Berlin Gets Intimate
51st Berlin International Film Festival
feature by Eddie Cockrell

(18 February, Berlin) Director Patrice Chereau’s sexually explicit drama Intimacy won the Golden Berlin Bear for best film from the International Jury of the fifty-first International Filmfestspiele Berlin this afternoon, besting Steven Soderbergh’s odds-on favorite Traffic and such other Hollywood fare as Finding Forrester, Chocolat and Bamboozled for the coveted prize.

Kerry Fox won the Best Actress Silver Berlin Bear for her role in Intimacy (which features a good deal of it), and Benicio Del Toro won the Best Actor Silver Bear for his performance in Traffic -- which is almost entirely in Spanish. The second place Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear went to Wang Xiaoshuai’s Chinese crowd-pleaser Beijing Bicycle (Shi qui sui de dan che), while Lin Cheng-Sheng was awarded the Silver Berlin Bear for his direction of another mainland production, Betelnut Beauty (Ai ni ai wo). First-time Argentine director Lucrecia Martel won the Alfred Bauer debut prize for her family exploration The Swamp (La Ciénaga).

But taking the entire awards landscape into the picture, the big winner in Berlin this year was Lone Scherfig’s Dogme 95 relationship dramatic comedy Italian for Beginners (Italiensk for begyndere). In addition to picking up the high-profile Silver Berlin Bear Jury Prize, the film, which has been acquired for theatrical release in the United States by Miramax, won the prize of the Churches of the Ecumenical Jury, the FIPRESCI international film critics’ award and the readers’ prize of the Berliner Morgenpost newspaper.

The awards cap an international competition event that, while not seen as exceedingly strong, was nevertheless filled to the brim with quality pictures. Thus the announcement of Intimacy’s win, which might have provoked gasps from the assembled journalists in any other year, was met with a positive, if muted, response. The awards were read out by International Jury president and Hollywood insider Bill Mechanic, who chaired a ten-person group that included Italian horror director Dario Argento, British actress Jacqueline Bisset and Brazilian filmmaker Hector Babenco.

The awards will be presented at a gala ceremony tonight at the Berlinale Palast in the city’s new Potsdamer Platz neighborhood and will be followed by the 70mm presentation of a restored print of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and a party at Berlin’s City Hall that will be as much about celebrating outgoing fest director Moritz de Hadeln’s two decades of work at the helm of the event as a gala conclusion to a fine edition of the venerable festival.

Be sure to read our reports from these other film festivals as well:

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