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The good, the bad and the indifferent

RITA DI SANTO reports from the 2019 Berlin International Film Festival

ISRAELI director Nadav Lapid’s Synonyms won the top award at this year’s Berlinale on Saturday. Synonyms follows an ex-Israeli soldier who rejects his nationality as he moves to France to start a new life and find his true identity.

Shaking the boundaries of storytelling, with a sharp sense of humour and a subtle political message, it is a startlingly original anti-war movie that could be considered controversial, even “scandalous” in Israel and France as it courageously skewers stereotypes prevailing in both nations.

The Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize went to Francois Ozon’s By the Grace of God, a fact-based account of the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal behind the ongoing trial of Philippe Barbarin, the archbishop of Lyon.

Ozon goes beyond the newspaper headlines and magnificently brings the reality of the scandal back to life. It is a film which stays with you — one of the many joys of a film which conceals rewarding depths beneath its surface.

Disappointing was the verdict of the jury to award German filmmaker Angela Schanelec Best Director for I Was at Home, But, an overlong drama about a dysfunctional middle-class family which, despite one or two nice moments, never comes to life.    

In another win for a German film, the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize went to Nora Fingscheidt’s System Crasher about a disturbed young girl who yearns to be with her mother as she falls through Germany’s child welfare system.

It’s a deceptively simple tale with an essential warm humanity present in every frame and its rich, raw immediacy fully absorbing.

It is also a homage to the efforts by the web of social workers who work tirelessly to enable families in distress to have a dignified life.

Powerfully performed, heartbreaking and tragic, Wang Xiaoshuai’s Chinese drama So Long, My Son scooped the Best Actor and Actress Silver Bears, for stars Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei respectively.

The director constructs a complex family chronicle that spans four decades and depicts some of the repercussions, cultural and psychological, of Chinese national policy since the 1980s.
 

Maurizio Braucci, Claudio Giovannesi and Roberto Saviano (author of Gomorra) won Best Screenplay for their examination of Naples under the rule of the Camorra in Piranhas, an adaptation of Saviano’s novel of the same name.

It’s a captivating story which helps the audience to understand another side of the Camorra.

Giovannesi, who directed, creates an astonishing balance in the narration, looking at the facts and not exploiting them, making an objective analysis of the system, without judging the youths involved in crime, while raising questions and awareness.

Controversy was provided when the Chinese film Better Days was pulled from the competition at the last minute having failed to receive the requisite permits from Chinese authorities.

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