'Elite' surprise at Berlin

Brazilian film nabs Golden Bear

Jose Padilha's "Tropa de Elite" (The Elite Squad), a story of police corruption and gang violence in the Brazilian slums, won the Golden Bear for best film at the 58th Berlin International Film Festival.

"Elite," which will be distributed in the states by the Weinstein Co., was a surprise winner Saturday night, beating out critical favorite Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood," which won two Silver Bears: best director for Anderson and best sound for "Blood" composer Jonny Greenwood's experimental electronic soundtrack.

The Grand Jury Silver Bear went to "Standard Operating Procedure," Errol Morris' documentary on torture in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. Morris' film, which Sony Pictures Classics will release in the U.S. on April 25, was the first documentary to screen in competition in Berlin.

Sally Hawkins won the best actress prize for her ebullient performance in Mike Leigh's "Happy-Go-Lucky." Iran's Reza Najie won the best actor Silver Bear playing a man struggling to earn his daily bread in Majid Majidi's "The Song of Sparrows."

But the night belonged to "Elite," an action-packed drama that follows a group of elite, police shock troops as they fight all-powerful drug lords while also battling rampant corruption within their own ranks.

"Elite" has become a phenomenon in its home country, with more than 11.5 million people seeing it on pirated DVDs.

"Elite" is the first film from the new Latin American Film fund, set up by the Weinstein Co. and producer Eduardo Constantini. Padilha initially developed "Elite" with financing from Universal's international productions arm. He then brought it to Constantini and the Weinstein Co., which became involved in its development and production through an investment from the fund. Universal has Latin American rights to the film, while the Weinstein Co. is handling distribution in the rest of the world. Harvey Weinstein became personally involved to ensure the film had a slot at the Berlin fest.

"We are so pleased for Jose Padilha and everyone involved in 'Tropa de Elite' and we are grateful to the Berlin Film Festival for embracing the Film," said Glen Basner, TWC president of international distribution. "This award and the critical acclaim it has received will certainly jumpstart the worldwide release of the film and we, along with Eduardo Costantini, Costa Films and the Latin American Film Co., look forward to providing it with a strong voice in the months to come."

"This award (the Golden Bear) is for everybody who worked on this film and also for the Brazilian audience who elected this movie with their underground movement to watch it and pass it on," Padilha told The Hollywood Reporter. "They are sending a clear message that they want the police corruption to stop. They want the violence to stop. This film won't do that but I have hope the people in Brazil will do it."

Describing his film as "extremely political," Padilha said it was a particular honor to receive the Berlinale Golden Bear from this year's Berlin Jury president, political filmmaker Constantin Costa-Gavras.

"For any South American filmmaker, Costa-Gavras is a hero," Padilha said. "Even though he is not from South America himself, he made films about South America that were very important to anyone living there."

Politics was a theme running through this year's Berlinale awards, with Costa-Gavras and his jury singling out titles with strong political messages or from politically sensitive parts of the globe for the Golden and Silver Bears.

Morris' "Standard Operating Procedure," a rebuke of the American military's abuse of POWs in Iraq, had the most obvious political message of competition films screening in Berlin. But there was a political tinge shading many of the jury's choices.

Paramount Vantage/Miramax's "Blood," which many had tipped to take the top prize here, appealed to local critics not only for Daniel-Day Lewis' bravado performance but also for Anderson's critique of unbridled capitalism.

Another winner with political overtones came in the best screenplay category, won by director-screenwriter Wang Ziaoshuai for "Zou You — In Love We Trust." Wang thanked the jury saying the award would help "all of us who try to make independent film in China."

The best first film prize went to Japanese director Kumasaka Izuru for "Asyl — Park and Love Hotel" while the Alfred Bauer Prize, named after the Berlinale's founding director, was awarded to Mexican director Fernando Eimbcke for "Lake Tahoe."

But the real star of the Berlin gala seemed to be current Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick. Every award winner thanked Kosslick personally for his running of the festival, with Costa-Gavras even quipping that the jury was seriously considering giving Kosslick a Golden Bear.

"He runs a film festival as if he is having a party in his living room," Anderson said as he hoisted his best director Silver Bear. "I have no idea how he does it, but it is extraordinary."