The 72nd Berlin film festival awarded its Golden Bear top prize on Wednesday to Spanish director Carla Simon’s semi-autobiographical drama Alcarras, about a family of peach farmers fighting for their future.

This year’s Berlinale was held in-person for the first time in two years but was a shorter competition than usual, with strict regulations for audiences just as Covid-19 infections were peaking in Germany.

There were 18 films from 15 countries vying for the Golden Bear, with the jury led by Indian-born American director M Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense).

Simon, 35, dedicated the prize to her family, saying that “without them and my closeness to this world I wouldn’t have been able to tell this story”.

The Berlinale is now the third major European film festival in a row to award its top prize to a woman director, following Cannes and Venice last year.

German-Turkish comedian Meltem Kaptan, 41, won the festival’s second ever gender-neutral acting prize for her performance in Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W Bush.

The film by German director Andreas Dresen tells the true story of a mother’s battle to bring her son back from Guantanamo Bay.

Kaptan dedicated the award “to all the mothers whose love is stronger than borders”.

‘Sly humour’

Six of the festival’s seven top prizes went to women, including the gong for best director, clinched by France’s Claire Denis for Both Sides of the Blade.

A tense pandemic-era love story, the film stars Juliette Binoche as a woman caught between two men – her longtime partner Jean and her elusive ex Francois.

The Hollywood Reporter called it a “smart, moody, superbly acted melodrama”, while Britain’s Screen Daily said Binoche and co-star Vincent Lindon, who plays Jean, were “at the top of their game”.

The Novelist’s Film, an understated drama from South Korean director Hong Sang-soo with a small cast of characters who reconnect by chance in the suburbs of Seoul, bagged second prize.

Variety called it a “gently circuitous, conversation-driven charmer”, while the Hollywood Reporter praised its “sly humour and insights into the insecurities of the artistic process”.

Spanish director and screenwriter Carla Simon (right) and producer Maria Zamora pose on the red carpet after being awarded the Golden Bear for Best Film for Alcarras after the awards ceremony of the 72nd Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin on Monday. AFP

Third prize went to Robe of Gems, a gritty Mexican crime drama from writer-director Natalia Lopez Gallardo that explores the trauma inflicted on families in Mexico when relatives go missing.

The award for best screenplay went to Laila Stieler for her work on Rabiye Kurnaz vs George W Bush.

Everything Will be OK, Cambodian Rithy Panh’s exploration of a dystopian future where animals have enslaved humans and taken over the world, won a Silver Bear for artistic contribution.

And Michael Koch’s meditation on death and loss set in the Alps, A Piece of Sky, received a special mention.

‘Struggle of family’

Set in Catalonia, Alcarras follows the story of the Soles, a large, tight-knit family who spend their summers picking peaches in their orchard in a small village.

But when they are threatened with eviction due to new plans for the land, which include cutting down the peach trees and installing solar panels, the family members start to grow apart.

Jury chief Shyamalan praised the film’s cast of non-professional actors, who he said were able to “show the tenderness and struggle of family” and highlight “our connection and dependence on the land around us”.

Variety called it a “lovely, bittersweet agricultural drama”, praising Simon’s “warm affinity for this alternately parched and verdant landscape”.

Simon, who grew up in the village of Alcarras and whose family also grow peaches, dedicated the prize to the “small families of farmers that cultivate the land every day for this food to get to our plates”.

“I think that this way of farming does not have much of a future,” Simon said ahead of the premiere of the film on Tuesday.

“There is very little price regulation, there are more and more big companies that are farming . . . Only in organic farming do I see some hope, because it is a kind of farming that is difficult to do in a big way.”