Berlinale 2024: Golden Bear goes to Mati Diop’s restitution documentary 'Dahomey'

The Berlinale has awarded its 2024 Bears... The winner is Dahomey by French-Senegalese director Mati Diop
The Berlinale has awarded its 2024 Bears... The winner is Dahomey by French-Senegalese director Mati Diop Copyright Berlinale
By David Mouriquand
Share this articleComments
Share this articleClose Button

A strange set of choices for the winners of this year's Berlinale - but the Golden Bear is merited, with the French-Senegalese director Mati Diop providing a fascinating and multifaceted look at a timely issue centred around the ills of colonialism.

ADVERTISEMENT

An unseasonably warm Berlin celebrates a new Golden Bear winner.

This Berlin International Film Festival has come to a close, and the jury of the 74th edition, led by Lupita Nyong’o (12 Years A Slave, Black Panther, Us), has elected its winner out of the 20 films in Competition.

The coveted Golden Bear for Best Film went to Dahomey, by French-Senegalese filmmaker Mati Diop, who previously won the Grand Prix at Cannes for her 2019 film Atlantics

This docu-fiction essay details the return of twenty-six artefacts from France to the Republic of Benin, which were among thousands plundered from the Kingdom of Dahomey by French colonialist troops in 1892.

Scroll down for the full list of winners - with our thoughts on each one.

Dahomey is the second documentary in a row to take Berlin’s Golden Bear, following On the Adamant from French filmmaker Nicolas Philibert last year.

The documentary is a timely choice for the Golden Bear, as Diop not only gives a literal voice to the past, but explores the wreckage wrought by colonialism. She joins the ongoing discussion regarding the repatriation of stolen artefacts and probes thorny issues surrounding Europe's return of looted antiquities to Africa. 

“To restitute is to do justice - we can either get rid of the past or we can take responsibility for it,” said Diop, accepting the award. 

Earlier on in the festival, during the press conference for Dahomey, Diop said: “The question of returning these looted goods has always been at the heart of what I do as a filmmaker.” She added: “I have been working on films like this for about 10 years now. The restitution of works of art in a tangible sense, handed back by France – it took me a very long to become fully aware of what it really signified. That’s one of the reasons why I am a filmmaker. I want to make it possible for people to understand these issues.”

When asked about what she would like to see from the French government in terms of the restitution of other African artefacts, Diop stated: “It’s quite clear that they were way too few compared with the 7,000 works that are still held captive in these museums. These 26 works are good but are not enough, and I certainly think that it is humiliating. I would say we need to think about more than just the way it was staged and all the governmental communication of this process.”

Diop added: “France has exploited this place for centuries. You need to do more. You need to go further. You need to breathe new life into this question, and that is what I was trying to do in this film. We need to think of restitution in a broad sense.”

Dahomey stands as a taut and textured point of entry into a knotty debate and ongoing conversation, and what the filmmaker manages to do in the short space of 67 minutes is rather remarkable.

However, there’s no denying that no Bears for one of the festival’s most critically lauded films, My Favourite Cake, feels like a missed opportunity on behalf of the jury. It’s one of many, as the Berlinale has a history of its juries making some surprising or downright baffling choices. This year was no different. 

The winners of the 74th Berlinale Competition are as follows:

Golden Bear for Best Film - 'Dahomey' by Mati Diop

A fair choice, if slightly on-the-nose, considering the subject matter and (whisper it), a tad disappointing when looking at the film’s competition – specifically My Favourite Cake, The Devil’s Bath and Architecton. Still, a second win in a row for a documentary is a strong signal that the genre is having a moment. And that is to be celebrated. 

Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize - 'A Traveler’s Needs' by Hong Sangsoo

South Korean arthouse favourite Hong Sangsoo, after having won back-to-back-to-back Silver Bears in 2020 (The Woman Who Ran), 2021 (Introduction) and 2022 (The Novelist’s Film) can now add a fourth bear to his collection, winning the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize for A Traveler’s Needs, his third collaboration with French star Isabelle Huppert. 

ADVERTISEMENT

While hardly surprising, considering the frankly staggering amount of times Hong Sangsoo has been included in Competition – it borders on the pathological at this point -  this fourth award feels like complete overkill. The filmmaker’s ubiquity could have been sacrificed this year for a new talent to get their time in the spotlight.

"I don't know what the jury saw in the film," said the director when accepting the award. Neither do we, maestro. Neither do we. 

Silver Bear Jury Prize - 'L’ Empire' by Bruno Dumont

Even as fans of Bruno Dumont and his particular blend of absurd humour, we had a hard time with his sci-fi spoof L’Empire, which is not as funny or clever as it thinks it is. A baffling choice and frankly, not one we expected to pop up in the winners list.

Silver Bear for Best Director - Nelson Carlos De Los Santos Arias for 'Pepe'

ADVERTISEMENT

Dominican filmmaker Nelson Carlos De Los Santos Arias was something of a surprise, as his unclassifiable mash-up of documentary and fiction about a hippo brought to Columbia by drug king Pablo Escobar proved extremely divisive amongst critics. Oh, and the film is partly narrated by the hippo. You’re either with it, or you’re not, and we sadly stand in the latter category, all things considered. 

Silver Bear for Best Leading Performance - Sebastian Stan for 'A Different Man'

Marvel alum Sebastian Stan is an odd choice for Best Leading Performance for his role in Aaron Schimberg’s muddled fable A Different Man. He’s perfectly fine in the role, but the calibre of acting pales compared to what Anja Plaschg achieved in The Devil’s Bath. Still, hard to get too mad at the devilishly handsome Stan. 

Silver Bear for Best Supporting Performance - Emily Watson for 'Small Things Like These'

One of the awards that was spot on. As we said in our review of Tim Mielant’s drama Small Things Like These, about the horrific abuse of women by the Catholic Church in Ireland, Watson briefly but memorably steals the show. We couldn’t be happier with this win. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Silver Bear for Best Screenplay - Matthias Glasner for 'Sterben (Dying)'

The German film is an uneven but occasionally powerful three-hour melodrama that focuses on a German conductor (Lars Eidinger) and his dysfunctional family. It’s a fair enough choice for Screenplay, considering its bold tonal shifts. But is it a film we're dying (sorry for the pun) to watch again? Not really. 

Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution - Martin Gschlacht for the cinematography for 'The Devil’s Bath'

It’s a genuine shame that The Devil’s Bath - arguably the most striking film in Competition this year - went home with only one prize. However, the cinematography is a deserved gong for this uniquely disquieting film that is without a doubt our favourite film of the Competition this year.

Stay tuned to Euronews Culture for our full debrief of the 74th Berlinale, as well as the top Berlinale films seen this year that audiences have to look forward to in 2024.

ADVERTISEMENT
Share this articleComments

You might also like