BERLIN (Reuters) - Ultra-violent Brazilian film “The Elite Squad” (“Tropa De Elite”) won the top prize at the Berlin Film Festival on Saturday in what is likely to be a controversial decision by the jury.
The movie, already a hit in Brazil, portrays corruption, violence and murder within a crack squad of Rio policemen battling armed drug dealers in the city slums.
The ceremony brings to a close 11 days of screenings, red carpet premieres, parties and deal making at Europe’s first major film festival of the year.
The drama, awarded the coveted Golden Bear for best film, divided the critics, and at home a group of officers sought to have it blocked for denigrating the police force.
Some reviews praised it as a powerful portrayal of the moral compromises police accept in order to survive and do their job, but others said it glorified their often brutal methods. One called it a “recruitment film for fascist thugs.”
At the festival director Jose Padilha said he approached the cycle of violence neither from the political left nor right, and added that legalizing drugs was the only way to break it.
In the film, police and drug warlords commit torture and executions, including burning a teenager alive in a ring of tires, while the rich are lambasted for financing narcotics crime and even NGOs working in the slums are criticized.
“Many journalists didn’t seem to have understood the film. I was very concerned about that,” Padilha told a news conference after winning the award.
”But the bulk of the audience who saw it and the critics who talked to me directly seemed to have grasped the film.
“(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,” he added.
The main competition line-up included 21 entries, but nearly 400 movies were showcased in all sections of the festival.
The runner up award went to “Standard Operating Procedure,” a documentary by director Errol Morris exploring the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. soldiers at the Abu Ghraib prison.
Morris wanted his picture to show that the abuse was not the work of a few errant individuals.
“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.”
The best actor award 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.”
“My legs have gone, I‘m on the edge of tears as you can hear,” Hawkins told a packed Berlinale Palast. “Ultimately, I want to thank an exceptional human being who is (director) Mike Leigh. This is for Mike.”
Paul Thomas Anderson of the United States won the best director Silver Bear for “There Will Be Blood,” the pre-awards favorite to take the golden bear.
The movie, starring Daniel Day-Lewis as a greedy and determined oil prospector in early 20th century America, has won many prizes already and has been nominated for eight Oscars.
As always, several out-of-competition films made the biggest headlines, including a world premiere for Martin Scorsese’s “Shine a Light,” a concert film of the Rolling Stones.
Madonna also presented her directorial debut “Filth & Wisdom,” which several critics said was as poor as her worst performances in front of the camera.