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On the Adamant, a documentary by French director Nicolas Philibert that gives an intimate look at the patients and caregivers in a mental health center located on the Seine River in the heart of Paris, has won the 2023 Berlin International Film Festival’s Golden Bear for best film.
For his 11th feature, the 72-year-old Philibert spent months aboard a barge anchored on the Seine in Paris, chronicling a mental health care facility that caters specifically to its patients’ creative needs. His documentary explores issues of creativity and art, of sanity and madness, but does so without applying labels or clear-cut distinctions.
“I don’t like partitions or labels,” Philibert said. “In this film on psychiatry, we were always [careful] to not always distinguish very clearly between patients and carers. I tried to reverse the image we always have of mad people [which I see] as discriminating and stigmatizing. I wanted us to be able, if not to identify with them, at least to recognize what unites us beyond our differences.”
Sofía Otero, who plays a 8-year-old who begins to transition in Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s 20,000 Species of Bees, has become the youngest-ever winner of the Berlin International Film Festival’s Silver Bear for best leading performance.
On the other end of the age spectrum, veteran French filmmaker Philippe Garrel took Berlin’s best director prize for The Plough, a family drama featuring Garrel’s real-life children playing three siblings who are the latest, and perhaps last, generation in a family of puppeteers. Garrel dedicated his award to the late, great French-Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard.
The runner-up Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize went to Afire from German director Christian Petzold. The film is a tragicomedy about four young people in a holiday home on the Baltic coast who are threatened by an encroaching forest fire.
The Silver Bear jury prize went to João Canijo’s Bad Living, which is a Portuguese-French film about the conflicts between the five women who run an old hotel.
The German trans actress Thea Ehre took the Silver Bear for best supporting performance, in Christoph Hochhäusler’s transgender crime romance Till the End of the Night.
“If I’m allowed to speak very plainly, this performance blew our hair back,” Berlinale Jury President Kristen Stewart said, announcing the prize. “This person has an aura.”
Berlin was the first major film festival to introduce gender-neutral acting awards and hands out a single prize for best leading performance and one for best supporting performance.
Angela Schanelec’s Music, a modern-day reimagining of the Oedipus myth, told almost entirely without dialogue, was the surprise winner of the best screenplay honor.
Veteran cinematographer Helene Louvart won Berlin’s Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution for her luminous lensing of Giacomo Abbruzzese’s feature debut, Disco Boy.
Mexican-based director Tatiana Huezo grabbed two honors early on, taking the best director prize for the Berlinale’s Encounters section, as well as the Berlinale best documentary prize, for her latest film, The Echo, which looks at families living in a remote village in northern Mexico. The documentary award comes with a $42,000 (€40,000) cash prize, shared between the director and the producers of the film.
The Encounters jury, which picked the best films in the Berlinale’s sidebar for more experimental cinema, gave its special jury honor ex aequo to Orlando, My Political Biography from trans writer turned director Paul B. Preciado, and to Samsara from Spanish director Lois Patiño. The film Orlando uses Virginia Woolf’s 1928 classic novel Orlando: A Biography to comment on current issues of gender and body politics. Samsara, set in Laos, follows teenagers living and studying together in Buddhist temples.
Bas Devos’ Here won the Golden Bear for best film in the Encounters section. The quietly romantic drama follows a construction worker and a scientist who cross paths and start to help one another. Earlier in the day, Here won the Fipresci prize for best film screening in Berlin’s Encounters section.
The prize for best first feature film, which comes with a $52,800 ($50,000) bursary, went to the Austrian-Argentinian drama The Klezmer Project from directors Leandro Koch and Paloma Schachmann, which screened in Berlin’s Encounters program.
The first winner of the night, the Berlinale Silver Bear short film jury prize, went to directors Matthew Thorne and Derik Lynch for their Australian drama Dipped in Black. The Golden Bear for best short went to Les chenilles from Lebanese directors Michelle and Noel Keserwany.
Berlinale Jury President Stewart and her jury of five women and two men picked the winners of this year’s Golden and Silver Berlin Bears from the 19 films in competition. Alongside Stewart, the other members of the Berlinale Competition jury include Iranian-French actress Golshifteh Farahani, Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude, Spanish director Carla Simón, Hong Kong director Johnnie To, German director Valeska Grisebach and U.S. casting director and producer Francine Maisler.
The full list of Berlinale 2023 award winners follows.
Golden Bear for Best Film
On the Adamant dir. Nicolas Philibert
Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize
Afire, dir. Christian Petzold
Silver Bear Jury Prize
Bad Living, dir. João Canijo
Silver Bear for Best Director
Philippe Garrel for The Plough
Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance
Sofía Otero for 20,000 Species of Bees, dir. Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren’s
Silver Bear for Best Supporting Performance
Thea Ehre for Till the End of the Night, dir. Christoph Hochhäusler’s
Silver Bear for Best Screenplay
Music, dir. Angela Schanelec
Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution
Cinematographer Helene Louvart for Disco Boy, dir. Giacomo Abbruzzese
Here, dir. Bas Devos
Tatiana Huezo for The Echo
Special Jury Award (ex aequo)
Samsara, dir. Lois Patiño/Orlando, My Political Biography, dir. Paul B. Preciado
GWFF Best First Feature Award
The Klezmer Project, dirs. Leandro Koch and Paloma Schachmann
Berlinale Documentary Award
The Echo, dir. Tatiana Huezo
Berlinale Short Film Awards
Golden Bear Best Short Film
Les chenilles, dirs. Michelle Keserwany, Noel Keserwany
Silver Bear Jury Prize
Dipped in Black, dirs. Matthew Thorne, Derik Lynch
This story first published at 9:20 a.m. on Feb. 25.
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