India had two significant wins at the Berlin International Film Festival – Amit Masurkar's Newton won the CICAE Art Cinema Award in the International Forum of New Cinema section and Amar Kaushik's Aaba (Grandfather) won the Special Prize for Best Short Film given by the International Jury in the Generation K Plus section for children.
Newton is a delightful political satire on the fragile state of Indian democracy, set in the jungles of Chhattisgarh. The film, produced by Drishyam Films' Manish Mundra, stars Rajkummar Rao, Anjali Patil, Pankaj Tripathi, Raghubir Yadav and Sanjay Mishra. The Confederation Internationale des Cinemas d'Art et Essai (CICAE, International Confederation of Arthouse Cinemas) is a network of arthouse cinemas, started in 1955 as a bridge between film festivals and theatres. Its members have access to 3,000 screens in 30 nations on three continents–Europe, Latin America and Africa–about 15 festivals and arthouse film distributors. Hopefully Newton will break into that circuit, and equally importantly, be shown in India soon.
Amar Kaushik's Aaba, a quietly assured short set in Arunachal Pradesh, is about a young girl reconciling to the death of her beloved grandfather. It is produced by Rajkumar Gupta and Mitul Dikshit, and co-produced by Onir.
The festival's top prizes were also popular choices: Ildiko Enyedi's On Body and Soul (Hungary) won the Golden Bear for Best Film. It is a tender love story set in the most graphically unromantic setting of a slaughterhouse, where Maria and Endre, an employee and her boss, accidentally realise they both get the same dreams at night–of deer foraging for grass in winter snow.
Alan Gomis' Felicite (France/Senegal) won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize. The film is about Felicite, a feisty singer in a bar in Kinshasa, Congo, who must find more singing opportunities to pay for surgery when her son has a terrible accident.
Aki Kaurismäki's The Other Side of Hope (Finland) won the Silver Bear for Best Director. It is about the friendship between a Finnish restaurant owner, and a Syrian refugee, to whom he gives shelter and a job. The film continues Kaurismaki's trademark humane and laconic cinema, with droll touches. Agnieszka Holland's Spoor (Poland) won the Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize for a feature film that opens new perspectives. For all its flaws, it is engaging, with a feisty retired woman schoolteacher and animal rights activist, heading a cool, ecological thriller.
Sebastian Lelio's superb A Fantastic Woman (Chile) won the Silver Bear for Best Screenplay by Lelio and Gonzalo Maza. It is a compelling film about Marina, played by the stunning transgender Daniela Vega, and the extreme prejudice of her lover's ex-wife and family she must deal with, when he suddenly dies. Apart from being utterly gorgeous, Marina is an accomplished singer, and by remaining dignified in the face of horrific prejudice, only reveals how much beneath her the rest of society is.
All in all, a deeply satisfying Berlinale.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. She can be reached on [email protected]