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Berlinale: Winners Roundup and More...

Seán McGovern completes his Berlinale coverage. Until next year's fest!

You're no-one in Berlin unless you're coughing, which is what 75% of people (myself included) have been doing this last week.

Negative temperatures make for more serious cinema goers, although 2018's edition had its share of sideswipes. The festival's director Dieter Kosslick has two years remaining before his tenure is up and many are anxiously awaiting a fresh vision. Nevertheless, Berlin has some of the most offbeat and independently-minded filmmakers showing their work, and the gems are absoultely there. Let's have a final look at some of the curiosities that may or may not end up in a cinema near you.

Golden Bear Winner - TOUCH ME NOT (dir. Adina Pintile, Romania/Germany/Czech Republic/Bulgaria/France)

The only premiere at the Berlinale Palast that I managed to go to also turned out to be the the winner of the Golden Bear...

A semi-pseudo documentary essay about a woman's asexuality and her atomised encounters with a range of "abnormal" sexualities: an older and wonderfully German transwoman, a conscious-kink instructor, a Bulgarian rent boy and a sexual group therapy/performance art troupe (??) - no wonder there were still tickets available.

Touch Me Not receiving the top prize has already gained vitriol from some prominent critics, with the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw calling it "embarrassingly awful." I viewed it as a difficult, but intriguing, self-satisfied but compelling curiosity. A pan-European production, quintessentially arthouse and making no allowances for accessibility or definition. You can choose to read that has highly complimentary or a complete dismissal. By the time it finished I had sensed that it was either going to win the top prize or disappear from our lives entirely - maybe it can do both? However this is the role of the Berlinale, rewarding provocative work that won't get the accolades anywhere else.

Latin America Rules the Teddy Awards
It was a near clean-sweep for films from South America. While a Lebanese short Three Centimeters won the Teddy for Best Short Film, all the other prizes going went to Latin American countries: Brazil (Bixa Travesty, Obscuro Barocco, Tinta Bruta), Peru (Retablo) and Paraguay (Las herederas)

Best Feature Film - TINTA BRUTA (dirs. Marcio Reolon, Filipe Matzembacher; Brazil)

Boys, Brazil and bodies covered in paint (plus a couple of hard dicks - hey, it matters in queer cinema!), Tinta Bruta was always going to go down well with a queer cinema audience and will certainly be screened in international LGBT film festivals. Tinta Bruta is about Pedro, who makes his living on Cam4 (never heard of it), with a unique selling point - neon paint, as well as a hot body. When he sees an imitator online, he needs to get to the bottom of it. If we're living in an age of New Queer Latin Cinema, then this is part of an urgent response to a threatened democracy, machismo culture and creeping homophobia. And alongside Obscuro Barocco and Bixa Travesty, these films are taking the cityscape and urbanism and making it a potent part of the storytelling.

Best Documentary/Essay Film - BIXA TRAVESTY (dirs. Claudia Priscilla, Kiko Goifman; Brazil)

It struck me how much documentary storytelling is a huge part of queer filmmaking. And watching Bixa Travesty, centering on the aggressively faggoty transwoman Linn da Quebrada and performance partner Jup do Bairro, I was reminded that fact is often more compelling than fiction. Quebarda is a force of nature, a freestyling, in-your-face presence who commands the stage. She raps forcefully against machismo and heteronormativity, against conformity of any kind, really, and with absolute sincerity. She is a complete self-creation, a fighter and a survivor. Bixa Travesty is a polemical rock-documentary cum character study cum personal memoir. And the best news: She's on Spotify.

Personal highlight - YOURS IN SISTERHOOD (dir. Irene Lusztig, USA)

Tucked away in the Forum section of the programme was a stunningly simple and effective feminist documentary: completely personal, political and intersectional. Yours In Sisterhood takes an idea and makes it an investigation. Director Irene Lusztig travels to towns across the USA where at one point in the 1970s, a local woman wrote a letter to Ms. Magazine. Due to the sheer volume the magazine received, so many had to go unanwered and Yours In Sisterhood gives voice to these letters, as well as to a whole generation of women who respond to the personal history - sometimes in disagreement, sometimes to challenge, often from a place of great warmth and solidarity. I left wondering if maybe a few miniutes could be shaved off the 101-minute running time. But quite simply: no. Every story has a place and I was invested in each one. 

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Reader Comments (6)

Yours in Sisterhood sounds wonderful. Can't wait to see it.

That Guardian piece is... shall we say, a little wonky. Ignoring the fact that a debut feature by a female director was left unreviewed during the festival, I always find myself a little skeptical when a scathing review comes just after a movie gets announced as the winner. Would the review have been so negative before? Would it have just been more easily dismissed. Naturally, the same goes for Oscar movies.

February 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Thanks, Seán, for your insightful coverage of Berlinale and of films rarely discussed here by some up and coming filmmakers as well as directors with a more established filmography.

February 27, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCraig

My favorite Cam4 star had a nasty motorbike accident and he documented all his recovery on that channel.

February 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

@Craig Why thank you! It was wonderful to have the opportunity to write about them on this great site, really!

February 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSeán

So a film about an asexual woman encountering people with sexual desires is a controversial winner at a film festival? Controversial sounds about right. People don't understand asexuality and, quality of filmmaking aside as I can't attest to something I didn't see, just bringing up asexuality is enough to set some people into an extremely defensive, if not immediately critical, mindset.

February 28, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterRobert G

As soon as I saw that painted body I was reminded of another great Brazilian film from the two year old, "Neon Bull". Florescent paint on a bronze body never gets hackneyed, and always piques my interest, not in a colonial elegance kind of way, and not in the clichéd gas-lighting sense where the exotic is undone by the pasty Gustav Von Aschenbach whilst heaping generous praise on the ignorant victim who is deep-sixed moments later in the eyes of idle minds. However, a Western arrogance seems almost inevitable in these beauty/beast scenarios, once demolished in Thomas Mann's, "Death in Venice". Nevertheless, that age-old conflict still rustles the cockles of entitled ne'er do wells with a gift for bullshit. So, in keeping with the themes that seem to be embedded here (I'm almost certainly wrong, and reading too much into a setting that writes itself), I will assume a push-pull segway lurks in at least one of these films. Hopefully, however, a more liberated slant, like the one finely exhibited in last years' gorgeous and life-affirming Brazilian movie, "Body Electric" is more influential than the windbaggery of a The Departing, Deep Water, Jesús, Heartstone, Tomcat (which inexplicably won the Teddy last year), etc.

Thanks for your fine reporting and for giving the heads up, Seán, on these potential gems. Berlin, though accused of being a laggard the past few years on the festival circuit when it comes to work that doesn't announce itself from the rooftops, continues to impress for those who are willing to put the time in. It doesn't surprise me that some of the best LBGT films are coming out of South America. In fact, they seem to be ahead of the curve. Oh, and by the way, thanks also for providing me with a new desktop image. Bixa Travesty is anything but. Cheers.

March 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterIshmael

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