Berlin International Film Festival overview: French documentary ‘On the Adamant’ wins Golden Bear award

The 73rd Berlin International Film Festival came to a close this past weekend, and despite speculation that Sundance import “Past Lives” or Lila Avilés’ “Tótem” would take the Golden Bear, the jury, led this year by Kristen Stewart, awarded it to the French documentary “On the Adamant.” Directed by Nicolas Philibert (“Louvre City,” “In the Land of the Deaf”), the movie follows operations at the Parisian Centre de jour l’Adamant, a floating medical facility on the Seine that offers its patients innovative forms of art therapy. 

Jordan Mintzer (The Hollywood Reporter) writes, “While documenting the daily routine of a small clinic that most Parisians walk by without ever noticing, ‘On the Adamant’ ultimately becomes a moving testament to what people are capable of, if they could just find the right place to do it.” Guy Lodge (Variety) compares the film to Philibert’s “To Be and To Have,” which is set inside a single-room schoolhouse in rural France, and writes, “His latest finds him once more examining the human workings of a care-based institution from a reserved but compassionate distance, avoiding commentary and editorialization in favor of real-life character portraiture.” 

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The runner-up Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize went to Christian Petzold’s “Afire,” and João Canijo took the Jury Prize for “Bad Living.” Philippe Garrel, who has won awards at Cannes and Venice, now has a trophy from the Berlinale to go along with them. He was presented with the directing prize for “The Plough.” The festival’s third-ever gender-neutral acting prizes went to Sofía Otero (Leading) for “20,000 Species of Bees” and Thea Ehre (Supporting) for “Till the End of the Night.” The eight-year-old Otero, who plays a trans youth in the Spanish-language drama, is now the youngest Silver Bear winner for a leading performance. Even though “On the Adamant” won the Berlinale’s top prize, it lost the festival’s documentary award, given by a separate jury, to “The Echo,” which observes the daily routines of a rural community in northern Mexico. Cinematographer Hélène Louvart won the Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution for “Disco Boy.”

Presenting the Golden Bear to “On the Adamant,” Stewart said, “People have gone in circles for thousands of years trying to pin down what can be deemed art…this is a boundary-pushing festival, so it offers us the opportunity to be expansive in how we define those things…This movie that we saw puts thought and feeling and sound and picture to these questions on a deep level, on a humanist level…it’s cinematic proof of the vital necessity of human expression.”

“On the Adamant” will open in French cinemas March 29. It has yet to secure U.S. distribution. 

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