The Berlin film festival on Saturday awarded its Golden Bear top prize to a documentary by French director Nicolas Philibert and its best acting award to an eight-year-old girl in what jury chief Kristen Stewart described as a “boundary-pushing” event.
On the Adamant, coming more than 20 years after Philibert’s acclaimed education documentary Etre et Avoir, is about a floating day-care centre for people with psychiatric problems on the Seine in Paris.
Thanking the jury, Philibert, 72, said “that documentary can be considered to be cinema in its own right touches me deeply”.
On a night full of surprises, the festival’s gender-neutral acting prize also caused a sensation by being awarded to an eight-year-old, Spain’s Sofia Otero. Otero won the prize for playing a transgender child in 20,000 Species of Bees, the feature debut from Spanish director Estibaliz Urresola Solaguren. Critics had lavished praise on the film, with Screen Daily predicting that “arthouse audiences worldwide should respond to the pathos, breadth and humanity of a film that takes a while to build but, when it does, never loses its grip”.
And there was more success for France when Philippe Garrel, 74, won the Silver Bear for best director for The Plough, a drama about three siblings from a family of puppeteers coping with the death of their father. Garrel dedicated the prize to his children and French-Swiss director Jean-Luc Godard, “a great master for many of us” who died in September.
Second prize went to Afire from German director Christian Petzold, about a group of friends whose holiday retreat to the Baltic coast goes horribly wrong. Variety called it “wincingly well-observed and acidly funny”, while the Hollywood Reporter said it was “a deceptively simple and straightforward but emotionally layered film”.
Coming in third was Bad Living by Portugal’s Joao Canijo, about several female members of the same family who run a dilapidated hotel and are also struggling with their relationships to one another.
The prize for best screenplay went to Music, German director Angela Schanelec’s retelling of the Oedipus myth set in Berlin and Greece in the 1980s. Disco Boy, a surreal military drama about a young soldier sent to the Niger Delta produced by several European countries, won a Silver Bear for artistic contribution.
On the Adamant offers an intimate glimpse into the lives of adults and their carers in the Parisian day-care centre, which puts an accent on offering them a creative outlet. The Hollywood Reporter praised its “warmth and enthusiasm”, calling it “a portrait of several individuals who, despite their noticeable disabilities, are capable of producing original and moving works of art”.
After two years of a reduced format due to pandemic restrictions, the 11-day Berlinale got back in full swing this year, with A-listers such as Cate Blanchett, Helen Mirren and Steven Spielberg walking the red carpet.
The festival also marked the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and highlighted anti-government protests in Iran with new feature films and documentaries.
There were 19 films from around the world vying for this year’s Golden Bear, which was awarded at a gala ceremony by a jury led by Stewart, at 32 the youngest president in the festival’s history.