Berlin: Chinese Film Noir 'Black Coal, Thin Ice' Wins Golden Bear

The film from director Diao Yinan is set in the Chinese provinces.
The film from director Diao Yinan is set in the Chinese provinces.
 Courtesy of Fortissimo

Black Coal, Thin Ice, a Chinese film noir from director Diao Yinan has won the Golden Bear for best film at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival. The film's star, Liao Fan, took the Silver Bear honor for best actor for his portrayal of a comic, alcoholic detective working in the Chinese provinces.

"Berlin, I love you!" said director Diao as he hoisted the Golden Bear statue, while actor Liao noted that his Silver Bear win came a day after "the first day of spring in China, which was also Valentine's Day and, as it happens, my 40th birthday. Berlin is full of love and this is the best birthday present I could have hoped for."

The actor joked that he had told his mother before the awards ceremony that if he didn't win, he wouldn't come home.

Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel, a star-studded love letter to pre-WWII Europe, won the Grand Jury Prize, the Berlinale's runner-up honor, while Richard Linklater's Boyhood, a coming-of-age tale shot over 12 years with the same actors -- including Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette, won the best director Silver Bear.

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But it was China's night, as the Berlinale International Jury, headed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter and ex-Focus Features CEO James Schamus, handed out three top trophies to Chinese films. In addition to the two for Black Coal, Thin Ice, there was a Silver Bear for Lou Ye's drama Blind Massage honoring "extraordinary artistic achievement." Schamus wrote the screenplay to The Wedding Banquet and has been a frequent collaborator with Ang Lee, penning the scripts to such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Lust, Caution.

Black Coal, Thin Ice is a China-U.S. co-production between Jiangsu Omnijoi Movie and Boneyard Entertainment China, the international subsidiary of Daniel J. Victor's Boneyard Entertainment. Investors in Boneyard include rappers 50 Cent, Eminem, music producer Timbaland and New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. The film will open in China in March. Fortissimo Films is handling world sales.

Black Coal, Thin Ice is the first Chinese film to win top honors in Berlin since Wang Quan'an's Tuya's Wedding in 2007. But Berlin has always been a premiere platform for new Chinese cinema. The Berlinale gave Golden Bear trophies to Zhang Yimou in 1988 for Red Sorghum and to Lee (Life of Pi) in 1993 for The Wedding Banquet (an honor he shared ex aequo with fellow Chinese filmmaker Xie Fei for Xiang hun nu). 

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Richard Linklater accepted his best director honor on behalf of the "over 400 people" who worked on Boyhood in the course of its incredible 12 year shoot. 

Wes Anderson was unable to attend the awards ceremony in Berlin Saturday night but sent a message which jury member Greta Gerwig read out:

"A number of years ago in Venice, I received the Leone Piccolo, which is a small, miniaturized version of the more familiar stature awarded by a group of local school children," the message went. "More recently in Cannes, I received a Palme d' Chocolate, which is included in a gift bag provided by the festival I keep it in the original cellophane. However, this Silver Bear is the first both full scale and genuinely metallic prize I have every received from a film festival and so I fell particularly honored, moved and indeed thrilled to accept it."

Berlinale festival director Dieter Kosslick accepted the statuette on behalf of Anderson, saying he would be flying to New York next week in any case and would deliver the award to the director personally.

The Silver Bear for best actress went to Japanese actress Haru Kuroki, who plays a girl who leaves her rural hometown to work as a maid in Tokyo in Yoji Yamada’s period melodrama The Little House. Siblings Anna and Dietrich Bruggemann won the best screenplay Silver Bear for their script to Stations of the Cross, a stunning drama about a young girl's journey through faith, which Dietrich Bruggemann directed.

The Alfred Bauer Prize, named after the Berlinale's first festival director, went to veteran French filmmaker Alain Resnais for his latest ensemble piece, Life of Riley, which also picked up the Fipresci International Critics Prize as best film, one of the many independent awards presented ahead of Berlin's official prize gala Saturday night.

Mexican drama Gueros won the best first film prize for director Alonso Ruizpalacios. The Golden Bear for best short film went to As long as shotguns remain from Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel while Laborat from director Guillaume Cailleau took the short film Silver Bear.

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