‘Ladybird’ soars at Berlin fest

“In the Name of the Father” took the top prize, but it was British director Ken Loach’s gritty drama “Ladybird Ladybird” that dominated awards at the 44th Berlin Intl. Film Festival, which closed Monday. Newcomer Crissy Rock copped a best actress Silver Bear, and the film featured prominently in other juries’ nods.

The fest’s 11-member competition jury, headed by Brit producer Jeremy Thomas, sprang few surprises in its list of hand-outs. Top Golden Bear, for best feature , went to the Daniel Day-Lewis starrer “In the Name of the Father.” Silver Bears were doled out to gay-themed Cuban co-prod “Strawberry and Chocolate,” Tom Hanks for best actor (“Philadelphia”), Alain Resnais for “Smoking”/”No Smoking,” and Krzysztof Kieslowski for best director (“Three Colors: White”). Rosie Perez received a special mention Silver Bear for outstanding performance in Peter Weir’s “Fearless.”

Rock, Hanks and “Father” had been widely touted by festgoers as shoo-ins for prizes. Announcement of Kieslowski’s best director gong was greeted by groans at the awards press conference.

“Ladybird” gave a boost to the latter stages of this year’s Berlinale, reckoned OK at best by midweek. Pic’s in-competition world preem Saturday dominated talk during the festival’s closing stages, living up to its advance reputation for tough, emotional drama.

“Shadowlands,””Carlito’s Way” and “The Remains of the Day” (all screening out of competition) drew favorable responses during the fest’s second half, without attracting the hyperbole for the earlier “Philadelphia” and “Father.”

Extra glitz was provided Friday by Sophia Loren’s attendance to receive a Special Bear at a tribute screening of her 1960 World War II drama “Two Women.” The Italo icon, returning to the festival after a 40-year gap, starts shooting her seg of Robert Altman’s “Pret-a-Porter,” alongside Marcello Mastroianni, in Paris next month.

Apart from Loach’s film, nothing else in the second half of the competition raised many pulses, though the German drama-thriller “The Blue One,” about a former police informer in the East, was warmly received, along with Indian helmer Buddhadeb Gupta’s “Shelter of the Wings” and Russian Semyon Aranovich’s “The Year of the Dog.”

Pix by two veterans, Brazil’s Nelson Pereira dos Santos’ “The Third Bank of the River” and Italian Mario Monicelli’s comedy “Dear Goddam Friends,” failed to ring bells. Russian director Kira Muratova’s “Passions” was reckoned a total bust.

The catch-all Panorama section continued to be the main source of discoveries , headlined by John Dahl’s slick-and-sexy modern-noir “The Last Seduction,” which unanimously lit festgoers’ fires, and mainland Chinese director He Ping’s stylish “Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker,” which fulfilled most of its advance buzz.

Less successful were N.Y.-based Shu Lea Chang’s “Fresh Kills,” reckoned an indulgent turn-off by most; Peter McCarthy’s Sundance entry “Floundering,” which lived up to its title; and the Hispano-Cuban political drama “Tirano Banderas, the Tyrant,” with Gian Maria Volonte.

This year’s Forum section, home of the committed and offbeat, was thought to be light on interesting preems, with the Finnish drama “Pater Noster” a standout in that regard. Biggest disappointment was Aki Kaurismaki’s “Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses.” OK receptions went to Brit docu “London,” arty Magyar marathon “Satan’s Tango,” and the Irish youth drama “High Boot Benny.”

Gay fare, long a staple in Berlin, was headlined by Rose Troche’s lesbian feature “Go Fish,” a popular choice for the Intl. Gay & Lesbian Film Festival Assn.’s Teddy Bear award. The BBC featurette “Sandra Bernhard: Confession of a Pretty Lady” was among many other enthusiastically attended SRO screenings. The Berlinale’s European Film Market, housed as usual at the downtown Cine-Center, attracted a record 1,800 professionals but was seen by most buyers as unextraordinary for new product. Titles attracting most interest included “Strawberry and Chocolate,””Ladybird,” Russo-French comedy “Window to Paris,””Go Fish,” and “Red Firecracker, Green Firecracker.”

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