Roman Polanski

Polanski Wins Silver Bear at Berlin

A jury of Roman Polanskis peers, led by director Werner Herzog, honored him for the film. But can accolades keep him out of prison? Including Roman Polanskis new film The Ghost Writer in this years Berlin International Film Festival made the Polish director a hard man to ignore in the competition. Ultimately, the jury led by director Werner Herzog, gave Polanski its Silver Bear prize for best director.

Detained in Zurich, Polanski was as discreet as a Swiss banker about the award. He had no comment.

Its a bit of an honor awarded for being Polanski, and not for anything extraordinary about his yarn — LINK a plodding statement of personal paranoia wrapped in a thriller script, with all sorts of fingers pointing at what Polanski believes is the pernicious reach of the United States in world affairs.  (Hes not alone, hence the prize, many here would say.) Remember, it was the US that reached into Europe, once a safe haven for the man accused of sexual crimes in Los Angeles, to bring the director back for what promises to be a courtroom spectacle beyond anything Polanski imagined possible, until his arrest.

An important honor like this (American actress Renee Zellweger was on the seven-person jury) could help ensure that, even if he is convicted in the US, there will be pressure to keep the  internationally heralded artist out of jail. The Berlin award also wont hurt in the marketing of a new documentary by Marina Zenovich, whose 2008 documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired (acquired by HBO at Sundance in 08, and aired on HBO), revived interest in Polanskis court case and his subsequent flight from the US.

Meanwhile, the festivals top prize, the Golden Bear, went to Honey, by Semih Kaplanoglu of Turkey, about a young boys search for his beekeeper father in a magically lush mountain landscape.  See it at a festival if you can – chances of a release in the US are slim, unfortunately.

Wang QuanAn and Na Jin from China won the prize for best script for Tuan Yuan (Apart Together), a drama about the return of Taiwanese army veterans to the Chinese mainland after more than 60 years.

Asia was a presence throughout the Berlinale, this time with commercial movies playing alongside the art films from Asia that have been part of the Berlin program for decades. The festival was bookended with “Apart Together” as its opening film, and the Japanese middle-class saga “About Her Brother” by Yoji Yamata as its closer. The Berlinale also showed “A Woman, A Gun, and a Noodle Shop,” Zhang Yimous wildly farcical adaptation of the Coen Brothers “Blood Simple,” and “My Name Is Khan,” the would-be blockbuster starring Indian heart-throb Shahrukh Khan (which opened in the US last weekend).  Playing such a commercial Indian film seemed like an acknowledgement that India is an industry that makes more films than the US, and that it could now be a major capital provider for films worldwide.

A film from a country that seemed to be a new capital source, Russia, took prizes for best acting and “artistic achievement.”

“How I Ended This Summer” by Alexei Popogrebsky of Moscow is a drama about two men posted at a remote station that monitors radiation on Russias coast. To call the landscape dramatic would understate the power of the films cinematography. The award recognized the refinement of the third film by a director whose first feature was Koktobel, a Russian road movie.

“How I Ended This Summer” makes its US premiere in late March at the New Directors New films Festival at Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Another winner for its country of origin, Romania, and for primitivism as an acting style, is the juvenile prison tale, “If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle” a first feature by Florin Serban. Romania remains a country to watch for new talent in filmmaking. While Serbans movie isnt the best to emerge from that country  — the competition is stiff, to be fair, and this director seems to prefer rawness to refinement – it shows depth on the bench and an effort by Berlin to move into a territory whose films tend to premiere at Cannes.

(For the latest from Romania that can be seen in the US, look in theaters for “Police, Adjective”  by Corneliu Porumboiu, a drama built around the ethical dilemmas of a police investigation in a dreary provincial town.)

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