February 17, 2008 / 11:26 AM / 10 years ago

Political films triumph in Berlin

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.

The Weinstein Company bought the rights to “The Elite Squad” before it was made, relying on the script alone.


“Standard Operating Procedure” is a sober analysis of what went wrong at Abu Ghraib.

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

“As the movie points out ... the people who are actually convicted and in prison over Abu Ghraib are not the only people involved in this,” said Morris.

Although less controversial than “The Elite Squad” it also failed to win over some viewers, who felt it offered little new insight into the abuse and ignored the wider issue of how the scandal surrounding it dented U.S. prestige.

More popular were the silver bear awards for best director, actor and actress.

The director award went to Paul Thomas Anderson for “There Will Be Blood,” starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a greedy and determined oil prospector in early 20th Century America.

Although many critics rated it as the best competition entry, the fact that it is already out in the United States and has eight Oscar nominations may have counted against it.

Best actor went to Iran’s Reza Naji in “The Song of Sparrows,” a film about how a man’s rural idyll is threatened by material temptations thrown in his path in the big city.

Britain’s Sally Hawkins was named best actress, as the critics had predicted, for her portrayal of the infectiously optimistic school teacher Poppy in “Happy-Go-Lucky.”

Best screenplay was won by China’s Wang Xiaoshuai, who wrote and directed “In Love We Trust,” about a divorced couple who go to drastic lengths to try and save their sick daughter.

Other highlights in Berlin included Martin Scorsese’s “Shine a Light,” a concert film of the Rolling Stones. Madonna’s much-anticipated directorial debut “Filth & Wisdom” disappointed several critics, however, who said it was as poor as her worst performances in front of the camera.

(to see full list of winners click on)

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Editing by Philippa Fletcher

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