Berlin Film Festival

  • The List
  • 28 February 2008

Berlinale or bust

Selina Robertson reports on the mixed bag of films from the 2008 Berlin Film Festival that are heading this way

Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Stones documentary Shine a Light kicked off the Berlinale, and, while it wasn’t terrible, it lacked the emotional pull of the director’s 1978 live concert film The Last Waltz. At least the Panorama section boasted more music documentaries than ever: highlights included Patti Smith: Dream of Life and the much anticipated Gorillaz documentary Bananaz, directed by Damon Albarn’s long-time friend Ceri Levy. Madonna’s directing debut Filth & Wisdom, starring Gogol Bordello front man Eugene Hutz was like a mix between Cynthia Payne’s saucy home movies and dire romcom Love Actually. Personal highlights included Marion Quinn’s (sister of Aidan) charming girl’s coming of age feature, 32A, and Isabel Coixet’s Elegy, a melodramatic adaptation of Philip Roth’s novel The Dying Animal.

The Brits had a presence in and out of competition. Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky was applauded by the press. Shane Meadows’ mellow, black and white feature Somers Town, starring This is England wünderkind Thomas Turgoose, and Olly Blackburn’s Donkey Punch, an entertaining sea-bound sex and violence film, showed the range of cinema coming out of the UK at present. On a smaller scale Berlinale poster girl Isabella Rossellini returned with a miniature (made for mobile phone) portrait of insects doing the do. ‘I was always fascinated by the infinite, strange and “scandalous” ways that insects copulate,’ the actress, author and insect portrayer said. Tilda Swinton’s kinky shoes were the highlight on the red carpet for Erick Zonca’s much anticipated new film, Julia (pictured). The movie that divided audiences: Swinton’s performance as a crazy 40-something alcoholic is powerful enough, yet the script felt woolly and many people walked out of the screening. The one real treat of the festival was Errol Morris’ shocking documentary Standard Operating Procedure which investigates the photographs taken in Abu Ghraib in 2004 and the incidents of torture and abuse.

Strangely enough, the biggest talking point of the festival revolved around delegates’ lack of favour with the Berlinale bags: the lime green Berlin bear was not popular this year. Meanwhile, two members of the Competition Jury (Susanne Bier and Sandrine Bonnaire) pulled out at the last minute, leaving an imbalance of men to women. Such disasters are rarely as catastrophic as they sound but that’s the hysteria of the European film festival scene.

Full details of the winners and losers at this year’s festival can be found on

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