BERLIN - Gong Li threw her ex a bone. The Jewish Museum scared me. Michael Stipe knows a good Indonesian place. It's been a festival of fragments. Berlin is a city of shards.
Shards are all I hope for now. I can't imagine a perfect film, let alone a perfect festival. I just want brilliant moments, and Berlin this year had plenty.
There's a slow-motion shot of Josef Stalin in Chris Marker's new video, Une Journée D'Andrei Asenevitch, that makes him look like a smiling, naughty boy. Marker's subject is Andrei Tarkovsky, but it's this one, eerie image that sticks.
In James Benning's El Valley Centro, it's the image of a column of fire raging into the sky but never stirring a still pond in the foreground.
Benning's film is a series of hypnotic, extra-long takes shot in California's Great Central Valley, each one fixing in the mind a picture of how people work, and sometimes kill, the land.
Marker and Benning play in the Forum section, far from the hot light of the Berlinale's star power. Enter that aura and feel the force of Chinese diva Gong Li. She was president of the jury this year, and had the festival's hardest job.
In the end, they gave the Golden Bear to Magnolia, which meant Paul Thomas Anderson had to hop a Concorde back to Europe to collect.
But the second-prize Silver Bear went to Zhang Yimou's The Road Home. As true fans know, Gong Li was long the shining centre of Zhang's films. But she left him five years ago for a Singapore businessman. Zhang, 49, took up with 20-year-old Zhang Ziyi, whom he plucked from the Beijing Drama Academy just as he did with Gong Li. He cast her in The Road Home. To which Gong Li led her jury to hand a prize. Second prize.
Every film festival is a soap opera. This was Gotterdammerung.
Best to collect my shards. Like the close-ups in Clouds Of May. This competition entry turns on eternal Iranian themes, which is odd because it's a Turkish film. It's the story of a rural filmmaker trying to will his film into being while life goes on around him.
Director Nuri Bilge Ceylan cast his own parents in the film, and Clouds Of May carries the spirit of simple truths we've come to expect from Iranian cinema, especially Kiarostami. This is also the most beautifully photographed film I saw all festival. It's not just the way Ceylan captures sunlight. It's how intimate he is with his father's feet.
Clouds Of May is so good that it blunted for me the impact of Babak Payami's very strong debut film, One More Day.
Payami, who trained and lives in Toronto, filmed One More Day in his native Iran. It's a story of impossible love on the streets and buses of Tehran, and it plays like an Eric Rohmer romance of missed opportunities, but shot within the limits of Islamic law.
Mary Harron shot American Psycho within the limits of western media outrage.
She re-engineers Brett Easton Ellis's novel as a half-feminist satire, and runs her characters through a succession of cool, white spaces that feel right at home in Berlin. I appreciate the design of the film, but for showing the depths of male rage, it pales next to Your Friends And Neighbors.
And for Swiftian satire, it pales next to Swift.
It's a movie that works in spurts, like Benjamin Smoke, which was the festival's best postcard from Dirtbag, USA. As Benjamin himself notes, his is a neighbourhood where people treasure "the good things in life, like interbreeding and sniffing glue." Benjamin was the drag-queen leader of an Atlanta avant-blues rock band called Smoke, and the film captures his raging great spirit before he died.
The band was a favourite of REM frontman Michael Stipe's, who helped get Jem Cohen and Peter Sillen's film made and showed up in Berlin for the screening. Stipe and Toronto expat Noah Cowan, the film's executive producer, led a few lucky folks to dinner at an Indonesian joint afterwards.
Then he impressed me forever by waiting in line with the rest of us to get into the party for the Forum section. I'd like to see Oliver Stone do that.
Instead, I had to watch Stone snipe at his partner, Chong Son Chong, as they got off the plane in London, prizeless. She was carrying their daughter Tara, plus a bag of a size they must allow up in business class. Stone stuffed a tattered script into his carry-on and muttered, "Stop complaining, Chong, for Christ's sake."
Which I guess is the difference between REM's Murmur and Any Given Sunday.
Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia
Grand Jury Prize - Zhang Yimou, The Road Home
Best Director - Milos Forman, Man On The Moon
Best Actor - Denzel Washington, The Hurricane
Jury Prize - Wim Wenders,
50TH BERLIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, February 9 to 20, Berlin, Germany. www.berlinale.de
The Collected Wisdom of Oliver Stone
With his girlfriend and daughter in the wings, Oliver Stone commanded the press conference for Any Given Sunday. Jamie Foxx posed beside him in a sharp suit. Stone, powered by some unseen god or substance, let his mouth fly.
ON FOOTBALL: "Football goes back to the Indians. Greek warriors. The Iliad. Those helmets.... We had murders in the NFL this year. Volatility.... They're selling Internet stocks for 15 times their value. It's insane. Football captures this insecurity."
ON THAT OTHER FOOTBALL: "They gotta speed up soccer. They gotta fast-forward soccer. They don't score enough. Americans want high scores."
TO A FRENCH JOURNALIST: "Vous etes très française. I bet you knew Sartre."
ON AL PACINO: "All he cares about is acting. He doesn't have any other life except acting. He stares at the wall between movies."
ON LOCATION SHOOTING: "How can you go to Miami and ignore the girls? It's a town built for human flesh."
ON DIRECTING: "Per cubic centimetre, of all my movies, this is the most beautiful woman I've ever made."
ON CAMUS: "Camus said it best. You gotta stay in the streets."