The Nun director Guillaume Nicoloux with actors Isabelle Huppert (left) and Pauline Etienne. Photo: Brian Brooks
The pendulum of film gravity temporarily switched European capitals Sunday night as the BAFTAs were handed out in London. Ben Affleck's Argo was the big winner, taking Best Picture and Best Director at the awards event that has seen its stature rise in recent years. (Scroll to the end of this article for a full list of BAFTA winners.)
Meanwhile, back in Berlin, the fest debuted a pair of films that could be awards contenders in the future, France's The Nun and Chile's Gloria, and Canada put its stamp on the festival as the country's Vic + Flo ont vu un ours made its bow in competition here. The embassy of Canada hosts an annual event in Berlin celebrating its filmmakers that typically packs in film folks from around the world. And though not officially screening at the Berlinale, Danish bad boy Lars von Trier's next feature, Nymphomaniac, nevertheless loomed large, albeit behind a veil of hush hush. Promo footage from the anticipated film, likely destined for this year's Cannes Film Festival, screened for select buyers.
The Nun Transcends
French filmmaker Guillaume Nicloux debuted his powerful feature The Nun (La Religieuse) on Sunday, to clear audience approval. Cheers erupted after the screening and a not-so-obvious compliment from critics came in the form of press conference room that was packed well ahead of the arrival of the director and cast. Based on the novel by Denis Diderot, the story has had previous big screen versions including a 1966 feature by Jacques Rivette that was so critical of the Church that it was temporarily banned in France. Nicloux's version, which will screen at Film Society in March as part of this year's Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, stays mostly clear of such direct criticism and focuses on the universality of its heroine Suzanne Simonin, played brilliantly by newcomer Pauline Etienne.
“I am an atheist, but I don't have anything against the Church or religion itself. I'm disgusted when people are forced to 'toe the line,' but otherwise I'm not against [the Church],” Nicloux said in Berlin Sunday. “Diderot wasn't against religion as such, but he was against fanaticism in all its forms… I was disturbed by the anti-clerical angle that a lot of people took away from the book.”
Pauline Etienne and Isabelle Huppert in The Nun
In the film, Etienne plays a young woman who is sent against her will to a convent because her aristocratic parents, with two older daughters, cannot afford the dowry befitting her social rank. A kind Mother Superior takes her under her wing and, though a devoted Christian, she nevertheless is vocal that monastic life is not her calling. When the Mother Superior dies, her environment becomes much darker as a new Mother Superior takes over and harassment and humiliation ensue. Even after she is rescued by a local bishop and placed into another convent with a new Mother Superior—played by Isabelle Huppert—she faces a new challenge: warding off the unwanted advances of her new overseer.
“She's a Mother Superior, but she has nothing superior about her,” Huppert said. “What she feels about this young girl makes her very human and God is far from her at that moment. It wasn't so scandalous actually. But maybe that's the scandal – when a feeling is so natural it is scandalous.”
Though the film is set in the 18th century, universal themes of oppression surface. One journalist from Iran made an emotional commentary about the treatment of women in her country, likening the situation Suzanne faced to women in Iran, Saudi Arabia and other countries. Nicloux, acknowledged the situation there and other countries had parallels, but said that even in liberal Western democracies, oppression from previous ages manifest today.
“In France today there are authorities that would disallow women access to abortion and birth control. And while it's done politely, it's still a remnant of patriarchy.”
Canadian filmmakers introduced at Canada's embassy Saturday night in Berlin. Photo by Brian Brooks
Saturday night, Canadians and their friends from around the world headed over to the country's embassy near Postdamer Platz for a party the country and TeleFilm Canada host annually to celebrate Canadian films at the Berlinale. When checking in, staff politely ask—presumably when your accent isn't quite distinguishable—if you're Canadian. If so, you have the opportunity to wear a flashy button in order to be distinguished from the event's other invitees. It's a quirky tidbit that typifies this fun party that attracts big crowds every year and supports an important purpose: to promote Canadian film around the globe.
Appropriately, Berlinale competition feature Vic + Flo ont vu un ours screened for press here on Sunday afternoon. The film revolves around Vic, a woman who has been released from prison and goes in search of peace and quiet in the Canadian forest. She moves to a relative's house and receives a visit from her lover, Flo. The pair explore the countryside leisurely, but hiccups come in the form of Vic's unconventional probation officer and Flo's penchant for local bars that turn up figures from her past.
Other new Canadian titles playing at the Berlinale include Inch'Allah, Barefoot, Le Météore, A Single Shot (a U.S. co-venture), The Fruit Hunters, Lessons In Process, and Remanence I – (Lost, Lost, Lost, Lost).
Chile's Gloria Wins Cheers
Chilean drama Gloria won over audiences in Berlin on Sunday. The film revolves around a middle aged woman who vies for love and adventure in the South American country's capital, Santiago. The film drew comparisons to Woody Allen, because of the intimacy of its relationships, and references to Meryl Streep for “the arresting performance of actress Paulina Garcia,” according to Reuters. Garcia plays the title character Gloria, a bespectacled 58 year old divorcée whose children are grown. She heads out to discos where she dances and flirts, defying the onset of old age. She is swept off her feet after meeting a former naval officer in his 60s. They attempt to create a relationship, but their past lives surface, causing some critics to interpret the film as a metaphor for Chile as it emerged from the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.
Director Sebastian Lelio said the story's inspiration came from his mother and her generation—a group he sees as ignored in a youth obsessed media. “I would say that we are all facing what Gloria is facing, but it just happens to some people sooner than others,” he told reporters in Berlin, where Gloria is one of 19 movies in the main competition lineup and the most popular so far. “We all face crossroads in our lives where we can retreat into ourselves or we can hit the dance floor.”
A still from Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac. Image: Christian Geisnaes
Nymphomaniac Makes an Unofficial Bow
Though most Berlinale festival-goers didn't know, industry insiders were invited to a secret screening of footage from Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac. This isn't the first time Von Trier has brought his latest to the Berlin festival to preview footage for potential buyers. His last film Melancholia, which had its U.S. premiere at the 2011 New York Film Festival, actually ended up selling in Berlin after distributors viewed parts of the movie. Magnolia Pictures pre-bought the film before its official debut at the Cannes Film Festival that May. No word yet if another pre-buy is in store for Nymphomaniac, but it will likely find a U.S. home and a spot at this year's Cannes fest.
Starring an international cast including Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgard, Shia LaBeouf, Jamie Bell, Willem Dafoe, Jamie Bell, Uma Thurman and more, it is described by the film's sellers, Trust Nordisk, as a “wild and poetic story of a woman’s journey from birth to the age of 50 as told by the main character, the self-diagnosed nymphomaniac Joe (Gainsbourg).” Nordisk held its party in Berlin this evening, though no word if von Trier attended.
2013 BAFTA Winners:
Best Film: Argo
Best Director: Ben Affleck, Argo
Best Actor: Daniel Day-Lewis, Lincoln
Best Actress: Emmanuelle Riva, Amour
Best Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained
Best Supporting Actress: Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables
Best British Film: Skyfall
Best Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer: The Imposter
Best Original Screenplay: Django Unchained
Best Adapted Screenplay: Silver Linings Playbook
Best Film Not In The English Language: Amour
Best Documentary: Searching For Sugar Man
Best Original Film Score: Skyfall
Best Cinematography: Life of Pi
Best Editing: Argo
Best Sound: Les Miserables
Best Animated Film: Brave
Best Visual Effects: Life of Pi
Best Makeup and Hair: Les Miserables
Best Production Design: Les Miserables
Best Costumes: Anna Karenina
Best Short Film: Swimmer
Best Animated Short: The Making of Longbird