February 18, 2001 08:15am
'Intimacy' Wins Berlin Golden Bear Film Prize
by: Erik Kirschbaum
(BERLIN) -- A French-directed film called ''Intimacy,'' which stirred controversy because of its explicit and extensive sex scenes, Sunday won the Berlin Film Festival's prestigious Golden Bear for best film.
The nine-member jury of international cinema industry representatives awarded a Silver Bear for best actress to Briton Kerry Fox, who stars in the English-language film as an adulterous wife meeting her lover for sex in a seedy London flat.
``Traffic,'' a riveting film about America's losing war against drugs starring Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, was favored by German critics to win top honors and received thunderous applause at its international premiere.
The film by director Steven Soderbergh, which has also picked up Academy Award nominations, ended up winning a Silver Bear for best actor -- awarded to the film's co-star, Benicio Del Toro of Puerto Rico.
The Silver Bear for best director went to Taiwan's Lin Cheng-sheng for his film ``Ai ni ai wo'' (''Betelnut Beauty''), a love story set in Taiwan immediately after World War Two.
Hollywood star Kirk Douglas was awarded a Golden Bear for lifetime achievement.
Reflecting the festival's growing importance as a major event near the start of the year, this year's Berlinale hosted an unusually large number of Hollywood stars: Anthony Hopkins, Sean Connery, Kate Winslet, Juliette Binoche, Geoffrey Rush along with director Soderbergh and novelist John Le Carre.
A total of 23 films from around the world were competing for top honors at the 12-day Berlinale, considered one of the world's top film festivals after Cannes and alongside Venice. More than 300 films were screened during the 51st annual event.
``Intimacy'' Than Just Sex
Directed by Patrice Chereau, ``Intimacy'' is a two-hour film set in London that includes 35 minutes of sex scenes. It is a story about a couple who tragically fall in love long after their weekly intercourse sessions began.
A French-Italian co-production that was adapted from a story by British writer Hanif Kureishi, it also stars Mark Rylance as Fox's middle-aged partner and British singer Marianne Faithfull.
Chereau, a veteran French theater and film director who won a Cannes jury prize in 1994 for ``La Reine Margo,'' tried repeatedly during a news conference in Berlin Wednesday after the film's world premiere to downplay emphasis on the detailed sex scenes.
He urged critics to look beyond the shots of carnal pleasure and not write off the film as pornography. He said he did not expect the British censor board and other ratings agencies would demand cuts for their home audiences.
``Just because 35 minutes of this film is about intimacy it should not be reduced to a film about sex,'' Chereau said. ``This film is not about sex...I don't want to answer any more questions about sex,'' the exasperated director said later.
Ryland plays a London bartender who leaves his wife and ends up in a dirty flat, where he meets a frustrated housewife for sex each Wednesday afternoon. They speak hardly a word to each other, quickly strip and clumsily make love on the floor.
She leaves when it's over. But after a while the bartender falls in love with Fox, known for her role in Jane Campion's ''An Angel at My Table'' in 1990. His discovery comes too late and she stays with her husband, a bored and overweight cab driver.
Chereau said the sex scenes were deliberately unglamorous.
``You could have done a film with Claudia Schiffer but that would have been a different film. This is not about sex. Watching these people doesn't arouse me. They are completely ordinary. It is not like a porno film. It is not an erotic film. Their bodies are not perfect, but that is life. I would hate this film if I did it with people with perfect bodies.''
The jury also awarded Silver Bears for jury prizes to ''Beijing Bicycle'' from Chinese director Wang Xiaoshua'' and ''Italian for Beginners'' by Danish director Lone Scherfig.