The 54th Berlinale – The Berlin Film Festival
The Berlinale is generally acknowledged as being the most important film festival in Europe, where the artistic merit and the diversity of films are concerned (Cannes is the place for sales and marketing). In Berlin there are several different competitions – and it is not just the main competition, that draws interest and audience. This year approximately 200 films were shown: Feature films, shorts and documentaries from all over the world.
Big Hollywood stars visit the festival, give press conferences and let themselves be stared at by hordes of gawking moviegoers. This year’s crop included Jack Nicholson, Robin Williams, Cate Blanchett, Ron Howard, Renée Zellweger, Charlize Theron, Tim Roth, Amanda Peet, Christian Bale, Mira Sorvino, Jude Law, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.

Frances McDormand was President of the Jury in the main competition. To find out, which films and persons won all the international prizes, go to the Berlinale homepage – they also have lots of pictures and streaming video. You can also see all the winners here.

As you may guess: Asian films were my main interest at the festival. The Berlinale has always been known for having a wide selection of Asian films and this year was no different from previous years.
And yet – it was a bit different. Korean Director Kim Ki-Duk was present for the third time, without having won anything. However, this time around he won one of the most prestigious prizes: The Silver Bear for Best Director for his film Samaria (Samaritan Girl) in the main competition. A well deserved award for a controversial filmmaker. His earlier films include The Isle, Address Unknown, Bad Guy and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter…and Spring. At the press meeting, where we also had the pleasure of meeting the lead actress of Samaria, Kwak Ji-Min, he said: “I don’t expect to win anything. It is mostly mainstream films, that win prizes – my films are not mainstream. If 50% of the audience like my films, and the other 50% walks out, that’s about what I expect.”

The other Asian film in the main competition was Sylvia Chang’s 20:30:40. The Taiwanese/Hong Kong co-production is a very pleasant and low-key film about the lives of three women aged 20, 30 and 40, hence the title. (20:30:40)
A Beautiful Country is not an Asian film, it is a Norwegian/English co-production, but a big part of it takes place in Vietnam, and the main characters are Asian. It tells the story of a young man, whose father was an American soldier. His mother is Vietnamese, and he has been brought up in Vietnam. How he ends up going to America in search of his father is told with much beauty and feeling, and despite the hardships encountered the film gracefully avoids tear jerking sentimentality. Damien Nguyen, Bai Ling, Tim Roth and Nick Nolte are the main characters.
In other competitions at the festival there were plenty of Asian films. So many in fact, that I had no chance of seeing them all. Of those I did see, the Korean entries seemed the most impressive, which were not surprising given the generally high standard of Korean cinema today.
Korean films:

Samaritan Girl
A Tale of Two Sisters
Untold Scandal
Au Revoir UFO

Japanese films:

A Day on the Planet
48 Waterfalls
One Missed Call

Chinese films:

The Story of Er Mei
South of the Clouds
Goddess of Mercy
Baober in Love
Lost in Time
There were many good films in Berlin, but also some disappointments. No really new great film comes to mind either. A lot of films were quite downbeat, which had you searching for a happy, upbeat film by the end of the week. They were hard to find, though.

I did succeed in finding two films, that had you leaving the theatre in a happy mood. D.E.B.S. is a lesbian spy comedy, that’ll have you laughing out loud. High school girls in school uniforms with miniskirts are recruited as spies. The villain is another beautiful girl, who falls in love with our spy heroine.
Cliché upon cliché told with tongue in cheek or quite brazenly will put a smile on your lips – and all this without any nude-scenes! Asked about this, Director Angela Robinson promised: “There will be a nude-scene on the DVD. We cut it from the movie to keep the PG-13 rating” Robinson also said: “I’ve seen so many serious lesbian films. I wanted to make an upbeat, funny film – and I love spy movies!”

Lightning in a Bottle is a music film. A year ago at New York’s Radio City Music Hall a huge blues concert took place. Nearly every blues-legend still alive was there. The music is presented more or less chronologically, starting with the old blues originating in Africa, going on to the Mississippi delta, Memphis and Chicago, Great Britain in the sixties and today’s rap and hip-hop scene in USA. Your feet will be tapping the rhythm in no time, your ears will enjoy the crisp and full sound, and your eyes will feast on the images of the legends. Martin Scorsese was Executive Producer. See this movie and buy it on DVD - even though there will be no extra nude-scenes!

After a week of three to four films and two press conferences a day, you feel a bit woozy. But it was a great week. Lots of movies, gawking at the stars from a distance of a few meters, the vibrant atmosphere and the fight for good seats at the press conferences – all this gave you an adrenaline kick, that made you forget how tired you were.

I’ll be back next year!
Uffe Stegmann