Werner Herzog, Berlin Go Turkey

Bal (Honey) dir. Semih Kaplanoglu

Bal (Honey) dir. Semih Kaplanoglu

Just got back from the Berlin International Film Festival, this year celebrating its 60th anniversary with a selection of films that were, as typical of the Festival, usually good and occasionally great. Films in Berlin tend not to be as momentous or as envelope-pushing as what you’ll find in Cannes, the more prestigious festival. Berlin’s more of a commercially-oriented festival, home of the biggest annual film market to be found, so there’s bound to be a little something for everybody from just about everywhere.

Straddling the divide between arthouse and commercial cinema, the selection in Berlin tends to be cosmopolitan and social issues-oriented, with an earnest intent to connect to the audience. At times it’s a bit too earnest with some films, to the point that issues get telegraphed from a mile away. Such is the case with one of the films in this year’s competition lineup, On the Path by Bosnian filmmaker Jasmila Zbanic, which is a shade too obvious in the conflicts it raises between a fun-loving airline stewardess and her down-on-his-luck boyfriend seduced by fundamentalist Islam. Michael Winterbottom’s potboiler The Killer Inside Me also strains in its hyperactive efforts to be fast, deep and deranged all at once; the only thing that keeps it together is Casey Affleck’s fearless performance as a sociopathic cop who brutalizes both Jessica Alba and Kate Hudson (women in the audience were not amused).

The two other competition films I caught won me over if only because they took themselves somewhat less seriously, or at least offered generous helpings of humor. They were Mammuth, by French directors Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine, starring Gerard Depardieu as a pensioner on a quest to retrieve his retirement benefits; it’s a Gallic About Schmidt, wackier and slightly less sentimental; and the family dramedy Otouto / About Her Brother by Yoji Yamada, Japan’s longstanding master of Japanese whimsy.

Sadly, I missed the first half of the festival, in which pretty much all of the award winners were unveiled. The competition jury, led by Werner Herzog, awarded the Golden Bear to the Turkish film Bal (Honey) by Semih Kaplanoglu, this despite the complaint by Variety’s Derek Elley, who found it “grindingly slow.” Bal is the third Turkish film to win the Golden Bear, following 1964’s Susuz Yaz (Dry Summer), and 2004’s Head On (a German-Turkish co-production).

Another Turkish film that raised eyebrows this year was Kosmos by Reha Erdem, which premiered in the Forum section. Todd Brown of Twitch wrote:

There’s a sense of real world fantasy to this that is rare in the extreme, the sense that actual people might actually be able to free themselves from gravity and achieve any sort of thing they desire. But fused to that there is also a sense of mortality, a down in the dirt understanding of humanity and the world we live in. I think a lot of it comes from the rhythm of the editing and music but whatever it is, what Erdem has created here is positively hypnotic.

Other reviewers were less than enthralled, such as Peter Brunette, who wrote in The Hollywood Reporter: “Kosmos is nothing less than cosmic in scope, and it’s beautifully shot, and profoundly imaginative, but it’s finally just too much of a good thing.”

Times and Winds (dir. Reha Erdem)

Times and Winds (dir. Reha Erdem)

Leslie Felperin of Variety deemed Erhan’s new effort “not as magisterial as his previous effort, Times and Winds.” Though to be fair, Times and Winds is a hard act to follow. Just check out a sampling of critics’ appraisals:

“A haunting vision of rural Turkey; description fails me almost utterly… Let’s say that from the first frames of Times and Winds I felt completely captivated.” – Andrew O’Hehir, Salon

“An exquisite affirmation of film as art” – Hannah McGill, Sight and Sound

“An utterly involving movie about childhood, by turns mesmeric and shocking; it is as addictive as a soap opera, and mysterious as a dream.” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

Don’t take their word for it, check it out for yourself. You might find yourself wondering why this film didn’t win a Golden Bear…


Silver Bear – The Jury Grand Prix
Eu cand vreau sa fluier, fluier (If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle) by Florin Serban (Romania)

Silver Bear – Best Director
Roman Polanski for The Ghost Writer (France, Germany, UK)

Silver Bear – Best Actress
Shinobu Terajima in Caterpillar by Koji Wakamatsu (Japan)

Silver Bear – Best Actor
Grigori Dobrygin and Sergei Puskepalis for Kak ya provel etim letom (How I Ended This Summer) by Alexei Popogrebsky (Russia)

Silver Bear – Outstanding Artistic Achievement in Cinematography
Pavel Kostomarov for Kak ya provel etim letom (How I Ended This Summer) by Alexei Popogrebsky (Russia)

Silver Bear – Best Script
Wang Quan’an and Na Jin for Tuan Yuan (Apart Together) by Wang Quan’an (China)

Alfred Bauer Prize, for a work of particular innovation
Eu cand vreau sa fluier, fluier (If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle) by Florin Serban (Romania)

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