Asian films were big winners at the Berlin International Film Festival on Saturday, led by gritty Chinese thriller Bai Ri Yan Huo (白日焰火, Black Coal, Thin Ice), about an overweight detective pursuing a serial killer, which took the top Golden Bear prize.
Liao Fan (廖凡), who said he put on 20kg and drank more alcohol to play the role of detective Zhang Zili (張自力), was named Best Actor.
“It’s really hard to believe this dream has come true,” a stunned Diao Yinan (刁亦男), director of the winning film, told the audience at the Berlinale Palast.
Haru Kuroki, who won Best Actress for her portrayal of a housemaid in Tokyo before and during World War II in the Japanese film Chiisai Ouchi (The Little House), said she wanted to leap for joy, but it was difficult while wearing a kimono.
American Richard Linklater was named Best Director for his coming-of-age film Boyhood, which used the same child actors over a 12-year span, while Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel took the Silver Bear grand jury prize.
Ethiopian film Difret, based on a real case of bride abduction in Ethiopia and backed by actress Angelina Jolie, took the audience award.
“I’d expected the Chinese films to do really well and Black Coal, Thin Ice is very good,” Scott Roxborough, the Berlin bureau chief for trade publication the Hollywood Reporter said.
Roxborough said that the Berlin festival has a tradition of honoring Chinese films, having given the top Golden Bear prize to Zhang Yimou’s (張藝謀) film Red Sorghum in 1988.
Black Coal, Thin Ice is “film noir” in the style of Quentin Tarantino and other Hollywood directors, and not in the mould of traditional Chinese kungfu films or period dramas, he said.
“We are seeing Chinese cinema becoming more cinematically adept, not so overtly political. Chinese filmmakers are more confident, more open to the world. China is the second-biggest box office in the world, one day it will take over from America so people expect more stories of all kinds,” he added.
Black Coal, Thin Ice, which is set in northern China, pits Liao’s detective, who at one point loses his detective badge after a shootout in a beauty parlor, in dogged pursuit of a killer who disposes of body parts in coal trucks, an eye in a bowl of noodles and dismembered feet in skates.
Although the opening scene is set in a hot summer, the rest of it unfolds five years later almost entirely in winter.
Diao, who won awards for Night Train in 2007, said he had ignored the advice that “cold films don’t sell.”
He wanted to portray evil and the warmth of emotions beneath to help us all “feel less alone with our dark side.”
The Berlin festival, officially called the Berlinale, is one of the oldest and most prestigious film showcases in the world.
Some critics complained of a dearth of strong entries among the competition films and there was grumbling that the festival, renowned for films with strong political agendas, had given too much space to Hollywood with Anderson’s movie and the international premiere of George Clooney’s The Monuments Men.
“There was never a line-up which was good for the critics, such a line-up doesn’t exist,” festival director Dieter Kosslick said on the red carpet before the awards.