Political films triumph in Berlin

Sun Feb 17, 2008 6:22am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

BERLIN (Reuters) - The two most overtly political movies in competition at this year's Berlin Film Festival won the top prizes, surprising some critics who had questioned their message and methods.

Winner of the golden bear for best film was Jose Padilha's "The Elite Squad" ("Tropa De Elite"), an ultra-violent portrayal of a crack team of Brazilian police who resort to corruption, torture and worse as they fight drug warlords in the Rio slums.

The runner-up jury grand prix award went to Oscar-winning documentary maker Errol Morris for "Standard Operating Procedure," an examination of what went wrong at the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq where U.S. soldiers abused prisoners.

Critics were sharply divided by the choice of winner.

While some reviews praised it as a powerful and fast-paced story of the moral compromises police accept in order to survive, others said it glorified their often brutal methods. One called it a "recruitment film for fascist thugs."

Padilha defended his movie, already a big hit in Brazil, saying that it portrayed events as they really were. Earlier in the competition he argued that the only way to break the cycle of crime connected with drugs was to legalize them.

"(The film) shows how the state turns the police into either corrupt police or police who don't want to do anything, or violent police," Padilha said after the awards late on Saturday.

"The Elite Squad" is the latest in a series of acclaimed Brazilian films showing Rio's ugly side, following the Oscar-nominated "City of God" about gangs in a Rio slum.   Continued...

<p>Director Jose Padilha laughs with actress Maria Ribeiro as he holds the Golden Bear during the news conference after the 58th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, February 16, 2008. Padilha won the award for the Best Film "Tropa de Elite". REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke</p>