'On The Adamant’ Receives Top Prize at the Berlin Film Festival

Documentarian Nicolas Philibert received the coveted Golden Bear in this year’s Berlinale, while director Christian Petzold’s film “Afire” took second place.

The winners of the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival—which took place from February 16 to 26—have been announced. The work that took home first prize was On the Adamant (Sur l’Adamant), a French documentary from filmmaker Nicolas Philibert.  

Nicolas Philibert at the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival/Photo by Elena Ternovaja via Wikimedia Commons

“Are you crazy or what?! It’s too much,” said the 72-year-old upon receiving the Golden Bear for his entry. While the expression was a jest, the filmmaker’s astonishment is valid. For the most part, the festival’s highest award is seldom given to documentaries, making On the Adamant a unique winner in Berlinale’s long history.  

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The documentary, which was filmed over the course of several months, focuses on a special facility in Paris that offers care to those with mental disorders. Established on a floating barge, the facility’s staff encourages patients to express themselves through artwork and music. Throughout the course of the documentary, audiences can see how these forms of self-expression enrich and reflect the inner lives of these individuals. 

The New York Times stated that Philibert created the film with the intention of de-stigmatizing views on mental illness, erasing the “distinction between patients and caregivers.” In his acceptance speech, the French documentarian shares: “What unites us is a feeling of common humanity.” 

This year’s jury was led by American actress Kristen Stewart, along with last year’s first-prize winner Carla Simón, Iranian-French actress Golshifteh Farahani, Romanian director Radu Jude, German director Valeska Grisebach, US casting director and producer Francine Maisler, and Hong Kong director and producer Johnnie To. 

When introducing Philibert’s documentary during the festival, Stewart described it as “masterfully crafted” and “cinematic proof of the vital necessity of human expression.” 

An Evening of Notable Talent

Berlinale’s runner-up for Grand Jury prize—awarded with a Silver Bear—was German director Christian Petzold’s film Afire (Roter Himmel in German). The cinematic piece, which has its fair share of comedic and tragic moments—revolves around a novelist grappling with his self-image in a vacation home while a forest fire draws closer. 

Other winners included Portuguese filmmaker João Canijo for Bad Living (which focuses on a group of women running a decaying hotel), French filmmaker Philippe Garrel for The Plough (a story about puppeteer siblings coming to terms with the death of their father), German director Angela Schanelec for Music (an experimental film inspired by the Greek myth of Oedipus), and camerawoman Helene Louvart for her cinematography in Disco Boy (a military drama about a young soldier). 

Philibert’s On the Adamant wasn’t the only “surprising” winner in the film festival. Sofia Otero—an 8-year-old Spanish actress—won the Berlinale’s gender-neutral acting prize for her leading role in director Estibaliz Solaguren’s film 20,000 Species of Bees

The diversity present in the Berlin Film Festival’s roster of nominees and winners comes as no surprise to many, considering how the event has always had a political ethos, especially among other film fests. A recent example was this year’s decision to ban films funded by the Russian government—though Russian filmmakers were still welcomed. If 2023’s Berlinale proves anything, it’s that many filmmakers continue to create pieces that are relevant, boundary-breaking, and true to the human experience. 

Banner Photo by Elena Ternovaja via Wikimedia Commons.

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