(L to R) Iranian producer Kaveh Farnam, Iranian actress Baran Rasoulof and Iranian producer Farzad Pak on behalf of Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof who was awarded the "Golden Bear for Best Film" attend a press conference after the awarding ceremony of the 70th Berlinale film festival in Berlin on February 29, 2020. Image Credit: AFP


Mohammad Rasoulof, who was sentenced to prison in Iran for “spreading propaganda,” directed the film in secret and was not able to attend the ceremony.

Berlin: The Golden Bear for best feature film at the Berlin International Film Festival was given Saturday to "There Is No Evil," a drama by Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof centering on people who carry out executions in the Islamic Republic.

Rasoulof, who in 2019 was sentenced to prison in Iran for "spreading propaganda" and has been banned from making films and leaving the country, was not able to attend the ceremony. The film was directed in secret while Rasoulof was appealing his sentence.

In an emotional acceptance speech, Farzad Pak, one of the film's producers, described the director's absence as an injustice and praised the film's cast, saying they "put their lives in danger" to be in the film. The actors, many of whom were in tears, were given a standing ovation.

This year's jury was led by British actor Jeremy Irons, and included American filmmaker Kenneth Lonergan and French-Argentine actress BErEnice Bejo.

The runner-up award was given to "Never Rarely Sometimes Always," an emotionally wrenching drama by American director Eliza Hittman about a 17-year-old girl traveling to New York from a small Pennsylvania town to get an abortion. The film had previously won the Special Jury Award for neo-realism at the Sundance Film Festival.

The award for best female actor was given to Paula Beer of Germany for her role in "Undine," directed by Christian Petzold, in which Beer plays a mythical water nymph facing a breakup and finding new love in contemporary Berlin. The award for best male actor was given to Elio Germano for his intense portrayal of Italian painter Antonio Ligabue in "Hidden Away."

The prolific Hong Sang-soo of South Korea took home the best director award for "The Woman Who Ran," an understated film focused on a series of encounters by a woman visiting old friends. And Damiano and Fabio D'Innocenzo won the best screenplay award for "Bad Tales," a darkly tinged examination of one summer in the lives of several families in a small Italian town. The prize for best LGBT-themed fiction film went to "No Hard Feelings," a German film focusing on the relationship between a German-Iranian youth and a refugee.

This year's festival was the first under a new dual-leadership structure headed up by artistic director Carlo Chatrian and executive director Mariette Rissenbeek. Many observers of the festival had hoped that Chatrian and Rissenbeek would reinvigorate the festival, which had been accused in recent years of lax curation.

They slimmed down the number of films shown at the Berlinale (as the festival is known in Germany), introduced a new section called Encounters that is dedicated to "aesthetically and structurally daring works," and promised more attentive curatorial oversight. But many critics saw this year's lineup as business as usual. Writing in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, critic Andreas Kilb argued that the festival had not had "many more truly great and prize-worthy contributions" than in previous years.

The festival opened in a more solemn atmosphere than usual, with a gala that included a moment of silence for the victims of a shooting that killed nine people in the small German city of Hanau this month. The festival also announced that it would initiate an independent inquiry into the biography of its first director, Alfred Bauer, after a newspaper revealed that Bauer had worked in a high-ranking position in the Nazi film bureaucracy.

It also faced pushback for its inclusion of two films that are part of a controversial project by Russian director Ilya Khrzhanovsky. The project, a long-term experiment in which hundreds of nonprofessional actors were housed in a replica of a Soviet research institute, has faced allegations that actors were mistreated on set and endured psychological and physical torture. At a news conference, Khrzhanovsky argued that those expressing concerns about "rape, the suffering of people, manipulation and madness" had only a partial view of the overall project.

"DAU.Natasha," one of the two films from the project running in the festival, was given an award for its cinematography, by Jurgen Jurges. Irons, who handed out the award, said that the jury had been "split" over it.

This year's Berlinale, however, was lucky in its timing. In recent days, a number of events across Europe have been canceled over concerns about the coronavirus outbreak. Some journalists have pointed out that had the festival been scheduled for two weeks later, it might have been called off entirely.