Berlinale Golden Bear goes to Iranian film There Is No Evil

Adham Youssef
24 Min Read

The 70th Berlin International Film Festival (Berlinale) concluded on Saturday, but the winner of the Golden Bear wasn’t at the ceremony to recieve his award contrary to his desire. Dissident Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof was banned by state authorities from traveling abroad and making films, in reaction to his 2017 film A Man of Integrity which won a major award at the Cannes.


“I would like to thank our amazing cast and crew who put their lives in danger for this film,” said executive producer Farzad Pak. Many of the film’s participants in the audience were in tears. 


“This new friend [the Golden Bear] will travel to my country very soon … and will tell Mohammad: ‘You are not alone’,” said producer Kaveh Farnam.


Two years ago, director Rasoulof has been sentenced to one year in prison, although it is not yet clear when he will actually be imprisoned.

He managed to direct his Golden Bear-winning film There Is No Evil by creatively bypassing Iranian officials’ censorship. The film, combining four shorts, shows different ways of dealing with the death penalty — a powerful comment on freedom of expression in a despotic country.

The film reflects upon the importance of moral conscience in four episodes, telling the stories of four men who are tasked to carry out death penalties and the people surrounding them.

Stories of young men during their military service carrying out executions (one escaped and another executed the order) and the complications and deep moral conflicts these killings bring about for them, made the audience face the disturbing reality of the Iranian political and judicial system. The actions of these men have a deep impact on their relationships with their loved ones and families, especially the strong female characters. The atmosphere of political persecution is unsettling.

In a very impressive way, the film depicts the options that exist, and gives a sense of the possibility of decision and resistance even under political pressure. Thus, it shows an impressive fundamental critique of death penalty in general and especially of the oppressive system in Iran by means of outstanding storytelling and cinematography, and the intense acting. The film is a strong statement of human dignity which constitutes us as a person in Iran and everywhere.

In another context, Eliza Hittman won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize, the festival’s second most important award, for her teen abortion drama, Never Rarely Sometimes Always. The work, which had premiered at Sundance in January, was at the top of many critics’ list. Ahead of the festival, President of the Jury Jeremy Irons was criticised for past comments on abortion, and he had to distance himself once again from his own statements at the beginning of the Berlinale.  


A German critics’ favourite, Berlin Alexanderplatz by Burhan Qubani, didn’t pick up any of the coveted Bears. Similarly, Kelly Reichardt’s First Cow was often named among the top candidates for a Berlinale top award, but left empty-handed.

It was the first festival under the direction of directorial duo Mariette Rissenbeek and Carlo Chatrian. As the artistic director, Chatrian added a new separate competitive section, called Encounters, which aims to “foster aesthetically and structurally daring works from independent, innovative filmmakers.”


In this section, the award for the best film went to Malmkrog by Romanian director Cristi Puiu. The Trouble With Being Born by Austrian director Sandra Wollner won the special jury award. The best director award went to The Works and Days (of Tayoko Shiojiri in the Shiotani Basin) by C.W. Winter and Anders Edström.


The GWFF Best First Feature Award went to Colombian director Camilo Restrepo, whose film also screened in the new Encounters section. Nightmarish and hallucinatory film, Los Conductos, is based on the recollections of a sect survivor and deals with religion and violence in Colombia.


Another Golden Bear was awarded to the best short film “T” by Jamaican-American filmmaker Keisha Rae Witherspoon.

The Generation Kplus Jury which gives away the Crystal Bears comprised Jan-Niclas Henningsen, Noa Liebscher, Mariama Lucks, Konstantin Marx, Nick Müller, Emilia Pegler, Franz Jurek Linus Roller, Sylvester Savelberg, Line-Liv Schmahl, Mathilde Teichmann, and Clara Helene Vogt. They have awarded the Crystal Bear for the best film to Sweet Thing by Alexandre Rockwell.

The film’s story is full of youthful hopes and cohesion, which, in contrast to the achromatic reality, is characterised by domestic violence, unfolds with a breath-taking tempo and perfect performances. This film demonstrates how hope and courage lie in music.

“We loved this film on the technical level. Because it deliberately leads us into the old world of film, unknown to the younger generation, and thus creates an ingenious contrast between black and white and the colourful,” the jury said.

A Special Mention was given to H Is for Happiness by John Sheedy. The film was described by the jury as “a motivating film from start to finish in which the protagonist attempts to bring the family back together. We were easily able to identify with the characters. The alphabet led us through a humorous and at the same time profound film.”

The Crystal Bear for the Best Short Film was given to El nombre del hijo (The Name of the Son) by Martina Matzkin. The short film tells of a boy’s self-doubts regarding his identity and illustrates thereby a strong father-son relationship. “Although we have never been in a situation like this, thanks to the great acting on an emotional level, we were able to immerse ourselves in the story. It is difficult to put into words how touching a simple story with a solid background can be,” the jury said in its report. 

As for the Special Mention, it went to El sghayra (Miss) by Amira Géhanne Khalfalla. This film shows how a playful, young girl creates her own world by virtue of her independence and zest for life. “In a breath-taking landscape, we witness how people open each other’s eyes. The film also left us with open eyes,” the jury said. 

Meanwhile, the Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk (The Children’s Charity of Germany Awards) included the jury members of the International Jury Generation Kplus – Marine Atlan, María Novaro and Erik Schmitt. They  have awarded the Grand Prix of the International Jury in Generation Kplus for the Best Film endowed with 7,500 Euros by the Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk (The Children’s Charity of Germany) to Los Lobos (The Wolves) by Samuel Kishi Leopo.

The film follows a mother sacrifices the moment for the future. Her children are thrown into a new world, with new rules, all of which are recorded on a tape recorder that sets the frame for this intimate play. “And together with the two brothers, we try to look for a solution as to how to create a new space in fantasy and reality. We feel what those boys feel, at any time in this unique film. We are there with them, huddled and imprisoned in a cramped space, a dirty room with a stinky rug. We learn English with a tape recorder. We want to break out. We are there with them, held up by the hope that soon, we will have a childhood again – that soon, we will visit Disneyland. For the very special and creative approach exemplified by this tale, we are happy to give Los Lobos this important prize,” the jury said.

The jury gave a special mentions to Mignonnes (Cuties) by Maïmouna Doucouré, and to Mamá, mamá, mamá by Sol Berruezo Pichon-Rivière. The jury described the “filmic language” of the two films as “full of energy and told with poetic ambiguity.”

“Whereas one is courageously harsh and direct, the other is delicate and suggestive. Nevertheless, both films deal in a truly unique and fascinating manner with the exact moment in which young girls find their identities through fear and togetherness,” it added.

The Special Prize of the International Jury in Generation Kplus for the Best Short Film, endowed with 2,500 Euros by the Deutsches Kinderhilfswerk (The Children’s Charity of Germany) went to El nombre del hijo (The Name of the Son) by Martina Matzkin. The reason why the jury gave the film the award was “because it is important for the world to see who you really are, and because confusion, pain and goodwill are beautifully told in this piece about a loving father and his two children in a brief moment of their lives.”

The jury also gave a special mention to The Kites by Iranian director Seyed Payam Hosseini. “This is a film that tells us about borders and how they can be dizzying, terrifying, and arbitrary. It’s a poetic tale that shows us that language can go beyond words and that empathy can be felt from afar,” the jury said.

Moreover, Alex Piperno’s debut feature Window Boy Would Also Like to Have a Submarine won the Tagesspiegel Readers’ Award at the Berlinale. Since 2007, the Berlin-based national daily newspaper has awarded a Readers’ Prize. The jury consists of nine members and the prize is given to the best film in the Forum. Members of the jury were Peter Apel, Heike Bottke, Chris Feustel, Luisa Horn, Ingrid Lühr, Anuya Rane, Matthias Richter, Thomas Schippmann, and Dagmar Seydell.

The film’s author, director, and producer Piperno is interested in precisely the moment just before the encounter – hesitant and on the threshold – and thus creates a cinema that is transitory through and through. Piperno was born in Montevideo in 1985 and studied film direction at the Universidad del Cine de Buenos Aires. His short films were shown at festivals such as Cannes Critics’ Week, Bafici, Moscow, Huesca, Sao Paulo, and Biarritz among others. 

On a cruise ship off the Patagonian coasts, a crewman discovers a magical portal leading into a woman’s apartment. Simultaneously, villagers happen upon a frightening concrete hut near their settlement in the Philippines. Somewhere between dark engine rooms and middle-class living rooms, between the sea and the jungle, individuals observe one another with curiosity, skepticism, and anxiety.

Also on Saturday, several independent juries presented the awards of their competitions. A jury is considered independent when its members are not selected by the Berlinale. The high level of quality and diversity of the films are an invitation for critical examination and discerning judgment that opens up new directions. Accordingly, the independent juries award their prizes along different criteria, in accordance with the special intention linked to each award

Ecumenical Award

Since 1992, the international film organisations of the Protestant and Catholic Churches – INTERFILM and SIGNIS – have been represented by the Ecumenical Jury. It consists of six members and awards its main prize to a film entered in the Competition. It also awards two other prizes, both worth €2,500, one to a film from the Panorama and one to a film in the Forum.

The prizes go to directors who have succeeded in portraying actions or human experiences that are in keeping with the Gospels, or in sensitising viewers to spiritual, human, or social values.

In the Panorama section, Otac (Father) by Srdan Golubović won the best film award. The road movie is based on a true story of a father who walks 300 km from his province to the Serbian capital to show his desperate will to get back his children. Because of the precarious economical family situation and a desperate irrational act of his wife, the children were taken care of by the youth welfare office. 

The film shows that the Serbian system is still stuck in socialistic arbitrariness, corrupt structures, a strong urban-rural divide, and unbearable neglect of the whole country. Yet the father manages to deal with the catastrophic tension, his feelings of guilt and the challenges on his way to Belgrade in a reserved and non-violent way. In the character of the father, the jury recognises an example of an attitude of persistence and search for justice without hurting anyone else. Thus, the father becomes a hero without considering himself as a hero at all.

A special mention was given to Saudi Runaway by Susanne Regina Meures. Her upcoming wedding day will change Muna’s life forever. It is the day she makes her decision, not about her groom already chosen for her, but whether to seek freedom outside of Saudi Arabia. A woman of courage facing dangers and challenges, Muna plots her escape from her paternalistic society.

Exactly because she is a person of compassion and love for family values, she has to leave. This coming-of-self-determination-story is real, authentic and touching, being totally put together of smartphone videos. Susanne Regina Meures as the director with Muna as protagonist and person created more than a film, together they added feminism to smartphone and cast dignity of women as a bridge instead of a border. And together they added a young woman to Germany who is happy about the sun of freedom inside – and so very fine about the rain outside.

In the Fourm section, Seishin 0 (Zero) by Kazuhiro Soda won. With subtle though effective use of cinematic means, especially of camera and montage, the film shows the impact the psychiatrist Dr. Masatomo Yamamoto has on his patients and their fear of a future without him as he approaches retirement. 

With a sensitive understanding of their distress and with gentle encouragement, he motivates and accompanies them as they seek to move forward. In the second part, he is shown after his retirement, spending time with his wife now with dementia.

Robert Bosch Stiftung awards 

Also at the Berlinale Talents, the Robert Bosch Stiftung presented its film prize for International Cooperation between Germany and the Arab world for the eighth time. 

Three teams of young filmmakers from Egypt, Syria, and Germany were awarded a total of €180,000 for the realisation of their film projects in the categories of animated film, short fiction, and documentary. The premiere of the 2018 documentary prize winner Purple Sea at the Forum Expanded of the 70th Berlinale is scheduled for this week as well.

This year’s competitors included 10 co-production projects from Germany and Syria, Egypt, Algeria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan. In the category of animated film, the autobiographically inspired German-Egyptian film project Traitors of the Eyes was the winner. Following their mother’s tragic death, identical twins embark on a journey into the past of their conservative Muslim family that brings to light forbidden sexuality, love, and jealousy, as well as an ambiguous will.

The prize in the category of short fiction film went to the German-Syrian film project Inana. Director Ragda Alazizi and producer Philipp Döring tell the story of a young woman in Saydnaya, one of Syria’s notorious prisons for political detainees. Having experienced frequent humiliation and abuse, Inana ultimately takes revenge on her tormentor. The jury emphasised the visual power of the sensitive, emotional, and aesthetic way in which the up-and-coming filmmakers tell their brutal tale.

In the documentary category, the jury went for Big Boys Don’t Cry by a German-Egyptian film team consisting of Muhammad Mustapha, Hala Lotfy, and Philipp Maurice Raube. The young filmmaker uses his camera to document the everyday life of a bouncer/ex-convict, who is basically his polar opposite. On their forays, through nocturnal Cairo, the façade of both men crumbles, making clear that both suffer under their society’s standards of masculinity.

The Robert Bosch Stiftung has been awarding the Film Prize for International Collaboration between Germany and the Arab world as part of the Berlinale Talents event since 2013. A one-year competition and training programme that includes tailor-made workshops for young talents from the Arab world and Germany, the Film Prize aims to provide first experiences with international co-productions, offer support in film-making, and promote intercultural exchange. In addition, the Film Prize opens doors to international film markets and platforms that filmmakers can use to build and expand their network in the film industry.

For its Film Prize, the Robert Bosch Stiftung partners with Berlinale Talents, with further support coming from prominent film institutions from Arab League countries such as the Royal Film Commission – Jordan, the Carthage Film Festival, Tunisia, as well as the regional Goethe-Institut offices. The award’s media partner is the TV station ARTE.

The 2020 winners inculuded Trairotrs of the Eyes by Abdelrahman Dnewar and Saad Dnewar from Egypt, INANA by Ragda Alazizi from Syria, Big Boys Don’t Cry by Muhammad Mustapha from Egypt.

The Film Prize jury consists of Mohannad Al Bakri, Vincenzo Bugno, Doris Hepp, Elke Kaschl Mohni, Marianne Khoury, Hania Mroué, Alexander Wadouh.


The juries of the Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique (FIPRESCI), the international film critics association, watched films from the Competition programme as well as the Encouters, Panorama, and Forum sections. They award a prize for the best film in each of these sections.

The award winner from the Competition was Undine by Christian Petzold. The jury said, “At the same time a myth inspired film and a complex portrait of a modern woman, with an outstanding performance by Paula Beer. The poetry of the fairy tale is transformed into striking images by cinematographer Hans Fromm.”

In the Encounters section, A metamorfose dos pássaros (The Metamorphosis of Birds) by Catarina Vasconcelos won the award. The jury commented, “Catarina Vasconcelos’s film is a piercingly beautiful evocation of the past in cinematic form, as delicate as the wings of a sparrow and as fragile and as intricate as an assemblage by Joseph Cornell.”

“This tender, poetic, and deeply personal debut – elegantly shot on 16mm film – mediates between a man and a woman, mother and child, love and loss, land and sea, and vertical plants and maritime miracles. We honour it with our highest praise,” the jury added. 

In the Panorama section, Mogul Mowgli by Bassam Tariq won the award. “The film follows a story that gives a second chance to deal with the problem of personal maturation, through the feeling of belonging to a community represented by the family. The first was through music and escaping from the cultural demands of the environment. The stylistic approach is varied: surreal-symbolic and realistic,” the jury said. “The use of music and its insertion in the narrative is well justified and provides meaning, it is not only illustrative. It is a promising debut of great maturity. The performance is outstanding.”

Moreover, a special mention went to A l’abordage by Guillaume Brac.

In the Forum section, The Twentieth Century by Matthew Rankin won the award. The film is a topical satire, laying bare the perversion and violence of populist politics, but doing so with a great sense of style and humour, the jury said.

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