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It’s time for the city of Berlin to say farewell to the red carpet dwellers for another year, as this weekend marked the end of the 68th annual Berlinale – the festival dedicated to showcasing indie creatives in the field of film & drama series.

What the Berlinale wins mean for film in 2018

The unlikely winner of Berlinale

It’s time for the city of Berlin to say farewell to the red carpet dwellers for another year, as this weekend marked the end of the 68th annual Berlinale – the festival dedicated to showcasing indie creatives in the field of film & drama series. Before we remove our spotlight from the event, let’s take a look at the interesting twist that zunfolded on the saturday night when Touch Me Not became the unexpected winner of the festival’s top award – the Golden Bear.

The Romanian film from first-time director Adina Pintilie is an experimental docudrama exploring sexual intimacy and the fears around it. Speaking on her win, Pintilie said the movie intended to “invite you, the viewer, to dialogue” with its graphic portrayals of nudity and disability.

Based around a woman’s attempt to overcome her intimacy issues, Touch Me Not shows Pintilie on screen interviewing a range of protagonists about their sexuality. The actors include a transgender sex worker and a handicapped man & his able-bodied partner discussing how they came to feel at home in their bodies. Later, all three visit a sex club to explore their fantasies on screen.

Some critics argue it’s a controversial choice, particularly since it beat out competition from the well-received Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs and Erik Poppe’s U: July 22. So what does this tell us about the central focus of this year’s Berlinale?

#MeToo dominates conversations at Berlinale 2018

Dieter Kosslick
Before Berlinale kicked off, director Dieter Kosslick announced the festival would focus on sexual assault, discrimination, and abuse with a panel discussion, a seminar, and a safe counselling corner for guests.

Meanwhile, Kosslick promised to screen films that addressed “urgent and political issues”. “We think that cultural events like this, but not just cultural events, are the platform for discussing this (topic) and we are in the middle of this discussion”.

As such, it was a strong year for female filmmakers, with Malgorzata Szumowska winning the runner-up Grand Jury Prize for her satire Mug and Ana Brun of Paraguay bagging Best Actress in The Heiresses for her performance as a lesbian whose partner goes to jail over their spiraling debts.

The same was true for the fest’s Drama Series Days, which debuted projects that put female characters front & center in the narrative. The program included the Australian cult classic Picnic at Hanging Rock, Israeli TV’s Sleeping Bears, Germany’s Bad Banks, and Norway’s Heimebane, all of which had the same thing in common – a powerful and complex female heroine at the center of the story.

Elsewhere, several days into Berlinale’s launch and a group of European organizations including WIFT Germany, WIFT Nordic, and the Swedish Film Institute announced the launch of a similar initiative to #MeToo called the Speak Up campaign.

Szumowska unveiled the movement to the crowds by declaring, “The European film industry has decided to unite under the banner of Speak Up. We aim to offer a clear lead in ensuring sexual harassment and abuse are not tolerated in the work environment, whether it be offices or in the markets and festivals.”

Overall, the festival was dominated by conversations on #MeToo. As Citizen put it, “In a year in which the #MeToo movement cast a long shadow over the Berlinale . . . women proved to be the big winners.”

Touch Me Not: The right choice for the Golden Bear?

'Touch Me Not'
While many celebrated the female-led wins at Berlinale, the decision to hand Pintilie the prestigious Golden Bear award has come into question by critics. Was the choice made because of its presentation of political issues rather than its artistic ingenuity? Or is Touch Me Not a truly deserving winner?

Writer Peter Bradshaw doesn’t think so, calling the win a “calamity for the festival”. “This is a quasi-fictional documentary essay about sexuality, which deluged me in a tidal wave of depression at how embarrassingly awful it was.”

Furthermore, Touch Me Not was handed one of the worst scores on Screen International’s reputed jury grid, which compiles ratings for all competing films in major festivals. Most of the seven critics on the panel gave it a single star, rating the movie “poor”.

Some might argue that the Berlinale – which has a reputation for supporting political and social issues over cinematographic taste – once again went with the politically correct choice, particularly with the added pressure of the #MeToo movement.

However, DW culture editor Elizabeth Grenier thinks otherwise: “It’s a strong statement to pick Touch Me Not amidst the current #MeToo discussion, but it’s also an aesthetically slick work with an experimental proposition that nevertheless felt absolutely genuine.”

Whatever your stance on the Golden Bear’s new owner, it’s clear from Berlinale that the #MeToo movement will continue to dominate the 2018 film festival season, as discussions center on the burgeoning number of accusations made against industry figures. And with regards to this ongoing focus, the Touch Me Not victory couldn’t be more apt.

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