Russian Films Take Top Honors at Cottbus Festival

Konstantin Khabensky in "The Geographer Drank His Globe Away"

Europe's leading showcase for film from eastern territories lauds "The Geographer Drank His Globe Away" and "The Major."

Russian films scooped the two major prizes late Saturday at the awards ceremony of the 23rd edition of the Film Festival Cottbus, Europe's leading spotlight on Eastern European movies.

Alexander Veledinsky's The Geographer Drank His Globe Away, starring Konstantin Khabensky as a hapless alcoholic whose life changes for the better when he lands a job as a school teacher in a provincial city, took the main Lubina glass statuette and a cash prize worth $26,000.

Khabensky recently played a Soviet spy in Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of British writer John Le Carre's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

FILM REVIEW: The Geographer Drank His Globe Away

The international jury praised what it called the story of a modern Russian saint, dubbing Veledinsky's handling of a script based on a best selling semi-autobiographical Russian novel as "exquisite mastery of his craft."

The $4 million budget film, represented internationally for world sales by Moscow-based Antipode Sales and Distribution, was released domestically on 560 copies in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus last Thursday.

In June it took the grand prix at Russia's national festival Kinotavr in Sochi and also won the top award in July at the 4th Odessa International Film Festival in Ukraine.

The festival's special prize for best director, worth $10,000, Yury Bykov for The Major, a story of the moral dilemma faced when a police officer causes the death of a child in a road accident. The jury praised the "multi-talented" director, who was also responsible for the film's music as well as playing one of the main roles. The film premiered at Cannes this year in the Critics' Week sidebar.

Best actress went to Michaela Bendulova for her role as the 15-year-old Ela in Miracle (dir: Juraj Lehotsky, Slovakia/Czech Republic) and actor to Hadzhihafizbegovi Emir, for his performance in Cherurs Out! (Goran Vojnovic Slovenia/Croatia).

Among other prize winners was Polish director Bodo Kox, who won the debut film prize worth $4,000 for his film The Girl From the Wardrobe; critics' association FIPRESCI gave its prize to The Unsaved, a Romania/Moldova co-production by debut director Igor Cobleanski.

The festival wraps Sunday after a record breaking attendance of 20,300 visitors during its five day run in the former East German city south-east of Berlin.

The festival, a key meeting point for directors, producers and film funders from across central and Eastern Europe, screened more than 150 films from 38 countries. The 24th edition is due to run Nov. 4-9 in 2014.