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Berlin 2013: Critic's Wrap

The Grandmaster - film still
"The Grandmaster"

A look back at the festival's award winning films and most noteworthy performances.

By the close of the 63rd Berlin International Film Festival on Saturday, Wong Kar-wai’s lush, historical, star-studded martial arts love story The Grandmaster got a shot at critical re-evaluation. After 10 days of generally strong films with nothing spectacular to Skype home about, festival-goers started looking back nostalgically at the opening night’s Chinese fireworks. In retrospect, it was clear that the Hong Kong art film, shown out of Competition, set a deceptively larger-than-life tone for a festival whose main themes turned out to be character studies of mature women and troubled teens.

Wong’s jury seemed to be thinking a lot like the critics when they awarded the Golden Bear to the finely wrought Romanian film Child’s Pose – which significantly also won the Fipresci critics’ prize. Directed by Calin Peter Netzer, it features actress Luminita Gheorghiu as a glamorous, 60-year-old domineering mother who pulls strings to save her grown son, accused of running over a child.

Berlin 2013: 'Child's Pose' Wins Berlin Golden Bear

Child’s Pose well represented a competition full of powerful actresses and complexly motivated, intriguing female roles, as directors and screenwriters discovered the value of maturity and seemed anxious to explore the aging female face and psyche. Paulina Garcia, who stole the show as a 58-year-old woman who starts over in the much admired Chilean film Gloria, received a well-deserved best actress nod.

She won out over some tough competition: Juliette Binoche as a mad artist in Bruno Dumont’s disturbing Camille Claudel 1915, Catherine Deneuve as a former beauty queen in a late-life crisis in On My Way, Rayna Campbell as the guilt-ridden South African mother in Layla Fourie, and top German actress Nina Hoss on her way to the Klondike gold rush in Thomas Arslan’s Gold.

Berlin 2013: Actress Performances Lead Buzz At Fest's Midpoint

Along with these well-traveled older ladies, teenagers in trouble ran amok in Competition. They were to be found in the very much-admired picture from Kazakhstan, Harmony Lessons, Emir Baigazin’s first feature about a marginalized boy of 13; Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Hope in which a chubby 13-year-old girl is packed off to diet camp; Hong Sangsoo’s Nobody’s Daughter Haewon, about a lonely and confused film student; and Guillaume Nicloux’s classy remake of Diderot’s The Nun, featuring a rebellious 16-year-old abbess. One might add many strong non-Comp films to the list, including Georgia’s In Bloom, Israel’s disturbing Youth and Greece’s The Daughter.

Berlin 2013: THR's Actors Roundtable (Photos)

In handing David Gordon Green the best director laurels for Prince Avalanche, which Berlin audiences found almost universally charming, the jury made another noncontroversial decision. The two-handed indie comedy with Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch, the remake of an Icelandic film, evidently was close to European sensibilities. Most of the American titles felt like old news, given that so many came rolling out of Sundance, like Prince Avalanche, or are already in theatrical release. Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight was quite popular with critics, unlike Gus Van Sant’s social-environmental drama Promised Land.

If the filmmakers were hoping for a better Euro response than the cool reception they got at Sundance for the Shia LaBeouf outing The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, they must have been disappointed. And James Franco chalked up another mystifying art project with Maladies, which screened to indifference in Berlin, as did Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects. Dutch director George Sluizer received divided critical response for Dark Blood, River Phoenix's final role, an engaging low-key thriller despite missing several key scenes. Making its world premiere in Berlin, DreamWorks Animation’s The Croods was appreciated for what it is: a sweet Stone Age comedy for the younger set.

Berlin 2013: 'The Croods' Makes World Debut With Eye Towards Possible Franchise

For once, outspoken social and political films took a backseat, though they resurfaced under the new guise of docudramas. Both the Jury Grand Prix as well as best actor kudos went to the small Bosnian film An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker, Danis Tanovic’s starkly compelling case study of poverty and racism. Closed Curtain was another Competition film that blurred the line between fact, fiction and testimonial, turning Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi’s real-life situation under house arrest into poetic allegory and winning the best screenplay award. And the Audience Award for best Panorama documentary went to The Act of Killing, which features Indonesian death squad killers re-enacting their crimes onscreen.

David Rooney, Stephen Dalton and Jordan Mintzer contributed to this report.