Wisdom of Rossellini’s court reigns supreme

First, they should each be sent on an eight-week free holiday. Then they should each receive a Nobel Prize. Then they should tour the world giving classes on how it should be done. By “it” I mean the art of festival jury duty, by “they” the Berlin Film Festival jury. Led by Isabella Rossellini – who has cinephilia in her genes as the daughter of actress Ingrid Bergman and director Roberto Rossellini – they administered justice with a wisdom not seen since Solomon.

They lavished three deserved prizes on Iran’s Nader and Simin, A Separation. Asghar Farhadi’s complex relationship drama, praised in my last report, is an ensemble masterwork. It won the Golden Bear for Best Film and the Best Actor and Actress awards for the entire male and female casts. Was there a political component in the handouts? Perhaps. The missing Iranian jury member, jailed director Jafar Panahi, was for many at Berlin – jurors apart – a passionately felt absence. The message of these prizes? Humane Iranian cinema marches on.

But besides that, it was the best film. A tragicomedy of errors sounding the depths of a society, it scrutinises marriage, religion, parenthood, the legal system in a plot expanding from a simple incident. A pregnant woman miscarries. Was the man accused of assault over the incident guilty? Or is this a tapestry of cover-ups, a patchwork quilt of fabrications designed – at least partly – to conceal deeper truths about patriarchy, intimidation, the rule of force and blind tradition?

Where Farhadi’s film was a multi-levelled essay in searching social elucidation, Hungarian director Béla Tarr’s The Turin Horse (also praised in my last dispatch), winner of the runner-up Grand Jury Prize, is dark, claustrophobic, intransigent. A peasant father, a daughter, an ailing horse: a farmhouse in a wind-tormented plain; and – put simply – the end of the world. But, like Rothko or Cage, Tarr makes minimalism momentous. This film is as menacing, powerful and inexplicable as a black hole. Tarr says it will be his last work. Its images will stay with you forever.

Team Rossellini, incapable of a bad judgment, gave the Best Director prize to Germany’s Ulrich Köhler for his quietly enthralling Sleeping Sickness – a Silver Bear to the tale of a doctor seeking a silver bullet in disease-afflicted Cameroon. Then – my cup runneth over! – the jury rewarded a film disliked by almost every critic save me, Paula Markovich’s The Prize from Argentina. This atmospheric mother-daughter tale, perched in a battered house by a hostile ocean during the junta years, won awards for Best Photography and Best Production Design.

Could Queen Isabella and her court do anything else? Yes, they gave Best Script to Joshua Marston, writer and director of the best late-showing film, The Forgiveness of Blood. Made in Albania by an American who last went to Colombia to make the 2003 Maria Full of Grace (another Berlin prize-winner), it is a blood feud tale painted in stark, bold, yet subtly imaginative colours. Imagine a Sam Peckinpah plot taken over by Walter Salles or Carlos Reygadas. Albania’s cinematic potential has now been opened up by an outsider. Perhaps it will stay open for insiders, ready to take up a challenge.

So there. I am now officially in love with Isabella Rossellini.

If any person knows just cause or impediment, let him speak. If not, the ceremony will be planned before Cannes. This woman is the greatest jury president in world cinema history and her team the greatest jurors.

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