Peruvian drama tops Berlin Film Festival

Latin American films were again the big winners Saturday at the 59th Berlin Film Festival, with this year’s Golden Bear going to the first-ever Peruvian pic to screen here, Claudia Llosa’s “La teta asustada” (The Milk of Sorrow), about a woman haunted by the abuse suffered by her mother.

This year’s winners underscored the Berlinale’s steep political slant and its growing significance as a platform for films from developing countries that are backed by German coin.

Adrian Biniez’s “Gigante,” about an Uruguayan supermarket guard obsessed with a co-worker, shared the Grand Prix Silver Bear with Maren Ade’s local relationship drama “Alle anderen” (Everyone Else). “Gigante” also won the Alfred Bauer Prize and the first feature nod.

Iranian helmer Asghar Farhadi took the Silver Bear for his mystery-thriller “Darbareye Elly” (About Elly).

The acting Silver Bears went to Birgit Minichmayr for “Everyone Else” and Malian thesp Sotigui Kouyate for Rachid Bouchareb’s “London River,” about the impact that the July 7, 2005, London bombings have on two people.

This year’s jury, headed by actress Tilda Swinton, had made its interest in political cinema clear from the beginning. Jury member Christoph Schlingensief, a local stage director, said early in the fest the jury had “political intentions,” adding that films would have a chance if they leaned in that direction.

Indeed, the jury appeared to see eye to eye with fest topper Dieter Kosslick, who oversaw the creation of the Berlinale’s World Cinema Fund, his own pet project, in an effort to support cinema from the developing world, including this year’s Golden Bear winner, which was made with WCF financing.

It’s a practice that has drawn some criticism. Daily newspaper Berliner Morgenpost accused the fest of “inbreeding” by creating its own winners, adding that movies from traditional filmmaking nations no longer had a chance in Berlin.

Likewise, “Gigante” was financed by regional subsidy board Filmstiftung NRW, which Kosslick headed for nearly a decade before taking the reins of the Berlinale in 2001.

Even some of the fest’s high-profile screeners, such as Stephen Daldry’s “The Reader” and Tom Tykwer’s “The International,” benefited greatly from local coin.

“La teta” is the second Latin American film in a row to nab the Golden Bear following last year’s Brazilian crime drama “The Elite Squad.”

The only major prize for a U.S. film was the Silver Bear for script, which went to Oren Moverman and Alessandro Camon for military drama “The Messenger.”

Sharing the Alfred Bauer Prize with “Gigante” was Andrzej Wajda’s “Tatarak” (Sweet Rush), a postwar story about the relationship between a middle-aged woman and a younger man.

The Silver Bear for artistic contribution went to Gabor Erdelyi and Tamas Szekely for the sound design of Peter Strickland’s Romanian-set drama “Katalin Varga.”

Overall, this year’s event was dampened by a lack of standout titles in competition and the dark cloud of the financial crisis hanging over the European Film Market, where business was slower than usual as buyers tightened their belts.

Despite the jury’s focus on developing countries, a slew of international celebs such as Kate Winslet, Renee Zellweger, Michelle Pfeiffer, Clive Owen, Steve Martin, John Hurt, Demi Moore, Aston Kutcher and Steve Buscemi generated plenty of star wattage throughout the 11-day event.

Following the awards ceremony, Constantin Costa-Gavras presented the world premiere of his immigrant drama “Eden Is West,” the fest’s closing film.

For a complete list of the Berlinale winners, visit www.berlinale.de.

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