BERLIN – Two films from the Asian continent – one a personal portrait of the effects of China’s Cultural Revolution, the other a breathtaking journey through the Mongolian steppes – and a French movie denouncing child abuse in the Roman Catholic Church were the three unofficial favorites as of Friday to snag the coveted Golden Bear Award at the 69th edition of Germany’s prestigious – but usually unpredictable – Berlinale film fest.
According to the festival’s official “Screen” magazine, critics were especially thrilled by Wang Xiaoshuai’s “Di Jiu Tian Chang” (“So Long, My Son”), Wang Quan’an’s “Öndog” and François Ozon’s “Grace a Dieu” (“By the Grace of God”).
Di Jiu Tian Chang focuses on the pressures exerted by the Cultural Revolution – a frenzied mass movement launched in 1966 by China’s then-leader Mao Zedong to purge “revisionist” (rival) elements from all aspects of society and strengthen his grip on power – and its aftermath on a single family and its close-knit circle of friends over 30 years.
The film, which was presented on Thursday, was the last to premiere within the official section but quickly rose to the top of the rankings with its moving exploration of the trauma of the Cultural Revolution that profoundly changed society in the Asian giant over a decade filled with upheaval and violence.
Öndog, meanwhile, tells a love story set under the infinite-seeming skies of Mongolia, where the warm intimacy of traditional yurts contrasts with the immensity of the vast, empty steppes.
Its Chinese director, Wang Quan’an, already won the Golden Bear in 2007 with “Tuya’s Marriage,” which also prominently featured the stunning landscapes of the Inner Mongolia region and the hardships faced by its sheep-herding inhabitants.
Grace a Dieu delves into the perspectives of three victims of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in the French city of Lyon with a mix of indignation and empathy. Based on a true story, it explores the victims coming to terms with their feelings of shame and their struggle to achieve justice by denouncing their abuser and the amoral cardinal who covered everything up.
Ozon said during a press conference at the film’s presentation that although the plot had been attacked by leading Church figures in France, he had simply stayed true to the facts.
“A lot of ordinary Catholics are sick of their religion being associated with pedophilia and want the hierarchy to sort the problem out once and for all,” he added.
The jury, presided by legendary French actress and Oscar winner Juliette Binoche, was set to announce the winners of the festival’s prizes on Saturday.