In year of #MeToo, women win big at Berlin filmfest

The hashtag #MeToo went viral as women acknowledged incidents of sexual harassment and sexual abuse. Photo: Pixabay

BERLIN, Germany - "Touch Me Not", an experimental Romanian docudrama exploring sexual intimacy and the fears around it, won the Golden Bear top prize at the Berlin film festival Saturday in a strong year for female filmmakers and women's stories.

First-time director Adina Pintilie, 38, clutching the trophy after her surprise triumph, said the movie was intended to "invite you the viewer to dialogue" with its frank portrayals of sex, disability and inhibitions.

US filmmaker Wes Anderson clinched the best director Silver Bear prize for "Isle of Dogs", an animated allegory with political bite and an early favourite in the running among 19 contenders.

Actor Bill Murray, who voices one of the pack of pooches in Anderson's first animated feature since 2009's "Fantastic Mr Fox", picked up the award for Anderson.

"I never thought that I would go to work as a dog and come home with a bear," he quipped.

"Ich bin ein Berliner Hund (I am a Berlin dog)," he added, riffing on John F. Kennedy's famous speech.

The runner-up Grand Jury Prize went to Polish social satire "Mug" by Malgorzata Szumowska, the second winner among four women in competition.

The feature tells the story of a man who is shunned by his community when he has a face transplant after a horrific accident, in a plot examining tensions over identity and exclusion in eastern Europe.

"This film which is so important reflected problems not only in my own country but in whole Europe and whole world," Szumowska said.

"I am so happy that I am a female director, yeah!"

Women fighters

Ana Brun of Paraguay won the Silver Bear prize for best actress for her role in "The Heiresses" as a middle-aged lesbian whose partner has to go to prison for their spiralling debts.

"I'd like to dedicate this prize to the women of my country, who are fighters," she said.

"The Heiresses", the debut feature by Marcelo Martinessi and a rare film export from Paraguay, also scooped the Alfred Bauer Prize for opening "new perspectives" in filmmaking.

It investigates class conflict and female sexual liberation in contemporary South America in a film in which men rarely appear on a screen. 

France's Anthony Bajon won the best actor for an emotionally raw portrayal of a young man struggling to beat his drug addiction at a Catholic Alpine retreat in Cedric Kahn's "The Prayer".

"Museum" from Mexico, starring Gael Garcia Bernal in the true story of a daring 1985 heist by two students at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, bagged the best screenplay award.

Austria's "The Waldheim Waltz" by Ruth Beckermann about the scandal surrounding the Nazi past of former UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim claimed the best documentary prize.

A separate Alfred Bauer Prize for work of particular innovation for costume and production design went to "Dovlatov", a biopic about a Russian-Jewish writer grappling with Soviet state censorship in 1970s Saint Petersburg.

#MeToo cast shadow

In a year in which the #MeToo movement cast a long shadow over the Berlinale, with several topical films screened and a raft of industry initiatives launched to combat sexual exploitation, "Touch Me Not" resonated with the six-member, gender-balanced jury.

The film, which also picked up the best first feature prize, shows Pintilie on screen interviewing a range of protagonists about their intimate lives.

Although the stories are fictionalised, the actors include a transgender sex worker and a severely handicapped man and his able-bodied partner discussing how they came to be at home in their bodies.

A middle-aged British woman, Laura, who finds it difficult to be touched, enlists the help of call boys -- whom she only watches -- and a yoga-therapist to work through her own, unspecified traumas. 

Film industry bible Variety called the movie "divisive" but praised its refreshing approach to standards of beauty, nudity and normality. 

"If anyone is shocked by 'Touch Me Not' they're not getting the point," its reviewer said. 

It was the second year in a row a woman won the Golden Bear at the Berlinale, Europe's first major cinema showcase of the year.

Last year, a tender Hungarian love story set in a slaughterhouse, "On Body and Soul" by Ildiko Enyedi, captured the top prize. 

It is now nominated for best foreign language film at next month's Academy Awards.

AFP

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