I already wrote a top ten of my most memorable Berlinale moments in the Guardian this week, so it would be unfair to do a repeat edition. In some ways attending a festival like the Berlinale isn't simply about seeing films and picking favorites. The experience often went beyond individual film screenings to include the unique and unforgettable moments a festival of that size and stature affords. Watching an intimate chat with filmmaker, Michel Gondry about his latest film Science of Sleep in a coffee shop the size of my living room. The Road to Guantanamo press conference, face to face with two men who survived the US inflicted brutality. Interviewing Alan Berliner about his latest personal doc, Wide Awake, while surrounded by the buzzing conversation of an international cast of filmmakers. And most engaging of all, being able to hear first hand, from the next generation of international filmmakers and have a dialogue with them about their films. Because of the way distribution works and the power of Hollywood, their films might never screen in a theater in the United States. And yet they represented some of the most unique, challenging and exciting work out there. So maybe beyond even individual moments, the Berlinale is a place to make discoveries.
Ok, so by now you may have read that Grbavica by Jasmila Zbanic won the Golden Bear. I had no way of knowing the film was destined for glory when I fell in love with the bittersweet story about a mother and daughter. I missed the press screening and had a nagging intuition that I should see the film. Despite being unable to read German sub-titles and only managing to decipher a fraction of the Bosnian dialect, this beautifully acted and heartbreaking film about the legacy of war in Bosnia made an instant and lasting impression. The film struck a fine balance between personal and political, with out being melodramatic or didactic.
The lead actress Mirjana Karanovic, known for her roles in films by Emir Kusturica, plays Esma, a mother who lives with her 12-year-old daughter Sara (Luna Mijovic) in Sarajevo's Grbavica district. Mirjana Karanovic wore the weight of the world on her face and in her body language. She was superb as a war survivor, attempting to make ends meet in a bleak post war economy, while being haunted by the war's ugly, cruel and unrelenting legacy. The relationship between Esma and Sara is developed beautifully throughout the course of the film as the young girl begins drifting away from her mother and into the black hole of adolescence. The assurance of the directing is a testament to Jasmila's talent. This was her first feature film. I had seen a couple of the Competition Films and felt strongly that Grbavic should win an award. I can't tell you how surprised I was to see director Jasmila Zbanic on the cover of a newspaper winning the Golden Bear.
Attending the screening of Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon by South African director Khalo Matabane was one of those rare festival going experiences when you consider yourself lucky to be seeing a film that you probably wouldn't get a chance to see anywhere else. What begins as a self-conscious video portrait of a poet in South Africa turns into a deeply moving exploration of displacement on a global scale and the eternal search for home in a world torn apart by endless wars.
Under the guise of searching for, Fatima, a Somali woman he meets at the park, the writer encounters and interviews numerous people on the street, all refugees who have made South Africa their home. Each has their individual story of escape because of war or persecution, and each has the desire to make a new life. But a new life, in a new place also comes with loneliness, cultural isolation, and a bitter longing for the place one considers home. As I watched the film I was struck by the honesty and emotional depth of the impromptu interviews. Only watching the end credits did I realize that the film might not be a documentary, but a narrative piece.
The wars and circumstances people referenced in their on camera interviews were all too real. Was the film a combination of fact and fiction? Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon smoothly dissolves the demarcation line between fact and fiction, documentary and narrative. So many modern day docs pretend to represent the truth, while using the technique of character development and religiously following a narrative three act structure to tell their stories. Conversations on a Sunday Afternoon suggests the ambiguity of the truth, the threadbare line between the documentary and narrative form, and the ability to fuse the two to make a powerful statement.
What is the fractured narrative of the The Prisoner about? I still can't tell you and I have been thinking about the film a lot. A group of young people, in Buenos Aires, move through their days, attending music classes, hooking up, hanging out, traveling through the city, which takes on the role of a character in the film. It's impossible to tell who is coming and going, as they play out their minor dramas and daily existence unfolds. The film could be a political allegory, although now "free" and living in a "democratic"society, the individual character's lives are still filled with uncertainty, there is no clear direction or focus. It could be a film about a younger generation of Argentian's growing up in the looming shadow of an economic crisis. The Prisoner is a deeply elusive and enigmatic film. I could have watched the characters and ambiguous situations for another hour, but I don't know if I would get any closer to unraveling it's meaning.
Biggest miss of the festival. Not seeing the screening of The Road to Guantanamo.