As the Berlin International Film Festival, or “Berlinale,” reached its climax on Feb. 18, the Ecumenical Jury announced its choice of films to be commended for their artistic treatment of existential, spiritual, and social issues.
This year the top prize went to “Caesar Must Die.” Directors Paolo and Vittorio Taviani spent six months filming rehearsals for a production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” performed by inmates of Rome’s maximum security Rebibbia Prison.
The resulting docudrama, in which the themes of the play echo the actor’s own experiences, was a hit at this year’s festival, picking up the coveted “Golden Bear” award from the main International Jury as well as the Ecumenical Jury’s prize.
“You learn something about your perception of people,” said Pastor Angelika Obert of the Protestant Church in Berlin-Brandenburg and president of the Ecumenical Jury. “It was clear that these prisoners were transformed by the experience of acting.”
The Panorama prize, dedicated to new “auteur” films, was given to “The Wall,” directed by Julian Polsler and adapted from the novel of the same name by Austrian writer Marlen Haushofer.
The Ecumenical Jury commended German actress Martina Gedeck for her “intense solo performance,” as a woman who finds herself cut off from the rest of humanity and forced to make sense of the world and herself with only animals and nature for company.
More familiar relationships are the subject of “The Delay,” which won the Forum prize, seen as the most challenging section of the Berlinale and focusing on films that blur the line between art and cinema. Uruguayan director Rodrigo Pla’s hard-hitting social realist drama tells the story of a woman struggling with economic hardship to care for her family.
“’The Delay’ is a very touching film, which has great sensitivity and compassion for its characters,” said Obert. “Despite being a story of everyday life, it is filled with dramatic tension.”
Other films given a “special mention” this year included “War Witch,” about a young girl living though civil war in the Congo, and Serbo-Croatian comedy “The Parade,” which centers on the challenges of staging a gay pride event in Belgrade.
Obert said that director Srdjan Dragojevic had been particularly touched by this recognition, having faced criticism of the film from the church in Belgrade.
The independent Ecumenical Jury has been part of the Berlinale since 1992, with jurors nominated by international protestant film organization INTERFILM and the world Catholic Association for Communication, SIGNIS.