no single film stuck out.
Young Chinese Cinema within an Asian Focus
Eastern Europe was absent from the Competition. While Hungarian director Péter Gothár’s Paszport | Passport and Slovak Martin Šulik’s Krajinka | Landscape received critical acclaim, in general this Berlinale was seen as an indicator of the economic difficulties faced by the Eastern European film industry. Instead, much attention was given to the strong presence of young Asian directors. In both the Competition and Forum promising filmmakers from China, Thailand, Japan and Korea presented their work and a special series was dedicated to Vietnam in the Forum.
Wang Xiaoshuai’s urban ballad Shi Qi Sui De Dan Che | Beijing Bicycle and Lin Cheng-sheng’s Ai ni ai wo | Betelnut Beauty were honoured with prizes in the Competition and were met with broad recognition. One of the most-noticed films in the Forum was Kaze Shindô’s Love/Juice from Japan and Zhan tai | Platform by Jia Zhang-ke. The young filmmaker had just founded the first independent production company in China and therefore represented new, daring Chinese cinema. The Berlinale had convincingly fulfilled its promise to provide a platform for Asian cinema, and the international press acknowledged this as a considerable achievement by Moritz de Hadelns.
Moritz de Hadeln’s and Ulrich Gregor’s Farewell
The farewell of a man who had led the festival for two decades was also a major topic of discussion. In an article for the “Wiesbaden Kurier” Gerd Klee pointed out how criticism of de Hadeln had often been exaggerated. “If they could make him responsible for the mostly icy or rainy weather during the Berlinale, they surely would have,” remarked Klee, noting however a slow change in mood – even de Hadeln’s harshest critics had praised his work. In fact, most commentary on de Hadeln’s departure was objective and struck a conciliatory tone.