This may prove to have been the biggest Berlinale ever - in everything but film quality. The patchy selection of films in competition failed to ride the wave of success, and left critics muttering that the Berlinale would do better to refocus on its core business.
True, there was a last-minute upswing, with Li Yu's feisty satirical melodrama Lost In Beijing and David Mackenzie's quirky coming-of-age story Hallam Foe conspiring with I Served The King Of England, a life-enhancing comic everyman tale from Czech veteran Jiri Menzel, to end the competition on a relatively high note.
But up to this point, the competition had been a primer in the difficulties facing the Berlinale selectors, who are increasingly deprived of promising Americana by the prior temptation of Sundance and its indie market buzz, and miss out on auteurs who prefer to wait for Cannes.
First, though, the good news. The winner of this year's Golden Bear for best film, Wang Quan'an's Tuya's Marriage, was a great advertisement for the Berlin festival at its best: this well-crafted, affecting comedy offered an insight into a culture unfamiliar to most (the desert herders of Inner Mongolia), and introduced the world's cineastes to a relatively unknown Chinese director.
Commercially, though, Tuya's Marriage is as small a prospect as the previous two Berlinale winners, Grbavica and U-Carmen eKhayelitsha, which have been virtually invisible for regular, non-festival audiences in many territories.
There were a few other highlights. The continued good health and exportability of German-language cinema was confirmed by two films: Christian Petzold's Yella, an atmospheric, edgily comic neo-noir that earned Nina Hoss a deserved Silver Bear for best actress; and The Counterfeiters, a tight, ethical concentration-camp drama by Austrian director Stefan Ruzowitzky.
And French auteur Andre Techine came up with his best film in years with the dawn-of-Aids ensemble drama Witnesses.
Still, with the possible exception of Yella, these were decent rather than revelatory titles. And they were the cream of the crop. The four US directors in competition were either politely received (Steven Soderbergh, Robert De Niro) or pretty universally panned (Ryan Eslinger, Gregory Nava).
Established auteurs were in short supply and, with the exception of Techine, those that were invited tended to underperform, with the biggest disappointment being Korean director Park Chan-wook's I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK, a technicolor exercise in whimsy which tried, and failed, to get by on sheer kookiness.
Other films that garnered some critical consensus were the tamely shocking Marianne Faithfull vehicle Irina Palm and Joseph Cedar's controlled Israeli war drama Beaufort.
Panorama threw up a few films that might easily have been shunted into the main competition, from Pascale Ferran's long, meditative take on Lady Chatterley to Julie Delpy's exhilarating, Allen-esque rom-com 2 Days in Paris (unfortunately, like most festivals, Berlin finds it difficult to take comedy seriously).
Other strong sidebar showings - from Korean gay drama No Regret to the affecting Arkansas revenge tragedy Shotgun Stories, which screened in Forum - were disqualified because they had seen previous festival action.
Falling more than five months after Venice, Berlin used to look like the European festival that had the most breathing-space for high-profile competition programming.
But with the rise of mid-autumn contenders such as Rome and Pusan, Sundance's January snatch-and-grab act and the continuing bait of Cannes, it is beginning to look like the most uncomfortably cramped of the big three.
- See reviews, from p20
Berlin in numbers
430,000 visitors attended the 57th Berlin International Film Festival
200,000 audience tickets sold
19,000 accredited visitors from 127 countries
8,000 pieces of Berlinale merchandise sold
4,000 journalists attended the festival
2,000 maximum capacity of the Martin Gropius Bau
373 films shown
The major winners
Golden Bear: best film
Tuya's Marriage by Wang Quan'an
Silver Bear: The Jury Grand Prix
The Other by Ariel Rotter
Silver Bear: best director
Joseph Cedar (Beaufort)
Silver Bear: best actress
Nina Hoss (Yella)
Silver Bear: best actor
Julio Chavez (The Other)
Silver Bear: best music
David Mackenzie (Hallam Foe)
Silver Bear: outstanding artistic contribution
to the ensemble cast of The Good Shepherd
Alfred Bauer Prize
I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK by Park Chan-wook
Best first feature
Vanaja by Rajnesh Domalpalli
Golden Bear: best short
Contact (Raak) by Hanro Smitsman
For full list of winners, go to www.ScreenDaily.com
The Kosslick view
The big issue at this year's Berlinale was issues, suggests festival director Dieter Kosslick. He says the spotlight on Berlin is an unmissable opportunity to raise world consciousness about major political trends.
"We had very controversial films and a large number of films with terrible and dark issues. It was quite interesting when I talked with Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez or Antonio Banderas, that they all said one sentence, 'We are all here because the festival raises the right issues.'"
That duty could override quality issues, he suggests.
"Even if I know that some people think there should be more films for the film critics, and there were plenty of films for the critics, I think that there is a tendency that the big stars not only want to come for the shiny red carpet but also be linked with an issue.
"The most criticised film was Bordertown and it is my personal responsibility that this film is in the festival.
"A journalist asked me if I had been hurt by the criticism [about the film], and I said, 'What are you talking about when 400 women have been raped and mutilated at the border of Mexico''
"Nobody had paid attention to this crime, but if we can stop one more single person being murdered, I would still show this film if Antonio Banderas and J Lo were talking and there was nothing on screen. I think it is all our responsibility to raise this issue and stop this crime."
For a full round-up from the Berlinale, visit ScreenDaily.com.