Berlin: Nadav Lapid's 'Synonyms' Wins Golden Bear

SYNONYMES Still 3 - Berlin International Film Festival -  Publicity - H 2019
Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

Chinese drama 'So Long My Son' swept the acting prizes, with Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei talking home the best actor and best actress Silver Bears.

Nadav Lapid's Synonyms, a tale of a former IDF soldier trying to escape his past by immersing himself in the Paris nightlife, won the Golden Bear for best film at the 69th Berlin International Film Festival.

A critical favorite — Synonyms picked up the FIPRESCI international critics award ahead of Saturday's Berlinale gala — the film features a star-making performance from newcomer Tom Mercier, whom The Hollywood Reporter compared to “a young Tom Hardy.”

But the acting honors in Berlin went to another film — So Long My Son, a moving look at the lasting damage caused by China's one-child policy, by director Wang Xiaoshuai (Beijing Bicycles).

Many had pegged the three-hour family drama as the Golden Bear winner but the jury — perhaps hesitant to award a Chinese film the top prize after Beijing apparently pulled Zhang Yimou's new film, One Second, from Berlin competition shortly before its scheduled premiere — instead handed the film two Silver Bears, honoring its stars Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei with the festival's best actor and best actress awards.

Jury president Juliette Binoche read a statement in reference to One Second being withdrawn from competition. While it was not directly critical of China, it stressed the importance of artistic freedom and ended: "We hope this film will soon be seen around the world."

In a year when a record seven films in Berlin's competition were directed by women, it was fitting that a female hand hoisted this year's best director Silver Bear.

Veteran Berlin School helmer Angela Schanelec won the prize for I Was at Home, But…, a story of a widowed mother whose son runs away from home and lives in the wild for a week. Like most of Schanelec's work, the pic divided critics and audiences between those, as THR's reviewer put it, who “saw a devastating masterpiece” and others who “perceived pretentious garbage.”

Another German film directed by a woman, Nora Fingscheidt’s psychological drama System Crasher, won the Alfred Bauer Award, named after the Berlin Film Festival's founder. Fingscheidt's first feature looks at an out-of-control child (played by the phenomenal first-timer Helena Zengel) who crashes out of German social services.  

Acclaimed French filmmaker Francois Ozon picked up the fest's jury prize for By the Grace of God, a story of abuse in the Catholic Church inspired by a real-life case currently before the French courts.

Best screenplay honors went to Claudio Giovannesi's Piranhas, co-written by Giovannesi, Maurizio Braucci and Roberto Saviano, on whose novel the tale of youth gangs in Naples is based.

Out Stealing Horses, a contemplative drama from Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland (Cold Pursuit) about memory and identity and the impact of the natural world on both, won the Silver Bear for outstanding artistic achievement for cinematographer Rasmus Videbaek and his astounding lensing of the Nordic woods.  

Berlin International Film Festival director Dieter Kosslick ended his 18th and final Berlinale in style on Saturday night, greeted by fans on the red carpet who were wearing Kosslick's trademark black hat and red scarf and who chanted his name and held up “Danke Dieter” signs. Kosslick is set to step down at the end of this year's fest and will be replaced by the two-person team of artistic director Carlo Chatrian and managing director Mariette Rissenbeek.