February 21, 2011 07:33:50 PM IST Rajesh Kumar Singh, Glamsham Editorial
It was a tough choice between the two films in Berlinale's competition section. While NADER AND SIMIN was quintessential Iranian cinema at its best with great performances and an easy to follow narrative structure that posed serious moral questions, Bela Tarr's THE TURIN HORSE was a piece of pure art reminiscent of the cinema of yore with haunting images, long takes, and brooding existential drama.
These films were screened midway through the festival and brought alive the lackluster competition section, redeeming it from the banality of some of the new age films that seem to find favour with festival selectors and programmers for the reasons better known to them. The director of the 61st Berlinale, Dieter Kosslick, can be rightly proud of catapulting these two precious gems of cinema from his Berlin launch site, posing a serious challenge to Cannes programmers.
It must have been a tough choice for the Jury. It was certainly a tough choice for the eminent film critics whose opinions were being tabulated by a leading film trade magazine to speculate about the expected Jury verdict. Both the films got equal score and were neck to neck in the race. Then what was it that tilted the balance finally in favour of the Iranian film? Was it the standing ovation it received from the audience? It was certainly a more audience friendly film than Bela Tarr's 146 minute long 'near silent', monochromatic cinema about three stubborn characters, including a horse, carrying on with their routine, repetitive, and desolate existence in the middle of a bleak, cold, and stormy nowhere terrain. It was in no way a film for the lay audiences. Its cinematic brilliance was undeniable and watching the film was an experience worth savouring. It was art-house cinema at its best and the experienced Jury of leading film festivals across the world look forward to such material. And since when the audience friendliness of a film is considered a criterion for judging competition films? Don't we have an audience award to honour and recognise such films?
There was one person in the 61st Berlinale's international jury who firmly believes that a festival film need not necessarily be a boring one, full of undecipherable esoteric metaphors. 'Films must communicate with their audience ', is what Aamir Khan feels. He has himself proudly produced art-house films and has seen to it that they also work as solid business propositions. His film PEEPLI [LIVE] was selected in the world cinema section in Sundance last year and was at the 60th Berlinale as well. His second low budget film DHOBI GHAT-MUMBAI DIARIES, directed by his wife Kiran Rao, also did rounds of the festival circuit before its successful release in India. In his early career Aamir had also acted in non-mainstream films like RAAKH and HOLI.
We will probably never know what did the 61st Berlinale jury deliberate behind closed doors before coming to their final verdict. However, it will be interesting to recall Aamir's experience at 2002 Locarno Film Festival Jury. His was a dissenting opinion against the rest of Jury that consisted of well known names like Béla Tarr, Bruno Ganz, Cedomir Kolar, Emanuel Levy, Jafar Panahi, and Nelofer Pazira. When the awards were announced at the Piazza Grande, Aamir stood grinning widely among crestfallen faces of the other celebrated members of the jury as tomatoes and eggs started raining from all the corners of the plaza on the stage as an eloquent expression of the disapproval and disgust of the festival audience with the majority verdict of the jury.
There was no question of the invitees to the closing ceremony of the 61st Berlinale reacting in this manner at the main venue Berlinale Palast had THE TURIN HORSE been given the Golden Bear, passing over NADER AND SIMIN. In fact the top two awards to both the films at the 61st Berlinale have added to the credibility of the Jury as well as the festival organisers. It should also be acceptable in these times to segregate pure cinematic art from a healthy mix of pure, popular, and politically correct art since the complexion of festival audiences has undergone a sea change. Art for art sake does not cut ice with many. It is like the eternal conflict of pure and applied research where the latter finds greater favor with the establishment.
We must also mention here that some names in the awards list appear to be baffling to put it mildly, especially the best direction silver bear to SCHLAFKRANKHEIT (SLEEPING SICKNESS) and the production design and camera prizes to EL PREMIO (THE PRIZE). There were other films in the competition line up that were obviously far better contenders for these prizes. However, it is always the case of you win some, and lose some. 61st Berlinale has delivered us two great films and that certainly is worth a celebration amidst a scenario where you rarely get to watch a good film in festivals or outside them. It is an established fact now that most of the stuff showcased in our leading film festivals can be ranked from average, to mediocre and downright bad.
(Rajesh Kumar Singh is Editorial Consultant for Festivals and Markets for BollywoodTrade.com. He is a filmmaker, critic and market analyst)