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

Gloria Film Still - H 2013

Gloria Film Still - H 2013

Paulina Garcia in "Gloria," Luminita Gheorghiu in "Child's Pose" and Juliette Binoche in "Camille Claudel 1915" have the town talking as films and stars vie for the top prizes.

BERLIN -- Powerful actresses have been the key to unlocking this year’s Berlinale Competition. Directors seem to have discovered the value of maturity and been anxious to explore the female face and psyche as they age, gracefully or otherwise.

Complexly motivated, intriguing female performers helped raise the profile of the films they appeared in and the front-runner at festival midpoint is, by critical consensus, Pauline Garcia, who is strongly tipped to win best actress kudos for the Chilean film Gloria. But another contender might be Romanian actress Luminita Gheorghiu as the domineering mother in Child’s Pose -- not to mention an extremely strong Juliette Binoche, captured in close-up in Bruno Dumont’s disturbing Camille Claudel 1915.


The real pleasure of Germany’s sole Competition entry Gold, Thomas Arslans’ otherwise underwhelming Western, is watching the unbending determination of Nina Hoss as a German housemaid who throws herself into the adventure of the Klondike gold rush. On the youth front, emerging Belgian actress Pauline Etienne got strong notices as a rebellious abbess in Guillaume Nicloux’s classy remake of Diderot’s The Nun.

On the American front, it was mostly old news, given that so many titles came rolling out of Sundance or have been released theatrically. Prince Avalanche is one of these, a real charmer and a return to David Gordon Green’s indie roots. Richard Linklater’s Before Midnight was quite popular with critics here as well.

There was much less enthusiasm for Gus van Sant’s Promised Land, a gentle social drama revolving around environmental issues. The Shia LaBeouf outing The Necessary Death of Charlie Countryman, also received a decidedly cool reception. And James Franco chalked up another mystifying art project with Maladies, which screened to indifference in Berlin, as did Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects.

STORY: Steven Soderbergh Decries Director Treatment From Film Studios, Producers

Back in Europe, there was solid critical support for the Ulrich Seidl entry Paradise: Hope, which benefits from some humanity and affection for its central character, less in evidence in the trilogy’s first two parts. But most of the other Competition entries screened thus far have lacked the oomph to make the transition from festivals to commercial audiences.

Jafar Panahi flaunted the Iranian government’s prohibition for him to make movies to shoot the metaphorical-autobiographical Closed Curtain, which earned critical respect but whose prospects are for limited audiences. Although it counted some admirers, the mannered preciousness of Denis Cote's Vic + Flo Saw a Bear also made it a long shot for fest prizes.

Poland’s In the Name Of... features a Catholic country priest struggling with homosexual desire for the young reformatory inmates he teaches and protects, and should be a career-advancer for talented young director Malgoska Szumowska.'

STORY: Berlin Q&A: Director Malgorzata Szumowska

The Russian film A Long and Happy Life, directed by Boris Khlebnikov, based on the Gary Cooper classic High Noon, was too bleak in its story of Russian farmers in an age of austerity to be an award contender. Similarly, An Episode in the Life of an Iron Picker marked a low-budget interlude for Bosnian director Danis Tanovic, admirable as a stark docudrama, but probably outside the prize-giving.

Beyond Competition titles, discoveries have been few and far between. The one unanimous hit has been Ramon Zurchers The Strange Little Cat, a slight but superbly poised German domestic comedy with overtones of modern dance and performance art.

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