Who was the first film critic

Why film critics are not always right

At a Berlinale screening recently, I happened to be sitting next to a film critic whose judgment I trust. He nodded off during the movie, so I was curious if he'd tear it up in his review the next day. He didn't do that. While other critics complained about the length of this feature film, it had only positive things to say. If you sleep in half of the movie, it probably doesn't feel that long.

Film critics have the great privilege of seeing a large number of films at a festival within a short period of time - which is not always as easy as it sounds. Ideally, they will devote themselves to the 20th film with the same patience as the first. The reality is often different.

Critics who work for the daily press have to form an opinion very quickly and write a review within a few hours that includes all essential aspects of the work being discussed. Although they usually know their way around, their opinion is ultimately just as subjective as that of any other viewer.

Zero to four stars

The magazine "Screen International" asks international critics of the Berlinale - as well as other major film festivals such as Cannes and Toronto - for their assessment of the competition entries. The rating goes from four ("Excellent") to zero stars ("Bad"). The results appear in the daily print edition of "Screen". These ratings do not contain a review, which is why the tastes of the critics can hardly be grasped.

The ratings of the Italian critic and producer Paolo Bertolin are particularly striking this year at the Berlinale. Fatih Akin's controversial film "The Golden Glove" received the highest rating from Bertolin, while half of the other experts gave it a poor rating. So far, the Italian is the only critic of the opinion that some films deserve no stars at all: François Ozone's "Grâce à Dieu" and Agnieszka Holland's "Mr. Jones".

"The golden glove" by Fatih Akin has a big fan from Italy among the critics

Until Thursday, three films were in the favor of the critics: "A Tale of Three Sisters" by Emin Alper (photo above), "God Exists, Her Name is Petrunija" by Teona Strugar Mitevska and "Öndög" by Wang Quan'an. Three competition films were still outstanding: Isabel Coixet's "Elisa y Marcela", Nadav Lapid's "Synonymes" and Wang Xiaoshuai's "So Long, My Son".

Unanimity is not a guarantee

The "Screen" ranking list may show a tendency, but the past has shown that even the greatest enthusiasm and unanimity of the critics is no guarantee that the festival jury will rate the films in the same way.

When Ken Loach won the Palme d'Or in Cannes in 2016 with "I, Daniel Blake", the critics were surprised: the film had only achieved 2.4 points in their ranking. The German contribution, "Toni Erdmann" by Maren Ade, had the highest score in the history of "Screen" with 3.7 out of four stars - and received nothing.

The winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlinale 2018 also defied the criticism. Adina Pintilie's "Touch Me Not" received only 1.5 stars in the ranking, only two entries were rated even worse that year.

The criticism of the jury's decision at the time was correspondingly sharp: "The superficial, stupid winner of the Golden Bear is a disaster for the festival," wrote Peter Bradshaw in the Guardian. The critic of the US magazine "Time", Stephanie Zacharek, who was a member of the competition jury in 2018, told DW that although she liked reading Bradshaw, his opinion had no influence on her judgment. "It goes without saying that I love the film and stand by our choice."

Criticism cut to a minimum

Short reviews with points and stars are popular because they reduce a review to the minimum. They cannot replace detailed film reviews, because nuances are also taken into account there.

The documentary "What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael" shown at the Berlinale pays tribute to the art of film criticism by introducing one of its most influential critics. In a domain that has long been dominated by men, Pauline Kael succeeded in influencing the style of film criticism over the long term. "It didn't matter if you saw the films she wrote about. They came to life with their prose," said Stephanie Zacharek, who also appears in the documentary.

Pauline Kael broke through a male domain and is one of the most influential figures in film criticism

After a series of film reviews for a radio show and trying to earn money as a writer, Kael became a film critic for "New Yorker" in 1967. She had previously published an enthusiastic review of "Bonnie and Clyde", which most critics rated rather ambiguous. The audience initially received him badly, until Kael's criticism ultimately made him a box-office hit.

Helped Scorsese break through

Rob Garver's documentary traces how Kael was influenced by early 20th century films and later so influential that she helped directors like Martin Scorsese and Brian de Palma break through through her reviews.

Readers trusted her judgment, even if it differed from the assessment of other critics who unanimously celebrated a film as a masterpiece, such as Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey", which Kael described as a "monumentally unimaginative film".

The award ceremony on Saturday will show whether the critics and the Berlinale jury are in agreement this year. Perhaps a work will win that the journalists unanimously rate as monumentally unimaginative. After all, that would spark new discussions - and that's exactly what film criticism is about.