The Good, the Bad and the Indifferent By Leonardo García Tsao

in 55th Berlinale

by Leonardo Garcia Tsao

After a weak start, the competition of the 2005 edition of Berlinale settled into the usual mixed bag of the good, the bad and the indifferent. The outstanding titles proved that auteur cinema is alive and well, with strong showings from France and Asia.

Except for Alain Corneau’s turgid melodrama Words In Blue (Les mots bleus), all other French entries were noteworthy: Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped (De battre mon coeur s’est arrêté), Robert Guédiguian’s Le promeneur du Champ de Mars (The Last Mitterrand) and even André Téchiné’s uneven but emotional Changing Times (Les temps qui changent). Strangely enough, only Audiard’s film got a minor award for best music. Critics in general expected a major prize for Guediguian’s fictional take on the last days of President Mitterrand, but it ended up empty-handed. Certainly nobody in the press expected the South African production U-Carmen eKhayelitsha to win the Golden Bear, either.

Asian cinema had better results with the jury. Tsai Ming-liang’s latest oeuvre, The Wayward Cloud (Tian bian yi duo yun) seemed to please critics and jurors alike with his new vision of alienation, loneliness and prefab eroticism in the way of porn. The revelation was cinematographer-turned-director Gu Changwei’s debut Peacock (Kong que), a compelling, critical view of China’s lack of opportunities for young people of the working class. Although Peacock probably would’ve been a worthier winner of the Golden Bear it did nab the Jury Grand Prix.

Auteur cinema was also in pure form in Alexander Sokurov’s The Sun (Solzne), the third part of his trilogy on 20th century dictators. The human portrayal of Emperor Hirohito as he faces his nation’s defeat at the end of World War II, is the kind of moody art film that can only be shown in the context of a film festival.

The representation of German cinema didn’t seem to convince the international press. Marc Rothemund’s wordy Sophie Scholl — The Final Days (Sophie Scholl — Die letzten Tage) seemed more suitable for theater or radio, although Julia Jentsch’s moving performance got the recognition — and the Silver Bear — it deserved. The less said of the other two entries, Hannes Stöhr’s One Day In Europe and Christian Petzold’s Ghosts (Gespenster), the better.

Because of the change of dates of the Academy Awards ceremony to late February, most of the nominated films had an earlier European premiere, therefore depriving the Berlinale of what used to be, until last year, one of its strongest cards in terms of Hollywood films and the attendance of renowned directors and stars. Certainly the selection of American films was paltry in comparison, in and out of competition. Quirky comedies such as Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, Mike Mills’s Thumbsucker or Paul Weitz’ In Good Company didn’t quite cut it. While the out of competition screenings of Bill Condon’s Kinsey and Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda seemed dated (both films were premiered in Toronto, way back in September) and Andy Tennant’s Hitch simply inexcusable.