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Japanese actress Haru Kuroki addresses a press conference after being awarded the Silver Bear for Best Actress of the 64th Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin, on Feb 15. (AFP)
Asian movies big winners Chinese thriller takes top Berlin prize

BERLIN, Feb 16, (Agencies): Asian films were big winners at the Berlin International Film Festival on Saturday, led by gritty Chinese thriller “Bai Ri Yan Huo” (Black Coal, Thin Ice) about an overweight detective pursuing a serial killer which took the top Golden Bear prize. Liao Fan, who said he put on 20 kg (44 lb) and drank more alcohol to play the role of detective Zhang Zili, was named Best Actor. “Chinese films are accepted more and more,” Diao Yinan, director of the winning film, told reporters.
“It seems every time we take them abroad, there is a greater enthusiasm for Chinese cinema. We hadn’t expected that, but film is global nowadays.” Asked about censorship in China, Diao said: “Of course there is censorship, I believe that exists around the whole world, doesn’t it? When it comes to Chinese censorship, I think the fact we are here in Berlin shows our censors are becoming more open, although there are difficulties.”

Haru Kuroki, who won Best Actress for her portrayal of a housemaid in Tokyo before and during World War Two in the Japanese film “Chiisai Ouchi” (The Little House), said she wanted to leap for joy but wearing a kimono made it difficult. American Richard Linklater was named Best Director for his coming-of-age film “Boyhood”, which uses the same child actors over a 12-year span, while Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel”, the festival opener set in a fictional central European country, took the Silver Bear grand jury prize.

Asked if he was disappointed, Linklater, whose film was popular with Berlin audiences, said: “With this, film making, you are working for yourself to realise your own visions, you are not thinking about prizes.”
The Ethiopian film “Difret”, based on a real case of bride abduction in Ethiopia and backed by actress Angelina Jolie, took the audience award. “I’d expected the Chinese films to do really well and ‘Black Coal, Thin Ice’ is very good,” said Scott Roxborough, Berlin bureau chief for the Hollywood Reporter.
He noted that Berlin had given the Golden Bear to the Chinese film “Red Sorghum” in 1988, and said “Black Coal, Thin Ice” was “film noir” in the style of Quentin Tarantino and other Hollywood directors, and not in the mould of traditional Chinese kung fu films or period dramas.

“We are seeing Chinese cinema becoming more cinematically adept, not so overtly political. Chinese film makers are more confident, more open to the world,” Roxborough said. “China is the second biggest box office in the world, one day it will take over from America, so people expect more stories of all kinds.” Set in northern China, “Black Coal, Thin Ice” pits Liao’s detective, who at one point loses his badge after a shootout in a beauty parlour, against a killer who disposes of dismembered feet in skates, an eye in a bowl of noodles, and other body parts in coal trucks. Although the opening scene is set in a hot summer, the rest unfolds five years later, almost entirely in winter. Director Diao, who won awards for “Night Train” in 2007, said he had ignored advice that “Cold films don’t sell”. He said he wanted to portray the warmth of emotions beneath to help people “feel less alone with our dark side”. The Berlin festival, officially called the Berlinale, is one of the oldest and most prestigious film showcases in the world.

Some critics complained of a dearth of strong entries among the competition films and there was grumbling that the festival, renowned for films with strong political agendas, had given too much space to Hollywood with Anderson’s movie and the international premiere of George Clooney’s “The Monuments Men”.
“There was never a line-up which was good for the critics, such a line-up doesn’t exist,” festival director Dieter Kosslick told Reuters on the red carpet before the awards.
The festival showed more than 400 films overall, including a series of movies on cooking and food and an unfinished documentary by veteran filmmaker Martin Scorsese about the political and literary journal The New York Review of Books.
Best screenplay went to the German siblings Dietrich and Anna Brueggemann for their wrenching drama “Stations of the Cross” (Kreuzweg) about a teenager who makes the ultimate sacrifice for her fundamentalist Catholic family.

Veteran French director Alain Resnais drew the Alfred Bauer Prize for work of particular innovation for his play-within-a-film “Life of Riley” (Aimer, boire et chanter).
A nine-member jury led by US producer James Schamus (“Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) handed out the prizes at a theatre in the German capital.
“Black Coal, Thin Ice” is set in the late 1990s in the frosty reaches of northern China and its murder mystery plot is told through enigmatic flashbacks. It is Diao’s third feature film.

Liao said he put on 20 kilograms (44 pounds) to play the alcoholic suspended police officer who falls hard for a beautiful murder suspect (Gwei Lun Mei). Diao said he saw his film as bridging the gap between pure arthouse cinema and multiplex fare.
“I finally did find the right way to combine a film which has a commercial aspect to it but which is nonetheless art, so that it’s possible to launch it in these terms,” he told reporters after the awards ceremony.
“Every time that we take our films abroad it seems that there is an ever greater enthusiasm for Chinese cinema,” he said.
Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick said the event had sold a record 330,000 tickets this year.
Last Thursday British director Ken Loach picked up an honorary Golden Bear for his life’s work.

* Golden Bear for best film: “Bai Ri Yan Huo” (Black Coal, Thin Ice), Diao Yinan, China
* Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, Wes Anderson starring Ralph Fiennes, Britain/Germany
* Silver Bear for best director: Richard Linklater (US) for “Boyhood”, starring Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke
* Silver Bear for best actress: Haru Kuroki in “Chiisai Ouchi” (The Little House), Japan
* Silver Bear for best actor: Liao Fan in “Bai Ri Yan Huo” (Black Coal, Thin Ice), China
* Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution (camera): Zeng Jian for “Tui Na” (Blind Massage), China/France
* Silver Bear for best script: Dietrich Brueggemann, Anna Brueggemann for “Kreuzweg” (Stations of the Cross), Germany
* Alfred Bauer Prize for work of particular innovation: “Aimer, boire et chanter” (Life of Riley) by Alain Resnais, France
* Best first feature film: “Gueros” by Alonso Ruizpalacios, Mexico
* Golden Bear for best short film: “Tant qu’il nous reste des fusils a pompe (As Long As Shotguns Remain) by Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel, France
* Teddy for best feature film with gay or lesbian context: “Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho (The Way He Looks) by Daniel Ribeiro, Brazil
* Teddy for best documentary film with gay or lesbian context: “Der Kreis” (The Circle) by Stefan Haupt, Switzerland.

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