Berlin Diary: The jury has spoken

Posted on February 6, 2015


Film watching is subjective, and the Berlinale jury just emphasised that.

At a press conference on the first day of the 65th Berlinale, jury president Darren Aronofsky strongly underlined the subjective nature of movie-watching. A critic in the audience asked if the jury – which includes German actor Daniel Brühl, French star Audrey Tautou, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner, South Korean director Bong Joon-Ho, Peruvian filmmaker Claudia Llosa and Italian producer Martha De Laurentiis – was worried about “traumatising” sensitive artists with their judgments, especially given that actresses like Tautou were sensitive artists themselves.

Aronofsky, wearing a beret and glasses that made him resemble Steve Jobs, first joked that he remembered some traumatic reviews from the critic who asked the question. Then he got serious. “The best in a competition is such a strange and subjective thing,” he said. “It’s like comparing apples and oranges. So the prizes are a reflection as much of the jury as of the film itself.” Still, he said, these prizes served a purpose. They brought attention to films that would otherwise find it difficult to “survive in this insane world.” He spoke about his 2008 film The Wrestler, which won the Golden Lion at the 65th Venice International Film Festival. “That really helped the film.”

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The question was passed to Tautou, who said she’d stopped reading reviews and didn’t know anymore what it was like to have a bad review. Then she said something as exquisite as her attire, a dark form-fitting sweater over which the long collars of her floral-print shirt made a dramatic statement. She said that the jury doesn’t vote against something; it merely votes for something. The point, she added, was not to criticise, not to cause pain.

The international nature of the festival was emphasised by the way journalists pronounced the names. A Chinese journalist took her time saying “Aronofsky.” When she finished, he pronounced a verdict: “Very good.” Another journalist posed a question to Matthew Wee-ner, and was gently corrected that it was Why-ner. The Chinese journalist asked one of those questions that’s impossible to answer. She wanted to know the odds of a Chinese film winning the Golden Bear for the second year in a row, after Diao Yinan’s Black Coal, Thin Ice in 2014. (This year, Wen Jiang’s Gone with the Bullets is in the competition.) Aronofsky said, “I haven’t read any of the descriptions of the films. I just know there is a Guatemalan film. This is the first Guatemalan film in the competition. It doesn’t matter where the film comes from.” Later, he said, it was about being truthful and seeing what you feel about the film. “It is not about making a statement. It is just about being moved.”

Weiner fielded a question about how one felt after getting the call asking to be on the jury. (It’s the equivalent of the question usually put to Hollywood actors: “How does it feel to be nominated?”) He said he was excited and surprised. Ask a clichéd question, get a clichéd answer. He said he’d never been to Berlin before and that a competition like this made one a little nervous. And then he moved beyond clichés and demonstrated why he’s such a good writer. “A jury judging artists is like a jury judging criminals.” It was a superb, serious observation, but there were titters from the audience. “There’s so much required to being a film artist of any kind. This is not a commercial judgment.”

Brühl echoed another Oscar cliché when he spoke about how every filmmaker whose film was chosen should be proud to be in the competition. (In the US, this sentiment would be expressed along these lines: “It’s an honour just to be nominated.”) He continued, “If you get an award, that’s great. It’s a responsible decision. We will do our best.” Aronofsky explained the nature of this process. “After each film, we will have some small talk, and then after watching all the films, we will roll up our sleeves and talk about them.” When someone asked if the aim was to be objective, Aronofsky simply said, “We’ll try to be objective within a subjective reality.”

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Posted in: Cinema: Foreign