Banned Iranian film-maker wins top Berlin Film Festival award

By Andrew McCathie, dpa

A banned Iranian director won the Berlin Film Festival’s top prize on Saturday, the prestigious Berlinale Golden Bear, for a movie exploring personal freedom.

Mohammad Rasoulof defied the authorities in Tehran to direct “There Is No Evil,” a film about individual freedom under an authoritarian regime and the moral case against the nation’s death penalty.

Born in 1972, Rasoulof did not attend the premiere of “There Is No Evil” in Berlin or Saturday’s awards ceremony. His daughter Baran accepted the prize on his behalf.

“The film is about people taking responsibility for what they do in their lives,” said Rasoulof, who made comments at the Berlinale press conference from Iran via a smart phone link.

“Your power is in saying ‘no,'” says one of the characters in the film, which tells four tragically interconnected stories.

Rasoulof managed to escape the prying eyes of the authorities to make the film by officially applying – without his name on the application forms – to make four short films in different parts of the nation.

Farzad Pak, a producer of “There Is No Evil,” told Saturday’s ceremony that he wanted to thank the movie’s actors “who put their lives in danger to make the film.”

In addition to being banned by the authorities from making films, Rasoulof has been also banned from leaving Iran and was handed a one-year prison sentence in 2017 for “endangering national security” and “spreading propaganda.”

The Golden Bear and the Berlinale’s other major prizes were handed out by the seven-member jury at a Hollywood-style gala in Berlin.

The world’s leading film festivals regularly challenge Tehran’s crackdown on film-makers by awarding Iranian directors their top prizes or inviting them to serve on their juries.

The jury also honoured US director Eliza Hittman for her teenage abortion drama “Never Rarely Sometimes Always” with the Berlinale’s second most important award, the Grand Jury Prize.

“It’s a journey that many women around the world make,” Hittman told a press conference marking the film’s Berlin screening.

Hittman said her coming-of-age film was “a timely movie, an urgent story” with the US Supreme Court gearing up to review US abortion rights.

South Korea’s Hong Sangsoo won the Berlinale’s Silver Bear for best director for his movie “The Woman Who Ran” about undercurrents in his country’s society.

Hong’s win bolsters South Korea’s cinema success, following best film awards wins for his compatriot Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” at this year’s Oscars and last year’s Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or.

German actress Paula Beer won the Berlinale’s best actress award for her role in Christian Petzold’s fantasy romance “Undine”.

The Silver Bear for best actor went to Rome-born Elio Germano for his performance as the Swiss-born artist and loner Antonio Ligabue in Giorgio Diritti’s “Volevo nascondermi” (“Hidden Away”).

Accepting the award, Germano said he wanted “to dedicate the prize to all of those who are marginalized and outcast.”

The 39-year-old Germano was also featured in Damiano and Fabio D’Innocenzo’s “Favolacce” (“Bad Tales”). The two Italian filmmakers won the Berlinale’s Silver Bear for Best Script for their movie about the secret and lies of middle class Rome.

The Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution was awarded to 79-year-old veteran German cameraman Juergen Juerges for cinematography in Russian film-makers Ilya Khrzhanovsky and Jekaterina Oertel’s controversial “DAU. Natasha”.

Oscar-winning British actor Jeremy Irons, who headed the awards jury, described the film as “an extraordinary project” where the actors had been isolated from the world around them to recreate Soviet life.

Irons added “it had divided the jury” as the movie included several violent scenes.

Berlinale organizers have also been criticized by a group of Russian journalists for screening the film, which has been banned in Russia after being dismissed by the authorities as pornography.

French directors Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern won the Silver Bear special prize of the 70th Berlinale for their witty take on life in the digital age in “Effacer l’historique” (“Delete History”).

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