Film: City fights

Geoffrey Macnab assesses the 47th Berlin Film Festival

Neither as gaudy as Cannes in May nor with the same faded elegance as Venice in early autumn, Berlin is generally considered the most austere of the three major European festivals. But this year's Berlinale, the 47th, which finished earlier in the week, can hardly be accused of lacking local colour. During a fractious fortnight, there were spats about everything from festival funding and locations to scientology (German authorities don't much care for Hollywood's favourite cult) and American expansionism. Journalists came to blows (or, at least, one Australian head-butted a Dutch colleague.) The British argued among themselves about the future of the London film festival(s). There was bad blood between the Italians and Germans over the late withdrawal of a competition film. And, sacrilege of sacrileges, Lauren Bacall was booed during the press conference for her disastrously received film, Night and Day.

The festival started in stately enough fashion, with a speech about film, art and national identity from former French Culture Minister, Jack Lang, serving as president of the international jury. His rhetoric was rather more uplifting than the opening competition film, Billie August's soggy Euro-pudding, Smilla's Sense of Snow, which boasts nice picture postcard scenery of Greenland, pleasing explosions and a feisty performance from Julia Ormond (who affects a Nordic accent which even Meryl Streep might have blanched at), but otherwise hardly does justice to Peter Hoeg's acclaimed novel.

In its bizarre mix of leviathans and minnows, the 25-strong competition selection was a little baffling. Big-budget, studio-backed movies (The Crucible, The People vs. Larry Flynt, In Love and War) were pitted against such modest affairs as Twin Town, Kevin Allen's scabrous, Swansea-based comedy, Miss Nobody, Andrzej Wajda's dark but insubstantial allegory about a teenage girl adrift in contemporary Poland, and Get on the Bus, Spike Lee's $2.5m film about last year's million-man march in Washington. (Lee's film was financed, its credits proclaimed, by "15 African-American men," including Johnny Cochran, Danny Glover and Wesley Snipes.)

It is a moot point whether the big US films need the boost of a Berlin prize. Nevertheless, the jury's decision to award the Golden Bear to Milos Forman's The People Vs Larry Flynt was popular and arguably even a little courageous; Flynt, the publisher of Hustler magazine, isn't exactly a folk hero in the Frank Capra tradition and the anti-pornography lobby in the States have already reacted furiously to the film despite Forman's insistence that its real subject matter is freedom of speech. Regardless of the controversy surrounding it, Larry Flynt is a much stronger effort than the 1996 and 1995 Golden Bear winners, Sense and Sensibility and Bertrand Tavernier's atrocious L'Appat.

What of the rest of the prizes? Early favourite, The English Patient, already garlanded with Golden Globes and nominated for countless Oscars, won only a Best Actress Silver Bear for Juliette Binoche. The Best Actor gong went to Leonardo DiCaprio for his roistering Romeo in Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. The Special Jury Prize was awarded to Tsai Ming-Liang's Taipei-based psychodrama, The River (already hailed by some as "a future classic"); veteran Chilean director Raul Rulz won a Silver Bear for "his lifetime contribution to the art of cinema"; and Best Director award went to Eric Heumann (better known as Theo Angelopoulos' producer) for Port Djema.

Outside the competition, the British maintained a modest profile. Mark Herman's brass band and coal mining comedy-drama, Brassed Off, which had already opened Robert Redford's Sundance Festival in January, was warmly received in the Panorama Section. Herman, now hard at work on a new script "about an American lost in England", confirmed that the sight of Ewan McGregor blowing a trumpet has done wonders for UK brass band sales - the soundtrack CD, recorded in the Beatles' old haunt Abbey Road, has sold more than 50,000 copies. Trainspotting producer Andrew Macdonald, in Berlin for the screening of Twin Town (which he executive-produced), announced the formation of a joint venture with Duncan Kenworthy (of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame). This doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to see a rash of films about drug addicts in morning suits.

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own