“H is for Happiness … provides feel-good entertainment for the entire family without pandering — and definitely without sacrificing style or substance,” wrote critic Alissa Simon.
“In his feature-helming debut, Aussie theatre director John Sheedy proves a talent to watch. Imagine a cross between John Hughes and Wes Anderson with a soupcon of Pedro Almodovar, and you get an idea of the film’s playful stylisation and witty direction.”
The award came on the last day of the Berlin Film Festival, which, under its new artistic director,
Carlo Chatrian, has taken a turn towards the arthouse and adventurous, featuring very few names
known outside the festival circuit.
The Golden Bear for the best film in the main competition went to Iranian film There is No Evil by Mohammad Rasoulof, a compendium of four stories dealing with personal moral responsibility under a despotic regime.
Jury prizes went to a film about a teenage girl who has to leave her home in rural Pennsylvania for New York to get an abortion, Eliza Hittman’s Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and to Korean regular Hong Sang-soo for The Woman who Ran.
Among the Silver Bears, the D’Innocenzo brothers’ film about life on the Roman outskirts, Bad Tales, won a script prize; German favourite Paula Beer won best actress for her performance as a spurned lover in Christian Petzold’s sparkling Undine, while best actor went to Elio Germano for his energetic portrayal of “outsider” artist Antonio Ligabue in Italian director Giorgio Diritti’s Hidden Away. Germano also starred in Bad Tales.
Political controversy is always part and parcel of the Berlinale experience; its 70th edition was no
Even before the festival began, there was a flurry to replace the longstanding Alfred Bauer prize, named for the festival’s first director, when evidence of his involvement with Nazi film politics came to light.
Replacement prize Silver Bear: 70th Berlinale went to French mischief-makers Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern for their hilarious Delete History, about three social media victims who hit back at the tech giants.
During the festival, there was a small storm of controversy around Natasha Dau, a two-hour excerpt of the seven-hour DAU project set on a secret military weapons research station in the Ukraine during the ’50s.
The DAU project was filmed over a period of years, during which the largely amateur cast lived as their characters, whether or not cameras were rolling.
The Natasha section won a Silver Bear for Jurgen Jurge’s black and white cinematography.
Before the awards were announced, a delegation of Russian journalists wrote an open letter to the festival accusing the filmmakers of psychological and physical brutality, especially towards the women required to have sex, endure physical humiliation and get dangerously drunk on camera.
How does this square, the letter asks, with a post-Weinstein era of “struggle against the culture of violence and abuse in the film industry?”
In a press conference, co-director Ilya Khrzhanovsky dismissed similar accusations as “a bit fashionable”, thus adding fuel to the flames.
The festival has yet to respond.
Of course, a festival of 300 films extends well beyond its 18-film competition.
Showstoppers such as a Hillary Clinton documentary series and the Australian film High Ground were shown under the banner “Berlinale Special”, while the most popular film among critics was indisputably Victor Kossakovsky’s Gunda, a rich black-and-white documentary portrait of a sow and her piglets.
Quite why Gunda’s piggy world was so riveting remains a puzzle, but it seemed like a harbinger of surprises to come.
H is for Happiness is currently in Australian cinemas.
Stephanie Bunbury is a film and culture writer for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.