- Set in the titular Cape Town township, newcomer Mark Dornford-May’s South African musical U-Carmen eKhayelitsha was the Golden Bear winner at this year’s Berlin Film Festival.
- Marc Rothemund’s World War II-set German drama Sophie Scholl: The Final Days won two top awards: Best Director and Best Actress (Julia Jentsch).
- Featuring plenty of watermelon juice and a dancing giant penis, Malaysian-born filmmaker Tsai Ming-liang’s sexually explicit Taiwanese comedy-drama The Wayward Cloud was handed the Outstanding Artistic Achievement Silver Bear.
South African ‘dance movie’ U-Carmen eKhayelitsha wins Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival
Headed by German-born, cineplex-oriented filmmaker Roland Emmerich (Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow), the seven-member Berlin Film Festival jury awarded the 2005 Golden Bear to the Xhosa-language South African musical U-Carmen eKhayelitsha – not only the first South African production to receive the honor, but the first African production, period.
Directed by newcomer Mark Dornford-May and starring Pauline Malefane, U-Carmen eKhayelitsha (Carmen in Khayelitsha) is a modernized version of Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera (itself based on Prosper Mérimée’s 1845 novella), transferred to the titular Cape Town township. Malefane and fellow U-Carmen eKhayelitsha actress Andiswa Kedama translated the text into Xhosa.
This South African “dance movie” features not only music from Bizet’s original opera but also what some would describe as “African music.” (“Xhosa music,” however generic, would be a more accurate label.) The film’s score was conducted and directed by British conductor Charles Hazlewood, whose credits as a composer include the 2004 TV miniseries The Genius of Mozart.
Silver Bear for working-class family drama + anti-Nazi fighters given two top awards
The Berlin Film Festival’s second prize was handed to cinematographer-turned-director Gu Changwei’s Peacock, about the daily life of a working-class family in a small Chinese town. As a cinematographer, Gu’s credits include Zhang Yimou’s 1988 Golden Bear winner Red Sorghum and Ju Dou, in addition to Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine.
The Best Director Silver Bear went to Marc Rothemund for the World War II-set German drama Sophie Scholl: The Final Days / Sophie Scholl – Die letzten Tage, about the titular German resistance member who was eventually caught by the Nazis and beheaded at age 21 along with her 24-year-old brother, Hans Scholl.
As the young anti-Nazi fighter, Julia Jentsch was named Best Actress, while Lou Taylor Pucci was Berlin’s Best Actor for his portrayal of Tilda Swinton and Vincent D’Onofrio’s insecure teenage son in Mike Mills’ U.S.-made Thumbsucker.
More Berlin winners: Kinky watermelon sex & Palestinian terrorists
Written and directed by Tsai Ming-liang, the Taiwanese comedy-drama The Wayward Cloud was the recipient of the Berlin Film Festival’s Outstanding Artistic Achievement Silver Bear, specifically in recognition of Tsai’s screenplay. The sexually explicit tale also won both the International Federation of Film Critics’ Prize (for Official Competition entries) and the Alfred Bauer Prize (for a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art”).
Set in drought-stricken Taipei, The Wayward Cloud shows what happens after a fledgling porn star accidentally runs into the woman he once loved. That includes graphic sex, watermelon juice drinking, and outlandish musical numbers, including one featuring a dancing penis. Lee Kang-sheng and Chen Shiang-chyi return as the two characters seen four years ago in Tsai’s What Time Is It There?.
Had The Wayward Cloud won Berlin’s top prize, that wouldn’t have been a first for a movie featuring graphic sex: Patrice Chéreau’s Intimacy, which has stars Mark Rylance and Kerry Fox engaging in oral sex, took home the Golden Bear in 2001.
Lastly, Hany Abu-Assad’s controversial Paradise Now, the story of two Palestinian suicide bombers (Kais Nashif and Ali Suliman), had been considered a front runner for the Golden Bear; yet the French-German-Dutch-Palestinian co-production ended up with the less internationally renowned Amnesty International Film Prize and the Blue Angel Award for Best European film.
Honorary Golden Bear recipients Im Kwon-taek & Fernando Fernán Gómez
In other Berlin Film Festival news, on Feb. 12, Im Kwon-taek, 69, described by Der Spiegel as the “godfather of Korean film,” became the first Asian filmmaker to be handed the Honorary Golden Bear.
Im shared the honor with Peruvian-born Spanish actor-director-writer Fernando Fernán Gómez, 83, already the winner of two Best Actor Silver Bears (The Anchorite, 1977; Stico, 1985) and of six Spanish Academy Goya Awards – one of them as Best Actor for his tour de force in the title role of José Luis Garci’s Oscar-nominated 1998 drama The Grandfather.
Im and Fernán Gómez follow in the footsteps of the following (most of whom Hollywood or part-time-Hollywood talent):
Alec Guinness, Catherine Deneuve, Kim Novak, Gregory Peck, Anouk Aimée, Fernando Solanas, Jack Lemmon, Alain Delon, Sophia Loren, Jeanne Moreau, Robert Altman, Claudia Cardinale, Dustin Hoffman, Shirley MacLaine, Billy Wilder, Elia Kazan, James Stewart, Kirk Douglas, and Oliver Stone.
The 2005 Berlin Film Festival ran Feb. 10–20. Below is a partial list of winners.
Berlin Film Festival winners
Golden Bear: U-Carmen eKhayelitsha.
Jury Grand Prix – Silver Bear: Peacock.
Actress: Julia Jentsch, Sophie Scholl – The Final Days.
Actor: Lou Taylor Pucci, Thumbsucker.
Director: Marc Rothemund, Sophie Scholl – The Final Days.
Outstanding Artistic Contribution: Tsai Ming-liang for the screenplay of The Wayward Cloud.
Film Music: Alexandre Desplat, The Beat That My Heart Skipped.
Honorary Golden Bear: Im Kwon-Taek & Fernando Fernán Gómez.
Silver Bear for Short Film (tie): The Intervention, dir.: Jay Duplass & Jam Session, dir.: Izabela Plucinska.
Golden Bear contenders
Besides the Berlin Film Festival titles mentioned above, the movies in competition for this year’s Golden Bear were the following:
- Jacob Thuesen’s Accused / Anklaget (Denmark).
- David Mackenzie’s Asylum (U.S. | Ireland).
- Jacques Audiard’s The Beat That My Heart Skipped / De battre, mon coeur s’est arrêté (France).
- André Téchiné’s Changing Times / Les temps qui changent (France).
- Lajos Koltai’s Fateless / Sorstalanság (Hungary | Germany | U.K.).
- Christian Petzold’s Ghosts / Gespenster (Germany | France).
- Yoji Yamada’s The Hidden Blade (Japan).
- Paul Weitz’s In Good Company (U.S.).
- Robert Guédiguian’s The Last Mitterrand / Le promeneur du champ de Mars (France).
- Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (U.S.).
- Régis Wargnier’s Man to Man (France | South Africa | U.K.).
- Hannes Stoehr’s One Day in Europe (Germany | Spain).
- Stefano Mordini’s Smalltown, Italy / Provincia meccanica (Italy).
- Alain Corneau’s Some Kind of Blue / Les mots bleus (France).
- Raoul Peck’s Sometimes in April (U.S. | U.K.).
- Aleksandr Sokurov’s The Sun / Solntse (Russia | Italy | France).
“South African ‘Dance Movie’ + Taiwanese Watermelon Sex” notes
Notable big-screen Carmen portrayers
 Previous big-screen Carmen stars include opera diva Geraldine Farrar (ironically, in a 1915 silent version), Theda Bara (also in 1915), Pola Negri (1918), Raquel Meller (1926), Dolores del Rio (The Loves of Carmen, 1927), Marguerite Namara (1932), Niní Marshall (1943), and Viviane Romance (1944).
Also: Rita Hayworth (The Loves of Carmen, 1948), Ana Esmeralda (1953), Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen Jones, 1954, which earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination), Maruschka Detmers (First Name: Carmen, 1983), Laura del Sol (also in 1983), Julia Migenes (1984), Djeïnaba Diop Gaï (in the Senegalese musical Karmen Gei, 2001), and Paz Vega (2003).
“South African ‘Dance Movie’” endnotes
Berlin Film Festival website.
Images of Pauline Malefane in U-Carmen eKhayelitsha and Chen Shiang-chyi in Tsai Ming-liang’s The Wayward Cloud: Berlin Film Festival.
“South African ‘Dance Movie’ + Taiwanese Watermelon Sex: Berlin Winners” last updated in September 2021.