Chinese film noir “Black Coal, Thin Ice” by Diao Yinan about a washed up ex-cop investigating a series of grisly murders won the Berlin film festival’s Golden Bear top prize Saturday.
In a remarkably strong showing for Asian cinema, the stylish but gritty picture, whose Chinese title is Bai Ri Yan Huo, also captured the Silver Bear best actor award for its star Liao Fan.
“It’s really hard to believe that this dream has come true which didn’t come true for such a long time,” Diao said as he accepted the trophy, fighting back tears.
It was the first Chinese film to win in Berlin since the unconventional love story “Tuya De Hunshi” (Tuya’s Marriage) by Wang Quan’an brought home the gold.
“Black Coal, Thin Ice” is set in the late 1990s in the frosty reaches of northern China and its murder mystery plot is told through enigmatic flashbacks. It is Diao’s third feature film.
Liao said he put on 20 kilogrammes (44 pounds) to play the alcoholic suspended police officer who falls hard for a mysterious murder suspect (Gwei Lun Mei).
He said he had celebrated his 40th birthday on Friday in Berlin.
“I think this was the most wonderful present you could give me,” he said.
The Berlinale, Europe’s first major film festival of the year, gave its best actress prize to Japan’s Haru Kuroki for her role as a discreet housemaid in wartime Tokyo in Yoji Yamada’s “The Little House” (Chiisai Ouchi).
The second of three Chinese films in competition in Berlin, “Blind Massage” (Tui Na) featuring a cast made up in part of amateur blind actors, captured a Silver Bear prize for outstanding artistic contribution for cinematographer Zeng Jian.
American films shared the glory, with Wes Anderson’s historical caper “The Grand Budapest Hotel” offering a nostalgic look back at a Europe lost to war claiming the runner-up Silver Bear grand jury prize.
US actress Greta Gerwig, a member of the jury, read out a statement from Anderson who was not in Berlin for the awards.
“This Silver Bear is the first both full-scale and genuinely metallic prize I have ever received from a film festival so I feel particularly honoured, moved and indeed thrilled to accept it,” he wrote.
The picture starring Ralph Fiennes had opened the Berlinale on February 6.
Texas filmmaker Richard Linklater, who shot his innovative coming-of-age drama “Boyhood” over more than a decade with the same actors and was widely tipped to take the Golden Bear, won best director.
“This says best director but I want to think of it as best ensemble,” said Linklater, clutching the trophy.
Best screenplay went to the German siblings Dietrich and Anna Brueggemann for their wrenching drama “Stations of the Cross” (Kreuzweg) about a teenager who makes the ultimate sacrifice for her fundamentalist Catholic family.
Veteran French director Alain Resnais clinched the Alfred Bauer Prize for work of particular innovation for his play-within-a-film “Life of Riley” (Aimer, boire et chanter).
A nine-member jury led by US producer James Schamus (“Brokeback Mountain”) handed out the prizes at a gala ceremony in the German capital.
“Black Coal, Thin Ice” divided audiences in Berlin but won critical praise.
Movie news website Indiewire noted buzz about the picture had been strong ahead of its screening “on the possibility of the film becoming that whitest of whales: a crossover Chinese-language international hit”.
Industry magazine The Hollywood Reporter hailed it as “a salute to the classic Hollywood film noir, an exciting stylistic tour-de-force” but questioned its commercial prospects.
Film business bible Variety called it a “bleak but powerful, carefully controlled detective thriller in which - as with all the best noirs - there are no real heroes or villains, only various states of compromise”.
The 11-day festival wraps up Sunday with screenings of its most popular features from a lineup of more than 400 movies.
Berlinale director Dieter Kosslick announced earlier that the event had had sold a record 330,000 tickets this year.
On Thursday British director Ken Loach picked up an honourary Golden Bear for his life’s work.
Winners of the main prizes awarded Saturday at the 64th Berlin film festival:
Golden Bear for best film: “Bai Ri Yan Huo” (Black Coal, Thin Ice), Diao Yinan, China
Jury Grand Prix Silver Bear: “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, Wes Anderson starring Ralph Fiennes, Britain/Germany
Silver Bear for best director: Richard Linklater (US) for “Boyhood”, starring Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke
Silver Bear for best actress: Haru Kuroki in “Chiisai Ouchi” (The Little House), Japan
Silver Bear for best actor: Liao Fan in “Bai Ri Yan Huo” (Black Coal, Thin Ice), China
Silver Bear for outstanding artistic contribution (camera): Zeng Jian for “Tui Na” (Blind Massage), China/France
Silver Bear for best script: Dietrich Brueggemann, Anna Brueggemann for “Kreuzweg” (Stations of the Cross), Germany
Alfred Bauer Prize for work of particular innovation: “Aimer, boire et chanter” (Life of Riley) by Alain Resnais, France
Best first feature film: “Gueros” by Alonso Ruizpalacios, Mexico
Golden Bear for best short film: “Tant qu’il nous reste des fusils a pompe (As Long As Shotguns Remain) by Caroline Poggi and Jonathan Vinel, France
Teddy for best feature film with gay or lesbian context: “Hoje Eu Quero Voltar Sozinho (The Way He Looks) by Daniel Ribeiro, Brazil
Teddy for best documentary film with gay or lesbian context: “Der Kreis” (The Circle) by Stefan Haupt, Switzerland